Liz Clark: Self-isolation on a 40-foot sailboat

A lot to be proud of

Interview & Words: Elisa Routa

Photos: Courtesy of Liz Clark / Swell

“Peace of mind comes mostly from acceptance. Acceptance of this unusual & unprecedented situation, acceptance that we must stay at home for the benefit of others, acceptance that we cannot change what’s happening right now.”

Surfer, environmentalist and sailor Liz Clark learned to sail at seven years old in San Diego. Since then, she embarked on countless adventures aboard her 40-foot sailboat, Swell. A few years ago, she set sail from Santa Barbara, California, and headed south in search of surf and self. As captain of her own vessel, she spent months at sea, experiencing first hand self-isolation in a limited space. 

May 2020. While half the planet is currently on lockdown, topics like solitude in a small space and having plenty of time sound like very familiar to most of us right now. That’s why, we had a chat with the Tahiti-based sailor in order to learn more about the importance of living in the moment, learning to enjoy our own company, as well as the surprising benefits of boredom. Based on some extracts from her book entitled Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening, we also discussed solitude as a way to self-improvement and self-respect. “This is a rare pause from our usual busy lives, and we are lucky for an opportunity to slow down and be more present.”

Make some tea, relax, the following interview will bring a new dimension to your self-isolation, and help you keep the peace during lockdown. “With an attitude of gratitude and positivity, almost any situation can bring beautiful lessons and surprises. If we stay positive, we will emerge from this even stronger.” .

© Jody Macdonald
© Jianca Lazarus

Liz, you spent 10 years of your life sailing more than 20,000 miles. You made a book out of this incredible voyage in which you wrote: “ I have plenty of time. Instead of letting a schedule or obligation plot my course, I will let the wind, weather, and swell direction choose my next ports of call.” Do you think having no schedule, no obligation and no expectations are keys to peace of mind? 

I don’t think it’s essential to have no obligations, although it can be really nice! Not having a schedule is wonderful for self-exploration and going deeper into self-healing. But in this moment, I think peace of mind comes mostly from acceptance. Acceptance of this unusual & unprecedented situation, acceptance that we must stay at home for the benefit of others, acceptance that we cannot change what’s happening right now. When we let go of resistance to a situation, it’s easier to be positive and find opportunities within the adversity. 

Regarding solitude, you wrote: “ I hadn’t always been so excited to be alone. In fact, I used to be terrified of it. I was avoiding being alone. Now that I’ve had some extended stretches of solitude aboard Swell, it’s a relief to know that I actually enjoy my own company.” How to get used to solitude and eventually spend quality time alone? 

Just like anything else, getting used to solitude takes practice. When I first started living alone on Swell, it was really intimidating. But I quickly learned to love it—it’s very simple & peaceful. I felt very free. And it allowed me to more clearly distill who I am and what I want in life. It’s very liberating to know that you enjoy your own company and can be alone happily or go do whatever you want alone and enjoy it.

“Out there, there is no one to compare myself with. I let my hair go wild. I laugh out loud, and break into dance without a second thought. I can scream, cry and sing all in one breath with no one to judge me. I want everyone to feel this deep liberation.”

Is solitude one of the most liberating experiences leading to self-respect?

I personally think that learning to accept and love ourselves is fundamental to living a happy life. Solitude expedites the process of seeing yourself clearly. It takes courage to look within, and self-respect is earned from doing things that we know we must do, even if we don’t really want to.It’s not the only way to achieve self-improvement and respect, but I do think it speeds up the process because we are not distracted by others and we have the space and time that we need to look within and deal with what we see.

According to you, in which way can spending time alone change our life?

Spending time alone allows us to look within. The little voice inside of us that knows what we need to look at, work on, change and let go of becomes louder. If we take the time to listen & reflect, we can get to know ourselves better, accept where we are, make changes, learn to laugh at ourselves. I think it’s important and liberating to know that you’ll be fine if you’re alone for a while. It might not happen right away, but just do the things you enjoy, listen to the music you like, cook what you like to eat, be good to yourself, allow yourself to be. It will come.

“The days ebb and flow with the rhythms of my body and the environment around me. I move between tasks and basic human needs in a spontaneous, instinctual manner. The simplicity of it delights me.”

Why following our intuition and trusting our guts can bring a good transformation to our life?

Nothing brought me more self-respect than listening to my own intuition. I realised that those feelings in my gut are my connection to my higher self, the divine. When I listened to it, and saw the results, I began to understand my true power.

For most of us, the reality of self-isolation requires being locked in a limited space, constrained to restricted movements. Our flats are not always designed for self-isolation. Living on a 40-foot sailboat alone has some similarities with the situation we’re currently facing. But according to you, there is beauty in simplicity. You wrote: “It’s a rare time for people to get comfortable with being bored.” Is it important for people to be bored in a digital age?

I think we live in a time where we are constantly stimulated, satisfied, and can do almost whatever we want whenever we want. I think we forget to be grateful for that. I think a little boredom right now will help us all bring gratitude into our daily lives as we emerge from this period.

“Being alone allows me to tune in to signs, nuances and feelings. I refocus on buena manifestation, being present, rooting out my negative thoughts, more flowing, and less forcing. I change my mind and my destination as often as I want.”

While it can be terrifying, why does being in the moment represent an our opportunity to do our inner work and heal our inner wounds?

Being really present with ourselves allows us to hold space for whatever comes up. It allows us to feel into whatever we’re feeling, whatever needs to come out, without judgement. I think this is the key to healing emotional wounds — be present with them—let ourselves sit in the storm of feelings. Once they pass, it may be possible for us to move on feel less emotion attached to past events.

Some of us are still fighting against the idea to stay home, afraid of evolving in a very limited space. During your trip, you had to stay at your parent’s condo for a month after you hurt your left foot. You wrote: “Although I’m not excited to be bedridden, in her tiny apartment, I know that full-acceptance is my best refuge and will expedite my healing. In surrender, my mind feels more at ease.” What did things change once you accepted the fact that you had no choice than just remaining still at home to be able to recover? 

Once I accepted this, I didn’t waste any more energy fighting it. Instead I looked at the positive things that I could do in that time, and did a bunch of research about healing and diet. This is when I first decided to try a plant-based diet, which ended up benefiting my life in so many ways!

© Jianca Lazarus

© Jianca Lazarus
© Jianca Lazarus

“ I have spent the most energetic years of my life testing my psychical, mental, and emotional capacities in pursuit of a dream. We all deserve this kind of chance to spread our wings and learn to fly. ”

Would you consider this global crisis as a way to “spread our wings and learn to fly” ? How to turn this constraint into an opportunity?

In one way, this is a rare pause from our usual busy lives, and we are lucky for an opportunity to slow down and be more present. It’s a rare moment to look within and examine where we are and where we are going, and decide if it’s really right for us. It’s an opportunity to try new things that fit into the current restrictions. With an attitude of gratitude and positivity, almost any situation can bring beautiful lessons and surprises. If we stay positive, we will emerge from this even stronger.


You finished your book with the following sentence : “May we find a way to accept that we are multidimensional beings – separate, yet at the same time, energetically, socially, ecologically, spiritually interconnected and dependent on everything else. Everything. Even out there alone in the middle of the sea, I am connected to everyone who shaped me and my vessel.” What’s the message you’d like to spread?

Oneness. I think we’re all on our own paths to feeling our inherent Oneness with all that is, and I hope that more people pursue their dreams and desires because I believe they lead us to understanding and knowing this feeling of Oneness.

“May we find the fortitude to heal ourselves from within, to heal the world. May we understand that our health and the health of the planted are inextricably connected.”

View Story