Interview: Captain Liz Clark

I first learned about Captain Liz Clark in the awesome surf and skate documentary “Dear and Yonder” and I was super impressed by her story.  Who was this young woman sailing the high seas on her own, in her 40 ft. sailboat “Swell”? And then I found out she’s an awesome surfer and environmentalist. And then I learned that she is an ambassador for the much-respected, eco-concious, outdoor outfitters Patagonia? Wow! Liz is exactly the kind of person that I want to showcase here at Wax + Cruz.  She is traveling the world with style and grace, she is well-spoken and thoughtful, and she has a solid point of view.  I was really excited that she was into doing the interview and I am really proud to share her words with you guys! Read on to hear about what she is up to…


W+C: Where are you right now and where are you headed next?

LC: I’m in the Marquesas Islands, heading towards Tahiti…

W+C: Is there a place that you keep returning to that really speaks to you and why?

LC: Generally, wild places speak to me most. I like to sail to remote places that are difficult to access because I love to be near nature in its purer state. These places energize and inspire me! For the moment, I’m enjoying seeking out spots like these around the South Pacific.


W+C:  How did you get started sailing and what gave you the confidence to embark on a solo journey?

LC: I sailed as a kid–both on small sailing dinghies and with my family on our family sailboat. My dad was always a very patient and willing teacher, and from a very young age I decided I wanted to sail around the world. My parents’ guidance and support gave me the confidence to think it was possible. They would let me take out our sailboat with my friends when I was a teenager, and let me live on it in the Santa Barbara Harbor when I was finishing college. Then, serendipitously, a retired professor in my field of Environmental Studies, Dr. Arent ‘Barry’ Schulyer, became my original sponsor and mentor. Under his guidance, and with the help of many others in the community, I accumulated the skills and knowledge required to head out to sea as a captain. But even at the time of departure from California aboard Swell, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I just took things day by day, learning the practical stuff little by little, and eventually gaining confidence in my boat, my equipment, and myself. And now I’ve made it over 18,000 nautical miles around the Pacific!

W+C:  How long have you been sailing solo and what do you love about sailing?

LC: I’ve been sailing solo with occasional guests since August 2007. The thing I love most about sailing is the freedom you feel when you’re out in the ocean with nothing else around as far as you can see. It’s almost like leaving the realm of human governance and entering a timeless space where I find clarity and feel peacefully removed from the rush of the modern world. Depending entirely on myself to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’, requires me to be self-sufficient, pro-active, resourceful, and poised—I feel alive out there. It’s rare in this day in age to be ‘out of bounds’ of conventional support/rescue entities. It’s helped me learn myself and better understand my connection to nature. Plus, traveling by the wind is clean, natural, and free!


W+C:  What is your relationship to Swell, your sail boat?

LC: Swell and I are ocean-adventuring accomplices. We depend on each other; I need her to help me safely cross oceans and explore the world, and she needs my energy in maintenance and navigation to keep her ‘shiny side up’. I’ve literally restored, repaired, repainted, replaced, or reinvented almost every square inch of Swell since she came under my ownership in 2004–inside and out, mast to keel, bow to stern! I think material things with which we spend extraordinary amounts of time, especially those which we might depend on to keep us alive, seem to take on a character of their own. Or maybe it’s just fun to imagine? Either way, I love Swell. She has been the chariot to fulfilling my dreams, and provided me with the opportunity for so much learning, meeting countless great people, and experiencing the world in a very unique way. She sails like a dream and I think she’s always the prettiest boat in the bay.


W+C: Tell us what a day in the life of Liz Clark is like and what are your favorite parts about your current journey?

LC: Well, if I’m not at sea, I generally wake up around 6:30am. I do a little yoga or sitting meditation and drink a tea. If there is surf nearby, that’s always a priority. In the morning, I often eat oatmeal with Sol Raiz Maca powder, nuts & fruit, or homemade yogurt with honey. Around 11am, I usually retreat to the shade and do some writing or emails or fix something on Swell that needs repairing. Then when the sun gets lower, I do a full yoga routine or surf again or dive to check the anchor or go fishing. If I’m in a new place, I like to go for long walks with my camera. I love cooking, so most evenings I try to get creative and whip up something healthy and tasty for dinner. I travelled with a companion part of the year, so it was fun to cook for two. Something fun about the Marquesas is that here I can forage for a lot of my own food in the valleys. The people still live very much connected to nature, and there is lots of open land with wild fruit, edible roots, and local greens that can be harvested when you ask permission from the locals. It’s been really fun to try to live off mostly what I can get right from the surrounding environment.


W+C: What are the most difficult parts of your journey?

LC: Hands down, the hardest part is being away from my family and friends in California. Also, sailing requires lots of patience–waiting for the right weather and seasons to sail places. And sometimes I get tired of being in a confined space that’s moving around all the time and is constantly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

W+C: How do you stay in contact with your family, friends, and what is happening with the rest of the world?

LC: I mostly use email and skype and the internet. Skype has really made it easier to go for long stretches away by being able to see people’s faces while we’re talking. But internet is limited and I often get behind on world events, but important news usually gets to me.

W+C:  What do you do with your free time when you are not manning the boat?

LC: I surf, read, take photos, work on writing articles for my blog, do yoga, free-dive, hike, cook, play with local kids, and sit quietly in nature.


W+C:  I know that environmental issues are very important to you and you are seeing first hand what is happening with man’s impact on the ocean. Can you talk to us a little about that?

