What Goes Around Comes Around -November 1, 2001
When 77 year old David Clark sails into Ft. Lauderdale on December 7, he will have achieved the world record as the oldest sailor completing a solo circumnavigation of the planet. But when we spoke with him a few days ago, just before he left Trinidad for the last leg of his epic voyage, the sailor and jazz clarinettist told us, "I'm not doing it all alone."
David told us his story aboard his 34-foot sloop, "Mickey", tied up at the Trinidad & Tobago Yacht Club. In the eight years since the start of his first attempt at the record, he's lost two boats, two clarinets, a saxophone, and a dog, but he's gained countless friends and supporters. His success at long last is due to his indomitable spirit and the generosity of people around the globe.
It certainly hasn't been easy. He thought up the idea in 1991 when he was 67 years old and had just completed his first circumnavigation, most of it single-handed. He figured he had sailed around the earth once already, so why not again by himself? His wife Lynda was not overly enthusiastic when he told her about the scheme. She had accompanied him for the initial part of his first round the world trip. David recalled, "Lynda went to New Zealand with me and then, discovering how little I knew about it all, she got off." Not exactly a vote of confidence.
But once David got it into his mind to do it again solo, Lynda knew it was no use dissuading him. She soon embraced the idea and became home base where she now handles publicity, sponsorships and the piles of fan mail he receives. He left Florida in 1992 in his 31 foot Pacific Seacraft, "Sea Me Now", that he had built himself from a bare hull. After a 63 day passage from Panama, he had a bit of a mishap with a reef in the Tuamotu islands in French Polynesia, but that didn't stop him. A gale in the Indian Ocean did, however. He snapped his backstay, lost his mast, and began taking on water. He was plucked from his sinking boat by a passing cargo ship.
Back in the States, he played his clarinet at every venue he could find in the San Francisco Bay area to make enough money to buy another boat. He ended up with a 44-foot steel boat in pretty sorry shape that he named "Mollie Milar", after his mother. Although planning an east-to-west circumnavigation, he wanted to leave from Ft. Lauderdale in order to end the trip there. He fixed up the "Mollie Milar" the best he could on a limited budget, had a disastrous sail to Florida via the Panama Canal, when virtually everything broke, and spent another eight months in Ft. Lauderdale fixing her up again. "It pretty well stayed together until I sunk it", he remarked. This time he lost his boat in a storm off the Cape of Good Hope, only 8000 miles from his goal.
Just before he had left Cape Town, he had given away one of his three clarinets to someone whose story had touched him. Apparently, the fellow's wife loved the clarinet, but had sold hers in order to buy him a birthday present. Handing over his clarinet, David said, "Well, here's a present for HER!" A few days later, when shipwrecked David appeared back in Cape Town with only the clothes on his back, the first to meet him was his new friend, clarinet in hand. "Here you are, you can have it back," he offered. David told him he would only borrow it for a few months and then send it back to him when he got to the States. He wasn't about to give up his quest, especially now that he had the means once more to raise money.
As David resumed playing the clarinet in Cape Town, Lynda back home hit the "send" button on her PC, appealing to everyone on their e-mail list for contributions. In two weeks, they received $15,000 US, enough to buy and outfit (barely) an older South African-built boat. He named her "Mickey" after the West Highland terrier he had lost with the "Mollie Milar", and headed out again, bound for the Caribbean.
"Mickey" arrived in Trinidad on June 28. As we and other cruisers waited out hurricane season, David entertained us with his clarinet. The generosity he experienced around the world continued during his stay on the island. One of the big boatyards hauled his boat for free, a chandlery gave him bottom paint and the TTYC helped him out with his slip rental. A department store gave him a stereo system and an electronics firm gave him a computer so he could write his story.
As we chatted with him a couple of days before he left to complete his trip, David professed, "It's crazy because here I am sitting in this boat with all of this. And when I got off my last boat after sinking it I had absolutely zero, I was totally destitute. And yet, here I am."
who has travelled the world for eight years sharing stories, music and
goodwill with everyone he's met, David shouldn't be so amazed at his good
fortune. As they say, what goes around, comes around.