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.
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.