Liz Clark

Giddyup! ‘Back to Nature’ adventure revisited…

 

Long-awaited arrival at the legendary bay of Hanavave.

 

Lost in the stars, I lay huddled on the port side of the cockpit in my sleeping bag. The eastern horizon hinted the coming twilight, but my gaze was fixed skyward. Swell’s soft rhythmic lurch through the small upwind chop, told me I could relax. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but intuitively I anticipated a successful arrival. On two other occasions, I’d been forced to alter course and sail elsewhere. This time the wind was strong enough to be single-reefed, but Swell wasn’t fighting. The wind would pick up later, I knew, but I was optimistic with 17 miles to go at 4:40am. Intuitive notions aside, experience had trained me that no landfall should be celebrated until the anchor was firmly set!

 

As dawn haloed the island’s striking silhouette, I couldn’t help but mentally wander through the tales of Thor and Liv Heyerdahl’s romantic ‘back-to-nature’ adventure that took place on this very island in the 1930s…ancient carved petroglyphs, toppling waterfalls, brisk mountaintops, hidden caves, action-packed tidepools, abundant fruits, and resourceful locals swirled through my imagination…

 

A few hours later, the sails luffed indecisively as we moved into the swirling wind shadow of the island’s 3,500ft peaks. Despite little sleep, I was abuzz with excitement as we furled the sails and started the engine. Gusts swooped in at us from north, then south as we neared…adding to the mystique of the legendary bay where ominous stone cliffs, gravity-defying spires, swaying palms, and turning seabirds awaited!!

Change in altitude thanks to my courageous equine friend.

Mountain picnicking!!

 

 
We embarked on jungle forays to experience some of the sites that had impressed Thor and Liv.

A petroglyph carved in stone–one of many in this valley steeped in myth and tabu.

Ol cheveaux watching over the hard stone where rocks were once sharpened into weapons and tools.

 

Locals heading out with their hounds to hunt wild pigs a few bays to the south.

Proud Marquesan hunter’s home.

 

Today Marquesan lives meet somewhere between modern convenience and ancient tradition.

 

Twin Tikis watching over Swell and the wedging lefts.

Post-surf, barefoot architecture project…relaxing on my stone throne…

  Leaving it to the dolphins for a while…view from the beach shack.

Breadfruit lunch…giving new meaning to eating ‘whole foods’! Now it’s off to find Thor and Liv’s cave dwelling…

 

Healthy bees are the Earth’s (and our) best friends.

 

Beauty overload, I can’t hold my camera still! Goosebumps as the full moon rises over Omoa valley…Boundless gratitude!!

A Pain in the Neck!

 

What the heck, I broke my neck!?

As some of you know, I recently suffered a cervical spine fracture of my C3 vertebrae. In other words, I broke my neck! Don’t worry, I’m ok! I was extremely lucky that my fracture did not effect the spinal column, so there was no nerve damage and I will recover fully and relatively quickly… So that’s this month’s excuse for blog delays! :)

I’ve been lying prone and mostly immobile for more than two weeks now. Luckily, the sea has rendered me thick with patience, as this is not unlike a tough passage. The first few days were the the roughest–unable to lift my head and stuck in the warbled cross-chop of pain meds. It felt like I’d lost control of the ship! My friends and family were shocked by the news. Impossible!? How could this have happened?! But what at first seemed like disaster, has been laden with learning.  The only thing I could do was surrender, get silent, go inward, Listen…

Voyaging aboard Swell has taught me that everything that happens in life can be used to grow. In each adversity there is opportunity, if you choose to see it that way. ‘Maintaining a joyful mind’ is possible only if you are willing to stay present through the hard stuff, too. By raising the sails of surrender, I’ve discovered a new quality of stillness. Rather than self-pity and sorrow, blessings and insights abound. Surrendering to an unchangeable situation makes it possible to hear the wisdom that resides deep within all of us–the stuff we know we know, but store away in some remote inner lock-box. What if we listened more?

Yea, this has been a real ‘pain in the neck’, but in order to live wide open, every circumstance (chosen or not) must be embraced with equal fervor, ridden with equal grace, and accepted with Trust and Love. This means everything we encounter is part of the game; our teachers are disguised in our most perturbing situations and people. How we react to them allows us to choose who we are again and again and again. The option to choose Love or Gratitude or Humility or Kindness or Generosity or Joy never goes away! Lived this way, life becomes an extraordinary adventure of unlimited potential and boundless growth as you challenge yourself to evolve into the best You!! So don’t fret, soon I’ll be back on my feet and better than ever! Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family for showering me with so much love, care, and good healing vibes!

