Lisa Blair on the highs and lows of circumnavigating Antarctica 

Solo sailing is not for the faint-hearted – it requires all-round sailing skills and knowledge, a high level of fitness, quick thinking and reflexes, common sense and a mighty dose of bravery.

Add to that the challenges that come with a non-stop circumnavigation of Antarctica  – apart from the isolation, there are other factors to take into account including sub-zero temperatures and waves the size of five-storey buildings.

On Monday February 21, Australian sailor Lisa Blair set sail from Albany, WA in her second attempt to sail solo, non-stop around Antarctica in record time aboard her 50ft Hick ‘Climate Action Now’.

In 2017, Blair became the first woman to circumnavigate Antarctica with one stop. She was forced to make a pit stop in Cape Town, South Africa, following a life-threatening dismasting on day 72.

This time around, the 38-year-old Queenslander is 84 days into her attempt, with a decent lead on the record time set by Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov in 2008.

On day 78, Blair took time out in the Southern Ocean to give us her personal insights into the highs and lows of the voyage and her emotions as she sails towards the Australian coast after almost three months at sea.

Lisa Blair on the dock.
Australian sailor Lisa Blair. Pic – Corrina Ridgeway

What are some of the highlights of the voyage so far?

It is now day 78 at sea and some of the highlights have been the wildlife, there are so many birds down here, along with visits from pods of dolphins in the South Pacific Ocean. The stars have to be one of the best things to see out here on a clear night because there is no light pollution, making it an amazing night sky. 

Also setting a new boat speed record when we surfed a wave at 28.5 knots, which was so exciting.

Lisa Blair slefie on bow, dolphins in the water.
Dolphins keeping Blair company. Pic – LB

How is your boat Climate Action Now holding up?

Before I left port, we put Climate Action Now through a six-month refit where almost everything was upgraded to ensure that she is fit to withstand the stresses that get placed upon her in this record, so I am pleased to say she has been doing very well.

CAN sailing upwind.
Climate Action Now out sailing in Albany. Pic – Corrina Ridgeway

In you blog you wrote about hairline cracks and problems with the biodiesel engine. Have you managed to fix these issues?

Yes there is a hairline crack under the bottom of the boom and if I am not careful, I will break the boom in half, so I have needed to baby this by no longer using the vang line.

The bio-diesel issue is water in the fuel from the high levels of condensation down here, so I needed to change the filters out and bleed the engine.

I have snapped lots of wind generator blades and chafe through lots of ropes, so I have been doing a bit of rope repair as needed. But overall, everything so far has been manageable and within my skill set to solve.  Out here you need to be good at a wide variety of repairs because you can’t pull into the nearest harbour.

How are you going?

I have had good days and bad days but overall I have managed quite well. I have been living with bruises for the past two months, so I no longer worry about them. The biggest challenge is the sleep deprivation and I have had some bad days when I have needed to live off almost no sleep. 

I got so exhausted at one point that I couldn’t even keep myself warm with all my Musto layers. It wasn’t until I managed some sleep that I felt able to do anything again. As soon as I get rest again, I am back to being able to take on all the challenges ahead.

Climate Action Now has experienced plenty of knockdowns. Do you get used to that?

I have become desensitised to the size of the waves. When you need to crane your neck back to look up at the peak of a wave that is seemingly the size of your mast, it is hard to not be intimidated. But when you do this time and time again, the fear wears off to some extent. 

I now can happily make dinner while Climate Action Now gets knocked down on her side, and as the boat shakes it off so do I, and I carry on. However, there are a few really bad knockdowns that we have suffered that have left me shaking from the fear and there is no getting use to those. They are the ones powerful enough to flip the boat or dismast us. I treat those moments with the respect that they deserve.

Wave over Climate Action Now.
A knockdown aboard Climate Action Now. Pic – LB

What is the top wind strength you’ve experienced on this trip so far?

I have had a peak wind strength of 52 knots. It is largely because Bob McDavitt, my meteorologist, is so good at routing me around the worst of the conditions, but also because, while the number might not be high, the effect is. The air down here is much colder and, because of this, it is heaver. This, in-turn ,means that it applies more pressure to the sails. 

