Family trips have a way of following us around in life. We keep them alive in photographs kept on fridges and shelves, and we reproduce them (or at least try to) when we’re older. Some, like Captain Liz Clark, go a notch farther. When she was nine years old, her parents brought her family on a six-month sailing trip from San Diego to Mexico, and the notion of a life at sea took hold. Years later, after graduating college, Capt. Clark left Santa Barbara on a 1966 Cal 40, a sailboat designed initially by Bill Lapworth for racing, and has been sailing the world ever since.
Earlier this year, Capt. Clark detailed 20,000 nautical miles’ worth of exploits in a memoir called Swell, which is also the name of her sailboat. “Exploits” is perhaps a stereotypical way to describe Capt. Clark’s journeys — the word conjures up images of pirates and buried treasure — but it’s also apt; her story includes Colombian drug runners, rogue waves and a scene in which, after a successful day of fishing with the locals, she ceremoniously consumes the still-warm heart of a tuna.
Viewed from above, Capt. Clark’s life is idyllic. She departed California in search of a life of freedom (and the best surfing waves in the world), and she found it. The collections of photographs that form the various intermissions in Swell depict open horizons and empty waves, but also rough, gray seas and proof of her vessel’s neverending upkeep. Her story is just as much about self-discovery as it is about adventure — and loneliness in nature (a theme that hearkens back to Robinson Crusoe) is constantly at play (“If I screw up, my own life is the only one at stake,” Capt. Clark writes).
Capt. Clark’s sole companion for most of the trip is Swell. The sailboat is at once the cornerstone of her seafaring lifestyle, her home, and a constant source of difficulty that requires continuous maintenance and upkeep. Sailing the world isn’t what it’s made out to be on Instagram and Capt. Clark is forthcoming about it.
In addition to Swell, there are countless smaller items that Capt. Clark relies on — things like pumps and chains and shaft tubes — that all have large roles to play. But while everything that Capt. Clark deems worthy of space aboard Swell has a specific purpose, there are some items that she gets to be more choosy about. Below, she tells us about her favorites.
Captain Liz Clark’s Favorite Gear
Patagonia Stormfront 20L Sling Pack
“This is my go-to bag for boat and surf life. It’s ultra-waterproof and tough, so it doesn’t matter if it sits in the bottom of my leaky dinghy or if it rains on the way to go ashore. I’ve seriously gone over the falls swimming into the beach with my camera gear inside and it was dry when I arrived. It’s just the right size for a daypack, and I can leave my pareo and phone inside of it in the dinghy while I’m surfing at the reefs and not worry about them getting wet.”
LedLenser SEO 7R Headlamp
I’m a headlamp connoisseur. This is such an important piece of gear in my lifestyle, for being able to see while I fix things with my hands, or steering the dinghy through shallow coral heads at night, or having the red light option for night vision on overnight passages at sea. Or just checking if my vegan cookies are done in the oven. I’ve tried them all, and this headlamp is the only one that cuts the cake for me. It’s small, light and comfortable; it’s got a rechargeable battery, but also fits AAA batteries if needed. The red/white option is essential for preserving your night vision on dark passages. The strongest setting is 220 lumens (super bright!) and has an adjustable beam width for near or far viewing. Plus there’s a five-year warranty! And they have been very good about replacing mine if there was a problem.”
Marlow Control Line (Excel Pro Mini-Spool 3mm)
“This thin cord can be used for just about anything if you know a couple of good knots. I can temporarily replace broken hardware on the boat, secure ends of fraying lines, make custom attachments, use it for a laundry line — this stuff is ultra useful, crazy strong, inexpensive and doesn’t take up much space.”
Avasol Surfer’s Barrier Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+ Dark
“This is my go-to for sun protection in the surf and also for everyday use. The high-quality organic/wildcrafted ingredients actually feel good on my skin and are safe for my body and the oceans — no chemical UV blockers and no nanoparticles. It’s packaged in a biodegradable cardboard tube so I don’t feel guilty creating more plastic waste when it runs out. I love the tinted color because I can see when I need to re-apply, and I also use it as cover-up/makeup to smooth out my skin for a worthy occasion.”
Victorinox Skipper Pro Pocket Knife
“This is my favorite pocket knife. I keep it on me at all times on passages in case I need to quickly cut away a rope with the super sharp serrated blade or undo a fouled line with the lockable marlin spike. I like it because the blade is big enough to be functional for lots of needs. Basic needs are covered too — there’s a can opener (which I have used for 10 years!), screwdrivers and a sharp punch for making holes. It’s small and light, but high-quality. Mine has lasted for ages with lots of use.
North Sails 3Di Sails
Photo: North Sails
“About a year ago, I switched to using North Sails 3Di cruising sails. They have been a game-changer for me. They are ultra-tough but light and molded like racing sails so that Swell gets the most out of the conditions. I don’t have to worry about them tearing and Swell performs like a dream!”
Mizu 360 Adventure Filter
“Mizu makes this incredible filtration system for your water bottle, which makes it possible to fill up your bottle virtually anywhere, sip through the filtered spout and have clean drinking water. There are two options — the ‘Everyday’ filter is for use with tap water and the ‘Adventure’ filter means I can literally dip my water bottle into a stream on a hike or fill up in countries without potable water on tap. This filter has helped me avoid having to purchase single-use plastic bottled water and makes going hiking/camping so much lighter!”
Photo: Verodemortillet (Wikipedia)
“This hand-pressed coconut oil is traditionally made in Tahiti and used for moisturizing skin and hair. It’s insanely good when you have a sunburn, but I use it every day after bathing, and on my hair before I go surfing. It’s scented with whole flowers in the coconut drying process and it’s also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It’s not so oily-feeling on my skin that I look like I’m entering a body-building contest, but I could use it in a pinch on a rusty bike chain and it would totally do the job.”
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