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.
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 lisablairsailstheworld.com
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.