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Woman sets sail on record-breaking trip around Australia

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 20/10/2018 Amber Schultz

As monstrous, arctic waves crashed over the hull of her broken boat, Lisa Blair thought she was going to die.

She was working frantically to free the masthead, which had smashed onto the hull of the boat. 

It was a race against time before the sharp metal tore a hole through the fibreglass, submerging both her and the vessel beneath the black waves.

Darkness had fallen, and Blair was completely alone off the coast of Antarctica.

“I had to come to terms with the fact I might not survive the night,” Blair said.

a man in a yellow boat in the water © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

“It’s not every day you have to face mortality like that.”

Despite her near-death experience, Blair’s sense of adventure cannot be tamed.

Today, she sets sail around Australia in a bid to become the fastest person and first female to make the trip solo and unassisted.

The antarctic adventure almost ending in death

© Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

It was April 2017 and Blair was circling the desolate continent in a bid to become the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica.

Temperatures were near-freezing, at just four degrees Celsius, with a swell between seven and nine metres high.

“Wind ripped through my clothing, I had chills,” she said.

“I was thrown into a do-or-die situation.”

While Blair was able to successfully free the masthead and make the slow, arduous journey to Cape Town for repairs, the trouble was far from over.

a man wearing a red hat © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

She still had to acquire fuel for the one-tonne vessel, navigate the waters, and dodge eight lanes of enormous container ship traffic.

To be awarded the world record, she then had to return to where she almost died, and continue the trip.

This time however, it was in the dead of winter, with stronger winds and larger swells, battling blizzards and snowstorms.

She suffered from hypothermia, sleep deprivation and stress, but became the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica.

Despite her near-death experience, the 33-year-old skipper has no plans to give up.

© Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

During the return from her Antarctic journey Blair, elevated but exhausted, decided to embark on her next adventure, this time filled with newer, more difficult obstacles to overcome.

The new perils of the Australian coast

Today, Blair sets sail around the entire coast of Australia to become the first female to traverse the country solo, non-stop and unassisted.

She sets sail from Rushcutters Bay in Sydney on Saturday to travel anti-clockwise around Australia and Tasmania.

Her official start time is noon, beginning near the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

a small boat in a large body of water © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

The Australian coast is in many ways more difficult than the Antarctic one, with volatile weather and wind conditions, reefs, and more sea traffic.

“People have an image of champagne on deck in sunny weather,” she said.

“But it’s not like that. Solo sailing is a lot of hard work, uncomfortable sea sickness and extreme fatigue.”

Blair will have to sleep in 20-minute stints to avoid crashing into reefs and commercial ships.

“In shallow water, instead of the rolling ocean swell, you also get the peaky, steep, sharp little waves and I have nowhere to run,” she said. 

a person standing in front of a boat © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

The impending cyclone season makes the weather and waves even more unpredictable.

The journey is such a feat, doctors from the Woolcock Medical and Research Institute have decided to research her plight, teaching a fitness tracker to monitor her heart rate and sleep stages.

Blair will also keep a journal of her moods and unusual sleep activity, and complete reactive tests twice a day to measure her cognitive functioning.

She plans to complete the 6,536 nautical mile voyage in just six weeks, not stopping once for rest or repairs, to establish a new speed record.

It’s a dangerous journey, but there’s nowhere else in the world she’d rather be.

a small boat in a body of water © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

“Nothing quite compares to being in the middle of the ocean,” she said.

Saving the environment a post-it at a time

While Blair went boating as a child with her mum, she didn’t start sailing until much later. 

Working as a cook and cleaner on a charter boat in the Whitsundays at 22, she fell in love with the sea, begging the deckhand and skipper to teach her how to sail in their time off.

“You’re completely on your own, there’s no one in sight. No daily grind, no social media.

“Your whole world gets condensed to what the weather is doing.

“It’s a simplified life, you get a lot more time to appreciate the beauty of nature.”

It’s Blair’s love for nature that has inspired her to get involved in tackling climate change.

She’s even named her boat Climate Action Now for the sake of awareness.

a man standing in front of a body of water © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd

Blair recounts being thousands of kilometres from land, surrounded by only herself and the sea when a white styrofoam takeaway container floated past her.

“Through my sailing, I’ve just seen so much rubbish,” she said.

“I want to give inspiration to people to make a positive change (for the environment).”

Climate Action Now is adorned with hundreds of colourful post-it notes, each one affirming a stranger’s commitment to tackling climate change in their own way.

Some promise to take shorter showers, while others commit to turning off the lights when they leave a room.

Blair’s boat is also 100 per cent sustainably powered, the first it's kind to embark on such a journey.

Just days before her departure, Blair said she was stressed but excited.

“It’s always a push to get everything done,”  she said.

a man smiling for the camera: null © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd null

To follow Lisa Blair’s journey, head to Lisa Blair Sails the World  

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