Since my own circumnavigation, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many of my own sailing heroes. But of all the circumnavigators and professional sailors I’ve met, there is one that stands out as the most determined. As you are probably well aware, Lisa Blair completed a solo circumnavigation of Antarctica earlier in the year, becoming the first woman to do so. I’ve had the pleasure getting to know Lisa over many years, I followed her Antarctic circumnavigation closely, and I’ve found myself constantly impressed by Lisa’s relentless determination.
Lisa has campaigned for many years to win backing, took on a daunting workload to prepare her yacht, and the Antarctic circumnavigation itself proved to be a challenge well beyond what could be expected of such a voyage. (You can read about her dismasting here) Throughout it all, Lisa maintained an impressively positive attitude, and I’m keen to understand the key to her resilience. So I sat down with Lisa to see what she could teach us;
Jess: What can you share about managing your head?
Lisa: It was three and a half years of visualising the circumstances, the worst possible scenario that I could imagine; so rollovers, knockdowns, pitchpoles, broken legs, head injuries, hypothermia, the worst things I could encounter, then going out and living it. I’d sort of mentally braced myself to go through that.
You need to visualise what it’s going to be like. If I hadn’t done that, I think I would have let the fear override the logic.
Jess: Was there ever a moment when you had to give yourself a good talking to?
Lisa: There was a good 5,000 nm solo under my belt before I left on the [Antarctica] trip, so by this stage I could recognise the signs of when I was going into that emotional state. I would feel furiously angry over nothing.
I would have to tell myself to get a grip; then I would make an effort to get a bit more rest. I always noticed that [these moments] were related to how much sleep I’d had.
I did learn to notice the cues a lot more and understand that it’s because I was tired. It’s an emotional tiredness.
Jess: What did you learn about fear after the dismasting?
Lisa: I had to ask myself was this something I wanted to finish, and my drive to finish the record overrode the fear, but it didn’t make it any easier in the storms. I was combating that fear constantly.
Jess: What do you think it takes to be a solo sailor?
Lisa: I think I was quite the introvert before I left. I love people and I’m very bubbly and sociable, but I also really like my alone time. I think you’ve got to be happy with your own company and able to enjoy yourself alone before you go.
I don’t think I’m anything special, anything unique, but I have always had those tendencies to be happy on my own.
The very first ocean crossing I did was quite confronting because you have so many hours to look at yourself, to analyse and ask yourself do you like yourself. So if you can get through that, then you’re okay, but I think a lot of people struggle with that.
Jess: How did you keep finding the strength to keep going?
Lisa: I’m passionate enough about what I’m doing to not give up on it. When I find something I’m passionate about, I don’t quit. I’ll just keep bashing away at that brick wall.
I’m just passionate enough about it that I believe wholeheartedly that I can do it, so I go out and I find a way.
Keep an eye out for Lisa’s book, to be published by Australian Geographic in 2018 (you can pre-order a signed copy here) and as she competes in this year’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart with the first all-female crew the race has seen in 16 years.