Lisa Blair blog: Massive knockdown nearing Cape Horn

On Monday February 21, Australian sailor Lisa Blair set sail from Albany, WA in a second attempt to sail solo, non-stop, around Antarctica in record time aboard her yacht ‘Climate Action Now’.

In her latest blog post, Blair experiences the biggest knockdown of the voyage so far.

Blog day 38
Latitude 50 14.81S
Longitude 096 58.84W
Barometer 1003
Air Temp 8c
Local Time 0244 UTC -7

Hi all,

Well if I thought yesterday’s blog was exciting, tonight’s is full or drama. 

I remained hove to last night and managed to get a half decent sleep in before waking up at 11am. I decided that the conditions had eased enough for me to take Climate Action Now out of the Hove to position where we had stalled the sails and were drifting sideways, and actually start sailing again.

I was extra surprised when I climbed on deck to see a blue sky dotted with fluffy cumulus clouds.  Given that we had so much rain last night I was expecting it to be terrible on deck. When I climbed out, the winds were now down to 30 knots, but the waves were clearly still around 6-7 meters in size. I knew that I was likely only going to get four-six hours of sailing in before the next storm hit so I set about and tacked the jib to the correct side of the boat and unlashed the helm so that I could reengage the B & G autopilot. 

I also noticed that at some point, while I had been sleeping, we must have taken a hit violent enough to knock us down because the starboard side wind generator was sporting a broken blade. I had it lashed off this time but there was one blade that had a hairline crack it in from before so I expect it was that one that broke…

We weren’t going all that fast, sailing at a steady rate of six knots with the storm jib and the no 4 reef in the mainsail, but given the size of the swell and the fact that the winds were due to begin building at sunset again I decided that this was fast enough.  

I felt we wouldn’t knock down quite so often, but we had enough speed to maintain control in the waves and make some gains towards the NE. I still hadn’t had a lot of sleep, so I went back to bed again until 3pm local time. Once I was up and about, I made another delicious bowl of porridge (my breakfast staple at sea) and decided to hibernate in the navigation station and put a movie on. 

I had finished breakfast and was about halfway through the movie Dune when out of nowhere I heard a roar of water seconds before it hit us, directly on the beam of Climate Action Now.  My navigation station is the smallest area on the boat and as such it makes it a safe place to be in dangerous seas, so when I heard the wave coming, I braced on the roof above me and waited for impact.

Climate Action Now was hit so hard she was literally thrown across the ocean before striking down on her starboard side hard.  I was weightless for the second before impact and luckily my legs were able to absorb the shock on the wall to starboard, but anything not tied down wasn’t so lucky.

There was this crescendo of crashing items as everything that was once on the port side went crashing over to the starboard side.  We were right over on our side, and the minute we landed the rest of the wave caught up and piled on top. We started tilting further and further over.  I was trying to hold on, but I was also trying to hold things down.

As my bum left the seat with the g-forces of the impact I had one hand braced on the ceiling and the other holding my Microsoft Surface Book 3 Laptop in place. I still had the jar of maple syrup, my saucepan and EasyOven next to me in the tunnel access to the navigation station. As I watched, looking over my left shoulder, all I could see was all those items slamming into the wall in the centre of the boat, then sliding about a metre up the wall before striking back on the floor of the boat as the wave passed and we started to right again.

It was one heck of a knockdown. So very different from the ones that I showed you all on camera.  Those knockdowns were occurring because the stern quarter of the boat was getting hit by the waves and the result is us rolling over to starboard and ‘knocking down’. 

This knock down was one of violence and force and impacted us like a semi-trailer smashing a car. It was a direct hit on the beam of the boat with enough force to throw the 10 tons of boat to starboard.  In storms, the winds have never been an issue for me, you just put up less sail or no sail, but the waves, that is always where the danger lies. This wave just gave me a taste of what was to come tonight and the storm was only just beginning.

It was almost 6pm now, and after calming my nerves and looking out the hatch to check on the boat the only damage I could see was that we had snapped another wind generator blade.  I swear, I don’t normally break these this much and they are built strong out of Carbon Fibre. I have been using the Silent Wind generators for years with very little issue so you can imagine how much force is behind these waves. I steeled myself and climbed out on the deck to put Climate Action Now back into the hove to position where I decided we can remain for the rest of the night until the conditions calm a little. 

It is risky going outside in those conditions because the last thing you want is to have a rough knockdown like the last one and be completely exposed to the volume of water on deck, so I didn’t waste any time. Within 10 minutes I was able to winch the jib over to the wrong side of the boat, centre the mainsail and tie off the helms to the windward side and secure us for the night. 

