Lisa Blair was born in Mooloolaba, Queensland and currently lives in Sydney. She became the first woman ever to sail around Antarctica solo when she reached Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour on July 26, 2017, following her 184-day voyage.
She was expected to arrive the day before, but strong winds presented a final obstacle. Lisa embarked on her epic ocean odyssey as the recipient of the 2017 Australian Geographic Society Nancy Bird Walton Sponsorship, which supports ground-breaking projects led by women.
At 32 years old, Lisa weathered rough seas and icy conditions and was forced to abandon her quest when her mast snapped off in South Africa. There were times when Lisa’s resilience was put to the ultimate test, but sheer determination and a true sense of adventure led her to resume her journey.
Lisa spent two months repairing her boat, Climate Action Now, a vessel which would carry both her and a powerful message about climate change, through a challenging circumnavigation of one of the world’s harshest environments.
Lisa was awarded the Spirit of Adventure Award by the Australian Geographic Society in November 2017, when the Society hosted its annual awards in Sydney. The prestigious event acknowledges each year’s most outstanding Australians in the fields of adventure and conservation.
Recently we interviewed Lisa to find out where that spirit of adventure spurs from wand where it is taking her next.
Lisa, what was your reaction to receiving the Spirit of Adventure award?
“I was so excited and honoured to have been selected. When I found out that I was nominated I looked up the previous winners and saw names like Kay Cottee, Don McIntyre, Annelise Guy and Tim Jarvis. These are the people that I consider my heroes and here I am receiving the same award. It’s just incredible,” she said.
Lisa told us a little about her most famous recent adventure, which put her into the record books for being the first woman in history to sail solo around Antarctica.
“The journey was extremely tough, as I was at sea for 4 months in freezing cold conditions sailing in the famous Southern Ocean with swell the size of houses, and cyclonic winds bashing me regularly,” she says.
“After successfully sailing ¾ of the way around the world, my mast suffered a break in storm conditions, on day 72. My thoughts very quickly went from ‘what will I do when I get home’ to ‘will I survive the night’. It took me 4 hours in the dark rough seas to save the boat that night”.
“I was able to receive fuel from a container ship a few days later, built a rig with my boom, and motor sailed to South Africa. I was fortunate enough to repair the yacht in South Africa over the next couple of months, to then restart the record by sailing back to the position that I lost my mast. Finally, after another 6 weeks solo at sea, I completed my circumnavigation.”
Lisa’s defining moment for adventure began simply with loving a good challenge.
“I have always felt that an adventuring life definitely offers just that. It was really after I ran my first sponsorship campaign to raise the funds to sail in an amateur yacht race around the world, that I realised what I was capable of. I started asking myself what else can I do, and from there I ended up doing the Antarctica trip.”
“I was hugely inspired by Jessica Watson when she sailed into Sydney, becoming the youngest person to sail around the world solo. I thought to myself, ‘if a 16-year-old can do this, then surely I must be able to find a way to make it happen’. It ended up taking me 3.5 years to pull off, but it was worth all the effort”.
“Raising the sponsorship money to do the trip was one of the biggest hurdles I faced in my journey, but also just finding the ability to keep going when most others would have quit was huge as well. It was this ‘just keep going’ attitude that got me safely around” she said.
As one of the most courageous adventurers around, Lisa offers some solid advice for anyone who is inspired by her accomplishments.
“I have found through my experiences, it is when most others would have stopped, and you are seriously thinking of stopping yourself, that you find you can get the most support. You can make it happen!”
“I live by the quote ‘Just do; because the world is changed by doers’.”
“My greatest moment was sailing into the finish line at Albany in WA. I had been working on this achievement for three and a half years and then spent four months sailing solo at sea. It was an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience to sail across the finish line.”
Lisa says her favourite place to travel is not necessarily a place, but an ocean. “I absolutely love sailing in the Southern Ocean and I think it is one of the most majestic, and dangerous, yet wonderful places on earth. “
“In the future I would really like to row a row boat across an ocean, and I would also like to run a marathon.
At the time of this interview, Lisa was hard at work preparing her yacht ‘Climate Action Now’ for the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female team. The team finished the race in a time of 3:21:28:25 (59th of 77 finishers).
“It [was] an exciting project as I was able to offer to mentor emerging sailors via this platform and it has been 16 years since there was an all-female team in this race. In 2018, I plan on sailing solo, non-stop and unassisted around Australia with the goal of becoming the first woman in history to do so.”