 

My big day at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

 

“Maintain a joyful mind. Nothing wasted, nothing lost. All part of the perfection…” Flying via the birds and butterflies in Coronado–Thank you Dixon family!

And in case you’re wondering, here’s how it happened…

 

On October 8th at 8:29am I sat in my faded green station wagon in one of the sea-side parking spots at Torrey Pines State beach. I’d been getting anxious to get back to my travels, but numerous things seemed to be keeping me in California. I’d been nursing a swollen ankle for a whole month, for which I couldn’t pinpoint any significant injury? I’d been staying off it, ice, massage, acupuncture, but whatever was wrong had been oddly persistent. As the clock struck 8:30am, I reached for my phone to call a family friend’s orthopedic office about scheduling an MRI for my ankle. The doctor had offered to help, as i don’t have medical insurance in the US. I dialed the number…

“This is the T-mobile refill center. Your account has expired. Our refill center is experiencing technical difficulties. Please call back in half an hour to an hour to refill your account for continued service.”

“No!” I thought. Cursing myself for forgetting to refill my ‘On the Go’ service before it had run out.

I looked out to sea. I’d spent much of the last month away from it, knowing I couldn’t get in. But on this particular morning, the feeling to be near it had overcome me. Small waves tripped on the shallows and spilled upon the shore. The horizon was steady, comforting. I felt a sensation of being ‘home’.

The tide was dropping; one particular sandbar beckoned as the second consecutive right peeled and spat. With half an hour to kill and a bladder full of tea, a swim seemed in order. So without another thought, I was zipping up my Patagonia R1 spring suit and hopping down the rocks, one fin in hand. I limped across the short strip of sand and collapsed into my beloved ocean at knee deep. Ahhhh!!

My second wave looked like a beauty. It approached from the north, standing up as I kicked into it. But as I plunged down the 2 ft face, an odd warble cropped up, tossing me head over heels. Totally unexpectedly, my head hit the sand. My body was angled such that all its weight and momentum fell upon the forward part of my head, snapping it backwards in the process. “No way,” I thought…

I came to the surface. “Ok. I’m conscious.” Check. “I can move my arms and legs.” Check. “I’m ok. I’m ok.”

I let the water push me in and stood up at the shoreline. Pain gripped my neck. I knew I was hurt. “I’m alright,” I tried to convince myself, heading carefully for the car. “Ok, what do I do…? My phone doesn’t work. I guess I could ask one of these joggers to call for help? …But then again, I have no medical insurance…Surely I can make it up to my sister’s house where I can use her Skype to call someone…”

I strained to hold my head up each time I accelerated the car on the 3-mile drive to my sister’s house. My neck felt loose, unstable, weak…I made it to her apartment and laid down, but the pain seemed to be getting worse. I called my friend Chrissy, an ER nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Surely she would know what to do! Lucky for me she’d surfed early and had the day off.

“I’m on my way.” She said immediately.

She whizzed me off to the hospital and we walked in the back door, where she said she asked her doc co-worker to come have a look before deciding to check me into the ER.

Dr. Healy firmly recommended a CT scan, so Chrissy and the on-duty nurses—real live angels if you ask me– checked me into a room and stabilized my neck. As they tucked me under the blanket, I thought again and again how grateful I felt to be in such caring, capable hands. Shortly after, I was wheeled off and placed inside the CT tube. The metal machine whirled; my mind did too. Warm tears rolled down my cheeks. I was scared. Back in my room, the pain intensified and I finally succumbed to the offer for pain medication. Chrissy inserted the IV and I floated off on a morphine cloud awaiting the results…

Chrissy saves the day!! Thanks for being my ambulance, nurse, and heroic friend! You made me laugh all day!

 

Meanwhile Chrissy waited for the results to show up on the computer, “Radiology found no fracture!” We both sighed and smiled. She removed the brace. Just then, Dr Watt, director of the ER and a fan of my adventures stopped in to say hello. “I’m happy to meet you, but so sorry it’s here!” He said. The feeling was mutual! I’d been using his Surfline password that Chrissy had given me about a year prior…I never thought I’d get to thank him in person! We were laughing about it as Dr Healy came rushing through the door. “Secure the collar!” He said. “There is a fracture at C3.” He’d reviewed the CT results himself and found the fracture of my spinous process at C3. Good work, Dr Healy!