As I was doing all of this, I noticed something streaming in the water on the starboard side. I quickly worked out that my jack stay (the line of webbing that runs from the back of the boat to the bow and allows me something to tether to as I move around the boat) was broken. It was now streaming in the water.  The problem was that I couldn’t seem to catch it without putting myself in danger on the low side of the boat and I couldn’t leave it as it was too much of a risk to get it caught in the rudder or propeller blades.  I ended up needing to climb to the bow of the boat to retrieve it.

I literally crawled while watching the ocean to my port like a hawk and as Murphy’s Law would have it, the minute I got to the very pointy end of the boat we were struck by another wave. Not as bad as the first but it did the job in setting my heart racing and trying its best to throw me overboard.  As soon as that wave had passed, I leapt for the broken jack-stay line and then butt-shuffled my way back enough where I had some protection from the storm jib before coiling the line-up and tying it on the rail.  I will replace it when the conditions have calmed enough.

Weather map and tracker.
The southern ocean is turning it on! Support Lisa Blair’s project and become a #360degreessponsor.

Finally back inside, it was time to change the first micro plastic sample before I was able to finish my movie.  About another hour later we took another large hit and everything that I had put back in its place was once again on the starboard side. This time, there was a small amount of dish water still in the sink that is on the port side. Because the drain is on the port side there was about three inches of water in it. As this next wave it all went flying to the starboard side, coating the boat………. Just delightful.

At 7pm I decided to make some dinner and heated up a freeze-dried meal of beans and cheese and then grabbed out some corn chips to dip in it.  I returned to the navigation station to eat, as I was minimising any unnecessary movement around the boat. I didn’t want to get hit with a large wave and be in a large open area of the boat because that is when people get injured. Out here there is no one to help me if I was hurt, so all possible care needs to be taken in conditions like this.

I had finished my meal and I was now watching the movie Avatar, things had seemed to be calming down and while the waves were shoving us a bit, they weren’t striking with the same force. That was until it did. I heard a deafening roar of water and once again braced on the roof of the navigation station with one arm and held my computer with the other. 

We were airborne and I was mid-flight in the navigation station, and I knew in my mind that this wave was different.  It just felt so much larger and more powerful than the others. We landed with a jarring impact. Instead of rolling over or under us the wall of white water from the broken wave just continued to shove us along. It wasn’t going around us, instead it was clearing a path for itself. 

Climate Action Now was getting pushed along on her side completely at the mercy of this wave.  It was not a short distance either. It felt like we had been pushed over 50 meters along by this wave. It seemed never ending until it finally passed us and left us wallowing in its wake. 

On the back of the wave Climate Action Now lurched to port and was then pinned port side down. As I looked at the wind instruments, I could see the winds were now on the starboard side and we had been flipped around 180 degrees through the middle of that impact.  I was now back to sailing with the main and jib on the right side.  We had been shoved so badly it had shoved us right out of hove to. 

Thankfully the helms were lashed to port so I was hoping that Climate Action Now would take herself through a gybe and prevent me from needing to go on deck…..because that was the absolute last place I wanted to be. I couldn’t look away from the instruments as I waited, hoping she would self-correct.

As I watched my alarm on the phone went off to tell me it was time to change the micro plastic samples again. I decided to go and do that while I could and then if we still hadn’t gone around and gybed back to hove to then I would get geared up with all the Musto gear, climb on deck and sort it out. 

By the time I was finished with the samples we were still sitting the wrong way. I dragged on my wet weather gear and climbed out on deck in the middle of this roaring storm. The winds were now nearing 50 knots again and as the seas were so unpredictable, I didn’t want to take too long. I carefully climbed back to the helms, unlashed the wheel, and took command of the boat. 

I needed to straighten the rudder out so that we could get some steerage again and then take us hard to port and gybe the boat back into the hove to position. Once that was done, I then re-lashed the helm and made my way below without incident.

I have to say that this was a knock down the likes that I have only experienced once before. That was when I was sailing in the Southern Ocean in winter on the last record.  This wave superseded any of the previous knockdowns. 

The winds had eased off a little to closer to 30 knots, so I expect that this wave hit so badly because there wasn’t enough slick being caused by the hove to manoeuvre which added to the issue. Given that the average waves around me now are 7-8 meters in height, and they are not impacting us in the same way I could only guess at the size of that wave.  It had to be close to double the size of what is around me at the moment. I hope that I don’t get another tonight.

After all that drama I have now lost two wind generator blades and I am quite annoyed that I have also lost two winch handles overboard as they were swept away with that wave, one was my favourite Harken winch handle and it shall be forever missed.

Again there are sadly no degree sponsors to mention tonight but if you would like to learn more please click here.

And now that things seem to have calmed a little I am going to try for some sleep and wake at daybreak to check on things properly so goodnight all.


NOTE FROM MUM – This is an amazing blog. Can everyone make an extra effort to share and forward to anyone and everyone who will listen.

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Jeanneau JY60
M.O.S.S Australia
Race Yachts
M.O.S.S Australia
Race Yachts