Lisa Blair, Part 1: Reframing Failure #47

Warwick Fairfax

December 8, 2020

She’s known internationally as the first woman to sail solo around Antartica, a celebrated explorer who fought through unimaginable trials en route to setting her world record. But before she ever stepped foot off dry land, Lisa Blair was a shy, reserved Australian girl bullied at school. She headed off to university determined to shed the mask she wore in high school, and later learned the importance of viewing failure not as falling short, but not trying at all. She found her life’s calling when a sailing journey with a friend led her to fall in love with the sea … and the beauty and adventure it offers.

To learn more about Lisa Blair and her book, Facing Fear, visit www.lisablairsailstheworld.com

Highlights

  • Her humble beginnings … and how they fueled her imagination (5:39)
  • Finding her voice by shedding her mask (7:48)
  • The importance of living by her principles and with authenticity (11:18)
  • When sailing captured her heart (13:09)
  • Learning that the adventurers she followed were ordinary people who did extraordinary things (17:34)
  • Why reframing failure is essential (20:29)
  • We create our own luck (22:54)
  • The decision to sail solo around Antarctica (25:31)
  • Why she undertook the Antarctic mission to inspire action on climate change (31:42)
  • The launch in pursuit of the record (36:24)
  • How breaking the journey down into mini goals helped (42:21)
  • An average day pursuing the record (43:46)
  • The moment the mast breaks (48:45)

Transcript

Warwick F:
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Lisa B:
So I left and I remember casting of the lines. And there was this moment of complete panic, because I hadn’t.. I’d been visualizing leaving, and I’d been visualizing all the things that could possibly go wrong out there. And the Southern Ocean is well known as the world’s most dangerous ocean. And that’s because, effectively, there’s no landmass down there to break up the storms. So as a storm rolls around the bottom of the ocean, it goes the entire way around the planet.

Lisa B:
And it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and more aggressive as it goes. And it creates this unique swell, where you can have waves the size of houses or more, just on a daily basis. That’s your average swell. So it’s this incredibly dangerous place to be in. And as part of my preparation process, I’ve been visualizing all these scenarios that could occur from knockdowns to rollovers to breaking masts to hitting an iceberg to hitting a sunken container to flooding the boat to losing the keel to getting myself injured.

Lisa B:
And so I was thinking about all these possible scenarios. And when I finally left, it just kind of crashed into me that, you know, “Hang on, I’m now having to do this. It’s no longer this thing I’m visualizing. It’s not this thing I’m imagining. It’s something I’m actively going out and doing right now.” And I then had to remind myself that I had done the preparation because I was terrified. I started shaking, I started hyperventilating, I was choking on my air, and I just was freaking out completely. And I had to take a couple of calming breaths and remind myself that I prepared for this, that I’d worked really hard for this and that I could do it.

Gary S:
Indeed, she could do it. A quest so monumental, that it’s going to take us two episodes, to tell you all about its twists and turns and triumphs. Hi I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the show and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership.

Gary S:
Today’s guest is Lisa Blair, who in 2017 became the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica. You’ll discover as she discusses every harrowing and heroic moment of that record setting adventure that even with all her planning and training, Mother Nature had a few surprises for her, like storms so bad that her sailboat lost its mast and Lisa could have lost her life.

Gary S:
Many of the details of her circumnavigation of Antarctica will come in part two of the interview next week. Today’s show focuses on the crucibles Lisa faced before she ever left dry land, being bullied in school for being shy and reserved, and how she refused to live a life defined by others opinions of her. That’s when she discovered she tells us her love of sailing. By redefining failure not, as falling short of a goal but failing to try; this self described ordinary woman has accomplished extraordinary things. She documents them in her new book Facing Fear. And in this conversation with Warwick that covers it all. From stem to stern.

Warwick F:
Well, Lisa it is so exciting to have you. When I got the book, it was like reading a thriller. I’ve read it in pretty much one sitting. I knew because you were coming on the podcast that you made it, so that was obviously good. And I think as you’ve mentioned that wouldn’t be a book if you hadn’t made it. So thankfully, it’s hard to believe that actually happened. But it’s obviously it did. It was so compelling, so exciting. And you have a lot of sailing terminology and I’m one of those people that knows pretty much nothing about sailing.

