Ocean Sailing Podcast: Hi folks and welcome to the episode 23 of the Ocean Sailing Podcast. Just so you know, I’m back on track, just punching out the second episode in the space of three or four days for a little bit of a break while I was away sailing. So thanks for joining me this week on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and we’ve got Lisa Blair who is planning to set a record as a first female ever to circumnavigate Antarctica. So it’s a two hour session, it’s a long one. Lisa has a fascinating background with having done a clipper race, having done a solo Trans-Tasman and now planning to depart in November from Australia, head south and sail around the Antarctica.
So great stories, some great insights into her life and her plans and if you want to find out more about Lisa, you can go to her website, lisablairsailstheworld.com and if you like her story, if you want to get behind a project want to find out more about it, want to follow her, go to the website, check her out. She’d love your support, love to hear from you and love to share her project with you. Enjoy this week’s episode with Lisa Blair.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Hi folks, this week we are talking with Lisa Blair, this is a really interesting podcast episode. Lisa’s done some pretty amazing sailing in the past over a long period of time. She’s done quite a few interesting things she’s going to tell us about and she’s got a really big challenge coming up, a challenge ahead of her that relates to circumnavigating Antarctica nonstop. So Lisa, welcome along, thanks for joining us on the Ocean Sailing Podcast.
Lisa Blair: Thank you so much for having me.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: You’re welcome, my pleasure and it’s great to talk about something so unique and so exciting, so very different. I guess before you dive into what you’re in the thick of right now, tell me about your background and what sort of sailing have you done to date and I guess what led you to the challenge that you are now facing with the Climate Action Now program and your goal to sail around Antarctica. So take me back and just feel free to tell me your story.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, okay. So generally when I’m talking to people and I say, “Hey. Hi, I’m Lisa, I’m going to go and become the first female to sail around Antarctica solo.” People tend to get a bit of an assumption that I’ve grown up sailing and I’ve done this for 20, 30 years and I’m some real professional sailor. For me, that’s not really the case, I actually grew up in the rainforest on the Sunshine Coast and I didn’t even start sailing till I was 22, 23 and I’ve since been sailing about 10 years now and I just fell in love with it and I just got an awesome opportunity to work as a hostie on a maxi racing yacht in the Whitsundays.
So that’s like an 80 foot yacht doing tours around the Whitsunday Islands and I was the cook and cleaner on board and that was my first real taste of sailing as a career and I just fell in love with it and I was very, very fortunate to have a skipper and a deckhand that were very patient and answered all my questions. They just started teaching me how to sail. So that was sort of where it all started.
Since then, it’s taken so many twists and turns and my story’s sort of almost written itself. It was never, I didn’t wake up one day and go, “Right the goal is I’m going to go and sail around Antarctica solo.” I woke up one day saying, “Hey, this is fun, let’s do some more of this and see where it takes me.” And it took me on this really long road, which has brought me to today. Throughout that journey I’ve had the great pleasure of sailing from Samoa to Hawaii with some friends and that was like my first real blue water experience.
I also, by that stage I’d sort of fallen in love with sailing and wanted to turn it into a career path and I wanted to do some form of solo sailing but I wasn’t quite sure how to make that a possibility. My skill sets at the time were sort of deckhand level of experience but not by any means capable of sailing a boat solo around the world. So I needed to get more experience, so I researched and I found the yacht race, the Clipper Around The World Yacht Race, have you heard of that before?
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I have.
Lisa Blair: Yes. So for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s an amateur around the world yacht race where you pay a berth fee, you sign up, you then have 10 identical yachts all on the same budget and all with the same amount of crew and sail wardrobe and everything and you race each other around the world. So people can sign on for sections of the race or do the whole thing.
So I found this race and I was like, "Well, here is a fantastic way to get the amount of experience I need to go and do potential solo stuff later.” The catch is that the price tag at the time was $40,000 pounds so $80,000 AUD. I was selling costume jewellery in the mall at the Sunshine Coast earning $20 an hour with absolutely no savings. So for me to make that leap and go, “Okay, well, this is something I actually want to do but how do I make it into a reality?” That was quite a journey on its own and it taught me a lot of lessons and it also brought me to the point where I realised what you’re capable of.
So over 12 months, I managed to fund raise through sponsorship, the $80,000 to go racing around the world. I was $2,000 short and I had like two weeks until the race start and we tried absolutely everything, and my family’s been amazing support throughout all of this and we were holding fund raising dinners, I cycled my bike from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast as a big fund raiser, selling raffle tickets along the way and just whatever I could possibly think of that was a bit left field, that would get some attention, that would help me raise the money, we did it, we tried it.
But still we were that $2,000 short and my family had given me everything that they had. So as a family collective, we literally had no money left and so I went to the media and the Sunshine Coast Daily and we just wrote an article and I just said, “Look, can we just do a shout out and see if anybody there that can help me get across the line.” Because with Clipper, once you’ve sign on for the full circumnavigation, you have to pay all the fees upfront or you’re not allowed to race. Even if it’s only $2,000 left.
So we did this article and believe it or not, there was a US citizen who was living in China who once holidayed on the Sunshine Coast and he gets bonuses from work, which he calls his “funny money” and he donates that to charity or individuals who are doing cool things. Anyway, he read the article online just randomly from China and donated $2,000 that night and all of a sudden I was going and yeah, I was racing around the world.
So I think it’s largely putting yourself out there but also having this incredible opportunities come my way because I put myself out there for them, I’ve been able to be in a position where I can accept them has largely cultivated my sailing career. So yeah. So then I spent 12 months racing around the world, which was to date, one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. One of the most incredible, life changing experiences as well. There’s nothing quite like crossing an ocean or arriving at the next port after 30 days at sea and just be like, ”Yep, we survived that. We worked together and we got ourselves through that.”
Everything that breaks, every incident that occurs, you’ve got to deal with, you’ve got to be the medic, the doctor, the plumber, the tactician, the meteorologist, the baker, the electrician, you’ve got to become everything when you start doing ocean crossings because you can’t just call the handyman up from around the corner and have him come and fix something, you kind of got to become the person that can fix everything. So that was an incredible opportunity and you know, some of the conditions we were sailing in were, well the worst conditions we had were 80 knot winds and 90 foot swell.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow.
Lisa Blair: So the boat’s are 68 feet long and the mast is 90 feet high and we couldn’t quite determine how big the wave was but we knew it was bigger than the mast.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s substantial. In what part of the world was that?
Lisa Blair: That was off Stuart Island the bottom of New Zealand.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, down in there. It gets pretty wild down there.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. Well you get the entire southern ocean swell rolling through. So as the storm swell circles the bottom of the world there, there’s no landmass to break them up. So they just get bigger and bigger every time and more aggressive and the swell also has that entire ocean to just keep building and building it. So your average swell is like 30 to 50 foot high waves. Then when you get a low pressure system on top of the average swell then you get bigger waves and in the case of Stuart Island, it’s actually on the edge of the continental shelf.
So you’ve got this 50 foot waves, heeding the edge of the continental shelf and the depth of the ocean going from like three kilometres to about a hundred, 200 kilometres deep and the whole storm, the whole swell size just peaks and stands right up into a really steep sharp wave that is huge and incredibly powerful to see and it’s so breath taking to watch that kind of ocean.
Yeah, people always ask me what was my favourite part of the race around the world and I always say, “The storms in the southern ocean.” Whilst they’re terrifying, they’re just so beautiful to watch.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I think a little bit of stuff, just the sheer grandeur. If your boat’s set up well and you’re sailing well, just the sheer scale and the sheer grandeur of the mother nature’s full force, it’s really quite incredible. Once you’re confident and you’re happy, you got to make it, it’s just surreal to see the scale. It’s really hard too, photographs don’t even show the scale. It’s very hard to take a photograph showing a big swell at scale, it’s almost impossible.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, unless you get a long range shot from a helicopter or something that can show the boat. But even then it’s really hard to photograph something like that.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s hard to get helicopters out there in the middle of nowhere just randomly taking photos for you as well.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly. Like they just call up your helicopter and get them to come down.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: There were some great shots that did come out when two boats were close together and they were taking photos of the other boat. But even still, it doesn’t highlight it because the photo would be of the tip of a mast showing beyond a wave but you don’t have the perspective distance or what size vessel that is or any sort of stuff and then the next wave it would be on the peak and you’d have the photo of the boat. Whilst you can see they’re large, I think conceptually, people struggle to understand exactly how large.
I always put it in the form of your average swell is like a two story high building and then when the storms come through, imagine standing on the top of a 10 story high building or at the bottom and looking up and seeing a 10 story high building, which is a wave coming at you.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s about best way to put into context you can get, for people to be able to grasp the sheer scale.
Lisa Blair: Yes. But a lot of people also think that they’re throwing over, that they’re these big barrelling kind of ocean waves but it doesn’t really work like that because it’s so deep. What happens is you just sort of go up and over mountains basically, like little hills.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: You just rise up. Like a cork your boat just floats all the way up and then flows back down the other side, and they’re quite nicely spaced out most of the time. Unless you’ve got really high winds whipping them up but they’re just completely different aren’t they? The localised swells a kilometre off the coast.
Lisa Blair: Yes, exactly. Then also one of the best things I think about the southern ocean swell is when you watch it, because it’s generally all grey down there, so there’s not a lot of colour. Like everything is sort of washed out grey, the sky’s grey, the water’s grey, you get a few grey birds flying around, but pretty much everything to grey.
When you look back though and you see what will happen is the wave will crest and just the top of it will crumble but just the second before it crumbles, there will be like the most breathtaking aqua blue in the water with the light behind it and it’s a blue I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. It’s so vibrant and it’s almost like a fluorescent, turquoise, aqua blue and it’s just on the tip of the wave, a second before it crumbles into white foam. But yeah, it’s another thing I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Some really, really stunning sites. So that Clipper race, you went on to win that race, right?
Lisa Blair: Yeah we did. So it’s basically the whole circumnavigation is 40,000 nautical miles and it’s broken into legs. So you do eight legs over the course of the whole race, you’re competing in 15 different races and each race is from a country to country kind of scenario. So initially we started from south Hampton in the UK, we went to Madeira in Portugal and then Rio de Janeiro and then across the Atlantic again to Cape Town. Around the bottom of the cape there, over to Geraldton in western Australia and then from Geraldton we went down around the bottom of Tasmania and then up over to the east of New Zealand into Taronga and then around the north of New Zealand to the Gold Coast of Australia and then up to Singapore, China and then across the North Pacific to California to through the Panama Canal to New York and then Nova scotia, Derry, Londonderry. Den Helder and then back to the UK.