LC: In the 6 years since leaving California, I’ve witnessed enormous amounts of plastic and refuse on beaches and in ocean currents, I’ve watched tuna seiners remove entire schools of tuna from the sea, I’ve noted widespread dying off of coral reefs, seen wildlife caught in discarded fishing line, and come to know the Puamoutu and Kiribati peoples—both will be entirely displaced by sea-level rise. All of these things sadden and frighten me. I can only say that humanity is in a critical time. We may still be able to turn some of the damage around, or we may do an unfathomable amount of irreversible damage to our planet. Waiting for an extreme crisis isn’t the best approach here. We need immediate local activism, government initiatives, and cooperation between humans that spans politics, science, borders, cultures, and material status. We need a new way of seeing and relating to nature, other humans, and the Earth as a whole. In my opinion, we have become estranged from our connection and relationship to the Earth and other sentient beings. Modern life makes it easy to forget that we depend on nature and each other everyday to support our lives–water comes from rivers not just from your faucet, plants grow in soil before ending up in your local market, and animals raised for food are beings with a genetic purpose and spirit much like our own.

A year or so into my voyage, I began pursuing my own truth and self-awareness. I started noticing my ego-driven reactions and looking at my own faults rather than critiquing others. By opening up to this new way of thinking, I started to see the struggles that humans face in daily life, and realize how very much we are all alike. Developing this compassion for other humans has made me see the world like a huge family, and this extends to animals and plants, too. We must respect Earth’s other beings and Nature’s extraordinary systems that provide us with everything we need to live. I think we as humans must address our personal issues before we can really find compassion for other beings and the planet. Once we dissolve our illusion of separation and let go of our egos, it’s easier to reflect on a larger scale, do things for the good of the ‘whole’, and work effectively as a collective. We need to value ecological wisdom and think about the planet that our children will inherit.


W+C: If you could “take a vacation” anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

LC: Maybe I’d go to see the Alaskan or Canadian wilderness and do some remote snowboarding too. I’ve always wanted to see the aurora borealis, catch salmon in a river, and drink maple syrup out of a maple tree.

W+C: If someone could magically airdrop anything from “back home” to you tomorrow what would it be?

LC: First I’d ask for my family. And if that wasn’t possible, I’d want a new music playlist from my friend Heather, just picked blueberries, wild arugula, and chocolate ice cream.

W+C: Since this is a “travel and style” blog I have to ask, do you think about your appearance and “style” at this point, or are you beyond that– meaning, is it all about functionality for you now?

LC: In general, when I’m out at sea or in remote areas, I don’t give much thought to my appearance. Most of the time I’m all about function—clothes that are comfortable and protect me from the elements. I often have so much other stuff to think about to keep Swell and I safe, that I don’t have the luxury to think about my ‘style’. And in poorer places, I prefer to wear simple old clothes that help me blend in rather than dress flashy and stand out. But when I go back to California, I admit to thinking about it more.

W+C: Clothing-wise, is there something every sailor should have?

LC: Every female sailor needs a headband to keep the hair out of their eyes, Patagonia’s new Sun Jacket and Patagonia’s NanoStorm jacket. The Sun Jacket is great for long sunny days on the water—it’s super light, cute, comfy and the hood protects my neck and ears. And the NanoStorm jacket is my favorite for night passages in all weather—the waterproof outer layer protects from sea spray or rain, and the inside is cozy, lightweight, windproof ‘Primaloft’ material. It’s like being wrapped in a cozy waterproof sleeping bag.


W+C: What do you always have in your bag/ can’t live without?

LC: I always have my Swiss army knife, pareo, Surf-Vival all-natural Chapstick, a length of thin rope, a camera, and my notebook and pen.

W+C:  Who or what defines personal style for you (could be in a very broad sense)?

LC: I’ve never put much thought into it, but if I had to describe it I might say it’s somewhere near beachy, casual, simple but flattering, tomboy functionality but in a feminine way—a little spunk, denim cut-offs, loose tank tops, a onesy now and then, non-cumbersome jewelry, flip flops or tennies. To be in my wardrobe, I always say that I must be able to run away from danger and/or climb a tree wearing it.

W+C: Thanks Liz!

You can follow Liz’s journey on her blog

8 Responses to “Interview: Captain Liz Clark”

  1. Glorious and inspirational AND relatable. Great interview beautifully presented. Thank you!

  2. Leslie says:

    Sister—one of my favorite articles on the blog yet! She seems like an amazing & inspiring person & definitely someone fun to travel with. I love her sail-fashion tips…makes me want to check out the Patagonia website. Great, well rounded questions….so impressed with you!!! and admiring her adventurous soul, too…

  3. kendra smoot says:

    what an inspiration. thanks for the introduction!

  4. Capt Sammii says:

    HUGE inspiration forever!!!

  5. Liz, loved the article and the pictures even more! I can’t believe how far you’ve come from that little girl I knew in RSF. Love, Michelle

  6. Since Liz Clark left southern california I have been reading her articles in lattitude 38. After reading the above article its very apparent she has now seen the bond between nature and the planet and the need to be part of it, not destroy it for greed. She has become a true human being.

  7. I have followed Liz since she left So Cal and her adventures,aches, and fun have been high on my list for enjoyment – at 78 there are one or two things Liz can do that are now off my list.

  8. Jaclyn says:

    Liz epitomizes adventure, simplicity, and beauty across the world. May we all feel connected in some way to her exploration and dedication to our planet and its people. Very inspiring Captain Liz.

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