Lisa Blair blog: Totally out of control mid-storm

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 receives an unwelcome wake up call when her auto-pilot suddenly stops working during a storm. And she reaches another awe-inspiring milestone on her voyage.

Blog day 58
Latitude 51 03.47s
Longitude 00 00.69E
Barometer 991
Air temp 1c
Local time 1056 UTC 0
For the live tracker, see: https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/tracker

Hi all

I did not get a good wake up this morning, in-fact it was a rather alarming one (pun intended), where I was woken by the auto pilot alarm.  It wasn’t the normal alarm, and it was showing no auto pilot computer. At the time that the alarm tripped and my whole display lost its data we were flying along surfing a wave at 15 knots. We were now completely out of control. 

I was all cosy in my bunk with my now lukewarm hot water bottle. With a bleary eye I took in the loss of data on my displays and the alarm blaring. It took me a second to work out what was happening, and to try to dig myself out of my bunk. By the time I was free of my sleeping bag poor Climate Action Now had been shoved off course hard to port and had gone through a crash gybe. This is when the boom comes flying across from one side of the boat to the other. It can often result in broken booms, masts or if a crew member is in the way severe injury. 

We ended up getting pinned over on the wrong side of the boat and as I looked outside, I knew I needed to take a moment to actually put on some protective gear as it was 1 degree Celsius on deck. I dressed in my Musto wet weather gear and went outside. I put on the secondary auto pilot system before climbing back to take control of the helm. 

I needed to tack the jib over to the right side of the boat and then build enough speed to put the boat through another ‘controlled’ gybe. Once that was done, I went below and rebooted the whole of system one. As soon as I shut it down though my currently active system 2 also went offline.

It was around this moment when I started to worry. If both systems are failing, there needs to be a bigger reason for it. I was thinking it was likely water damage to the electronics which would be very bad.  I was lucky this time however and instead of getting shoved through a crash gybe we were instead rounded up into the wind and pinned over onto our starboard side so hard that we were mostly hove to and I could just leave the boat for a moment while I dealt with this issue.

I finished rebooting both systems and tried again only to have it fail almost immediately.  I was also getting a no rudder movement from the secondary system which is an alarm I don’t think I have ever had before.  It made me think that maybe my ram had come loose and was no longer mounted so I scrambled back into the rudder compartment to check and found it and the repair still looking and going strong, so it wasn’t that. 

I had experienced an issue like this before and when I spoke with Ray from Southern Seas Marine about it he had mentioned in passing that a failure like that is normally due to low voltage. I hadn’t considered the voltage as I was running the motor out of gear at that time. I was charging up the batteries before this big storm hit so there was ample voltage, but as I continued to reboot and was getting more and more desperate to find a solution it suddenly occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t low voltage but high voltage impacting the B & G Auto pilot system.

I was in the middle of this squall still and the winds were mostly at 40 knots but were peaking around 45 knots and I could hear my wind generators almost trying to take off on deck. It clicked then, the Victron batteries that were installed by Safiery are already taking almost maximum charge from the engine running and then on top we were getting these huge spikes of power from the wind generators. This was causing a voltage overload on my auto pilot system.

Now that I think about it, the last time this happened my engine was on then too charging the batteries. At least I think so. I went to the back of the boat and lashed down the wind generators before rebooting the system once again. Low and behold it worked. The auto pilot started to function correctly again. Finally after running around trying to get a fix for this for over an hour I was able to re-direct Climate Action Now from her pinned position back to course and it was time for a really hot bowl of porridge.

Lisa Blair's current position and weather map.
Lisa Blair’s current position.

I had gone through the first part of the storm the night before and the winds had peaked at 47 knots but the sea state was a messy five-six metre swell that was throwing us around a bit already, so I was actually super surprised at lunchtime when I looked outside the hatch to find blue skies. The winds were still at 30 knots but suddenly we were getting sunshine. It just didn’t feel right. I was meant to be in the middle of this big storm.

On the grib files (weather files) and the forecast that Bob (metbob) had emailed me it was supposed to be 40 -50 knots at the moment with the peak tonight as the centre of the system passed over the top. As I watched the winds eased down to 22 knots and then 18 knots and we started wallowing in this huge swell with not enough sail up to support the boat.

I was in complete indecision time about whether or not to shake out a reef or not and in the end I decided to just wait it out. I knew that there was a little lull before the rest of the storm hit but I wasn’t expecting it to get right down to 15 knots of wind, and to be still sailing with three reefs in the mainsail and the storm jib up. But it was a little too late to change the sail plan as I would likely only get an hour on the new sail arrangement, if I did change. I decided to just go slow for a bit. 