Warwick F:
So I’m like, okay, this… I get jibing and tacking, some vague idea. Preventer lines, not totally clear about that, but obviously, I’m sure we’ll get into it. But sadly, I get seasick just looking at water. I’m just one of these landlubbers, but just a little Australian history here. Obviously, as most Australians know my family were involved in newspaper business, Sydney Morning Herald and all for generations. Well, I had a great grandfather that was Commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. And supposedly he had some great big steam yacht and I don’t know if that’s even possible, probably 1890’s, 1900’s. Some big thing with a crew. Anyway, but kind of the genes didn’t carry on to me.

Warwick F:
So in fact, I get so seasick if I get seasick that it takes me days to recover. So it’s probably not an adventure I’ll be seeking. But all that being said, obviously love to hear about your whole Antarctic journey. But I’d like to hear some of the backstory. You talk a bit about in your book about growing up with your parents and, school being tough, being bullied a bit. Just talk about what life was like for you growing up and the pre-sailing Lisa Blair, if you will.

Lisa B:
Well firstly, I just want to say thanks so much for having me on the show. It’s going to be a great chat today. I’m so happy that you love the book. And hopefully other people can get out and have a read of it too at some point. As far as my childhood goes, I was landlocked. So I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. So we had this property that was about 30 minutes from the beach, but it was a little bush property, it was all solar powered. And we would pump the water up from the creek and we would have a selection of either rainwater or creek water, which we aptly dubbed, given that we’re Aussie platypus piss or leaf stew, so you would choose between the two different types of water.

Warwick F:
It was great.

Lisa B:
It’s very Aussie right? So that was kind of my childhood. We didn’t have TV really, we were allowed a movie a week, which was a family night, and we would run the generator so that we could run the washing machine. And we would have a movie at that time. And occasionally would be allowed, like half an hour of TV in the evening. But I think the best thing about that childhood whilst as a kid, it did set me on the outs as far as not being cool enough, not having seen the latest TV shows, and not fitting in as much with schools. It did allow me really to create a sense of imagination and a sense of dreaming and build capabilities, I think that have served me really well through life by having that slightly more unusual childhood.

Lisa B:
So I definitely thank you to my parents for having that. And yeah, and then that’s led me on the path to challenges and adventures, which eventually led me to discover sailing when I was 22, and I’ve just randomly got a job in the Whitsundays.

Warwick F:
So before we get to, I think one of the things you mentioned is, as you’re going to uni, I think it was Southern Cross University which probably it more of northern New South Wales. While before then school wasn’t easy, and just how kids treated you. But it felt like you made a purposeful decision, then that you were going to, I don’t know about big different, approach it differently. So talk about, because that was sort of a mini decision that, obviously it helps us as we get on in life. So talk about what was that decision you made as you were going to uni?

Lisa B:
Yes. So it was a four hour drive from where we grew up to where I was going to uni. So I was driving down in the car with mum. And just in the car, I just remember thinking about where I was at that moment in time, as far as who I was, and was I happy and was I doing what I wanted to do. And I remember feeling like, high school, everyone knows who you are. So if you’re the girl that was bullied, you’re always going to be the girl that was bullied. Getting out of that is really hard to do.

Lisa B:
And so when I was going to uni, the last thing I wanted to do was to continue being that girl, that person that was sort of more reserved, hiding in the art studio, not quite being who I wanted to be, a bit of a loner, not many friends. And then the friends I did have weren’t even in my age range. So I made a conscious decision as we drove down in the car and I remember thinking, Well, this isn’t a life I envisioned for myself and that’s the life I was leading. But because I’m changing states, and because I’m changing locations, I have this really unique opportunity to project myself or position myself in a different way. Because in my mind, nobody down there actually knew who I was.

Lisa B:
So they didn’t have this preconceived opinion of me being the girl that was always bullied, or the loner that was the outcast. So when I drove down, I decided that I wanted to be this bubbly, outspoken, outgoing, fun loving person. And it was a pretty terrifying decision to make, but it was a conscious decision. And so when I actually arrived, the first thing I did, I walked right up to my new flatmates in the share accommodation I said, “Hi, I’m Lisa,” and just started projecting this kind of person that I always felt I was, but hadn’t really had the chance to show people yet.

Lisa B:
And the four years or five years that I was at uni, it was really a huge growth for me as a person. And I was really fortunate with my friendship circle down there that they really allowed me and pushed me to expand out of that preconceived idea of the girl that was always isolated or lonely, or the girl who was bullied. So it really set me up for future careers.