So yes, it’s an intense race and it’s 15 individual races and we worked really, really hard and we did win overall but we also won 12 out of the 15 races. Got one second and two thirds so we set a new sort of event record, getting a podium position for absolutely every race. So yes, that was pretty cool.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, what year was that?
Lisa Blair: That was between 2011 and 12, so a couple of years ago now. Yeah, but it did give me all the skills I needed. I came back from that race with the confidence to skipper my boat or a boat or any boat anywhere in the world. I set about getting my commercial licensing and became a master five in the industry and a yacht master off shore and went back up to the Whitsundays actually and started skippering 68 foot yachts up there. So yeah, that was pretty cool.
And I also started looking for the next adventure, which for me was the Trans-Tasman Yacht Race, which is a race sailed from New Zealand to Australia solo and yeah, so I was working in the Whitsundays trying to pull together another campaign. What Clipper sort of taught me was that you can achieve absolutely anything if you set your mind to it. So when I signed my contract for $80,000 to go and race around the world, I had no real idea if this was something I could succeed at, I just knew I was going to give it everything I got and try and make it work.
I was successful at it so it showed me that with hard work and dedication, you get amazing opportunities come your way and you can achieve those sorts of things or anything that you really want to achieve.
So then when I came back, I was like, “Well, what else could I do?” I’d already had this idea that I wanted to sail solo but I hadn’t yet sailed solo. So I needed to get some experience on that and the Trans-Tasman Yacht Race looks like a great way to do that. I had 12 months, I was the only female to sign up for the race and I was the only person without a boat to sign up for the race, which the organizers thought was quite hilarious. The race runs once every four years and actually finishes in my hometown of Mooloolaba in the Sunshine Coast. So I thought that would be a great way to finish off or to make the next step in my sailing career would be to sail home to where all my family and friends and people who had supported me so much through the Clipper Race could then be there to actually welcome me into port. So yeah, that was pretty cool.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so that race goes from New Plymouth to Mooloolaba every four years?
Lisa Blair: Yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I read a book maybe a year and a half ago on the history of that race going back to the early 70’s and quite a few other sort of anecdotal stories of the different people that had done that race. It can be a really, really nasty stretch of water for any crossing, let alone a solo crossing. How did your race go and what were the high points, low points of it?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, I actually, I had 12 months to get it all together and I had arranged for this boat to be lent to me to do the race in and unfortunately like a month and a half or month before the race start, the owner of the boat called me up and said, “Look, I’m really sorry, somebody’s offered to buy it, I’m selling it, you can’t use it for your race anymore.” So I was left without a boat very close to the start line and I also had to do my qualifying passage, which was over 500 nautical miles and I had to get the boat to New Zealand, whatever boat I manage to find.
So there was this period of madness where I quit all my jobs and figured, if I’m going to make it work, I need to 100% be applied to this. Moved into my grandpa’s apartment in a retirement village and shared a room with my mom while I phoned boat brokerages and boat owners to try to find someone, anyone that would lend me a boat. It wasn't until an article was written for my sailing that went out saying “Lisa hangs up the boat wanted sign” that the editor of my sailing emailed me and said, just jokingly, his name is Roger McMillan just jokingly and said, “Look, if you don’t get a better offer, my boat’s always there.” And I don’t think he quite realised that I would totally take him up on that offer.
So I emailed him straight back and said, “Right, what boat? Where is it? Where can I get access to it?” He was like, “Look, let’s just give it a couple of days and see if you do get a better offer.” So we did wait a few more days and I was really impressed with the sailing community. I had another five people contact me to offer their boats and…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, how good is that?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and remember, this is to sail solo to New Zealand and back when I’ve never sailed solo and I’ve got to go and take somebody else’s boat through such an extreme trip. So it was just incredible to see that level of support and the maritime community kept supporting me and helped me get the boat ready and to the start line and without their help I wouldn’t have been at the start.
So anyway, I picked up Roger’s boat in Gosford and we took it to Pittwater to fit it out and I had one week to get it operational before I had to leave to sail to New Zealand for my first ever solo passage, which was going to be my qualifier as well. So 1,200 miles to new Zealand, I hadn’t yet sailed solo, so that was going to be my training trip. I think most people would take the boat out for a day first and see if they like it but I just figured I knew I would like it and I just have to go and my timeline had run out, so off I went.
Now we had so much to get done to that boat, unfortunately it had been sitting on a mooring for over a year just sitting there. So as most people with boats know, a boat doesn’t like to sit around, it likes to be used. When it’s used, you can pick up any faults or breakages really quickly and easily. But when they sit there, the jobs list tends to accumulate. Yes, so the boat sat there for a year, so we had to haul out, get anti-fouled, get the electronics working, the battery charging system working properly again.
And he used to have a furler reefing boom system on it but he had changed it for a Slab reefing system. So the whole mainsail had to come off and get recut so it could fit the new system and add sliders to it because it’s no longer a bolt rope system. All of this work and the end of the week I was just ready. I did delay another couple of days but we did get there and by the time I left Pittwater and cleared Barrenjoey Heads, I hadn’t yet put the sails up once.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Gosh.
Lisa Blair: So I was sailing to New Zealand on a boat that I’d had for a week, that I hadn’t even looked at the sails properly.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s pretty bold.
Lisa Blair: So yeah I did have some problems as expected. So we put the sails up and the mainsail I put up and then the jib, I unfurled it, and it worked out that it had been incorrectly installed over a year ago and it had been furled the wrong way around on the forestay. So the UV strip hadn’t been protecting it…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh no.
Lisa Blair: …that whole time and it was a laminated jib, so the laminate was cracked in parts. So the first thing I did, about to leave on a 1,200 mile trip, was get the sticky back out and starts putting sticky back on the jib trying to get it to hold together enough to get me to New Zealand. Yeah, so anyway, I left and I had eight days of relatively mild conditions and moderate weather and just got into my routine, so to speak. I didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes the whole way across because I hadn’t had any time to test the electronics and make sure the radar worked or the AIS was reliable or any of that com systems. So I was my own eyes and so every 20 minutes I would get up and scan the horizon for shipping and then go back to sleep.
It’s amazing how if you do that say a six hour block, you do actually get sleep in your 20 minutes because you get in this sort of hyper, not awake, not quite asleep, just sort of middle zone where you can make enough of an observation to know you're not in danger but you don’t actually wake up completely.
So anyway, I did that the whole way across and I also hadn’t had a chance to setup weather files or GRIB data or any of that information. So I had a friend of mine from Sydney and he was getting my latitude and longitude position off the tracker and he was texting me the known weather forecast for my area. So he would say things like, “You’re going to have westerly 12 to 15 for the next 12 hours, in 24 hours you can expect a southerly change, building to 30 knots.” Or whatever the forecast was.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: In the end, he sent me this text message, I was about 40 miles off the edge of the continental shelf, 40, 50 miles from the finish and I sailed all the way across with relatively little problems, if anything, not enough wind. He texted me and said, “Look, just letting you know there’s a low pressure system going to come through and pass over you. It’s a pretty small system that should only be a maximum of 30 knots of wind and it should pass over in about six to eight hours and not be too much of an issue.” I was like, “Yeah, no worries, 30 knots, I can handle that pretty easily. I’ll just put some reefs in the sail and drop the jib and put the storm if I need to.”
Anyway, the storm sort of started coming over and it’s getting 25 knots and I’m putting the second reef in and then it was hitting 30 knots and it just kept increasing. But I went downstairs to do something and all I remember was hearing a ping and thinking, “Oh no,” and ran all the way upstairs really quickly just in time to watch the whole main sail tear off the masters, every slider attaching the sail to the mast popped off. I didn’t have time to check how they were attached and unfortunately the sail company at the time didn’t stitch them on very strongly. So they all just tore straight off.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Gosh.
Lisa Blair: Ping, ping, ping, ping. So I was left with half a mainsail, flogging around in 30 knots of wind on my own. It took me about an hour and a half to get it down and under control and in the time that I took to get all of the sail down and under control. The swell had just kept building and the winds were getting up to 40 knots and whilst in normal scenario that wouldn’t be such a drama. In that current circumstances, it was actually a really dangerous place to be.
So I had the jib up still, sheeted on tight and I’m going upwind so I’m 45 degrees, 50 degrees off the wind, which means I’m going into the swell as well and trying to travel across the swell, not directly into it. But because the ways were getting so big, the boat was having a lot of travel to get up and over the wave. I didn’t have the mainsail and I couldn’t get the trysail up with the amount of winds and I was running on the diesel engine at the time and the boat just didn’t have enough grunt with the engine plus remember this is the end of an ocean crossing so my fuel supply is relatively low and the tank on that boat was only like a 60 litter tank.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right, that’s not much at all.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so I burned through it relatively quickly. I was throwing jerry cans into it but I was only doing one jerry can at a time because I wanted to make sure I still had a jerry can left to actually to get into the harbour when I got there. So we were going up and over these waves and the winds that had increased and the main’s already damaged and my jib is about to break. I did manage to get the storm jib up but then I’m on the storm jib and the engine and that was…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So you’re severely underpowered at that stage and the seas are getting bigger and bigger.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly and I got knocked down, like the bow of the boat would get caught by the wave breaking and pushed sideways down the wave and once or twice I did get knocked past 90 degrees and I just remember thinking, “This is a really bad place to be.” I checked the charts and it turned out that I was right on the edge of the continental shelf.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right so the sea is just standing up right there.
Lisa Blair: Yeah and if I had have been five miles further in, I would have been totally fine. But because of exactly where I was and I couldn’t get through it, I just kept getting shoved back and I didn’t have enough power. I ended up streaming the drogue and turning the boat around and just under jib and drogue, riding the storm out over the night. But I’d been like 25 hours on deck working on the sails and trying to get the boat through and hand steering over the waves and by the time I streamed the drogue out, I was just exhausted.
I went to sleep and I was trying to do my 20 minute watches because you got to exercise the drogue lines as well to make sure they don’t chafe through and slept right through my alarms, woke up like an hour or two later. The storm had died down and I looked outside and there’s a container ship on one side and a fishing boat with trolling lines at the other side of me and I was about to, like I wasn’t that far up the collision course with this fishing boat and so I radioed them and said, “Look, I’m running under storm drogue, I’m restricted in my ability to manoeuvre. I can’t get around you very easily,” and he was like, “I’m sorry I’ve got right of way, you need to get around me.”
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh that’s a helpful attitude.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. I was like, “Okay.” So I managed to jive the jib across and just set enough of a course that we went and just cleared his nets on the other side. But yeah, it wasn’t a nice thing to wake up to after being through a storm all night and running on the storm drogue.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Especially when you’re a solo sailor, it’s not that easy to change tack, change sails, pull a drogue back in, it’s something you could do in five minutes flat when you’re on your own.
