If you were to stand on your desk one day to recite “Oh Captain! My Captain!” aloud in a late 80s Dead Poet’s Society frenzy, and you wanted to direct it at a literal captain, you couldn’t do better than Liz Clark (@CaptainLizClark). First of all, she decided at ten that she would sail the world, and she is. How many people are able to pick a legit exciting future path before they exit grade school and then go on to do it? Moreover, she’s sailing with a cat named Amelia the Tropicat. And she has traveled nearly 20,000 miles in a vessel called Swell, a Cal-40 built in 1966. It’s layer upon layer of rad. And, we haven’t even covered her surfing. Guess who learned to surf at 15 and went on to be named the 2002 College Women’s National Champion at the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s nationals? Yep. Badass “Oh Captain, my captain” Liz Clark.
Most people are impressed by a world traveler. But, if that doesn’t do it for you, her commitment to a goal and her ability to manifest an unconventional life is unarguably inspiring. Clark is a practitioner of relentless positivity and loving kindness — which she truly thinks can change the world. She writes about her travels, conscious eating, and making a better world on her website. But, people who are interested in her life and want more are in luck. Patagonia Books asked her to write a book, and one 100,000+ word manuscript about her voyages later, it’s happening. In April of 2018, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening will be available everywhere.
This week, Clark took time from life at sea and the daily work of finalizing a book to speak with us about her travels, how to finance living on a boat, and the loneliness of being a solo sailor. You are challenged to read this interview without wanting to hang out with her on Swell.
You’ve been sailing nearly your entire life, right?
Correct. My family never went inland; we didn’t do any camping. We always took our weekends and vacations on the sailboat. There was a period of six months that I spent in Mexico with my family cruising on their sailboat. So, yes, I have spent a lot of time on the water since I was a little kid.
What takes you from just sort of a weekend or vacation sailor to being like, “I’m going to sail the world?”
When I was nine, we sailed for a little over six months down the coast of Mexico, and it was more of a lifestyle than just a weekend thing. It was just so eye-opening for me to get out of my little bubble of a Southern California life and see a new culture and see all the wildlife and things that we discovered via the ocean. In my little nine-year-old mind, I created this big dream to go see the world by sailboat someday. After that, I came back to normal life, and I went to middle school and high school and college and I hung onto that dream through all of it.
I think another big part of it was that I studied environmental science at UC Santa Barbara and a lot of what I learned in my classes showed me how we were a little off course as a society in terms of living in harmony with the planet. I think I had this idea of going out to kind of just live lighter and do it my own way. I didn’t want to have to participate in the economy and way of life that I didn’t believe in. That was another big motivator for me to make it a long-term thing versus just going for a short period of six months or a year.
Then, when I left I didn’t really know how I was going to pull it off. I didn’t know how I was going to financially support myself, but then little by little, I earned some sponsorships and I earned the respect of different people that have done this and know how much work it is and how challenging it can be, so I was able to garnish enough earnings to keep going. Once I realized I could pull it off, I just saw no point in coming home because it was just a fun adventure.
I was wondering if you could talk just a little bit more about financing the trip.
I know people are really curious about that.
Because they want to do it too.
It’s one of the most asked questions I get on my website. When I left, I had some savings. I worked as a bartender and just squirreled my pay away. The deal with my mentor was that he would help me get the boat ready to go, but once I left, I had to figure out how to support myself. I always tell people you’ve got to use whatever you’ve got, whatever talents you’ve been given. For me, writing was my creative way to share what I was doing. At the beginning, I just wrote updates and posted them on a little website. This was before blogging was big, but I was able to attract readers because I was just putting it all out there for free for the first few years. I did that because I actually enjoyed sharing all these new discoveries and adventures I was having. So, I was able to live on my savings and start building this little bit of a following through my blog and photos.
Being a female captain and a pretty good surfer out in these places exploring for waves and “living the dream” makes it easy to attract people. I was able to sell articles. That was enough money to kind of keep me going, so I didn’t have to tap out all of my savings.
As I gained some sponsorships, I kept wondering, “What’s going to be the best thing to do to keep income coming in?” I was always so worried about what everyone else thought and wanted me to do, and at one point, I ran up against a wall. I was so busy trying to always make ends meet and please everyone. At one point, I just realized, “What am I doing? Am I doing this for everyone else or am I doing it for myself? What do I really want?”
Once I made choices that really resonated with what I wanted (what my soul needed), I started getting more requests for sponsorships, more income coming through things that I didn’t think would be attractive to sponsorships and things like that. The authenticity of my choices and my decision to choose what was right for me was attractive to other people as well. I try to tell people from my experience, doing what I love has always somehow manifested into abundance, even though it’s been slow, and I often had to put myself out there for free or give in ways that aren’t giving me initial returns. I believe that sticking to what I feel called to and feel drawn to has never failed me in the end.
