IT’S STILL SO CLOSE. SHOULD I JUST GO BACK?
I had those thoughts after casting off my sailboat from a dock in Santa Barbara, California, in January 2006, and watched teary-eyed as a handful of my dearest loved ones blended into the hazy winter skyline in my wake. I’d been dreaming of this voyage all my life. When I was nine, we took a family sailing trip to Mexico. It opened my eyes to what was out there in the world; what you could see by sailboat. I returned from that trip determined to captain my own boat one day. Then, in my teens, I discovered surfing and immediately fell in love with the sport and the idea of sailing around the world in search of waves. The sailing journey I’d just embarked on was an opportunity to realize those dreams.
My college friends, Mark and Shannon, started the journey with me, and as we sailed down the Baja coast, I was a wreck of nerves. It wasn’t rogue waves or pirates I was worried about—it was the idea of failure. I want to sail away, surf remote breaks, learn from other cultures, find happiness and a better way to live in harmony with nature—but what if I’m not strong enough? How would I ever get over the disappointment of failing myself and everyone who has helped me?
Two years into the trip—after sailing around Central America to Panama—I decided I wanted to sail alone to the South Pacific. I was scared of sailing solo and being alone in general, which felt like a sign that it was something I needed to do. There’s a lot of physical labor that goes into sailing. Oftentimes, I wished I had four hands. Alone, the boat jobs—hauling gallons of water, getting the sails up and down to trim, raising and lowering the anchor—take longer and are more complicated. But the solitude soon felt delightful—a time and space of pure communion with the ocean. I’m sure it’s what keeps sailors returning to the sea.
By August 2014, I’d been at sea for eight years. Choosing to pursue a dream like this has not been easy, but I have proven, at least to myself, that with hard work, choosing love will never lead to lack. I have wrinkles around my eyes and sunspots on my skin, but I feel beautiful. I have little money in the bank, all of my clothing can fit in one duffle bag, and I flush my toilet with a hand pump, but I feel rich. This is because I have spent the most energetic years of my life testing my physical, mental, and emotional capacities in pursuit of my dream.
My years at sea have taught me that focusing less on competition and more on connection with myself, with nature, and with others, gives me the most joy. In the South Pacific, I learned that shared laughter transcends language barriers. The children who gave me impromptu hugs and bracelets from their wrists kept me hopeful when I doubted my ability to keep sailing. When I’d come to shore, countless people offered a warm meal, an extra hand, or let me fill my water jugs and do my laundry—without any expectations. The dolphins who sang to me from under the hull on night passages while I lay in my bunk convinced me that I was never alone.
After all, while I now know I can sail a boat by myself, I’ve also learned that we can’t do it all on our own. And if we think we already know everything, we shut ourselves off to unlimited possibilities and potential. It’s up to us to stay curious, to keep evolving, and to let go of what no longer serves us.
I may have set out on this voyage with the goal of sailing around the world, but the truth is that I have found what I was looking for inside myself.
Adapted from Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening by Liz Clark. Copyright © 2018 by Patagonia Works. Used with permission from Patagonia.