Lisa Blair: No, exactly yeah, it takes a bit of time and yeah. But anyway, we did get through it and I ended up about 150 nautical miles further from my finish by the next morning and then of course after the low pressure system had passed over, we had the high pressure system. So I had no wind, no mainsail and I was tacking up wind with storm jib and storm trysail.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right, and hardly any fuel.
Lisa Blair: No fuel and big swells still left over, like really messy, horrible swell. So I basically like bulked around for two days before enough of a steady wind filled in to give me any momentum forward and then coming in to closing in on New Zealand like the entry there is actually a really treacherous entry. There’s a lot of this little tiny rocky islands just outside the harbour entrance and if you make a mistake, you can run aground quite easily and it was closing in on sunset, during the storm as well, my GPS had been damaged so I had no GPS overlaying my chart systems anymore.
I just had like a handheld GPS and paper charts and so I was doing like six minute fixes on the paper chart and getting a new course to steer and then steering in but this nice late afternoon shell came through the, completely created a white out for like an hour, which was the exact hour I was entering the harbour of course. So I had no visual whatsoever coming into harbour of anything around me and I was standing out in the rain and then have to run downstairs and do another plot and hope like hell my mathematics was working and that I was on the right course. Yeah, but we’ve made it in okay, safe and sound and that was my delivery to New Zealand and then I had to race back.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: This is the stage where this is just your race to get to the start line.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Which is an exciting story in itself. So I have some questions for you. So a solo crossing like the Tasman, are you able to get insurance for that? Do insurance companies insure that?
Lisa Blair: I do have insurance yes. North Reef Insurance, which is offshore Maldives, Marquesas Islands, it’s somewhere over seas. They run through Edward William Marine brokerage and they’re about the only one in the world that I’ve come across that will sponsor or ensure solo sailing for offshore passages. So they were aware of what I was doing, they were aware it was Roger’s boat and I was sailing it.
So yeah, it was insured but my excess was $15,000 more and the rigging wasn’t insured. So if I lost the rig I would have to try and pay for that and if any real damaged occurred, I probably would have just paid for it anyway because it would have been less generally, than cost of. But at least to complete loss of boat was covered.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So another question, what was the name of the boat?
Lisa Blair: Cator of Margaret River. It’s a Van de Stadt 37 foot. It was home built in Margaret River by Roger McMillan, the owner and he had a mate who was an aluminium welder and the two of them built the boat together and yeah, that was it.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well it’s a small world because that boat somehow ended up sailing in the Gold Coast in our Twilight series for a couple of seasons. There were a couple of series and then eventually it was sold. I know the boat actually. It’s a bit of a battle truck, so it looks like a solid boat, wouldn’t have been light.
Lisa Blair: Yeah it is. Yeah, she’s a good boat but when you didn’t know the boat and you’re taking it across an ocean, your sort of opinion on what’s reliable and what’s not can be different, especially in 40 foot waves in a 37 foot boat.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So did you have to be category one rated to leave Australia and to compete in the race?
Lisa Blair: So to compete in the race, you needed New Zealand category one. I did get signed off as a category one compliance with the Australian legislation and then I had to make some modifications over in New Zealand for the New Zealand legislation on category one ocean racing. But yes, it did need to be category one.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So you managed to get to cat one all in the space of a couple of weeks before departure? Cause I’m assuming it wasn’t already cat one when you inherited it. That’s pretty amazing, in a week? There’s a hundred things on that check list and even boats that are cat one, after a couple of years have gone by, there’s always a few things you need to do to get back up to scratch. So that’s a pretty amazing achievement to get to that level that quickly.
Lisa Blair: Yeah it was. That’s why it was such an immense week and like I said, without the support of the maritime industry and all the individual businesses that contributed to various items on the boat and helped with the labour and the work side of things, it wouldn’t have been a possibility. The boat was initially established to be a cat one boat but it never had it actually set up. There were several things that we did have to modify and change. Like we had to actually put drains into the boat. So I had to plum drains in. They didn’t like how the oven was mounted so we had to work out a jerry rigged system to stop the oven flying across the room in a 360 roll over and get a medical kit together and a life raft in the day. Yeah, there was quite a bit to do.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So once you got to New Zealand, then in terms of getting your sails sorted out and getting a jib and a main that were back in good shape and then the race itself, how did all of that go?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so I had a nine days in New Zealand and true to New Zealand weather, we had a nice big storm for about five of it, which prevented most work. So I met a local guy over there who builds sails and he built me a jib in three days, which was amazing and he also took the mainsail off for me and did all the repair required to the mainsail and sewed the sliders all back on correctly. So he was huge amount of help and then we also had, because my GPS was down and I didn’t have any money left really, just some locals who knew a bit about electronics and they rewired my GPS system back in and helped me with other odd jobs.
And you know, the community support that I found over in New Plymouth was just as strong as what I had in Pittwater when I was preparing to depart. Everyone just sort of gets behind trips like this and other sailors from other race boats were coming over to help me on my boat and yeah, it was fantastic and we were ready for the start and we did race all the way back to Mooloolaba.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: And the race to the south, was it as eventful as the delivery trip?
Lisa Blair: Not quite. It was probably harder than the delivery trip though, because what we found was it wasn’t that we had enormous extreme conditions, it was the fact that we had such changing conditions. So we had like no knots to 30 knots constant, all the time. So you went right through all the range, every time. You put a reef in, reef in, reef out, reef out. Reef in, reef in, reef out, reef out and it was just exhausting.
Because you’re actually racing, not cruising, every time the system would pass over you, you would have no wind on the other side of it. For like a good two hours, you’d be walloping around, going nowhere. So you’d want to shake all your reefs out, you’d want to get your code zero up, you’d want to try maximising any potential speed, which meant you couldn’t rest. And then the next sail would start coming over and they were these small little squalls that they were kind of bigger than a normal squall in a sense that they would sit on top of you for a couple of hours and then move off.
But you were still required to do the full change of sails every time and the wind would start building, so you’d change you headsail and then you’d change your mainsail and put a reef in and then put the second reef in and then all hell is breaking lose for an hour or so and then it would be gone again, and you’d have to shake through it out. So it wasn’t that the conditions were unmanageable, they were just hugely exhausting from a solo perspective because you just didn’t get the chance of sleep.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I find that really challenging in a multi-day race with a crew of eight when you have four asleep and there are only four of you to do this stuff. It’s really hard work. When you’re by yourself, it’s just another whole level.
Lisa Blair: Yes, I totally lost myself. I lost it a couple of times.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: It gets to the point where it’s not funny anymore.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, it wasn’t. I went to sleep once for a 20 minute nap and I woke up and the boat was sailing back to New Zealand because I had gone through 180 degree wind shift while I was sleeping in 20 minutes. So it was just, you had to be so on top of it. I also just had one auto-helm unit and it didn’t like strong winds. So every time it hit a point where it was like it’s cut off, it would just start beeping and the whole boat would start doing pirouette. So I was thinking I became the best ballerina yacht out there with how many donuts I’ve done in the Trans-Tasman crossing.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah right. Then your sleep goes because for that period of time you’ve just got to hand steer, right? You don’t have any choice.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly. Then when it’s moderate conditions or light conditions, you actually work harder in the light conditions because again the auto-helm won’t work if it’s too light a wind, you don’t have enough flow over your rudder to hold course. So you’ve got to hand steer all of that. I remember seeing Lord Howe Ball’s Pyramid, I saw that chunk of rock for about three and a half days because we got a little bit of wind, got there and just got no wind for like two days and the birds were swimming faster than me. We just sort of drifted pass and I just remember thinking every time I woke up from a nap, “Ah, still there. Ah, still there. Still haven’t lost sight of it.”
So yeah, most of the trip was like that and then when we closed in on the Australian coast, you’ve got the East Australian Current, which can be really challenging to try and work out the best approach there and you really don’t want to be trying to go up current against two or three knots of adverse current against you. But then also you start getting all the land mass interferences. So you start getting hot air coming off of the land, which generates your little thunderstorms in the evenings and lightning storms, which was just additional challenges to the offshore storm systems.
I’ve got some footage actually of just this amazing lightning storm that was all around the boat and I remember sitting in the companion way going, “Right, I’m in a big metal boat, in the middle of the ocean, on my own, completely surrounded by lightning,” and it was striking the water like 20 meters away. You could hear it hissing and sizzling and I have no idea how the boat didn’t get hit but I was very fortunate and I also had waterspouts as well. I had three water spouts and I woke up one day and looked out and there’s like these three water spouts about three or four miles away from me, coming right at me and I had to tack to get out of the way of the pathway of the water spouts. So that was very…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I’ve seen them a couple of times on Morton Bay and I’ve always wondered, the force to lift that amount of water, what would actually happen if they came over the top of your boat? Do you know of anyone that’s actually suffered from that?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, I have. I haven’t spoken to them personally but I’ve seen the results in a little video that they put together. I can’t remember the name of the boat. I think it was the Hobart.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.
Lisa Blair: Anyway, they had this waterspout come over and they dropped everything but it still yeah, did quite a lot of damage. It didn’t de-mast them but it did tear their sails and I’ve heard of other boats just getting flattened completely sideways. It’s only for a couple of seconds but it’s just like getting hit by a brick wall that just flattens you.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Massive amount of water.
Lisa Blair: Yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so I did finish the race, yeah. So I started losing my cool on the finishing sort of two, three days coming into Mooloolaba because the weather forecast had been given would have meant that I would have had winds behind me and would have been there by the next day kind of thing, because I wasn’t that far away. But it ended up being that I got hugely tricky and challenging conditions between no wind and lots of wind and all on the nose. So I was tacking my way against…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: And then against current?
Lisa Blair: …the current up the coast. Yes, just getting pulled down sideways by the current and I did finally get there and when I went across the finish line, the wind dropped out absolutely completely and I was like half a mile from the finish and it took me another six hours to try and get the boat to move and all my friends and family are on the rock wall just going, “Hurry up.” I finally got across and then when I got across, I’d also broken my furler partway across. It stopped allowing me to furl and I managed to get it to furl halfway but it meant that when I had light winds I had not enough sail, when I had too much wind, I had too much sail up. I couldn’t find the happy medium anymore.
But when we finally got there, nobody was allowed to board the boat and I couldn’t get the sail away. So I couldn’t get it to drop, I couldn’t get it to unfurl and I couldn’t get it to do anything and we finally had customs jump on board and take the helm so that I can run up and I didn’t quite have to go up the rig but it was a close call and we managed to just yank it really hard and it came down. But yeah, it was a good lesson learned.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so your sail configurations, you said you had a code zero and then you have a genoa and a furler and a jib that was on a different forestay? Or how did all that work?
