Australian solo sailing record holder Lisa Blair has made landfall in Albany, Western Australian today, Wednesday May 25, shaving 10 days off the record to claim the Antarctica Cup and the World Sailing Speed Record for the fastest circumnavigation of Antarctica to be ratified shortly by the world governing body.
The exhausted and ecstatic sailor completed the journey from Albany around Antarctica to Albany, a full circuit in 92 days, beating Russian Fedor Konyukhov’s 102-day record from 2008 and her own attempt in 2017 when she was catastrophically de-masted in a horrific Southern Ocean storm.
She will hold the title for fastest solo non-stop and unassisted journey. Lisa, 37, is only the third person to ever succeed with this perilous journey, including navigating Iceberg Alley and the remotest place on the planet, Point Nemo, and she becomes the first woman to circumnavigate below 45 degrees non-stop and unassisted.
Antarctica Cup founder Bob Williams, a hugely accomplished ocean racer from Western Australia, was in Albany to greet Lisa alongside her family and the enthusiastic Albany community where the majestic glass cup, designed by artist Kevin Gordon, will now reside – donated to the City of Albany to be custodians of the Perpetual Trophy.
As an Australian Geographic Adventurer, Lisa has achieved many sailing firsts including the record for the first woman sailing solo, non-stop and unassisted around Australia. She was given the Spirit of Adventure Award and has published a book about her first Antarctica voyage called Facing Fear.
However, this second mission to win the record had a further purpose as Lisa also accommodated her passion for a healthy ocean and planet, with her yacht ‘Climate Action Now’ carrying numerous ocean science study devices and actions.
Working with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) she has been able collect valuable data rarely able to be observed. Sampling and readings she has collected will be able to be studied for issues like microplastic levels.
Her Ocean Pack Race Research Unit measures CO2, Salinity levels, temperature and barometric pressure, all adding to the greater picture of the conditions in the remote ocean she has travelled.
Dr Cherie Motti from the Australian Institute of Marine Science leads the team who will be analysing the samples, said Lisa’s continual sampling of the water was a first for the Southern Ocean. Dr Motti said the remote waters around Antarctica were a data blind spot with regard to microplastics.
“Lisa is collecting seawater samples using a specialised pump to monitor microplastics 24 hours a day, seven days a week during her voyage. On top of everything else she is doing, every 22 hours she swaps the filter in the pump which has collected the plastics, then stores it safely onboard,” Dr Motti said.
“We know very little about the abundance of plastic fragments in the Southern Ocean, so we have been excited to work with Lisa to ensure she can collect the most reliable information from this remote area. The data she is collecting will provide valuable insights into the prevalence of microplastics, and the threat they pose to the region,” said Dr Motti.
Williams said her scientific work was a wonderful addition to the trip as he emphasised his own mission to enhance knowledge of the significance of Antarctica and its ocean environment to the health of mankind.
Among the more extreme conditions she has endured are freezing conditions, 50 knots winds and giant three storey high waves propelling her boat sideways through the sea. She has also enjoyed the company of marine creatures like the pod of dolphins accompanying her in the last days of making it home.
Albany Mayor Denis Wellington was at the dock for the welcome celebration. “What Lisa is doing is incredible. Isolated at sea for three months with the pressure of a world record on her shoulders,” he said.
“And what better place to sail into that Albany, so we want to make sure she has the homecoming reception she deserves for a journey she made so courageously.”