Australian yachtswoman Lisa Blair recently sailed into the record books, finishing a massive ocean odyssey to become the first woman to solo circumnavigate Antarctica. The Magenta Project recently caught up with Lisa to find out what drove her to take on this challenge and what’s next.
1. What drew you to take on this particular venture?
I sailed around the world in the amateur yacht race the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and we spent a good portion of that trip in the Southern Ocean. It was a dangerous, raw and rough part of the world that was also so beautiful and you know that when you are sailing on waves the size of houses you are experiencing something that only a select few in the world ever get to see. I am fascinated with this part of the world so when I found out about this record opportunity of sailing solo around Antarctica I jumped at the chance.
2. How did you prepare yourself physically and mentally for the challenge?
My Antarctica circumnavigation was the result of 3.5 years of hard work (granted a lot of that time was spent raising the funds) so there was plenty of time to think about the worst scenarios, how would I cope with the loneliness, what would I do if I was faced with a collision, roll over, if I was injured solo, if I pitch polled or if I dis-masted. In the end I was faced with one of the worst scenarios and I credit the time spent thinking and preparing that was what got me through. Physically I was working in Sydney as a Skipper and sailing instructor so I was on the water everyday, I also was training with Crossfit but once I started with the re-fit there just weren’t enough hours in the day.
3. What was the hardest moment during the challenge, and how did you pull through?
A lot of people would say the dis-masting or the container ship collision but there was one other time that for me was the hardest and was when I very nearly quit all together. I had already suffered the dis-masting and collision and safely arrived into Cape Town. I had just spent 2 crazy months on land sourcing a second hand mast and arranging for sails and repairing the boat for a re-start. I was now going to be sailing the Southern Ocean in winter and had been told by almost everyone not to go. For me the storms were much the same but a lot more frequent and the swell was about 3-5 meters larger. Most of the storms to date I would get an 8-10 meter swell but now I was going to be getting 10-15 meter swells which is quite different. Despite the many people telling me not to go I had the support of my family and my shore crew.
I left in the late afternoon in choppy uncomfortable conditions and got sea sick almost right away. I was sick for a few days, not throwing up but just generally feeling like crap I then got a bad head cold so was even worse. I had been sailing into storm after storm and just getting pushed back every time. I knew if I could get south of the storms I would be fine but getting south was proving to be very hard. My storm jib jammed up the mast and my reefing lines were chafing with the new mast set up. After 5 days of pushing into storms I was still only 150nm from Cape Town and had basically gotten nowhere.
I started to feel like the world was telling me not to go and remember ringing my mum up in tears to discuss the option of me pulling out and trying again next year. We by now had some very large financial issues and leaving the boat in Cape Town for a year would have been expensive and an added burden.
Mum said that of course if I really felt like this was unsafe and I wanted to quit then she would support me 100% but for me just to consider this. Imagine that I hadn’t dis-masted, I was 72 days into my record facing the same conditions and gear failure as now, would this be enough for me to quit. My answer was no it wouldn’t have been and I should stop mopping because I was feeling sea sick and suffering a bad head cold. I then worked out that the boat could hove-to well enough which allowed me to sail into the storms, hove-to when it got too bad and then keep sailing afterwards, I also got a bit more rest and continued on. 5 days later I got to the position of dis-masting and turned left and sailed back to Australia.
4. What has been your biggest learning from this venture, either about yourself or life in general?
I have always thought that people were pretty awesome but to receive the amount of support from complete strangers when I dis-masted was so humbling it really drummed home how incredible people are and the amount of support I have received for the Climate Action Now message. I have also learnt that life is a matter of perspective.
5. What’s next? Any aspirations to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race?
I am starting to form a small list of challenges that I would like to tackle at some point in the future. Next up I am going to be racing my yacht Climate Action Now in the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with an all female crew – this will be the first all female crew in 16 years. Then I plan on sailing solo, non-stop and unassisted around Australia setting the first woman and the first mono-hull record before turning my mind to a possible trip around the Artic.
If I was asked to go and race all or a section of the Volvo Ocean Race I would jump at the chance and eventually I would like to race in the Vendee Globe.
6. What advice could you give to budding adventurists, in any sport, who perhaps are looking for that injection of inspiration or call to action?
Every time I almost quit and didn’t that was when things started to happen. You just have to keep moving forward even if it is with a small step and by putting yourself out there opportunities will come your way you just have to try.
The Magenta Project shares Lisa’s goal of raising profiles and opportunities for women in sailing and we are currently working to collaborate with Lisa on her next venture racing her yacht Climate Action Now in this years Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with an all female crew. Lisa’s goals of this race are to continue to promote the Climate Action Now post it note message as well as create a media focus on the Woman in sailing conservation within Australia.