Lisa Blair: For the Trans-Tasman, all I had was the mainsail, one furling headsail and I had a little code zero thing that I could put up on a top down furler separately, and that was it, and a storm sail.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So do you have a separate jib to your storm jib?
Lisa Blair: Yeah. So I had the one on the furler, on the bow, on the forestay. So I had a set furled jib, and then I had a storm jib.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh okay, so you didn’t have a Genoa and a Jib on the furler? You just had the jib? So they provided some challenges.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, especially in the light winds. I didn’t quite have enough speed. Yeah, I mean it would have been fantastic to have a wider range of sails but given the circumstances of how I actually got the boat, I was just pretty happy with having succeeded and got there and back.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. A wider range of sails would be even more sail changes too, right? So it’s got some upside and some downside.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and I did end up finishing eighth across the line out of I think it was 14 boats racing.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh, congratulations.
Lisa Blair: So that was a pretty good result really, given that there’s no real handicap system.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, because there isn’t, is there? It’s just first across the line no matter what sized boat you’re in.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly. So there was two class 40’s racing that year in a trimaran. So there’s three positions gone. Yeah, but we did run our own sort of in house club handicap as well, which got me sixth place.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay.
Lisa Blair: Which was just for fun handicap.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s pretty good, given how painful your last three days were and even your last six hours.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, well I actually overtook someone in those last three days, which was fantastic.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s a bit of a buzz.
Lisa Blair: Then I found out later, it’s because he broke his mainsail. I was like, “Oh, well now I feel bad.”
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So how long in total did the trip take in terms of days and hours?
Lisa Blair: I couldn’t tell you to the minute, because I never actually looked it up. But yeah, it was 12 days.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay.
Lisa Blair: It was 1,380 miles.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so it’s a decent distance that’s for sure.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, because you’re going north and then it was the guy who took over the boat from me who was racing it on the Gold Coast there.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right, got you.
Lisa Blair: David Croft his name was.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, I’ve done some sailing with David. He’s an excellent sailor.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, he did the Hobart with me.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Of course and with Steve as well?
Lisa Blair: Yes. So I only met him because I handed the boat over to him when Roger knew he didn’t want to do anything with the boat for another 12 months. So he found somebody who was willing to take ownership of the boat for 12 months, which was where David came in and yeah. So he took the boat and I handed it over to him. So I was like his point of contact for any dramas with the boat. So yeah, that’s how we know each other.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, well it’s a really, really interesting story that leads you to where you are now and the bit that I can’t figure out is how you go from sailing the beautiful Whitsundays in plus 30 degrees to wanting to go around Antarctica where it’s pretty minus 30 degrees and then some. So tell me that? So from what I understand, you’re aiming to be the first female to compete in the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race.
First female to circumnavigate Antarctica nonstop, solo, unassisted and circumnavigate below 45 degrees south and you’re also aiming to break the current record for the 16,400 nautical trip, which was originally 102 days, one hour, 35 minutes and 50 seconds that was set by a sailor, I can’t even pronounce his name but…
Lisa Blair: Fedor Konyukhov. Ueah if you’re just reading it, it’s hard to pronounce.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: On an 86 foot aluminium sailing vessel, which sounds like a pretty big reasonably fit for purpose. So tell me about your goals there Lisa? Your goal of completing it in 90 days or around there and then tell me about the message that you’re looking to share around Climate Action Now and what the focus is and how it’s come about and what you're trying to achieve with that?
Lisa Blair: Yes, sure. So I didn’t, like how I actually found out about the record being an option was when I was trying to do the Trans-Tasman Yacht Race. I was talking to a guy, you may know of him, James Burwick, and he’s got a yacht, an open 40 called Anasazi Girl. He was in the media about a year ago because he de-masted off Cape Horn and he’s been cruising around the world with his wife and two young children, now four young children.
But anyway, at that time I was trying to charter his yacht for the Trans-Tasman Yacht Race and he said, “Look, I won’t let you charter it but it’s available for sale if you can get the money together, you can buy it,” and I obviously didn’t get the money together but he said, “Look, one way you could look at doing it was combine the trip for Trans-Tasman together with another record. What’s the next step? What’s something else you can do afterwards?” And he said, “Look, you should have a look at this record because it is relatively achievable in it and it’s there,” and the record he pointed out to me was the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race and Fedor Konyukhov’s record of 102 days sailing solo around Antarctica and I immediately went, “Red flag, Antarctica? No way!”
Then I went away and I sort of thought about it and I’ve spent probably three months, four months, researching it before I mentally came to terms with the fact that yes, this is something that I could achieve and it’s something that I actually wanted to do and it’s within my capabilities and all of those sorts of thought processes that you go through when you’re trying to take on something that is perceived to be extremely risky.
So yes, the idea was bought then and it was always sort of a long term goal by doing the Trans-Tasman that then became like just a short of shake down trip. So my 12 days at sea, I was always thinking, “Oh this isn’t so bad. I’m going to have three months to see you soon.” So, it sort of changed the way I dealt with that situation as well because I always knew I was going to go and spend a couple of months at sea shortly after.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: So when I finished the Trans-Tasman, I made the choice to move to Sydney and I started working as a skipper down here in Sydney and as a sailing instructor and tried to pull together a campaign to sail solo around Antarctica. Now, initially I was trying to build a boat, a 50 foot yacht. I had Andrew Develle who is a very well respected architect, design me a 50 foot yacht. Unfortunately, we never got that part of the progress project together. But towards mid last year, I remember talking to my mom and I’ve been working on this for a couple of years now and I was talking to mom going, “Look, if it doesn’t happen this year, if I can’t pull it off this year, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll just go and skipper a Clipper Race around the world or something and then come back to it. Because, then I’m getting a better sort of sponsorship platform or public platform so that I’m more sponsor-able.”
I sort of had this conversation with mom not really thinking it was leading anywhere. A few months later or a few weeks later, she calls me up and says, “Look, I’ve been thinking about your Antarctica trip. I think I’ve got enough equity in the units to help you buy a boat,” and I was like, “What? No.” I tried to talk her out of it and I was like, “No mom, that’s silly, don’t want to be putting your house on the line for me.”
So mom’s got three units in Cotton Tree, which are just investment properties. She’s got her own house separate of that and she was going to use the equity in these investment properties and the way she sort of sees it is that it’s just a loan that I paid back. It’s just like any other investment I would gather I interest on it and she would make money out of it and it would just be something that I’d pay back later when I’ve succeeded and the sponsorship money has come through.
So I relented and we started boat hunting and we started looking at different boats around the world, in France and the UK and very few that I could find in Australia. In fact, I didn’t really find anything in Australia that I thought would be capable. Somebody pointed out a boat to me in New Zealand but he said, “This would be an amazing boat for you, but I have no idea if it’s even up to sail,” and it was just this amazing open 40 aluminium boat. Then at the same time I just randomly did a Google search and this yacht popped up, which was perfect and it was one that I was familiar with. The original name of my boat is Funnel-Web, and a lot of people know the boat because it’s done a couple of Melbourne to Osaka’s and it’s done a Hobart and a Trans-Tasman and a few other events.
I was familiar with the boat and I always had boat envy when I looked at that boat, I had a bit of boat porn for me, and it was up for sale and it was up for sail for $140,000 and I was like, “What? That is so cheap. That is within our budget, we can afford that,” and I always knew that I’d need to buy a boat and fully refit it. Regardless of how expensive the boat was. You need to know as the sailor on board in those conditions that you’ve got the right equipment and that you’ve done the checks. So any boat I’ve got, I was always going to have to refit.
So$140,000, effectively I’m buying the shell and a mast and I’m putting everything else onto the boat. I called the owner up and we put a thousand dollar deposit on it straight away. Then we had about three weeks till I could actually make the trip up, mom flew down and both of us made the trip up to go over and look at the boats. So we went right through the boat, the first time Ivan met me, he spent a good hour trying to talk me out of buying his boat because he just thought I was too small and too little like I’m a five foot two female.
He just was like, “You’re bonkers, no, you can’t. This boat requires lots of power, you know? You need to be strong,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m strong.” He kept trying to talk me out of it. Then what happened was we actually put the loan in for the bank and the bank knocked us back. So we had found the right boat and if we had put in a week earlier, it would have all gone through. But they changed the laws that week and closed down on extensions on home loans so that it actually prevented us from being able to do what we had planned to do.
So we were desperate, we tried everything combining our incomes and getting boat loans and we just madly, for three months, we’d try to do anything and every month I’d put another thousand on the boat to just hold it and poor Ivan was losing it and I remember the boat works guys or the buyer boat guys in New Castle said that he just came storming in one day and said, “That’s it, give her money back and put the boat back on the market, I’m not waiting any longer.” I was just so desperate to get this boat because I knew it was the right boat and we really just tried absolutely anything and he really didn’t think that I’d pull it off.
Anyway, we ended up going to the papers and Roger McMillan wrote an article for me about trying to get a private investor because we did have the equity there, it’s just that the laws had changed that wouldn’t allow us to use that equity. So it ended up being a crew member of mine that helped me deliver a yacht from Albany over towards New Zealand and he got in touch and said, “Look, I don’t know if I can help but send me some more information.” So we sent him all the information and he sat down with his wife and they’ve been amazing and they loaned me as a personal finance, $130,000.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s fantastic.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. So we got the boat.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Just to clarify, the boat was called Funnel-Web and if you get bitten by a funnel-web spider, you’re dead in 20 minutes. There’s no irony in that, is there?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, it’s a bit of a beast of a boat. Yeah, well it’s also a 50 foot yacht, which a lot of people look at and go, “It’s too big.” But Fedor Konyukhov sailed an 88 foot boat solo. It’s how the boat is setup with how big it is.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: And it’s ability to protect from big winds.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly and being down there in a Clipper boat, which weighs 38 tons and getting tossed around like a match stick, I wanted to be in a big boat. I want to be in a heavy boat because I know then I’m going to have more chance or less likely to get shoved around by the waves so much. So yeah, then we had already sort of when we went looking to buy the boat, we’re looking at doing the Sydney to Hobart that year because there wouldn’t be enough time to put the boat in for a full refit for Antarctica but there would be enough time to get it race ready for the Sydney to Hobart.
So I officially became the owner of the boat, the same day the entries to the Sydney to Hobart closed and I had about eight weeks to get the boat ready for the Sydney to Hobart and again I had to get a cat one safety standards and sign off and all of that.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, which is not a lot of time, there’s a lot to do.
Lisa Blair: It was a lot to do and again, it had been sitting there for like a year and a half and the previous owner had literally just stepped off it on his last trip. There were still dishes in a bag that he had just thrown his bowls and stuff in with mould all through them. He obviously had just hit his limit with boats and stepped off. Yeah, so there was quite a lot of work to be done and we spent the next sort of six weeks getting the boat ready.
