Southern odyssey

Adventurer, sailor and environmentalist, Lisa Blair is working around the clock on refit works on the 15.25-metre yacht that will take her around Antarctica and into the record books, again.

Written by Jeni Bone
Photography by Lisa Blair

27 September 2021

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Climate Action Now” is the Robert Hick-designed yacht, (ex-Funnel Web) that has been at Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, Brisbane for the past three months for a major hull-up overhaul in preparation for her next World Record attempt at the end of October.

“They’re anti-fouling it now and bolting the fittings back on deck,” she reports, ahead of appearing as keynote speaker at a Yacht Club event in Brisbane.

“My sister (graphic designer), Shelley has designed the ‘Post-It Note’ wrap with 2,000 of the messages from the community and I’m aiming for the boat to be back on water on October 6. That’s when we’ll finish the job with the mast and rigging.”

Lisa, who’s preparing for an “Open Boat” event at Rivergate, is finalising the sponsorships and partnerships ahead of her epic voyage which will comprise a Brisbane to Albany, WA leg, followed by final preparation before her World Record attempt around Antarctica.

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“I’m aiming to depart Albany for Antarctica on December 19, all things going to plan and depending on weather patterns. That’s the window, anyway. I’m aiming to break the current record of 102 days with an 80-day sail, with NO stops this time.”

Lisa is referring to her first attempt at sailing solo around Antarctica in 2017 with the ambition to complete the 14,000 nautical mile voyage in 90 days, beating the current record of 102 days held by Russian sailor, Fedor Konyukhov.

While Lisa made history becoming the first women to sail solo around Antarctica with one stop – an emergency stop in Cape Town on South Africa’s south-west coast to repair a broken mast – she has her eye on the prize of 80 days this time.

“The goal is nice, but I have to finish and come home alive. It’s all about safety. I won’t push the boat beyond her performance range.

“Last time, I was focused on just ‘doing the loop’. This time, I have a more sophisticated strategy and plans for optimising sail changes. Of course, this will have a huge impact on my interaction with the boat and my own endurance and body management.”

For that, Lisa has been in training, spending the past year and a half working out online with Joe’s Base Camp, popular with Everest trekkers, skiers and ultra-marathon runners.

“I’m definitely ready – come what may, whatever challenges I encounter. With four years between projects, it will be interesting to see how I cope mentally and physically,” she says, still with vivid recollection of her near-death experience in 2017, when her yacht was assailed by 80-knot wind gusts, 90-foot swells and temperatures of -20C.

“The dismasting was traumatic,” Lisa recounts. “It was a close call. The whole boat was upside down and I had to battle snowstorms and blizzards – all on two to three hours’ sleep.”

This time, along with keeping her yacht on course and staying alive, Lisa is undertaking a raft of science assignments on this last remaining “great unknown”.

“The United Nations has declared the next 10 years the ‘Decade of Ocean Research’,” explains Lisa. “I attended the Sydney meeting of the United Nations in December and met various leaders in Science who I am now collaborating with on research which will have tremendous input to our knowledge of the Southern Ocean and deliver that insight to the public.”

Lisa’s yacht will have a research unit installed which will collect information at various “data points” along her journey with a mission to discover more about ocean health.

“This includes dissolved CO2, acidity, salinity, ocean temperatures, barometric pressure which is crucial for readings on climate change, and carbon trapped in that part of the ocean which impacts on various species.”

The data will be unique.

“Information on that part of the ocean is patchy. Science has relied on container ships and researchers based in the Antarctic, but there are major gaps in the Southern Ocean. The ocean traps and holds CO2 – it’s a carbon well. The Southern Ocean because it’s colder, is able to absorb more CO2.”

According to NOAA, based on measurements collected from ships over several decades, the Southern Ocean is a major buffer against climate change, absorbing as much as 75 percent of the excess heat and 40 percent of human-generated CO2 emissions taken up by the global oceans.

“My aim is to fill in the gap in that part of the ocean and make the data available worldwide.”

That’s one part of her mission. Another element is the measurement of microplastics.

“Plastic has only been with us for a relatively short time – around 150 years,” says Lisa. “We have zero data about how far reaching the impact is on the ocean environment in this region.

“The Antarctic is a massive, diverse and unique marine eco-system, and there’s not much scientific data collected. I have the support of the science community and will be taking samples along the way, measuring microplastics.”

Climate Action Now” is fitted with two filters, a 500 micron filter which will operate for 22 hours a day and a 100 micron filter which will operate for two hours, for that purpose.

As if that were not enough, there are two other objectives of her voyage: deploying drifter buoys as mobile weather stations and mapping the seabed of the Southern Ocean for the “Seabed 2030 project”.

“There are almost no weather stations in the Southern Ocean,” says Lisa. “There is no vessel traffic to deploy them. Weather stations crucial to measure biometric pressure which is vital for weather forecasting.

“For the seabed project, onboard I’ll have a data logger and depth sounder to map the ocean floor. From Brisbane to Albany, then Antarctica, much of the water I’ll be sailing in is 3,000 to 5,000-metres deep.

“I’ll be collecting data at Cape Town, the Falkland Islands and Birdwood Banks, supported by Citizen Science project. All the data will then be compiled as part of the Global Atlas, which will be released in 2030.”

Building on the “Climate Action Now Post-it Note campaign” which raised awareness of Lisa’s expedition, she says her personal commitment to the next generation is creation of a school program which covers her multifaceted voyage.

“The adventure narrative is the hook to engage them with the science,” she explains.

Using the Canva platform, Lisa will post video updates, host live Zoom sessions and prepare topic templates that will be available to schools Australia-wide, with the vision of going global.

“I’m offering schools a six-month school program for free; live streaming and providing educational templates rolled into the curriculum in marine studies, geography, climate change, maths exercises – the scope is nearly unlimited. There are so many applications. I will have a collection of tools available for educators which they can access via expressions of interest.”

On Saturday 16 October, Lisa will host an Open Boat event at Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, Brisbane, from 2pm, where visitors will hear about her quest, the aims and objectives and climb aboard “Climate Action Now” to see for themselves the high-tech set-up that will equip Lisa to collect data that will make a world of difference to our knowledge of the ocean.

But right now, as she’s tying up the final sponsorships and opportunities for corporate collaborations, Lisa is readying her boat and reassuring her family.

“They think I’m crazy, but I tell them not to worry. I have everything onboard for self-rescue, all my supplies, equipment and I’ve been hands-on during this refit, so I know every inch of the boat.

“Mum says ‘Do you have to? You have three World Records’, but she’s totally onboard. In fact, my mum, Linda, has just returned to sailing again and bought a dinghy. Her boat is hot yellow to match mine. I tell her, ‘This is just the beginning’.”

With the extra weight of the Southern Ocean data collection on her shoulders, Lisa says her broader mission remains the same. “Positive empowerment”.

“I want to inspire people to take small actions towards a better future. It doesn’t matter how small your step is; a small step has as much value as a large step. A million smaller steps can be easier.

“People are so conditioned to be limited in our goals and views,” she continued. “Until we put ourselves in uncomfortable positions, we don’t know what we’re capable of. I went from no sailing experience, to 10 years later holding three world records.”

“I really want to show people that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Whether that’s to run a successful business or go on an adventure – to live their dream, whatever it is. Life’s too short not to.”

To register for the free “Open Boat” event at Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, Saturday 16 October visit Eventbrite.

 

lisablairsailstheworld.com

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