I was waiting for the winds to go from the NW to the SW and as soon as they start to move my intention was to gybe the boat. According to the forecast the worst of the storm would hit almost directly after so I also wanted to make sure to gybe as soon as possible when those winds start to swing so that I don’t end up gybing in high winds.

At 3.30 pm the winds started to swing around to the SW and while it was several hours ahead of when I was expecting it I was more than happy to just jump on deck and put that gybe in while it was still blue skies and 20 knots of wind outside. 

I got kitted up again and started the process of the gybe. I had just altered the course and set the boom on the new side of the port side; I was starting to tidy up the lines when I got my first bullet of hail/sleet strike me in the face.  Within the space of a minute or so, while I finished coiling this line, I was hit with hail then sleet then snow and then rain before finally a really large wave broached over the decks and soaked me through. The wave bothered me because I had just put on my favourite beanie and it had lasted a whole hour on my head before getting soaked.

Me being me, and the conditions on deck only being 20 knots at the time I climbed out on deck, meant that I had only put on my Musto salopettes and a pair of gloves. My base layer sleeves were exposed to the wind and rain and now wave.  I was instantly soaked through on the arms and started shivering directly afterwards. With all that incoming snow and sleet the winds had also arrived and we were now getting rounded up and pinned in 45 knots of wind. With the air being so cold and dense it was feeling like about 70 knots of wind in Sydney…. so really windy. 

I had finished the gybe, but I still needed to stay on deck long enough to put in the fourth reef in the mainsail. I was expecting this storm to be huge and for us to really get a pounding. I have to say I was a little nervous and I wanted to shorten the sails early so that I wasn’t putting myself at risk on deck. This was the beginning of phase two of the storm and I was buckling up.

By the time I had set the fourth reef in the mainsail I was finding it really hard to control the movements of my arms because they were so cold and I knew I needed to get dry.  I got to work getting the kettle boiling with a hot water bottle and then rubbed a towel up and down my arms to get out as much moisture as I could.  I could have changed layers but as it was just my arms that were wet, I decided to dive into bed with the hot water bottle and use that to warm me up and dry me out. Climate Action Now was as set as she possibly could be for the storm short of hoving to, and I could really use a nap.

I was planning on sleeping for a few hours, but I really didn’t get any as we were now in the thick of this storm. The winds were more at 45 knots than anything else and the highest I saw was 50 knots, but aside from getting roundups with the gusts every 20 minutes or so, we were handling it all quite okay.  

I didn’t see the need to hove to. The seas were up at the six–seven metre size now but they weren’t really breaking and throwing us around. Occasionally we would cop a larger knock, but mostly it was okay.  For a storm the size and damage it showed on the tracker it wasn’t too bad in the middle of it.

Against my idea of just sleeping for a few hours I ended up spending the rest of the night in bed but monitoring the conditions closely.  We were able to keep sailing the whole way through the night and into the morning. When we got to mid-morning we hit another milestone of the trip.  We crossed over the line of Meridian, where the western longitudes count down to zero and the eastern longitudes start there count up. This is also at UTC 0 so now I go from a UTC- my time zone and it changes to UTC + my time zone.  

Since I travelled past the International Date Line where I lost a whole day, I have now sailed exactly half the planet from there and caught up my missing day. I have also been at sea for over two months now and that finish line just keeps getting closer.

Before I go today I would like to take a moment to thank the following wonderful Degree sponsors,

Thank you to:

004 West- South Coast Sports Medicine , Russell Young – Thank you to Russell and your team for jumping aboard to support this project after meeting me in Albany.  It means a lot.

003 West – Glass Australia P/L – Thank you to David, Shelia, Claire and Renee for your ongoing and amazing support of 9 degrees of this record.

002 West – Huge thank you to Kevin and Chris Holland for your very generous support, it is most welcome and appreciated.

001 West – Glass Australia P/L – Thanks you again to David, Shelia, Claire and Renee for your incredible support.

000 West / 000 East the line of Meridian – Blue Aurora Media, thank you to Jonathan Levy for being a wonderful support and also helping me to get the message of Climate Action Now out to the world, thank you for your support.

Thanks all for now, have a great day everyone.

Goodnight, all.

Lisa

How to follow Lisa Blair’s voyage:

Track Lisa Blair’s position on her website – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/

To sponsor Lisa Blair, see – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/sponsors

Lisa Blair’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/LisaBlairSailstheWorld

To purchase Lisa Blair’s book ‘Facing Fear’, see – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/eco-shop

Pantaenius Sailing
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Pantaenius Sailing
M.O.S.S Australia
Sun Odyssey 380
Lagoon 51