The crew I managed to get together is just mates and friends of friends and incredible sailors in their own right that I have had the privilege to sail with. None of us actually had much of a chance to sail the boat before we left. We hadn’t even hoisted a spinnaker before we left. The race start to the Sydney to Hobart last year, I lost a steering cable like 30 seconds to the start gun and I was pinned in by two 70 foot clipper boats on either side and I remember being on the low side and having the guys on the high side sort of give me a guideline with their hands as to how far away from the boat next to me I was.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Whoa. That’s a hairy start.
Lisa Blair: Because I had to give way to the guy on the other side of me.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So did you lose a rudder on one side only but still have a rod on the other side?
Lisa Blair: No, it’s a single rudder boat, its just twin steering.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh got you.
Lisa Blair: One of the cables in the steering snapped. I heard it go when we went through a tack and I just jumped straight to the other wheel. But it meant that I was stuck on the low side coming across, right at the start gun moment with hundreds of boats.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: No visibility on the high side because you can’t see over the top.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly, can’t see anything, and the boat leans over quite a lot so I couldn’t see anything to my right at all. But that’s okay, we got through together as a team.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Did you repair them? Did you carry on racing with one wheel or?
Lisa Blair: No, we repaired it under way. Once we cleared the Heads and the congestion dropped off a bit, one of the guys is a U Beaut mechanic and he got down there and repaired it all for us, which was fantastic. so we did have two helms for the rest of the trip. Yeah, cleared the heads, got the spinnaker up, got a wrap in the spinnaker for our first hoist, got that cleared and then off we went and the boat performed amazing.
It needed a lot of attention, it still does need a lot of attention but we were catching up to TP 52’s and we overtook a couple of them. Like these are the latest model racing yachts and this thing that’s 13 years old was like sailing past them under spinnaker. That was amazing and then the first night, we all knew this southerly change was coming through with a southerly buster and it was forecasted to hit at around midnight. So at about 7 o’clock I said, “Look, I’m just going to head down for an hour or two because I’ll probably be up for the rest of the night once the southerly change comes through.”
So I went off watch and just got out of all my foulies and the boys poked their head down and said, “I think you should come up and see this.” I was like, “Okay.” So I got all my kit back on, went up and just in the horizon was just black. This banker. It was probably the most aggressive southerly shift I’ve seen come through just this wall of cloud that was so aggressive. So I just said, “Right, all hands on deck,” and a little oversight on my part is that I hadn’t changed the jib down yet. So we still had the number one jib hanked on at the bow so we had to take that off and hank the storm jib on before we could get the spinnaker down, before we could then put a reef in.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: right.
Lisa Blair: Because you can’t really throw a reef in when you’re sailing under spinnaker and you can’t drop your spinnaker and then hoist the number one jib because that would have just been blown out in two seconds, and yeah, it was this accumulation of effects. So we’re madly trying to get this jib off, threw it down the hatch, grab the storm jib out. We didn’t have time to get the storm jib on. The wind was coming and I just said, “That’s it, we’re dropping.”
So we spiked the spinnaker and somehow it ended up being just me on the bow and all the boys were at the back of the boat looking at me and I was like, “Guys, a little help here.” I’m madly trying to pull down this ginormous spinnaker that we’ve got on the boat and I got that down and then we couldn’t put a reef in until we’ve got the storm jib on to give us some steerage while we put the reef in. We then had to put the storm jib on, got the storm jib up and then went and put two reefs straight away, and then finally put the third reef in and rode the storm out.
That was like a good hour and a half of energy and then I went to go and fill the water ballast tanks, because the boat’s got six tanks and the power didn’t work. So unfortunately, our U Beaut secret weapon of water ballast tanks didn’t work. By the time we got the connection fixed, the wine went down. There was a numerous amounts of issues with the boat that hadn’t had yet had a time to address. But we did successfully sail to Hobart and finished 54th over the line, which was pretty good and coming up to the finish, we overtook 12 boats as it bottle necked. So yeah, that was really great.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s a good result, because that was one of the tougher races in I think about 10 years in terms of the weather that came through. I think there was like 34, 35 retirements out of a fleet of 115 odd?
Lisa Blair: 23.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: 23 was it? So yeah, a reason chunk of the fleet didn’t make it for whatever reason. So finishing was a good achievement, given your preparation time was again quite short.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, I mean, none of us had sailed together before. Most of these U-Beaut racing teams, they sail all year round together, trained just for the Hobart all year and the boats are so worked up and protected and we didn’t know the boat at all. We didn’t know what made it go fast, what made it go slow. We had to figure all that out on the way down and we didn’t have weather. I didn’t get GRID files because I didn’t have a chance to set that sat com system up. So we had the four class when we left and then we have whatever we got off the radio on the way and that was it. So yeah, I think as a team we did remarkably well and we did beat some of the clipper boats to the finish and yeah, so I was really happy with how the boat reacted and dealt with the situation and beating into 50 knots for two days, the boat was totally fine. Uncomfortable but the boat was fine itself.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: To give the listeners an idea, like an open 50, what kind of speeds can you do in a boat like that?
Lisa Blair: The way to Hobart was mostly upwind, so we didn’t get a huge amount of speeds. But the delivery back from Hobart, we were doing 23 knots pretty easily, averaging probably 16 and then get the surf up to 23 knots and then the wave will pass over you and you sort of drop down to 16 knots, 14-16 knots and then the next wave would come underneath you. Yeah, when she’s going, she goes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Those are great speeds.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and that was in like 30 knots of wind with the storm jib and two reefs in the main.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: What’s your displacement?
Lisa Blair: The weight of the boat is 11 ton.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow. That’s really light. That’s really light.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, she’s pretty light.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Nice and beamy really quite square at the back.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, she’s square at the back but she’s not that beamy for a 50 footer. Four meters wide and the reason I got a narrow boat was because it allows you to reef really early but still maintain good speeds. So because she’s narrow, she doesn’t need a lot of force or pressure to actually get her going fast. With the clipper boats, you had to push them whereas with this boat, it doesn’t need pushing as long as I’m above my set average.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: I’ll just throw a reef in and make it easy. So yeah, that was another big reason why I went for that kind of boat. It was very similar to the 50 footer me and Andrew Develle had designed in the fact that the same length, the same sort of width. It’s just the transom’s slightly more square than the other boat that we had designed. But yeah, very similar so I was really happy to find it.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So tell me then, from here, so tell me about Climate Action Now and where are you up to with your project to circumnavigate Antarctica and tell us about some of the stuff you’re doing that’s quite cool around emission friendly, carbon free technology you’re using to power your trip.
Lisa Blair: Yeah cool. So when we took the Sydney to Hobart, we ran a campaign called Climate Action Now where we actually got people to help fund the trip by buying at post it note for a donation. Donation of $5 or $10 or whatever people really wanted to donate towards my trip. That would give them a post it note. Now, on their post it note, they put their climate action message and the whole thing around it is it’s actions that people are already taking towards a better environment so that we can inspire other people to take those same actions. So it ended up being, and if you see a photo of my boat anywhere…
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, I’m looking at it now with a zoom in of the individual messages. It looks so amazing.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so the whole bow of the boat had a seven meters on either side of this very colourful, vibrant, standout, louder than life hull wrap and it was all done in vinyl as a digital wrap and it’s hundreds of post it notes that each message has an environmental message on it from a supporter of the trip, which was, you know, it’s a great way to just get the community involved and it brings someone’s contribution is actually on the boat that’s getting sailed in the Hobart or now in Antarctica.
So we’re continuing on with that same message, it was widely successful and it sort of cemented and developed over time but it’s become the Climate Action Now movement or messages and we wanted to use post it notes because traditionally, that’s how you would leave a note for somebody and effectively we’re subtly trying to say, “Hang on, come on guys, we need to take action here.” I guess it’s probably not that subtle when big words on my boat say “Climate Action Now”. But with the post it note messaging, it’s subtly showing other people what actions they could do that when an individual does it, won’t necessarily have that big of an impact. But when you have a million individuals doing something like that, you create a big impact and it’s trying to show people that you’re empowered even if you are just the individual. If you can make a change or more to the way you live or the way you consume or the way you deal with your rubbish, globally that will create a massive impact when we start inspiring millions of people to create those changes. So that is really the messaging behind Climate Action Now.
For Antarctica, we’re trying to get enough messages so that we can do the whole boat rather than just the bow. So we’re trying to wrap the whole hull of the boat with all these post it note messages. So if people want to get involved, I’m actually launching a new website at the end of the month where we’re going to have an interactive post it note creator form building program thing on it where you go to it and you can generate your own post it note there and then. You can download it to print it or you can share it on social media.
We’re trying to get people to nominate three people to take a stand for Climate Action Now and to fill out a post it note on an action they’re already doing and I just think it’s so important to get schools and the youth involved. It’s a great thing for families to do it collectively. They all fill out a post it note and then they can come and see the boat in harbour and try and find their message on the hull of the boat. Like, that’s sort of interactive with the community is so important and being able to inspire that next generation.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So where are you, what are the next tips for you on the project and what are the challenges you’re sort of facing right now?
Lisa Blair: So I’m still definitely seeking sponsorship, so if there’s anybody out there, I really do need a lot of help at the moment. But what we’re doing is the boat goes into refit over the month of October. So I’m also seeking anyone with any real skills, whether it’s just you know your way around a screw driver set that can volunteer some time in Sydney to come down and give me a hand on the boat and help me do a lot of the jobs and save me from having to pay professionals to do it, because I just simply don’t have the funds to do it that way.
So I’m largely trying to seek a big volunteer pool. But yeah, the boat will get refitted over the month of October in preparation for Antarctica and then in November, I’ll be sailing the boat to Albany in Western Australia for the start of the record. Now it’s an Albany to Albany circumnavigation and the reason for that is that’s because what that is where Fedor Konyukhov left who set the record. So therefore for me to do his record and have a chance of breaking his record, I have to leave form the same destination.
So the plan is to sail it over and have three weeks on land before I leave so that I can try and rest up as much as possible, eat lots of food and just generally try and be in the best health I can be before my departure and also gives me a chance to fix anything that might have broken on the delivery on the way over and then yeah, leave at the end of December to go and circumnavigate Antarctica.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow.
Lisa Blair: So it’s going to be a pretty unreal trip.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so then you depart from Albany and then you go, which way do you go; Clockwise or anti-clockwise?