 

After all the non-stop adventures, remote places, and constant risky business I’ve gotten up to in my short lifetime…it didn’t seem possible that I could break my neck bodysurfing benign beach break in sunny California!? But as unlucky as it seems, I was very lucky. Had the bone been crushed farther, enough to even lightly press on the nerves running through my spinal column, I could have been paralyzed to the extent that I could not even use my chest muscles to breathe. I’m still grasping this…so for now I’m grateful. Grateful to be alive!?! Grateful for the fabulous medical care I received (that includes you, Mom!) Grateful to be a tiny, (but living!!!) fleck in all the Grandness!

 

My hair especially seems to miss the ocean!?–Shorebreak hair, Whitewater hair, Double Over Head hair, Offshore Closeout hair!

Sister Kathleen fearlessly takes on the dreadlocks on Day 6! Right after finding my soulmate (see below).

Dawwwwgg and Capt Lizzy?

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, July 20th!

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July 20: Voyage to the Source by Liz Clark

2600 Miles in the South Pacific Examining Life Close to Nature

Where: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, Munger Theater, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California
What: A Slideshow Presentation by Liz Clark (surfer, writer, photographer, adventurer, environmental activist and Patagonia ambassador.)
When: Friday, July 20, 2012, 7 pm
Why: Liz shares stories and insights from her recent, yearlong sailing trip around the eastern South Pacific.
Cost: $5 for everyone
To RSVP: (805) 962-8404, x115
For more information visit: www.sbmm.org

 

Plastic-Coated Paradise??

Photo by Mckenzie Clark.

 

…Yet another plastic-ridden beach thousands of miles from any significant metropolis…

Mckenzie and I hiked over the hill from where Swell was anchored hoping to find some wind-swell peaks to surf one morning.
Instead, we discovered this spectacular 1/2 mile-long beach coated in plastic trash (and Portugese man-o-wars!) from end to end. This beach faces the tradewinds on an island nearly 3,800 miles off the coast of Central America. We found shampoo bottles from Chile, a hard hat with ‘Miguel’ inscribed on it, polypropylene ropes, oil containers, broken jugs, toothbrushes, plastic bags, fishing nets, soda bottles, you name it…The plastic was brittle and broke easily when we tried to move it. Tropical sun breaks it down into smaller pieces over time, but they don’t ever biodegrade. What doesn’t reach this beach or others in the Pacific continues on to one of the five ocean gyres where floating plastic accumulates. We are literally turning our oceans into plastic soup!

Here and everywhere, the plastic continues to pollute, contaminating the surrounding environment with the toxic phthalates used in PVC plastic, bisphenol A or BPAs used in polycarbonate plastic, and brominated flame retardants or PBDEs used in many other types of plastic.  They enter the food chain from the bottom and move there way up effecting bird life, fish, marine mammals and eventually humans. Do you want your next order of fish and chips with or without plastic toxins?

 

Is this the kind of world we want to leave for our children?

 

Let’s reduce our plastic use!

Let’s demand alternatives to single-use plastic!

Let’s clean up the mess we’ve made of Earth!

 

Some corresponding organizations to support and follow:

The Clean Oceans Project

5 Gyres 

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Surfrider Foundation

Plastic Pollution Coalition 

Mizu Stainless Waterbottles

 

 

 

 

Nocturnal for a Night: Shine-eyes and rock pillows

All decked out in my lobstering get-up!

 

No one put more wood on the fire, which I interpreted as a sign that we’d be going soon…Not home, not yet. Tonight I’d be following my local friends out to the reef to look for lobsters.

 

Makae made no grand announcement. Just stood and gathered his gloves, then donned his homemade jerry jug backpack. It must have been near midnight. The moon was much brighter than my headlamp so I turned it off and let my eyes fully adjust to the night as the brisk walking awakened me. I was excited! I’d never walked the reef at night and as much as I knew I was going to feel sorry for the lobsters, I knew that Makae and Steven respected them–never taking lobsters below the size limit, and never taking females with eggs. This was their stretch of reef from which to live and to nurture, and they’d already witnessed what happened to their neighbors’ reef–those who had taken too much. Their was little left, few lobsters and no coconut crabs…In fact, the coconut crab, native only to this region and known for its delicious meat, is extinct on nearly every heavily populated ‘motu’ or atoll island in this region…:(

 

They moved quickly over the reef ahead of me like nocturnal reef creatures themselves, but I imagined that they’d followed their father and uncles down this same stretch of reef for probably twenty years…

 

