Ice maiden at­tempt

Lisa Blair knew it wouldn’t be smooth sail­ing as she set off for icy Antarc­tic wa­ters on her mis­sion to be­come the first woman to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the frozen con­ti­nent… solo.

Australian Geographic - - CON­TENTS - JOSEPHINE SAR­GENT

THE WIND was howl­ing, the seas were rough and it was dark. Sud­denly, a doz­ing Lisa Blair heard a crack like a gun­shot above her. She peeked out on deck and her heart sank as she re­alised the dam­age was worse than she’d imag­ined. It was mid-way through her record-break­ing at­tempt to cir­cum­nav­i­gate Antarc­tica and the mast on her 50ft mono­hull yacht, Cli­mate Ac­tion Now, had snapped. Lisa was alone and in the mid­dle of nowhere.

It was less than a decade ago and half a world away that the now 32-year-old sailor first dis­cov­ered her love of sail­ing, in the trop­i­cal Whit­sun­day Is­lands.

Since then, Lisa has been on a de­ter­mined track to push her­self and at­tempt to sail into the his­tory books as the first woman to cir­cum­nav­i­gate Antarc­tica, solo and unas­sisted. Her prepa­ra­tion has in­cluded a year-long race around the world and the 2015 Syd­ney to Ho­bart Yacht Race. It has seen her put in more than 55,000 nau­ti­cal miles on the open ocean.

By the time Lisa set out on her polar ex­pe­di­tion she’d also de­cided to take on the men’s record of 102 days for cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing Antarc­tica, set in 2008 by Feodor Konyukhov. Her dream was bol­stered when she was awarded the 2017 Nancy Bird Wal­ton Spon­sor­ship for Fe­male Ad­ven­tur­ers by the Aus­tralian Geo­graphic So­ci­ety.

Lisa fi­nally set out from Al­bany in Western Aus­tralia on 22 Jan­uary 2017, head­ing for Antarc­tic waters in a bit of a panic. “It’s three years of plan­ning and all of a sud­den I was do­ing it. I thought, ‘I’m go­ing into these big seas and big storms and there is a chance I won’t come back’, ”she ex­plains. “I had to change my think­ing.” By the time she was 72 days into her trip, hav­ing al­ready dodged ice­bergs, whales and storms, she felt calm and con­fi­dent and was cruis­ing a day and a half ahead of Konyukhov’s record when dis­as­ter struck.

She was dev­as­tated to see the bro­ken mast. “It was look­ing like a belly dancer… jig­gling around like crazy; there were 40 knot winds and a 7–9m swell,” she tells AG by phone. “And it was dark.”

Sur­vey­ing the dam­age, and glad to have sur­vived with her life, she re­alised her dream was in tat­ters as she made her way un­der mo­tor to Cape Town in

South Africa where she’s been ever since, await­ing boat re­pairs. “I was gut­ted,” she says. “Three years of hard work gone!”

But Lisa’s spirit re­mains un­bro­ken. “It’s all part of the ad­ven­ture,” she says, adding she’s de­ter­mined to fin­ish her mis­sion. Beat­ing the men’s record is no longer pos­si­ble and her jour­ney will no longer be “unas­sisted” (be­cause she was forced to use her en­gine). But, as we went to press Lisa was plan­ning to head back to the spot where the mast broke to re­sume her cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of Antarc­tica. If she fin­ishes, Lisa Blair will be­come the first woman to do so solo.

TO fol­low Lisa Blair’s ad­ven­ture or donate to as­sist with her ex­pe­di­tion costs, head to lis­ablair­sail­s­the­

Lisa’s yacht car­ries with it a clear mes­sage on cli­mate change with its colourful dis­play of post-it notes car­ry­ing per­sonal prom­ises of ac­tion by in­di­vid­u­als.

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