Lisa Blair: Clock wise, yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, and then, what sort of wind? Do you expect to have more wind from aft of the beam or more on the nose or what? Is there more of one than the other?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, well it’s more beam reach than broad reaching.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Nice, oh that’s very nice.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. Well that’s why we go with the prevailing conditions. But there is a 30% up wind sailing forecasted with the current model based of historical data for the southern ocean. Unfortunately the historical data in the southern ocean isn’t that detailed. They don’t’ tend to get a lot of data down there because there’s not a lot of people going down there. So yes, so what we’ve got is the best information we can find and that’s the modeling at the moment.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, and the systems you’re using for charging, why don’t you tell us about technology that you’re using?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so I want to do the trip 100% eco-powered. So to do that and to have the right redundancies, because for me, this trip isn’t about high speeds. This trip is about sailing smart and sailing safe and coming back. Because I get a world record simply from finishing. So if I have to take twice as long as Fedor to finish, then I’ll do that. At the end of the day, it’s all about being safe and staying safe and coming home.
So to build those redundancies into my charging systems, what I’ve got is two wind generators getting amounted to the stern of the boat. A hydro generator, which is like you want and see hydro generator. They just drop down off the back of the boat there. Some solar panels, while solar panels won’t give me a lot for the actual record, they will do a slight trickle charge of about 18 to 20%. Then I also am putting in fuel cells.
Now, fuel cells are, they’re called Effy fuel cells and they’re methanol and they use them a lot in caravans, the mini transat boats use them these days to do all their powered requirements because it’s just easier, it’s a silent charging system and it’s environmentally friendly. So what it does is it takes methanol and puts methanol through a catalyst and spits out the hydrogen and then the hydrogen goes through a silent charging system and basically just puts the enzymes from the hydrogen into the battery cell.
I’m also trying to change, and it’s budget constraints will affect to this, but trying to get lithium ion phosphate batteries on the boat as well. That will give me a lot bigger redundancy power wise so that if I don’t get any charge coming in for whatever reason at any point, I’ve still got a couple of days back up charge at my minimum power requirements. So yeah, just trying to build those redundancies in. So that’s the plan at the moment and then for my sail setup for Antarctica, the plan is to have two furlers on the forestays.
So on the primary forestay, I would have a number one headsail that can be reefed to number two, and then onthe inner foresail have a number three headsail that can be reefed to number four and number five. So it can go all the way down, to remove the need for me to actually put a storm jib out if the situation is that rough. Then, additionally we’re also putting in a baby stay fitting with a Dyneema halyard that will be out to run a storm jib off and then my mainsail just have three reefs but they’ll just be really deep reefs and I’m looking at trying to get an upwind sort of code zero/wind seeker sail, which should be a bit of a hybrid for the lighter conditions because you get just as much high pressure as you do low pressures down in the southern oceans.
Yeah, so that’s the sort of setup and then I’m taking a whole spare second number three headsail, which will have the same furling capabilities as the first one and both headsails or all three headsails will — they have eyelets all the way up them so that I can attach them around the furler using soft shackles if the furlers are broken at any point, I can still use the sails in their natural forms.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh that’s great, especially if the rope comes out of the track as well, you don’t have any track issues. That’s a great backup plan.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and then I’m also taking a couple of strips, the luff length of the sail, of bolt rope with enough extra cloth to actually stitch on a second bolt rope onto the sails. So if I do teravolt rope off, say the number one or something.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: I could just drop the whole sail down below and then hand stitch on a second bolt rope and then put it back up again. So yes, so I’m just trying to build those redundancies into the sails and the sails are just getting heavily over engineered, double stitching, everything’s glued, just to make sure that they survive the trip.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s great and then today’s glues help so much in terms of the strength of spreading the load as well, as opposed to stitching, which on its’ own can have issues at times. So that’s really, really good.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, definitely.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Then I’ve got a Dyneema inner forestay, which I use on my boat, which replaced the hard forestay and it’s purely for storm jib as well but it’s perfect because you just — I just sit on a block at tack and I just clip it away at the base of the mast when it’s not in use and then put it out when I want to use it. Otherwise, the inner forestay gets in the way when you're trying to tack your genoa across. It’s impossible. So it’s a really good alternative, it works really, really well. The way mine was designed, you had to go over the mast to put it in play. So what are you going to do? Are you going to wait until the storm’s almost there and then send somebody up the mast? It was just the most unpractical idea ever. So that’s good. The Dyneemais amazing.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. Again, it will all be soft shackles so the chafing will be very minimal and the storm jib will also have the same capabilities to be able to go on the furler if it needs to. So I’m just sort of trying to get the most amount of mileage from the minimal amount of sails.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, then it just keeps you off the foredeck 99% of the time too by doing that, which is a really good idea.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and we’re also trying to set the storm jib up so that what I can do is, when I know the beast of a storm is coming down on me, I go forward and set it up in 20 knots and I attach the halyard and everything and I can deploy it from the cockpit.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. That’s just great, that’s really, really good.
Lisa Blair: So the bags just sort of clip around the Dyneema forestay unit there and it’s all hanked in the bag and just sitting on decks. So just yeah, trying to eliminate going out of the cockpit as much as possible.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: So I know, just one thing to mention, our session will get typed up into an article and posted in the show notes as well. So any photos, any videos, anything at all you have, that would be great to add on the show notes and also I’ll link to your website and your contact details so that people can easily find out how to get hold of you. But if they’re just listening and they want to get a hold of you, what’s the best way for them to get a hold of you or make contact with you?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so just go to my website, which is lisablairsailstheworld.com. Alternatively you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But yeah, all those details are up on the website and like I said, we’re launching the new website at the end of the month. So I definitely recommend that everybody go back and visit the new website when it’s up because it’s looking pretty amazing. So I’m very excited about the new release and it will have lots of interactive ways of following and live trackers and all of that stuff will be out there.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, which is great. Instinctively, when you say to somebody, “Wow, this person is going to sail around Antarctica,” the common theme seems to be, “Oh my goodness, the storms, the sheer force of the winds, the isolation, the cold.” What’s your expectation in terms of range of weather, range of temperatures, and what are some of the other things you have to do personally to mitigate those in terms of clothing and first aid and all sorts of things?
Lisa Blair: Yeah. So Zhik’s come on board as a clothing partner, which has been amazing and their production, sort of designer production area, is actually based in Sydney here. So we’ve been meeting up and going over their clothing and modifying things here and there just for specifically Antarctica and actually next month, we’re getting a big freezer and we’re going to have me in all the layers inside a big freezer where I get to run around on the spot and work up a sweat and then stand dead still and see what the effect is. Because at the end of the day, it’s that combination of high activity and then no activity that really makes you cold.
So yeah, we’re looking at that ross, I’m looking at heated clothing, electrically heated clothing for when I’m down below. So additionally, instead of sort of heating the whole cabin, have a layer of clothing that I plug a batter pack into that I’m always wearing it, and I just have to connect the battery pack. So when I’m downstairs just cooking or going to sleep or just sitting at the chart table or something, I can have that heated clothing on and it’s additional to my core body temperature, so it’s warming me up more than my core normally would. So that would be fantastic.
So yeah, we’re still testing the final side of things for that but I’m quite happy with where we’re at with the clothing side of things. Medical wise, this group called Telemed, which race around the world with the Clipper and basically what it is, is it’s a virtual doctor. So if you’re in an emergency, you sign up to a membership plan and they do it a lot for big containerships, crossing the oceans and big expedition ships and they can do inland ones as well as off shore but it’s largely been focused around the maritime industry to date.
What it is, is you create a membership and when you create the membership, you submit a list of what you have on board for all your medical kit and then any previous medical history that you’ve encountered, you submit all of that so that when or if anything happens, you can call them, they put you straight in touch with a doctor and the doctor has a full program in front of him of exactly what you have on board your boat as well as what your previous medical history is. So in the event that you’re having a reaction to something or you might need adrenaline or whatever it is, they can then direct you what you need out of what you actually got on offer.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.
Lisa Blair: Rather than saying, “Oh well you need to get this, this, this,” and you’re like, “Well hang on, I’m in the middle of the ocean, I can’t get this, this, and this.” Then they also have a program where they can help you put together your medical kit for the area you’re traveling in. So they’re helping me put together the full medical kit and saying, “Oh well I think you should take more of this or less of this because of how long you’re at sea for.” So that’s quite a unique and useful program. They had a clipper boat sponsored by the group in the last Clipper Race as a bit of a charity sort of event and yes, it’s was ClipperTelemed. But yeah, that’s sort of how I deal with medical side of things.
Then as far as weather, yeah, first time I went to the southern ocean I saw a snowstorm and that was the first time I ever saw snow falling in my life and I was at like 48 degrees south in the southern ocean and it was pretty incredible to watch the snow fall in the middle of nowhere in the ocean. So yeah, definitely snow, sleet, hail. It’s bitterly, bitterly, bitterly cold and there’s really nothing you can do about it, you just got to endure and unfortunately I’m quite susceptible to the cold. So I have to be very careful that my core temperature doesn’t get too low.
So for me, that is probably one of the greater risks of the trip is the risk of exposure and hypothermia. Because if I go down through something like hypothermia, my cognitive levels also go down and I can no longer make clear decisions or help myself get out of that scenario and there’s nobody else there to help me. So that is really important that I’m constantly monitoring my own systems and making sure that I’m not getting too cold in any given scenario.
Additionally you’ll have waves, like I’ve already said, we get 90 foot waves, but anywhere up to a hundred foot swell and I’m expecting winds potentially up to 120 knots, which is what I’m trying to prepare the boat for.
So yeah, then a low pressure system generally passes over every three to five days and they’ll normally sit on top of you for eight to 16 hours, depending on how big a storm it is. But you do get some high pressure systems through there as well and you get a lot of high pressure ridges between the low pressures that are passing you around. But yeah, I’ve got — I’m going to have a meteorologist between some weather routing for me as well and he’ll be sending me GRID files every morning to make sure that I’ve got the right data and I can make the right calls a couple of days in advance of a storm to make sure I’ in the right quadrant of the storm and I’m not getting totally nailed. But yeah, I mean, it’s going to be rough. It’s going to be windy, it’s going to be wet, and cold and I’m not really selling it am I?
Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, not if you’ve got a natural sort of natural need to avoid getting too cold. So what sort of wind chill are you talking about? Are we talking about -10, -20? More than that? Then will you have a situation where it’s so cold that you actually have a maximum amount of time you can actually go out in the wind chill to fix the problem that if you don’t fix, you have to go down below and come back once you’ve warmed up again? What are some of the extremes you’ll face?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, look you do have to implement that timeframe factor quite a lot when it is cold like that and I guess at the end of the day you’ve just got to put more clothing on if you need to do something longer. Like say I de-masted and I’ve got to build a jerry rig. Well I’m not going to be able to build a jerry rig in 20 intervals. I’m going to have to be out in the cold for a couple of hours but you would pick your moment.
