Change of pace

Solo record holder Lisa Blair tackles her latest sailing challenge when she leaves Sydney in mid-October, aiming to be the first woman to sail solo non-stop and unassisted around Australia.

20 October 2018


On paper circumnavigating Australia solo after the challenge of the Antarctic trip (first woman solo with one stop, 135 days under canvass in the Southern Ocean), would seem like a walk in the park. Or is that misleading?

When I was originally looking at the Antarctica circumnavigation, I was tossing-up between Australia and Antarctica, and I actually deemed this trip more difficult and dangerous. In the Southern Ocean, there’s virtually no shipping, reefs, rocks or islands. Once you get past managing the boat in the inevitable storms, then you just have to do the loop and avoid the bergs. Around Australia it’s about keeping clear of whatever’s out there; often smaller boats don’t have AIS or a radar reflector. Then there’s trawlers, crayfish pots, nets and unchartered hazards, so you can’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at any time.

How physically taxing will this be? What shape is your sail wardrobe in after the hard running in the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart?

For me this trip is more physically challenging. I’m going to have to push myself a lot harder, Antarctica was a marathon this is effectively a sprint. There will be more sail changes, but I now have a Code Zero which will be very useful in light winds. I don’t have any spinnakers because we broke them all on the Sydney to Hobart.



What have you been looking at in your passage planning?

The biggest challenges on this trip will be navigating through the Torres Strait and which passage to use to come back inside the Great Barrier Reef. I do a lot of my planning off paper charts plus a lot of research online scanning cruising forums. The boat sails quite well in anything above five knots. I will be struggling in anything under that. There’s two belts of light pressure, one off Airlie Beach and one off Broome that I’ll have to contend with. The World Speed Sailing Record Rules require me to stay outside the Reef till Wednesday Island of the Thursday Island Group, then come in.

What were the major lessons from the Antarctic record?

You can prepare only so much, and then there’s an element of luck – or fate – depending on how you look at it.

I had prepared everything, the rigging wire was brand new, I’d taken all the steps and I still found myself being dismasted. But because I’d planned for that situation it meant I was in a better position to deal with it.

So what are the biggest dangers this time round?

This trip the greatest risks are a collision or running aground. So I’ve been focussed on making sure my watertight compartments are in fact watertight, the bulkheads are sealed, making sure I’ve got my emergency grab bag set-up correctly and the life raft is ready if I need it. I’ve already got B&G’s broadband 4G radar and AIS so that’s a pretty good combination in terms of vessel (collision) warnings. That system (radar) allows you to have two frequencies running; short and long range, so you can set a better alarm system. I’ll still be adhering to Rule 5 though and keep a good lookout.

Sounds as if there will be a fair bit of insomnia in those six weeks?

(Laughs). I’ll be doing a lot of kipping on deck near the helm, especially in the warmer weather. I raced to New Zealand and back in the solo trans-Tasman and I set up the same procedure – I didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. That was 12 days there and 12 back, you do get fatigued bit it’s manageable. There are areas where I’ll be able to push it out to 40 minutes.

What have you done on the boat?

The biggest job this time around is the wiring. Guy Oliver from Olectric Systems has re-wired the whole boat. The rig has been checked and the sails overhauled. We’ll also be updating the wrap on the hull with new post-it messages. Leading up to Antarctica I had quite a large structural re-fit that had to happen.

What’s the situation with sponsorship? How can people help out if they want to support your important message about taking action on climate change?

I’m really fortunate to have d’Albora Marinas supporting me, and we are naming this circumnavigation d’Albora’s Action Project Aus 360. I’m taking on a more formal role as an ambassador for d’Albora Marinas. They’ve been fantastic in helping on the dock, as well as with shed space. The most amazing thing coming out of this (Climate Action Now projects), is the positive responses I’ve had from so many people -school kids, people in yacht clubs and who’ve listened to my talks who’ve come up to me – it’s been very humbling.

You can help Lisa in her record Australian circumnavigation attempt by  donating directly on her website.


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