David Clark has no paid-off mortgage or comfy nest egg.
At 84, the intermittent Tucson resident pays for expenses by playing his clarinet wherever on the globe he happens to be.
At times, he serenades diners at Spice Bistro and El Corral Restaurant and then turns in at his mobile home at South Forty RV Ranch.
His is not a predictable life, but what Clark lacks in domestic comforts he makes up for in memories.
Ten years ago, Clark set sail around the world solo. For some, that might seem like the journey of a lifetime. For Clark, it was just life’s next adventure.
“Without bragging or complaining, I’ll tell you I’m a true nomad,” he said.
It all started on a ski slope in Oregon, one of many where Clark worked as a ski instructor over 30 years.
Clark was on a lift with his then-wife, rocking around in blustery wind, when he had a vision of an alternate reality.
“I turned to her and said, ‘I’ve had snow up to here for 40 years. I’m going to go to Florida where it’s nice and warm.”
Clark’s spouse made the mistake of doubting, and in no time, the nomad was in Naples, Fla., 50 years old and alone.
There, he had a new vision — this one real.
“I saw a boat with a dog on deck and three naked women,” he said. “I went to a bank the next day and asked if I could finance a boat.”
Clark bought a 36-foot Gulf Star and took it to the Bahamas. He found a new wife and proclaimed to her, one day, that he intended to sail around the world.
“I said, ‘We’ve been to the Bahamas and we’ve been to Haiti. This is like going to the Bahamas over and over.’ That’s not precisely true, but was true enough to get me on that track.”
The couple set sail, and Clark’s wife made it to New Zealand before deciding she’d rather cheer him on from afar. Clark made it all the way.
The trip had its life-threatening moments. There’s a place at the Cape of Good Hope on the African continent where waves reach 60 feet and sailors must attend a school to learn how to navigate safely. And there were times when Clark’s boat took on water or winds picked up to such speeds that the nomad had to crawl on the deck to stay onboard.
But Clark experienced times of unparalleled beauty, too.
“Sometimes at night, the sky and sea are just indescribably glorious,” he said. “The boat is moving along like a lady across a stage, and it’s incredibly peaceful.”
Those times stuck in Clark’s mind.
“Lots of cruising people have the same problem I do,” he said. “We go through horrendous situations and get to port and are wined and dined, and everything’s hunky dory. We have a real short memory.”
When Clark returned from his first solo trip around the globe, he was 70. He wrote to the Guinness Book of World Records and asked how old the oldest solo circumnavigator on record was. Unfortunately, there was no such category.
Clark did find, though, that the oldest solo circumnavigator known to Guinness was an Englishman who completed a trip at age 70. If Clark set sail again, he would be 72 by the time he finished. If he got documentation at each port that he arrived and left alone, he would have proof of what was, as far as he knew, a world record.
USA Today picked up on Clark’s story. The paper ran several stories charting his journey.
In 1998, Clark said good-bye to his wife and children and left from Florida with only a dog for companionship. Clark’s boat sank off the coast of South Africa. A ship rescued the nomad but not the dog.
Sponsors chipped in to buy a new boat, and in 2001, Clark completed his trip at age 77. The media turned out to mark the occasion. It was the end of a journey that Clark had once imagined would be a great adventure with riches, fame and swooning women.
“All that was imagination, but having a great adventure was absolutely true,” he said.
These days, Clark sticks to the shore. He’s contemplating a car trip to New Orleans to see if the city will like his clarinet playing. If that doesn’t work, he thinks he’ll go to Mexico to perform for rich American tourists.
Occasionally, he turns up in Tucson, and when he does, local restaurants pay him to serenade their guests.
If he had sponsors, Clark said, he might try to beat his own sailing record.
“I’m perfectly able to do it,” he said. “I have a new hip.”