The night air was cool and still; the trades were taking a break. The sea rose and fell gently out to the horizon–smooth, silvery, undulating—a glorious night to be at sea. Once my eyes had adjusted, I could see almost like daytime. Without the piercing sun, I felt free as if I could walk for miles…and that we did. As we got out on the reef where the waves washed over our feet, I felt the rhythm of the sea and dropped a ways behind…there were crabs of every color and shape and size, big pinchers or small, fat and squatty, or lanky and quick. All fit for battle and equipped with grippy little hairs on their legs to hold to the reef as wave after wave pounded over them. I’d bend my knees and brace myself for the hit, while they just carried on with their munching, popping their eyes up at me from the same spot when the wave had washed back to sea. There were spotty eels and lithe-legged brittle stars and urchins waving at me with their spines. There were cowries as big as soap bars, hermit crabs just as girthy, and a myriad of fishes swirling about…each species, each individual going about their own business, and at the same time ‘turning their cog’ in the greater reef ecosystems’ fine-tuned balance. I marveled thinking that all these visible creatures were only the very tip of a vast pyramid of reef biomass starting as micro-miniscule bacteria, archaeans, protozoans, algaes, corals, and such…

 

I looked back. My mast light was long out of sight and I had to halt my observations if I was going to catch up to my guides…Running was no option. Only careful placement of foot would keep me from taking a spill or re-injuring my knee on the sharp, slippery reef…

 

When I finally caught them, I could see they were well on the way to a decent catch.

 

“How do you see them?” I asked once I finally caught up.

 

“Come here,” Makae said. “Look where my light is, you see the little reflectors? Those are their eyes…”

 

“You’re going to reach in that hole?” I questioned. “What about eels?”

 

“The eels and lobsters don’t like each other. If you see the lobsters are there, it’s safe to reach in…but no eyes, no put your hand in! I already learned that!” He said showing me a scar on his right pointer finger, which I assumed was an eel bite…

 

“Oh…” I said. That seemed reasonable enough.

 

“What’s that?” I called, as his bright light passed over something marvelously colorful in a hole in the reef.

 

He moved the light back…“Parrokee, sleeping.”

 

I peered in the hole, and there on its side, was a foot-long parrot fish! I couldn’t understand how he’d gotten in there, or more importantly how he would ever get out, but he didn’t seem the least bit bothered. This was one tired fish…The light didn’t phase him. Steven even reached in and stroked his side, and the little guy just kept on sleeping like he had the plushest rock pillow in all of Polynesia. It made perfect sense, the parrotfish did his coral grazing in broad daylight and he was certainly safe from predators in the coral crevices…

Shhhhhh...parrotfish sleeping!

 

“Look, they’re all over…” Steven said, shining his light on a few smaller parrotfish cousins, all snuggled into their own nearby holes. Amazing!

 

“There, Liz, grab that lobster! Take the antennae!”

 

Just 6 feet to my right, his eyes twinkled in Makae’s light…

 

I didn’t really want to…but I knew I had to…I moved slowly over, reached in, felt the brush of his antennae, and pulled him out…

 

He flapped and flapped his mighty tail, making a terrible sucking sound. I winced but held on tight and tossed him into Makae’s bin before I knew what had happened…

 

They cheered and we carried on…

 

The first light of dawn was just tinting the horizon as we returned. For the last mile, I was draggin my boots…kinda wanting to crawl in a reef hole and rest my head on a coral pillow like a parrotfish!

 

Custom lobster backback...Lobsters so big we could eat the legs!

 

Whale Tale

 

I put my basic art skills to use in re-creating this spectacle on paper...I could have kicked myself for leaving my camera up on the beach, a slippery 300 yards away!… Sometimes we must simply cherish a moment, with our full presence, no camera in hand...

 

 

Tucked into an inside atoll corner one morning, I felt like watching the open sea crash onto the reef so I took the dinghy in and anchored it on the lagoon side of the reef, then wandered the 500 yards across the island to where the reef dropped off into the open Pacific…

The atolls are covered in interesting flora, all most incredibly equipped in their own ways, to survive in the harsh atoll environment. Waxy leaves retain precious moisture or reflective hairs help cut the intense tropical sun. In some places, plants pushed right out of the coral rocks. For land-dwelling species, atoll life doesn’t look easy. But the coconut trees sure don’t seem bothered…

 

I twisted a young coconut off a short tree and sat in the shade for a drink…

 

Carrying on to the outlying reef, I started north, scanning the washed up coral for shells or sea treasures. Oh, what I would have done for that plastic to oil machine now! There was far more plastic than shells or treasures—flip flops, tooth brushes, oil containers, soap bottles, broken buckets, water bottles, soda bottles, fish nets, bits of degrading nylon rope, and even a Coke bottle that read, “Fabrique en Chile”.  Our oceans are now giant bodies of plastic soup…

What will happen with all this plastic...?

