She’s still here with us, and now we can be there for her.
Of the many endearing qualities in Lisa Blair, the most paramount is her effervescence. Yet it is what lies behind that which could be her most incredible characteristic. Sometimes you can almost overlook her steely determination, but not for long when you start talking with her. Catching up with her live from Cape Town surely was a vivid reminder of not only what this sailor has achieved to date, but what she can accomplish, when she puts her mind to it.
It was pretty amazing to find out that Lisa Blair’s ‘round Antarctica record attempt had come crashing down, just like the rig on her Hick 50, Climate Action Now. To be 900nm from the nearest landmass freezing your tail off; around a day and a bit in front of a record you had spent a lot of time not contemplating; 70 days into a grand voyage that was three and a half years in the making; and with just the one (Indian) and smallest ocean left to cross; well, you may have allowed a moment of reflection to back yourself in. Such was not to be case, as we are now all too painfully aware.
Alas, the challenges were going to come thick and fast, and not all of them would be whilst Lisa was at sea, either! Jokingly I laughed with Lisa that for her, public speaking was never ever again going to seem challenging. “It has put it all into perspective”, Blair mused. “It is all character building.”
It did seem easier to talk about where to from here, and activities ashore first, before moving on to the obviously bitter pill. Here too, that supreme focus that got Blair to the start of this adventure was self-evident. Lisa was set to continue. “I may well have found a suitable, second-hand rig. It is unfortunately 600mm shorter, but we (me and Climate Action Now) are going to get back to Australia, no matter what! I will definitely be getting a rig within next three weeks.”
Herein lies one of the many great challenges she was to encounter, face up to and then overcome. Instead of mast being insured for AUD120,000, there was indeed a typo in the documentation not picked up until it was needed of course, that had the rig valued at just $20,000. Doh! “My insurer and underwriter (Edward William and Northern Reef, respectively) have both added a further $20,000 to the coffers to take us to $60k, but this is still short.”
“In cutting the rig away, all the gear has gone. Electronics, wiring, rigging, and some sails too. Yet all my existing partners are helping to make it happen once more, so I do feel like we will get there. Naturally the boat has suffered badly after the port D1 gave way, and as soon as the paperwork is sorted we will get onto fixing it. It was kind of like a saw motion with the rig chopping into the deck and gunwale, so there is a 300mm circular area that is completely useless now.”
On the positive side of the ledger, and showing just how committed she is, Blair commented, “It is my intention to go back to point of dismasting and continue on. The World Speed Sailing Record Council will allow it as a solo, but assisted circumnavigation. However, the clock keeps going, so add the four weeks in Cape Town to the tally. You know, where we stand now, I can say that for me it is all about finishing the task at hand.”
“Certainly there has been a lot of disappointment, not the least of which is that all the standing rigging was less than three months old. It is almost guaranteed that the heavy corrosion that caused to catastrophic failure was the result of electrolysis from stray current, and in combination with fatigue, the 12mm hammer wire gave way. It is almost amazing that I got as far as I did!”
“When it all happened, my attitude changed to just ‘save the boat’. It was a very emotional experience with it all coming to a halt like that, and certainly on the trip up to Cape Town there were lots of tears. Eventually, we could see that it was going to be possible to complete the trip, but we need to move quickly to get in for the last of the weather window. This made the choice of Cape Town a no-brainer, for heading to AUS under jury rig, or just wafting downhill to Edward Island with a dead boat was not a joyous notion.”
It was now that you felt Lisa could talk openly about the demise, and she promptly added, “After all the challenges so far, this is but another speed hump! I will travel the 900nm back down to the point of dismasting and then complete the lap, cross my outgoing track at 45 degrees South, and then sail up to Albany (Western Australia), so that the whole circumnavigation will at 45 degrees South, or below.”
“I still tear up if I think about it. It was dramatic, and I always thought it would be the top section that would go in a dismasting, not at deck level. In that way, a jury rig would have seen me complete this circumnavigation on Climate Action Now, unassisted. Yet with the way it occurred there was the real possibility of losing the boat, and then I’d be a long way from land in a cold stormy sea.”
“It is hard to process, and naturally, I don’t dwell on it. Once I had her patched I knew we’d be OK, and after the Pan Pan and the diverted container ship had given me fuel, things did improve. Once the notion of finishing had sunk in, I was no longer in a dark space, either.”
“I was sailing the boat well under her potential, so did not think anything was being overly stressed. Looking back now, thinking and analyzing, I reckon we can say I was damn lucky. All the preparation put me in a great place to act quickly and effectively, as well as have my shore crew instigate protocols with authorities and so on. We had things like the tracking, and emergency procedures all in place, so that I had the grab bags and emergency equipment for abandon ship all at hand.”
“All that forethought meant I was on the job, and not cowering up against a bulkhead. I needed to rescue myself, for the nearest vessel was 600nm away. It was blowing 40+ knots, with 7-9m swells that had breaking tops, the sea was a chilly seven degrees Celsius, with the ambient temperature a blistering seven degrees Celsius, and that is before the windchill factor! I was mildy hypothermic after four hours on deck fixing, cutting and removing all the gear It meant that after it was all done it took me a couple of hours to stop shivering after all the repeated dunkings I took.”
Take This With You
Yet it is without doubt that her recounting of removing the forestay that stays with you. “I had to go out on prodder. I was white knuckle on the foredeck for half hour an hour as I looked at all my options. It was either this or sink, which of course made the choice easy, in the end. Not that it was easy”, Blair said chuckling away, for there is nothing like cold and reality to define the senses.
“Once I got out there I froze again. I had to first get rid of the split pin, then belt out the 316 pin from the turnbuckle. However, with the rig coming down it was not only all twisted, it had severely damaged the pulpit and rail up for’ard. What was there to hold onto? Using all my strength was still not enough to really hold on, and in between sets (of the waves), I would let go completely, and with screwdriver in one hand and hammer in the other, first take out the split pin, and then the major effort of removing the rigging pin from a deformed turnbuckle.”
“It took ages to clear the spilt pin, and I could not honestly say how long, but I know I had so many dunkings, each time I stopped and grabbed hold again, before setting to the task once more. Once it was done I pushed the forestay over my head and helped it clear the rail, then went back pronto! I called my shore crew to tell them I was safe once more, which they appreciated, because the call before had been to tell them that if my PLB went off, then I had been swept overboard and was not able to get back on.”
“Another chocolate bar was consumed for energy, so now after first removing the back stay, then baby stay and forestay, I had to get rid of the starboard side D1, then V1, before the V1 on port and the last two halyards that were under maximum load. The rig was free and I tried to tow it for a while, but the line snapped under the enormous load, and she sank away. There was a lot of groaning coming form the port quarter especially, and then it all went quiet. It was then that I knew…”
So yes, unlike her rig, Lisa is still standing. Should you wish to do the same beside her, then you can go to https://lisablairsailstheworld.com and buy a Antarctica Circumnavigation beanie, or elect to make a cash donation via the portal on the top right hand side of her site. Of course, anyone electing to offer to sponsor her, should make contact pronto!
Editor’s Note: Lisa is very passionate about the climate, hence the name of her boat and the livery she is dressed in. Here is our take, to help keep things in perspective… Yes. Make Earth great again!
by John Curnow