So it’s not the fact that it’s cold on its own that’s the issue. It’s the fact that you’re wet and then you’ve got 50 knots of wind on top. The wind just rips through your clothing like as soon as you get a tiny bit wet, it just cuts through. Now, I haven’t had the chance to test the Zhik gear. They do have a different membrane to cortex, which appears to be more water proof and more wind resistant. But if it’s not better, it will be the same as what I’ve already experienced in which you’ve got to eliminate one of the factors. So you either need to try in the wind or wet and no wind but you’ve got to try and minimize your exposure to the combination of all three.
So your air temperature, when I was down there last time, 48 degrees south wise, three degrees temperature but the wind chill factor was in minus 20’s, easily minus 20’s. The sea temperature was eight degrees. So I will be going down as low as four degrees C temperature and below the convergence line, it goes down to two degrees. But I shouldn’t be dipping below the convergence line if I can avoid it because then I get into heavy ice areas.
So my wind chill factor yeah, it can be anywhere from minus 20, minus 30. But if I do have to spend extended time on deck then I would have to pick an area in a high pressure system when the weather is good and if I have to wait a couple of days for that then that’s the nature of the challenge, you’ve got to wait. It’s that or lose your fingers.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s not indifferent to mountaineering really when you’re talking about those sort of temperatures. Do you have the ability to keep every single bit of skit protected? Like will you have like a full body suit including being able to cover your face completely as well in terms of keeping your skin separated from the air?
Lisa Blair: No, not really. My hands, feet, body, yes. Head, yes but the actual eyes, nose, face area, I guess what you do is I have like a hat and neck warmer section that doubles up as like a balaclava and that would come up and I wear safety goggles.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.
Lisa Blair: So your clear plastic safety goggles. So that’s — yeah, you’re effectively doing the same thing without it being so formal as a full face mask. I’m also trying to get access to crash helmets with visors that are designed to be worn in a water environment that allow the water to not fog it up and stuff. So that when I’m helming, I can have the visor on and it’s also looking at getting body armor that the snowboarders use, because if I’m down below or I just know there’s a really bad storm coming through, I don’t want to get tossed around the boat in a 360 roll over and break a rib or something because at the end of the day, I’m the weakest link.
So if I do break a leg or break a rib or have any sort of major incident like that is going to limit my ability to complete the trip and to survive. So I’m the weakest link so I’ve got to protect myself as much as possible. So that’s reef early to minimize having to come on deck in bad weather. Setup safety protocols on the boat so that as soon as signs for hyperthermia are showing up, I’ve got a check list card that’s laminated and stuck on the walls with a permanent marker next to it.
The checklist card is including things that have you had a [mars] bath? Have you changed clothes? Have you got the hot water bottle going? Have you done this? So instead of me having to make the thought process and actually thinking through, I just have to read the cards and read the next step in the scenario. So yeah, we’re trying to do that as well. For me, safety is so important with the trip like this that you’ve got to really try and think of every scenario and how can you control it and if you can’t control it, how can you minimise the risk involved. So yeah, that’s a big part of it.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s a good idea and body armour, I mean, ribs the only thing I’ve ever hurt sailing is ribs and it’s ironic but as soon as you crack your ribs, you seem to have find more ways to land on them and hurt them. But they really limit you in terms of what you can do and also even sleeping becomes hard. so protecting your ribs because it’s amazing all the things you can do it fall over or fall down or land heavily. Arms and legs seem to be pretty robust but ribs seem to be quite fragile really.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, ribs and head injuries were the biggest ones with the Clipper Race and a few leg injuries as well where we got flung or washed by a wave and hit something really hard with your shins. But yeah, definitely we had quite a few head injuries as well with the Clipper. Just people losing their grip and falling across the deck and smashing their head. So yeah, helmets and the likes are going to be really important for that.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: If something ends up happening to you down there and you need assistance, how long are you likely to have to wait before somebody can come help you?
Lisa Blair: Look, it really depends on the scenario and where you are. But yeah, you can wait days if you really need help. The same step time, I’m building in a redundancy where I can motor the boat north if I have to. So if I can’t sail the boat, I can still manoeuvre the boat to get to help faster. So if they’re diverting a containership to me, I can divert myself to the containership as well and be there in half the time unless I’m completely unable to do anything. In which case, three days is going to be too long anyway.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yes. We won’t dwell on that.
Lisa Blair: If I’m decapitated and debilitated then the chances of them getting to help me before I’m dead are probably pretty slim.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, prevention is definitely better than the solution.
Lisa Blair: Yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: In that scenario. Then with your trip, in terms of taking your provisions and managing water, what’s your plans around water making, water storage, water capacity?
Lisa Blair: Yes. So your average person uses three litres a day. So being solo over a 90 day trip, that’s 350 litters, somewhere around there. So I’ve got two tanks that will make 400 litters, which should do me most of the trip. But what I’m going to do is also have a water maker but the thing with water makers is they like to get used. It will be putting out 30 litres a day and I’m not able to consume that much water.
So when it gets low or one tank is empty, I will transfer to the new tank and then I’ll re-flush the water maker, fill the tank completely and then shut the water maker off flush it again with fresh water, get the saline out of it and then let it sit while I use the second tank and when that tank’s empty then I’ll do the process again. So rather than risking the membrane getting all clogged up, that way I minimise the damage to the water maker.
So that should be fine, I should only really need to fill it up once, maybe twice if I’m using it for bathing and wiping walls down in the boat or something like that. Generally, fresh water consumption will be filled, will be cut off at simply eating and drinking and nothing else, and everything else will be salt water.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, that’s great.
Lisa Blair: Any other questions?
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I think I’m out of questions. We could talk for hours on this.
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so what else would you like to share that we haven’t discussed or haven’t talked about?
Lisa Blair: A lot of people ask me about the ice, how do I deal with the ice? So I think you know, it is perceived as a real high risk event and whilst it does have its risks such as exposure and the cold and the isolation and everything else we’ve already spoken about, ice is there and it is a factor to consider and it is something that I may or may not encounter. But it isn’t as high a risk as everybody perceives it to be.
So what we have these days is satellite forecasting on iceberg movement. When I’m at sea, I’m getting basically shipping forecast for iceberg movements and it gives you the latitude and longitude position of the Nolan Burg and the radius of the boat. So you plot them over the period of the trip for the whole ocean. It’s a bit of a task but you plot them constantly, so that you can find out what their set and drift is.
Once you’ve got that set and drift, you’ve got there no and debris area. So when an iceberg is moving it leaves the bergy bits and growlers in the water behind it as it’s moving along. Prevailing conditions and prevailing winds will then spread those growlers and bergy bits out. So as you're traveling, you can effectively forecast an exclusion area of where you’re almost guaranteed to see ice and you can do a low risk zone and then a high risk zone. If you have to enter that zone, for me, I’m changing tactics in how I sail my boat.
So A, I’m eliminating going into that zone wherever possible. So if I have to sail an extra thousand miles to do that then I’ll sail an extra thousand miles. B, my boat is seven full water tight compartments, so if I rapture the first two compartments or rapture on a bulkhead and lose two compartments, effectively I can still float. What I’m doing with the first two compartments is I’m filling them up with empty plastic bottles and that way if I have the hull raptured, the plastic bottles will actually still give me the buoyancy and prevent the whole bow of the boat sinking.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Sinking too low in the water.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly. Then those plastic bottles, in case I rip a big hole in the boat, they’re all going to be encased in some netting to stop them floating away should I actually rip a hole in the boat.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right, of course.
Lisa Blair: Because I’d hate to have an environment disaster on the Climate Action Now boat.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Just big enough for them all to start falling out one by one.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, exactly. Then I can set about running repairs and tactics of how to stem the flow of the water, bail out compartment, bolt on seals, whatever I need to do to deal with the scenario. Then if I have to sail into iceberg waters, you have radar, which picks up icebergs but only really picks up things big enough to be seen on a radar and seeing a small growler, which is 90% of the growler is generally floating under the water and a growler is like two by two meter block of ice.
So having that in the water, it’s the size of a mini car and it will rip a hole in your boat, especially if you hit it going 20 knots. It will rip a really big hole in your boat. So trying to work out tactics to sail safely through those known ice areas. I’m actually fitting the boat with infrared so instead of spotting the growler, I’m spotting the isolated cold area of water around the growler that’s been cooled by the growler sitting in the water.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s really clever.
Lisa Blair: So we’ve got that and then I’m also going to be slowing the boat down. At the end of the day, and like I keep harping you on, I have to finish to get any record. So if I have to go five knots to make my way safely through an ice area then I’ll be going five knots. So it’s just a matter of reducing all my sail early, slowing the boat right down and then unfortunately, technology hasn’t caught up with solo sailors and their demands. So our infrared camera doesn’t actually have an alarm system. So I can’t set it to have an alarm system for ice detection but I am trying to find someone at the moment who could help me develop a widget or some software that would integrate with the existing software that would allow it to detect ice or a certain ice area of water which show up as a certain shade of black.
So when that shade comes up on the screen, it triggers the alarm. At least then I’d be able to get some sleep. But failing that, I’d have to go into my 20 minute watches of just constantly looking at the computer screen and getting naps as I’m making my way through that body of water. Or alternatively stop the boat dead in the water. Have a sleep, get the rest and then start again and sail for another five or six hours and then have another rest.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Because how far ahead can your infrared actually see? The reason I ask is because if you’re doing even 10 knots, you’re still covering a lot of ground quite quickly aren’t you?
Lisa Blair: Yeah. So one and a half to two nautical miles on average but for me to be able to then spot something at that distance is probably pretty slim, which is why I want to minimise my boat speed down to five knots or below. Because then it gives me reaction time.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: The idea is that this is all relayed to the screen on deck as well so that when I’m like really getting in congested areas, I’m taking the helm, monitoring the screen and I’m physically steering through the ice flows.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s a pity you can’t use satellite to relay what you can see on the screen back to a control centre and then have a team of volunteers sitting there 24/7 looking at it for you, waking you up every time they see something, human alarms.
Lisa Blair: That would be great if they just wake me up.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. It’s like, “We see something.” Yeah, okay. Wow, you’ve got some interesting challenges to deal with, and then also I read that you’ve got a boundary that you can’t, from a seven boundary point of view, you’ve got a ring that you can’t go past that you have to sail around.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, I can’t go above 45 degrees south or below 60 south once you’re in the gate.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh so you’ve actually got an upper and a lower limit, that’s interesting.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, you can’t go up any higher than 45 and you can’t get below 60. Yeah, so it means that after Cape Horn, that’s the highest ice risk is that part of the ocean and pretty much you have to go right up to the 45 limit and I’ll be slowly making my way around on the 45 limit because you don’t want to be any further south because there’s often lots of bergs around there.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so this will be a fascinating episode and I’m sure we’ll have lots and lots interested in what you’re doing and your story and the challenge and so the next question someone’s going to ask me is how will we be able to stay abreast of the trip? Will there be progress updates? Will your website give updates of your location and what have you got planned media was?
