Lisa Blair Inspires At Gosford Sailing Club Talk

AWE-INSPIRING solo sailor Lisa Blair likes to lighten the mood every now and then, even when describing life-and-death situations. So she won’t mind being described as someone who could talk under water.

And it’s just as well because the gathering of sailors young and old at Gosford Sailing Club hung on to her every word as she described her amazing seafaring adventures.

Blair, who has accumulated 70,000 ocean miles in her log book, took the audience on a whirlwind journey on her way to becoming the first woman to sail solo and unassisted around Antarctica for Climate Action Now.

Blair is now travelling up the East Coast giving fundraising talks to meet expenses after her de-masting incident, which occurred on her epic journey 1000 nautical miles from land, with the nearest boat several days away.

Among the engrossed listeners this week was another high-profile woman of world sailing, Paralympian gold medallist and state Labor MP for Gosford Liesl Tesch, a keen supporter of grassroots sailing and the club on the shores of Brisbane Water.

Having learned to crew on a yacht on the more idyllic waters of the South Pacific, Blair was inspired by teenage sailor Jessica Watson’s round-the-world solo achievement. Blair began to look for her own personal challenges.

“I thought if a 16-year-old can find a way, then I can,” she said, although at the time she was working for $20 an hour as a bored mall saleswoman.

“I was also inspired by something I heard on TV: ‘just do it because the world is changed by doers.’”

Determined fundraising and the generosity of friends and strangers helped pay her way on the Clipper Round the World Race for paying amateurs, where she honed her nautical skills, built confidence and began to look for solo challenges. That led to a solo race between Australia and New Zealand in which she finished sixth, then a Sydney to Hobart shakedown and culminated in this year’s awesome Antarctic achievement.

On July 25, 2017, Blair’s dream became a reality after spending more than 189 days away, sailing from Albany to Albany, a circumnavigation below 45 degrees South on a Hick 50 called Climate Action Now, to help promote climate change action. At one point Blair was the furthest point from land anywhere on Earth and closer to the astronauts in a space station above her than any other human beings on land - “a long way from home”.

When her boat’s mast crashed down onto the deck with “an ear-splitting sound” she was sailing in 40 knots in 6-8m of swell, 1000 miles from land on the final leg in the Indian Ocean. The nearest vessel was 600 miles away. “I think I have a bit of a situation here,” she famously told her main shore support person. The words belie the great courage Blair was forced to summon up to move herself up front to free the mast rigging. If the mast was not cut free waves could have swept it overboard, spearing the hull and sinking the boat. But while cutting free the rigging she could also have been swept overboard with “no chance” of climbing back on deck. “I waited for about 20 minutes trying to think of other solutions to freeing the mast, but there were none,” she said with a nervous laugh.

The well-publicised de-masting incident, while life-threatening, was not the most frightening experience of the trip. Nor was battling a storm which dished up 70 knots of cyclonic conditions and 8m seas, on day 24, or later the dangerous crossing of Cape Horn where the wind can change from 30 knots to 100 within minutes and the waves look like three-storey buildings . That was when the deployment of drogue to slow the boat down felt like the difference between survival and disaster. No, she said, the scariest time was travelling through ‘Iceberg Alley’ near the Fallklands. In that region for every ‘identified’ iceberg 150m or larger there were 50 unknown icebergs just as lethal to small sailing boats; she “barely slept”.

Blair said the full story, Demasted, will be published next year by Australian Geographic. Answering questions from the audience, Blair stressed that the overall success of her trip was due to thorough preparation, with attention to detail and safety at all stages of her journey.

“I never walked out without being harnessed,” she said.

On self-belief she said, “it’s your own opinion of what you can do that matters.”

“I inspired myself in the Clipper race, it showed me what I was capable of, from there it was a time game.”

On the question of being alone for months on end, Blair said “I won every argument” and was comforted by the unlimited SMS communication.

Asked about evidence of the impact of humans in the Southern Ocean environment she said due to the extreme cold most of the time she was inside the boat but in the Clipper race she saw a lot of pollution in waters off PNG, Thailand and South East Asia. “It was sometimes so thick, we literally had a kitchen sink float past”. Blair said as a solo sailor she wanted to use her voice to help the community say something positive about taking individual action to benefit the environment. The poster note messages people contributed which adorn the boat are a message about the importance of combined action.          

Blair was thanked for her fascinating insights by David Slingsby, father of Olympic Gold medallist David Slingsby. David said he had also experienced a de-masting at sea at night and it was an extreme situation “even with a crew of six”. He said many sailors at Gosford had followed Blair’s quest via her blog but it was thrilling to hear from the bold adventurer in person. His thanks to Blair for her talk drew loud applause and cheers.    

Members of the audience were invited to make bids for a bottle of wine which had sailed around the Antarctic with Blair and to purchase special edition beanies, while the club presented her with a club burgee and a famous club beer mug.

Blair’s next challenge will be leading an all-female crew for the first time in 16 years in the Sydney to Hobart race, featuring four experienced ocean sailors and four up-and-coming sailors seeking mentoring. For more information see LisaBlairSailsthe World.com. There are also lisablairsailstheworld links on twitter, facebook and youtube.




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