On January 22, Lisa Blair left Western Australia on the sailing yacht Climate Action Now in an attempt to become the first female to circumnavigate Antarctica solo and unassisted. Her goal? To inspire others to fight climate change. She rounded Cape Horn, a dream of hers, and after an astonishing 51 days at sea, she hit the halfway mark.
This real-life drama continues to play out right now. Following a devastating de-masting and a hectic mid-ocean fuel transfer with a non-English-speaking ship, Lisa arrived in Cape Town on April 12. Below is an interview with Lisa, conducted via a series of questions she responded to while at sea, about her inspiring voyage.
What inspired you to take on this challenge? Was there an influential person or moment?
Once I discovered sailing 10 years ago, I read all the books I could find on the subject. I then sailed in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. I never thought I would sail around the world, but there I was, a circumnavigate, so I asked myself what else I could do. The Antarctica circumnavigation was born from there.
How did you feel when you left port?
It was really scary! It was terrifying taking that leap and setting off all on my own to sail for three months in the Southern Ocean. It was a big reality check.
What is the funniest thing that has happened so far?
I have lots of different funny moments when I’m laughing at myself. Like when I’m trying to cook dinner in heavy seas. I have to hold everything to stop the items from flying around the cabin, my legs are wedged in at odd angles and I look more like a spider than someone making a meal.
What are you most looking forward to?
I can’t wait to sail past Cape Horn. I have wanted to sail past it since I started reading solo sailing books. It will also mark the almost halfway point of my trip. To have done it solo will be a huge achievement.
What advice do you have for others?
Whatever your goal is, you can achieve it; you just have to stick with it. It took me three years to get the funding for this trip. I had my doubts at times, but had I given up, I wouldn’t be out here sailing today.
What advice do you have for women in sailing?
Women are often overlooked as crew members because they aren’t always as strong as the boys. But believe me when I say women make great sailors. [Women need to] get out there and show them what we can do.
Ever since I read First Lady by Kay Cottee about her solo sailing adventure, I have been fascinated with the idea of sailing solo. I love the fact that there is no one else to rely on. I have to step up and deal with the scenario or it won’t be fixed. I love that extra challenge, and there are so many additional challenges such as dealing with loneliness or fear in a storm. It forces me to take charge and cope, as hiding down below isn’t an option.
What would the 10-year-old Lisa think of this?
Ten-year-old Lisa was always up for an adventure, but she had not heard of sailing before. I think she would be excited and thrilled with the course my life has taken and my achievements. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself sailing around Antarctica when I left school and went to university.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your followers?
I have been hugely impressed and humbled by the many people who have supported my journey and the amazing volunteers who have made this trip a reality. I’ve even had strangers on the street offer to help. I guess you could say I’ve been unexpectedly impressed with humanity.
Why did you choose to work with Quantum Sails?
Matt Pearce was the deciding factor for me. Matt works out of the Dee Why loft in Sydney and has been a great friend. Given the challenges of this trip, I didn’t want just anyone making my sails. I needed strength and reliability because without the sails, there would be no trip. I was confident with Matt in charge that I would get the best product and that it would be designed specifically for this trip. I was also impressed with the extra research Quantum Sails did to make sure it delivered.
How are your parents doing with this whole adventure?
Funny you ask. I remember the first time I asked Mum what she would think of me sailing solo around Antarctica, and she said absolutely no way. After I sailed solo to New Zealand and back in the ITL solo Tasman Challenge, she relented and let me go. I think the more solo sailing I do, the easier it has become for my family. They all know I have the right experience to complete this trip, and by having them involved in the preparation, they get to see how important safety is to me. They still have little freak-outs if I don’t answer the phone, but they do that anyway even if I’m not sailing. Having the ability to SMS via the Iridium GO! unit has helped a lot. If Mum is worried, she will text me, and I can reply right away. They are handling it very well, considering.
As of this writing, Lisa has been gone 110 days. She is currently in Cape Town working to re-rig her boat and hopes to have the mast stepped and ready to depart in the next couple weeks. The Quantum Sails Sydney and Brisbane lofts, along with local suppliers, have worked hard to design, order, manufacture and deliver four new sails so she can complete her journey.
You can follow Lisa, donate to her campaign and even post your own climate action message on lisablairsailstheworld.com. She is posting regularly on Facebook at Lisa Blair Sails the World where the photographs, video and day-by-day real-life drama will have you on the edge of your seat.