Lisa Blair: Yeah, so obviously it’s budget constraints. So the more money I have the more I want to share with the audience. But for me, a large part of doing this trip is about inspiring people to go and follow their dreams, whatever their dream may be. To do that, you need to share your story as you’re going. I think there’s not a lot of solo sailors out there that really bring the audience along for the whole trip. You get these little updates like once a week, there will be a photo and there will be a blog but you’re not really there with the sailor.
What I’d really like to see is, I’m in a storm and I’m able to beam that data back and it’s online while I’m still in the same storm. So people are experiencing what I’m experiencing as it happens rather than a week later.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That would be fantastic. I’d stay up and watch that, that would be really good.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and being able to do updates. I can really see it being a great potential for something like Facebook live. Interfacing there and doing live broadcast from the middle of the southern ocean and people can sign in and just follow with the journey and the hardships and stuff as they happen. That all does take an immense amount of money, which I don’t have. So that would be the wish list.
But my minimum requirements that I can fulfil at this point is a two minute video once a week and then we get into a daily photo and a daily blog as well. So people will be able to get those updates as they’re happening. Obviously as anything changes, I will be doing additional, when there’s something conditional that’s super exciting or super dangerous or, you know, traumatic that needs to be shared. Also, I’ll have the live tracker so people can track me around the world on the tracker. So yeah, that will be really fun.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That would be great. Hopefully you find like a media type of sponsor who wants to help you with that so that they can get access to the content because certainly being able to do a live broadcast and live sharing of video and photo updates and that kind of stuff really will get people engaged and following it.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and it’s such a, you know, it’s the 21st century. We live on the Internet. Like people don’t really watch TV a lot anymore, especially the kids. They sit on YouTube all day and watch YouTube or Facebook live and those sorts of social media platforms. It is something that could really be focusing in on even as a web TV series kind of thing.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, absolutely.
Lisa Blair: There’s a lot of scope and potential, we just have to find the right partner.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Look at the appetite now for people who want to watch reality TV shows and contests and elimination shows and that kind of stuff. This is the ultimate reality show, right? Very few of the population will ever get to Antarctica but to be able to be there and see somebody traveling through it and all the challenges as they sail around it would be incredible, wouldn’t it? A good experience. I’m sure that would get a lot of interest and a big following.
Lisa Blair: Yes, definitely, that’s exactly, yeah. Being able to bring it to your audience on such a real level is yeah. It’d have a lot of potential and be so important.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Absolutely, well that’s excellent Lisa. It’s been really, really fascinating talking to you about your story and your challenge. When I first heard about it, Steve Humphrey’s told me and he said, “You must talk to Lisa,” and then when you sent me your back…
Lisa Blair: Steve sailed to Hobart with me.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. He races with me these days. He’s a really, really good sailor. But once you sent me the background information and I read your background and all the things you’ve done and how you’ve worked towards this with your training and your previous sailing with the Clipper and the Tasman and then the fact that you’ve got a number of sponsors on board already and a good team behind you then I truly wish you all of the success.
Because I think it’s a fantastic project and I certainly encourage any of our listeners who are sailors or part of the industry or have got some level of sponsorship interest or know of somebody who might to share Lisa’s story, share the podcast and go to her website and contact her. Because it really is a fascinating story and it’s an amazing personal challenge for any human being with all the elements you’re facing with weather and cold and being on your own and the isolation as well. So it really is an amazing story.
Lisa Blair: Thank you. Yeah, I think for me, the biggest challenge is always getting to the start line, the rest is just sailing.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, so much for sailing is really about the preparation and training isn’t it? The fun starts once you stop preparing.
Lisa Blair: Exactly.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s great. well what I would do is simply if you, I’ll have a look on what’s on your site. If you’ve got any other links, any other videos or images, anything else you want me to share in the show notes then I’ll put them online at the oceansailingpodcast.com website and then obviously I’ll link to your contact details and your website through there as well. So if you’re listening to the podcast and you want to find out more about Lisa, either go directly to her site, which is lisablairsailstheworld.com, is that correct?
Lisa Blair: Yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Or you can click through via the Ocean Sailing podcast site as well and hopefully I can share a whole lot of extra information as well to help people stay abreast of what you’re doing and then certainly be great to be able to follow your journey. So will you have satellite phone access while you’re away as well?
Lisa Blair: Yes I will, yes, that’s on me.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well if it all pans out, hopefully we can give you a call, partway through your trip and maybe do an episode on the sail. It might be a shorter one than this so we don’t use all your phone credit.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, it’s quite expensive I have to say.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s much more like the old mobile phone rates, isn’t it? In terms of the cost per minute.
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: But maybe we can do a couple of quick updates and get a couple of chats along the way if it all works out, if you have some time. Well that’s fantastic Lisa. Well thank you for appearing on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and this is going to be a great episode and it’s going to be closer to a couple of hours so it’s going to be the bigger the episode appears to be, the more that people seem to listen. So more is more as they say, and it’s a fascinating story so thank you so much for sharing it.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, no, thank you so much for having me on the show, it’s been a pleasure and yeah, I’d love to come back again and give you guys all the updates as they happen.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That will be fantastic, so that’s cool. I will just press the pause button on this, that’s all done. That is awesome, that was great. You’re the ultimate person to interview because you got lots to talk about, I don’t have to say much at all. That’s great when people have got a great story and they just get up and tell it.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. No, it’s good. I mean it’s got a lot of challenges but that’s why we do these things. If it were easy everyone would do them, right?
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s right. It’s just about getting the more that people tell people you’ll be amazed at how far the word can spread with these things so.
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: You’ve done a lot of work to get to where you are with your story and how you’ve packaged and presented it from a marketing point of view and the boat you’ve put together, I think it’s fantastic. I’ve actually registered to the solo Tasman race in 2018.
Lisa Blair: Oh awesome. Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I sailed across the Tasman three years ago because I bought my boat in Auckland and sailed it to the Gold Coast and it was an awesome trip, but yeah, I’d love to do that. I haven’t done any solo racing before but I love being out on the ocean and away from the land so…
Lisa Blair: The way I see solo is if you can sail a boat, you can sail solo.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.
Lisa Blair: Because at the end of the day, you’ve got a second crew member, which is your auto-helm.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s right and they really, that’s actually like three because they run 24/7, unless the course the weather gets to the point where it won’t operated properly.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, but that’s just like the additional hardships that you’ve got to endure. But you still have hardships when you sell a crew, it’s just as exhausting in sailing crewed as it is solo.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s right and I just did, I took my boat up to the Hamilton Island Race week and so we did a nonstop three day, a 50 miles off shore, did a nonstop three day trip out there with a couple of riggings that have never been offshore before. It’s kind of like solo with a couple of ring-ins where they haven’t even done much sailing. So you realise actually, by the time you have the [inaudible], you end up doing three quarters of everything. “Oh, they’re far off solo sailing.”
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: If anything, you’re actually cooking for more people and looking after more people because you’re worried about them hurting themselves, being spectators.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, and you just tend to do a lot of running around like back and forth because you’ll set the boat up and you’ll dart forward and start hoisting then something’s getting caught on the lazy jacks or something. You’ve got to dart back and reset the boat on another course and dart forwards. It’s just a lot of that backwards and forwards. What type of boat do you have?
Ocean Sailing Podcast: I’ve got a Beneteau 445.
Lisa Blair: Okay, yes.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s actually 25 years old, but we’ve got, we’re IRC rated and we’ve got full carbon sail, water code zero sails and we’ve done a lot to really I guess, trick it up you’d say. It’s actually the very first Beneteau, first hull that was every produced of that series. So it goes all right actually and it’s really a lot of fun, we got a really good bunch of people and Steve sails with us as well but I envy you because we’ve done Sydney to Gold Coast recently that was hard because it was really low winds. Like you said, you’d have a sleep for two hours and you’d wake up and the boat had moved or you’ve gone backwards in the current and it was tough.
Then you realise, “Gosh, have we just had another 10 feet and we don’t weigh anymore because we had 10.3 tons, you just see all these carbon boats just gliding past you and we kind of need four to five knots to really move along. At two to three we just struggle to get, actually any boat speed. You just see them gliding on by and you just think, “I thought we were good but now I realise that we’re only good if it’s seven knots plus, below that it’s horrendous. So yeah, we do about 80 races a year all together between club racing and twilight racing, go to Morton Bay a couple of times and so I love it. I could do more of it if I had time.
Lisa Blair: Yeah. It’s fantastic. I mean, it’s just such a great sport and like I said, I didn’t even discover it until I was 20. But it’s a sport you can do at any age I think and that’s something that, I’m a sailing instructor now, one of the ladies I was teaching, she was 74 years old and she had sailed her whole life with her husband but she’d never been the skipper in charge. So she never had to make those decisions. She just needed the confidence more than anything. But yeah, so she was doing a sailing course to learn it. Andnow she races her own little SNS 34 all the time.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Great little boat.
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well that’s great and to that point, we’ve got about 18 crew together, which means we need, which means we have seven to eight at any one time. But our crew are mostly 50’s and 60’s and most of them have got into sailing out of neighbours, friends, friends of friends who said, “Ah, I’d like to go sailing.” I’m like, “Cool, come on down, come and have a race, before you know is, you’re with the man and they’ve all mostly come to the sailing later in life and it’s just, that’s any age, any gender, any physicality you can become a good sailor and you can actually do really well. It’s such a great sport, our crew have, I think our range is 17 to 60’s. Most of our guys are older and it’s awesome.
Lisa Blair: Yeah.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: A lot of them wouldn’t be sailing if I hadn’t talked them into it and then they’ve actually become really good sailors and digested anything I give them to read any books, any tarps.
Lisa Blair: Yeah, got right into it, it’s addictive.
Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah it is very addictive.
Interviewer: David Hows
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- December 2018
- 18 Nov 2018 Episode 62: Nick Moloney
- 16 Sep 2018 Episode 57: David Young
- 23 Jun 2018 Episode 52: David Smyth email
- May 2018
- December 2016
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 23: Lisa Blair Show Notes
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 22: Hamilton Island Race Week Show Notes
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 21: Ian MacKenzie Show Notes
- 18 Sep 2016 Episode 20: Roger "Clouds" Badham Show Notes
- 18 Sep 2016 Episode 19: Ocean Gem Crew Show Notes
- 17 Sep 2016 Episode 18: Elise Currey Show Notes
- 5 Aug 2016 Episode 17: Gerry Fitzgerald Show Notes
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016