I try to encourage people to make that leap. At the beginning, you’re going to sacrifice a bit of comfort or a bit of security. In the end, you’re going to be so happy you are doing what your soul really wants to do and you’re going to love yourself more and you’re going to be more fulfilled and you’re going to develop your own sort of spiritual relationship with the universe. When you go out there and you take your own path and you don’t rely on these normal, societal securities that we’re all told we need to have, it will always lead you to abundance. You prove that there’s some greater purpose behind it.
It seems really important to you, or it was important to you at one point to strip away all of those things and strip away people and really prove that you could do this alone. Am I misinterpreting?
Doesn’t that get lonely?
At that point in my journey, I had a lot to prove to myself. I had a lot of things in myself that I wanted to work on. I think that solitude was the only space that I found that I could go in and talk to that person inside myself that I was ready to change. The solitude for me at that point was a relief. I had been running from myself for so many years, and then, I got to this point where I knew that I couldn’t anymore. So, sailing alone was this big physical challenge and mental challenge, but at the same time, I was left with all this time where I had to learn who I was and decide, “Am I going to carry these demons and these parts of me that I don’t like into the future or am I going to work on them and become who I really want to be?”
That time was really important for me discovering how I was going to get from A to B inside myself, I guess.
That makes complete sense. What role does the cat play in all this?
The cat came into my life after I’d been in a relationship that I really thought, at the beginning, was going to be “the one” and it became something really toxic and scary towards the end. When I got out of it, I was kind of shattered. I definitely didn’t need a boyfriend, but I needed some sort of companion. She showed up right at the right time for me. We have just become such an amazing team. She’s just really more than a cat to me, she’s really quite a companion.
I’m just struck by the fact that there’s a cat sailing around the world. I can’t get my cats to do anything.
She has made me grow and think of things in such a different perspective. She’s an old soul, and she just loves me. She seems to have come into my life to help me grow in ways that I would never have imagined a cat could, but she also seems to have her own missions. The adventure side of things is something she seems to really enjoy. I definitely wouldn’t have kept her if it seemed like she really disliked the lifestyle that I live. She seems to really enjoy living this kind of out of the box cat life.
It’s so exciting. I love the cat.
She’s the best. She’s so awesome.
Can you tell me a couple of really amazing moments on your trip?
There’s been so many. This was a particularly beautiful moment for me. I’d been in Panama City working on the boat for about two months straight. This was before I crossed into the Pacific, and the boat just had all this work that needed to be done before I took the big trip from Galapagos to French Polynesia. It was the same time when I was kind of questioning what I was doing out there and working so hard to garner support and spent a ton of time emailing sponsors and throwing out as much as I could and hoping to get a bite back about some sponsorship income. I left Panama City kind of bummed out because I hadn’t had much productive success and I hadn’t surfed for two months. I was just so tired and beat up from all the projects.
A girlfriend met me for this time and the first stop we had was at this little island just outside Panama City. On our very first stop, we found this little island with the most incredible surf and we surfed all day and went to the beach and were greeted by this group of kids. There was probably eight of them ranging from four to twelve and they took us around and showed us how to open these almonds from this almond tree on the beach. They made each other into little sea turtles on the beach with sand. It was the purest, most beautiful reminder of how when you keep going on faith, beautiful surprises will happen.
I had these types of things happen again and again. The trip has been really high highs like that, like with the kids at that surf spot, and then really low lows where I’m stuck in a place and I don’t know how to fix something and things get really hard. Moments like being on the beach with the kids that day — and we ended up spending a couple of weeks there because it was just so awesome — remind me that the sun will rise and there will be beauty in unexpected places if you just keep trying to go forward towards your dream.
Awesome. What’s the plan moving forward?
Well, I’d really like to do more environmental and social work. I’d like to give back more than I am now. I’d like to do more than just social media, raising awareness and things like that. But, between now and when my book launches, I’m pretty much doing book stuff. Hopefully when the book’s finished, I’ll have more time to dedicate the non profit that my sea sisters started last year called Changing Tides Foundation. I’d like to be more effective as a change-maker and just hopefully keep sailing, but maybe have a little land base too. That’s something I’m hoping is in my future.
What do you mean by land base?
I’d like to have a little house on land. For the last 12 years, I’ve lived on the boat only and I don’t have any place on land, even in California, where I can come back to and have some time to have a normal shower and a place to do yoga and things like that, you know?
I’m ready to have a little bit more balance and I feel like I’d be more effective as a change maker if I have more of the essentials of living that come easier when you’re not living on a boat.