This is going to be a helluva collaboration. 

In September the phone rang in New York, about a month after most of the activity on the island was wrapping up. It was Liz Clark. 

“I was wondering if I could visit Rabbit Island later this year. I’m coming back and am going to start writing a book. I’d love to find someplace quiet.”

We said yes, of course, but since we weren’t set up for late-season expeditions to the island—cold weather gales, no enclosed shelter, a frigid lake—we decided to push her residency back to this upcoming summer and are currently working on the logistics from opposite sides of the globe. (Liz is somewhere in French Polynesia right now.)

Liz Clark has a good story. Since 2006 she has been sailing her 40 foot sailboat, Swell, solo around the remote atolls of the South Pacific. She set off from southern California after college and sailed down the coast of Baja Mexico and Central America. After that she made a break for the Galapagos Islands, and then, in a single charge, went for it across the Pacific. Just imagine—a young woman, a sailboat, the Pacific ocean, twenty-eight thousand miles, and, well, six incredible years. 

Liz also happens to be a really good surfer and a committed environmental writer. So good in fact, and so well-intentioned, that she’s been given the title Surf Ambassador by a company in California you might’ve heard of.  

Though we digress, perhaps. Let’s imagine a few sailing details for a moment: The number of days she’s spent on a sailboat—cruising solo for more time than it takes to earn an undergraduate degree; the number of times she’s glanced at the wake parting with regular irregularity behind Swell; the sound of halyards clanking against an aluminum mast and how they must’ve faded into the background, like sirens in New York City; the slap of the mainsail’s leech at different points of sail; the number of times she has checked her tells; the instincts she has developed towards her rigging; the number of days she’s been soaked at the helm; the feeling of securing hatches in weather before ducking below for a night, thousands of miles from land; the maintenance she’s performed during a constant battle with salinity; the trust developed between sailor and ship; the occasional notes from a digital navigation instrument, or static over a long-range radio.

It is difficult to conceive. 

Sailing is compelling. Sailing is intrinsically a matter of good design. That is, if you are sailing, you are part of an elegant and functional idea manifested physically. You are connected to the physical world with sophisticated intention and simple execution, few degrees from baseline laws. (The same can be said of surfing, of course, and this mustn’t be a coincidence.) 

In design and purpose, Rabbit Island and Liz’s voyage have similarities. On both island and sailboat less is more, and simplicity is ideal, because you have to choose carefully what you bring. In fact we’d love the island to become analogous to a well-designed sailboat. It is a nice idea. 

Liz has been illustrating intelligent principles with precision during her voyage, living a well-curated life born initially of choice, and then, while at sea, necessity. She is leaving little trace and impacting the wider culture. She’s been traveling under the power of wind, generating electricity from the sun, eating fish and fruit from her surroundings, accounting for inputs and outputs, writing, surfing, and—most interestingly—becoming a scholar of the ocean via experience, witnessing every inch of water along a zig-zagging line of jibes, runs, beats and reaches between California and French Polynesia.

Liz has seen the plastic, swam the changing coral beds, dodged the container ships, reefed her sails through weather, witnessed the effects of overfishing on island communities, seen the spoiling of paradises via development. But she’s also witnessed the diamonds that have been spared such fates and the remnants of wild places near the antipode of North America. She went for it and has spent six years noting the byproducts of our land-based externalities on the sea. 

Every day, every night, every sunset, every storm on the horizon, she’s taken record amidst the most remote expanse of water in the world. She has been crossing the ocean while we’ve been on land. 

It is said that the only thing people have, really, is their experience—the books that they’ve read, the people that they’ve related to, the art they have seen, the language they’ve been taught, the lands they have visited, the family that instilled values within them. We are excited to have the opportunity to learn from her experiences, share our own, and create dialogue amongst the island’s resident artists, writers, builders and chefs.  

This spring she’ll be taking a sabbatical from sailing and will begin creating a written record of her story. During July and August she’ll be spending some time on Rabbit Island. 

Which brings us to surfing. Liz has surfed some of the best breaks in the world but she’s never seen the rocky shoal off the southeast point of Rabbit Island on a windy day. We can see it now, an angry summer front pushing a strong east wind across the sandstone reef. Sizable lake sets. Glaring sun. Liz will be the third person to surf Rabbit Island, and there’s little doubt she’ll show the first two how it’s done. But that’s cool. Really, who can compete with proper California kid on a wave.

If anyone knows how our life on land—what we consume, what we create, what runs off, how we divide it, and the story of stuff—effect our broader world, it’s probably Liz Clark. Who better then to invite to our residency on a patch of land that was spared development, harvest and subdivision, to brainstorm ways to organize things more intelligently and celebrate the continued existence of natural places of scale. 

And one more thing. Perhaps the best part—which we haven’t told her yet because it’s a bit of a secret. We’d been following her blog for several years, living vicariously through her as she sailed Swell across the Pacific. This is part of what makes the collaboration so special; the serendipity of it all; ideas coming together; a phone call out of the blue from across the web.

May good things come!

January 30, 2013