 

To distract myself from the depressing array of degrading plastic flotsam, I dropped my bag and wandered out onto the reef. The sea was relatively calm, so I made my way out towards the edge to see what sort of creatures were living there. Between the washing of the waves, the living reef pulsed with life and color. I was careful to avoid stepping on live coral and pencil urchins, while feasting my eyes on the wild purples, spotty lime greens and luscious teals of the giant clams. Small eels slithered between the cracks and schools of parrotfish munched coral in the deeper washes of the reef.

 

Suddenly, something caught my eye out to sea. I turned to see a massive humpback whale, mid-breach, only 50 yards off the reef to the south of where I stood. Before I could calculate what I’d just witnessed, there he went again! More than ¾ of his (or her) body airborne, in the most amazing display of whale excitement I had ever seen. Wait, there were more…Another adult whale broke the surface for a breath right along side a baby whale. Surely it was a family, heading slowly north with their new baby!! What luck! The breacher kept at it and all three whales crossed right in front of where I stood, not more than 100 feet from the reef! The splash of his breach sent waves rippling over the reef!! He must have leapt 10 times in less than a ¼ mile—he even made some spiraling leaps with pectoral fins splayed and the stripes of his expanding white underbelly giggling through the air. Who knows why he was so excited, but as far as I could tell, it was a bitchen day to be a whale on that clear, calm day in the South Pacific. His display was electric, and I hopped and cheered for them, arms flailing and tears in my eyes as I bid them safe voyaging…

 

Open Trap Surgery

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A black tip, looking for a way out...

Three days later, I kept thinking about those trapped sharks…so I rallied a friend and we sped off on a quest to free the hostages.

…It was farther away than I’d imagined. By the time we found the trap it was late afternoon. I jumped in the water and peered through the fencing to see what I counted to be 16 sharks circling in the 15’ by 20’ trap. There was not a single fish left inside. Who knows how long they’d been in there, but by the looks of things, they were hungry. They nosed at the fence and lashed their tails, swimming lap after lap in search of an exit.

We had to work fast; not only was the sun going down but if anyone saw us, word would surely get back to the owner that we’d been messing with their trap…

I donned my mask and leapt off the dinghy, searching the perimeter for a place where we could simply open a hole for the sharks to exit and then close it up again. But after scanning the length, I found no such option. The trap was securely fixed all the way around. After brief discussion, we agreed there was no choice but to resort to ‘open trap surgery’.

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Steady...steady...trying to shoo the sharks out without falling in the trap...

I took my swiss army knife and a short length of rope, then dove down to cut three sides of a 2’ by 3’ square in the plastic fencing. The sharks swam by curiously—they were mostly black and silver tips, but there was also a decent sized lemon shark. With the dinghy positioned adjacently, I peeled open the hole in the fence and tied it back with fastest half hitch my fingers could yield, then rocketed back up to the surface and into the dinghy.

Oddly, the prisoners weren’t quick to find their freedom. In fact, it took another half an hour for us to shoo them all out, tapping and splashing the top of the water to scare them to the side of the trap with the exit hole. One by one, they finally all found their freedom. And when we were sure they were all out, I hopped INTO the trap this time (to be sure I wouldn’t meet any hungry lingerers) and sewed the fencing back together with a long piece of nylon cord.

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Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

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The last to go, the sole lemon shark finds open water...

…I smiled as we sped back across the lagoon. I knew I’d sleep better that night knowing the sharks were swimming free …and, my shark karma had never been better!

Simply South Pacific Living…

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” –Rachel Carson

…After three short upwind hops over the last month, I’ve just arrived to the second biggest of the  atolls (population~800)…vegetables, a health clinic, internet, and even a post office! Ahh the luxuries of civilization!  So after too long without a good internet connection, here’s a peek at what I’ve been up to…


Sunrise from the mast.


Captain’s duties, daily anchor check…


Shark behavioral studies…


A fire to warm the soul…


…and cook the lobster! Hand plucked with ultimate respect from the reef at midnight the night before.


Laundry day…don’t worry, I’ve got eco-detergent!


The laundry can wait…!


Getting to know my neighbors…


Beach day! No waves, but finding parking wasn’t a problem…


A change of venue from my usual practice in the cockpit..We must make time to give back to our bodies, minds, spirit…


Peace. Freedom. A home that flies over water…Daily love and gratitude from a sheltered corner of the South Pacific.