Chances are all Australian sailors have heard of Lisa Blair by now. For those who haven’t, a few of her achievements include bow, helm and watch leader positions during the 2012 Clipper Race; competing in the 2014 Solo Tasman Race; and, for the past year, she’s been busy training and preparing her yacht Climate Action Now for her biggest adventure yet: circumnavigating Antarctica, solo, nonstop and unassisted.
Lisa tells me that the Clipper Race gave her invaluable experience, and it was my 2010 circumnavigation that helped her realise that she could take on bigger adventures. Then the Solo Tasman - and the storm she experienced during the race - showed her what she was capable of and, importantly, made her realise that she really liked solo sailing.
Lisa describes her upcoming Antarctic adventure as a really tough but achievable goal, pointing out that while she’ll have to contend with isolation, storms and incredibly harsh temperatures, there will be less of the other dangers associated with solo sailing - like shipping and close proximity to land. In fact, Lisa suggests that a circumnavigation of Australia would be more dangerous than her trip deep into the Southern Ocean.
I dropped into Woolwich Dock in Sydney last week and Lisa gave me a tour of the boat, impressing me with the thorough and ingenious preparation she’s undertaking with her team. Here are just a few of the things that Lisa pointed out;
Starting in the cockpit, Lisa points out the newly installed Pontos winches which, she explains, ‘act similar to a grinder, giving me extra strength’. With a total of nine winches and as many lines as possible running into the cockpit, the deck layout has been reconfigured for Lisa to handle the boat as safely and easily as possible. Solar panels line the cockpit walls, positioned to capture the sun while on a heal.
Heading down into the cabin, I pass outdoor speakers and a lovely array of B&G instruments which control, among other things, the T3 hydraulic auto pilot. Despite the T3’s reliable reputation, Lisa tells me a completely independent backup has also been installed.
Downstairs, Lisa shows me the shelving, fuel storage lockers and handholds that have been added to make life at sea as safe as easy as possible. A small air heater running off a little diesel (biodiesel of course) and electricity has been installed to provide some comfort, and two volunteers have been busy pulling together another important source of comfort - a range of freeze‑dried and long-life food.
On the cabin top above us, a very sturdy custom inspection hatch has been added allowing Lisa to see what’s going on from below. And further forward, Lisa shows me the manual water ballast pump that replaces its power hungry electric predecessor. Further forward again, a hatch has been cut into the large bow compartment to store sails, an area previously only accessible from the foredeck.
Back on deck, Lisa shows me the new pushpit and pulpit supplied by GA Watt Engineering and tells me the new rigging from Arcus Wire is soon to be installed by Jason from Diverse Rigging. French company Lancelin have supplied all rope, Profurl donated two tough furlers, Wichard helped out with all new deck gear and Quantum supplied new sails, including two sets of storm sails.
Our discussion turns to clothing and Lisa tells me that she’s been working closely with Zhik who have been researching and developing gear especially for the trip. ‘They’ve developed neck warmers, hats with micro-fleece, neoprene gloves - and I’ve got body armour built into my clothing as well, in little pockets so I can take it in and out,’ says Lisa. I’m happy to hear that Zhik plan on adding some of these clever details into their normal range and that they’ll be tailoring the gear to fix Lisa’s ‘really short’ (her words not mine!) frame.
Lisa is confident that the boat is ‘super strong’, something that was proven recently when a 35ft ton boat backed into Climate Action Now, causing some delamination but not cracking the hull. An unpleasant experience but one that Lisa describes as quite reassuring - something I can relate to as my little tickle with a ship before my voyage gave me a similar sense of confidence.
Lisa will soon be setting off to sail to Albany where she will be setting off for the Antarctic circumnavigation in early January. You can support and follow her adventures on her website and we’ll be keeping you updated here on Deckee.