As an example, in Sydney Harbour I would still have the full mainsail up in 30 knots of wind. However, down here I am already on my third reef in 30 knots of wind. At 35 knots I put the fourth reef in.

How have you been affected by the temperatures?

There has been heavy condensation inside the cabin, at times it can get so bad that it is raining from the roof. The only way to dry anything is to sleep in my wet layers and let my body heat dry my clothes for me, so it can be brutal. 

The air temperature has mostly been around three-four degrees. However, there was a week where it dropped to just below zero and, in the squalls, we were getting snow, sleet and hail. Add to that, the wind-chill factor from being wet, on deck in 30 knots of wind, and it becomes a very painful place to be with any exposed skin.

Lisa Blair selfie on deck with beanie behind her.
Beanie time! Pic – LB

In 2008, Russian Fedor Konyukhov circumnavigated Antarctica in 102 days. What’s been the key to staying in front of Konyukhov’s record time on the tracker?

I am sailing over 14,000 nm around Antarctica. The key to beating Konyukhov is to make sure to sail just a fraction faster than him, consistently, and over that distance I will naturally gain the lead. However, this means that we need to balance dodging the centre of storms and the larger swells while maintaining a healthy speed.  

Lisa Blair on tracker.
Lisa Blair en route to Australia.

You dismasted in 2017 – how is the rig holding up with the new mast?

There is only one person in Australia that I trust to do my rigging now and that is David Lambourne in Brisbane. My mast has the latest hamma Regatta series wire from Arcus Wire and Rigging, and I have a very trustworthy mast. I have completed regular checks from the decks and, so far, everything is looking great. But the race isn’t over yet. 

Have you experienced seasickness?

I do sometimes get a little seasick, but I rarely throw up. I am mindful for the first week at sea and after that my body tends to get used to it. The only times it changes is if I have been sailing in calm seas for a while and then go into a storm with large seas; it’s almost like just leaving port then.

In your blog, you sometimes describe your adventures with cooking.   Do you have a favourite recipe?

I definitely have a favourite. It is a bare-naked burrito [a burrito-like meal minus the tortilla] that I drown in cheese and then have with corn chips like a dip. So tasty.

Lisa Blair holding a stove.
Cooking on board Climate Action Now. Pic – LB

You’ve named your drifter buoys (scientific equipment) after your sailing heroes – Kay Cottee and Sir Robert Knox-Johnston. And here you are, potentially about to join them in the record books.

I doubt I could consider myself on the same level as my sailing heroes. But I hope my journey can inspire others to forge their own paths and to have amazing adventures.

Have you had time to chill out?

Yes, I read almost a book a day and currently I am making my way through the Game of Thrones series, again. 

What have you missed most this time around? 

Definitely the ability to have a hot shower. The last shower I managed was almost two months ago and after that it became too cold to wash my hair. Instead, I have used a washcloth and a small bucket of warm water, but it is severely lacking.

You’re on the home stretch. When do you aim to finish and what is your biggest challenge?


At the moment the ETA is between the 25th and the 28th of May.  But that can always change as the weather patterns change. I have another really big storm ahead of me and then, hopefully, it will be smooth sailing. But experience tells me that the closer I get to the finish line, the more the weather gods play with me, making it harder to reach land. I am bracing for some challenges to come.

This record attempt has been years in the making. You’ve overcome a dismasting, emotional and financial challenges and the uncertainty of it ever happening due to Covid-19. What are your emotions now as you sail towards the home stretch?

Lisa Blair with a jury rig in 2017.
Climate Action Now was dismasted in 2017.

It’s an almost-to-good-to-be-true feeling and given that I was on the home stretch last time when I dismasted, I am being careful not to relax or take the challenges that I am still to face for granted. I don’t think I will be able to celebrate until I reach land. But I am so proud of how far I have managed to get so far, and every mile sailed is a little bit close to home.

Lisa Blair adjusting rope.
Lisa Blair prior to her 2022 record attempt. Pic – Corrina Ridgeway

Blair is still trying to raise money to cover project costs. To sponsor Blair, see: https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/sponsors

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

By Greta Quealy

Pantaenius Sailing
M.O.S.S Australia
Sun Odyssey 380
Lagoon 51
Coursemaster Autopilot
Windcraft
Sun Odyssey 380
West Systems 2