The Cleanest Line


Caught by the heavy winds of a fast-moving South Pacific squall, Liz Clark heads to the mast to put another reef in Swell’s sail. Photo: Tahui Tufaimea
Caught by the heavy winds of a fast-moving South Pacific squall, Liz Clark heads to the mast to put another reef in Swell’s sail. Photo: Tahui Tufaimea

High Voltage

By Liz Clark   |   Mar 26, 2018 March 26, 2018

After an hour’s sleep, I wake to the sound of fat raindrops pelting the deck. The noise quickly escalates into a deafening torrent, and I push up off the settee and climb up the steps. Glancing at the radar screen on my way up, I see a massive squall blacking out the entire 8-mile radius of the radar screen.

“Is this normal?” Jake asks.

“Eeesh, this doesn’t look good,” I mutter, surveying the flashes of lightning on the horizon all around us. I had recently heard about a couple whose boat had sunk underneath them in minutes after a lightning strike blew a hole through their hull. I sure hope that grounding plate works.

It seems to be closing in on us from every side. I try to steer us where the radar shows a small gap in the storm, but my efforts are in vain. The sails hang limp in the swirling, convectional air.

“Don’t touch anything metal!” I warn, as the bolts bear down closer and closer. Thunderclaps rumble commandingly as white claws of lightning rip down all around us, illuminating our harrowing reality. I duck below to unplug the radios in a panic, my fingers trembling as I yank out their cords.

“So this is your idea of fun?” Jake asks, aghast. We huddle together, trying to avoid touching anything metal, puny and powerless against the raging sky. My body tenses with each flash of light, bracing for the deafening thunderclap that follows. Jaw clenched, I dig my nails deeper into my calves with each incomprehensibly powerful rumble.

“This is bad,” I whisper.

“Well, if it’s any sign of what’s to come, your pet gecko just abandoned ship!” Jake reports, wide-eyed. He wraps his arm tightly around me. The fiercely independent part of me doesn’t want his support, but this could be it, I’ll take it! The dreadful minutes linger on until three bolts shred the sky just above us.

CRACK! And again. And again.

The thunder hits our chests with visceral force. The third bolt strikes the water just a boat-length away, exploding the surface into a tower of whitewater dressed in the full spectrum of the rainbow. The radar blacks out and the chart plotter flashes a question mark then goes blank.

I moan with terror and clutch Jake. Silent tears stream down my face. Never have I felt so humbled by nature’s power, so raw, unbridled and unpredictable. I brace for a direct hit, but the next bolt strikes farther north. We both sit in silence for a long time as the storm starts to break up.

“You OK, captain?”

“I changed my mind,” I stutter. “I think I want a white picket fence and a golden retriever.”

This story was excerpted from Captain Liz Clark’s new book, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening. In this memoir, Liz captures her voyage in gripping detail, sharing tales of sailing in high seas, of solitude and surprises, of finding connection to the earth and commitment to living in harmony with it.

If you’d like to meet Liz and hear more stories from her book, join us at one of these free events. Signed, limited edition copies will be available for purchase at each tour stop.

Swell Book Tour Dates 2018

Mar. 28 | Honolulu, HI | Patagonia Honolulu

Mar. 29 | Hale’iwa, HI | Patagonia Haleʻiwa

Apr. 2 | Cardiff, CA | Patagonia Cardiff-by-The-Sea

Apr. 3 | Laguna Beach, CA | Hobie Surf Shop

Apr. 4 | Long Beach, CA | Long Beach Women’s Sailing Association

Apr. 5 | Santa Monica, CA | Patagonia Santa Monica

Apr. 6 | Ventura, CA | Patagonia Ventura

Apr. 7 | Santa Barbara, CA | The Sandbox

Apr. 8 | San Luis Obispo, CA | Bang the Drum Brewery

Apr. 10 | Santa Cruz, CA | Patagonia Santa Cruz

Apr. 11 | Mill Valley, CA | Proof Lab Surf Shop

Apr. 12 | San Francisco, CA | St. Francis Yacht Club

Apr. 14 | Bend, OR | Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge 2018

Apr. 16 | Portland, CA | Patagonia Portland

Apr. 19 | Seattle, WA | University Bookstore Seattle

Apr. 24 | Austin, TX | Patagonia Austin

Apr. 25 | St. Paul, MN | Patagonia St. Paul

Apr. 26 | Chicago, IL | Patagonia Chicago (Mag Mile)

Apr. 30 | Pittsburgh, PA | Patagonia Pittsburgh

May 1 | New York, NY | Patagonia Bowery

May 3 | Ship Bottom, NJ | Farias Surf & Sport

May 4 | Hampton, NH | Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Co.

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