Lisa Blair – just a Sydney Hobart left to go

Lisa Blair is attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate Australia solo, non-stop and unassisted. On Tuesday morning (December 11, 2018) she had passed the entrance to the River Derwent and was heading up the east coast towards her fnish line at Sydney Heads. Here is her latest blog:

Well, it has been another exciting 24 hours with lots to tell. Last night the conditions were moderate, blowing at 15-20 knots from the SSW, and I was able to make some steady progress towards Tasmania with little effort. After dinner, I completed my normal on-deck checks and started to hear a faint clinking in the port steering pedestal. Any clunking within your steering system is never a good thing, however, I thought that I might know what the issue is as something like this has happened once before.

From the rudder, there are two quadrants that the steering cables run around before they go through a turning block and up through the deck to the shaft that is attached to the helm. That shaft has a little key (a length of metal that holds the chain on) and sometimes this key can come loose allowing the chain to slide forward and causing the steering cables to catch on each other and clank.

So I opened the little inspection port to take a look and yes my guess was correct and the steering chain had slid forward causing the cables to clank together. Lucky for me I caught the problem in time before the key fell out and dropped into the bilge. I squeezed my hand through the inspection port, which is about 10cm wide, and tried to slide it back but as it was all in use and under tension I couldn't get it to budge.

The correct method would be to loosen the steering cable and fix it then re-tighten, however, this is a long and involved process and is very hard to do in a rolling seaway so I opted for the dummy fix of option 2. I went back below and grabbed a large flat head screwdriver and a hammer. Almost everything can be fixed with a hammer. In the end, it was easy as I was able to leverage with the screwdriver and push the chain back up the shaft and into the right position. The job was done and crisis averted.

The rest of the night was easy as the winds stayed the same at 20 knots so there were no sail changes and little course corrections, however as dawn approached my radar alarm started going off. I could see a ship on the AIS in the distance but that wasn't what was triggering the alarm. Every now and then there was this splodge on the radar that indicated a ship and was about 5 nm from me, close enough to see. It would often come and go so I thought that maybe it was a small fishing boat or tinny that was getting lost between the 4 meter waves but in the end after watching it for over half an hour it hadn't really moved and I was sailing now away from it so I chalked it up to one of the mystery's of the sea.

I went back to bed and finally got up just before noon local time, however, I still feel like I am on WA time as I am not getting to bed until 3 am and so I still hadn't managed that much sleep. I went on deck and low and behold. Land Ahoy. Hello, Tasmania it is very nice to finally see you. I had just sailed around the South East Cape which is my final cape of the trip and now I am finally sailing the last leg of the journey to Sydney. 700nm to go. Whoop Whoop.

I was very excited and the weather was so nice and sunny that I stayed on deck for a while just enjoying it. I also got a little cell phone signal so I was filming a little update for you all on facebook.

I could see what looked like a small squall in the distance but it didn't look like it was coming my way. I was sailing with the full mainsail and the J3 still so given the lighter winds I opted to change the jib over to the larger J1 headsail. Not even 10 minutes later the weather did a complete flip and went from lovely fluffy white clouds and blue sky to roaring winds and white caps all around. I started to notice an increase in the winds almost as soon as I got the sails changed over. I looked over the port side and saw that the small squall not coming my way was actually coming right at me and wasn't so small.

I set about changing the jibs back but when I unfurled the J3 I only put out half the sail as I could see the increasing white caps on the tips of the waves all around me. I also saw lots of rain on its way so I ducked below to get my Zhik foul weather gear on before coming back on deck. I was hoping that I would be able to hand steer through this squall as they are normally short-lived and it would save me from reefing only to shake it back out again.

My plan didn't go so well as the winds rapidly built to 40 knots and I was completely over canvassed and had rounded up and been pinned on my side with no steerage. The lower half of Climate Action Now was in the water and all the sails were flapping like mad and the alarms were ringing and waves were breaking over the decks. It was mayhem and madness and I was completely getting my ass handed to me.

I left the helm and scrambled forward and put in the first reef in the mainsail. The winds were mostly 30 knots but gusting right up to 40 knots and I was hoping that the first reef would be enough and I could use the wind to cover some good ground. Once the reef was in I scrambled back to the helm and tried to turn back away from the wind. Everything at this stage was still flapping and making such a noise that it hurt my ears. It was a few minutes before there was enough of a lull in the winds for me to finally turn down and start travelling with the winds thus reducing the amount of pressure on everything.

It was a wild ride and I was sailing on such a knife edge so far downwind that any slip-up and I could crash gybe in 35 knots which would definitely break something or get rounding back up and pinned again. But boy was it fun. I was off like a rocket, screaming along at 14-15 knots and chasing the waves down so that I would sit with the one wave for miles. It was a great ride but I did notice that the bow dug in quite a bit and I worried that I had way too much sail still up (which I did) and there was no way that I would trust the autopilot to drive this fine a line so after an hour of hand steering I hit auto on the pilot and scrambled forward to put the second reef in.

Not 10 minutes later the grey of the squall was passing and there was this crystal clear blue sky behind. Gahh. It is such a fine line to maximize your speed at sea and I really didn't want to waste the following winds so I decided to hand steer until the weather changed again. Only the winds eased a touch but nothing like what I was thinking they would or what the sky was indicating so I decided to leave the 2nd reef in while there was still 30 knots around. Also by this time I was closing in on the other side of Storm Bay and needed to throw a gybe in to clear the headland so it was good that I wasn't completely overpowered at the time.

After gybing things calmed down to manageable and I was able to keep the boat on the B&G autopilot and finally go below. I was fairly soaked by this stage and with the wet hair I was getting a chill so finally at 4 pm I was able to make breakfast and settled in to enjoy a hot bowl of porridge to warm me up.

These winds are due to hang around for the rest of the day so I will hopefully make some great grounds today before the lighter winds tomorrow and then I have to prepare for a big storm on Thursday. At the moment though I am feeling muscle sore from my mast climb yesterday and with all the reefing and sail changes today so I aim to rest as much as I can before the big blow.

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