Warwick F:
It’s funny, I think one of the things we often find on Beyond the Crucible is, it’s this early life stories that can be such, I won’t say it’s an origin story as they say in movies. It can be like little clues to who Lisa Blair became later. I know obviously we grew up very differently. I grew up in about as wealthy upbringing as it’s possible in Australia, but because my family, we’re in this big family media business deal, the other kids, the other boys went to a boys school. They weren’t like me and so I was like, “Oh, you know, because Australians are very much into egalitarian tall poppy syndrome,” which basically means if you stick your head up, it gets cut off, unless you… If you’re good at sports, it’s okay. But if you’re good at any other area, somehow, you must be arrogant by definition.

Warwick F:
So, a little bit like you in the sense, I was a bit of a loner, but I think it’s okay if that means being who you are, and not just going with the crowd and doing what everybody else does. That’s not wrong, it’s just you got to figure out your own path and what that means to you. So I think there are lessons for a lot of people about how you handled that saying, Okay, I’m not going to go with, I want to be not quite so isolated, but I’m not going to just be who everybody wants me to be.

Lisa B:
Yeah.

Warwick F:
I dream, I have thoughts, I have ambitions, and that’s okay. I’m not going to just be some hanger on of some group, just because-

Lisa B:
And I think also at that age you have some really strong principles, and it’s very easy to get swept up in what everyone else is doing and not live by your principles. And I remember a lot of the bullying started when I would stand up for people teasing animals or picking on other people and things like that. And so it was from me being as true to myself that the bullying actually started. So I think that that’s really important. And I think for anyone out there that might have gone through that or is going through that, you can create your own circumstances. So if people are bullying you, you can let that beat you or you can position it differently and actually allow that to make you stronger and allow that to allow you to then go out and help other people and come a better person from it.

Gary S:
I was gonna jump in and say, just to pull together what Warwick just said and what you just said Lisa. And it’s a key principle of Crucible leadership, and that is authenticity. Being the authentic you. It took Warwick, it took you to go through the failure of the takeover of the family business to step out of the vision that was cast that you inherited, that was passed on to you. And that’s where you found your stride and found yourself and it sounds Lisa like you, the same thing happened.

Gary S:
You were not living authentically, you stepped into that. You made a decision one day, I’m going to be who I’ve always felt I was inside, but I never felt I really could express all that well.

Lisa B:
Yeah.

Gary S:
And you began to do that and it changed. And for listeners who hear that, that’s an important thing to remember. Authenticity can often be a key first step to moving beyond and getting through a crucible.

Warwick F:
Absolutely and staying true to your values, which is exactly what Lisa did, which is so impressive at such a young age. So I want to talk a bit about speaking of origin stories, the sailing origin story. You mentioned, I don’t know if it’s while I was at uni or maybe afterwards, you had experience of the Whitsunday Islands. But there was this epic trip that you did with a friend and maybe her parents that was Australia to Hawaii, which is, and it’s got to be hundreds and hundreds of miles. It’s not a short trip. But was that one of those early key moments in which you found “This is something that I love to do, that I was born to sail.” Was that part of one of those early steps?

Lisa B:
Yeah, most definitely. So I randomly got a job in the Whitsunday Islands just for a summer holiday job as the cook and the cleaner on a charter yacht. And that really was my first key discovery into sailing. I had been on boats as a kid and my mom’s partner John, he had a boat when I was growing up, but it was never something I did. It was always something they did, and it was this external thing to me.

Lisa B:
And so I had been working on these charter yachts for about a year and I was just loving it. And I never visioned or envisioned that sailing would be more than just a summer holiday or a fun thing to do on the odd occasion. Like I really had absolutely no plans to do anything with sailing at this point. And I was studying visual arts and education at uni with the plan of becoming an art teacher. It was just so left field from anything that I had envisioned.

Lisa B:
And then I had to go back and finish two weeks of uni. And so I finished the last two weeks of university, graduated. And then a week after I finished, I got this phone call out of the blue and it was a friend of mine from uni and she was sailing to Hawaii with her father on their boat. And they had a crew member had to leave in Samoa. And so they called me up and said, “Hey, do you think you can get here in a week? We’re sailing to Hawaii. Are you interested?” And me being me, jumped on the opportunity, and said, “Yes.”

Lisa B:
I had only ever left the country once before, and so I had to figure out how to make it possible in a week and then jumped on a plane and flew to Samoa, and then we sailed to Hawaii. And that trip really shaped my love of ocean sailing. I remember one of the first nights at sea, we were just sailing out. And I’ve never done night watch, I’ve never stood a watch in the darker and I think like that, and there was just this magic moment on deck keeping watch everyone else is sleeping. It was the middle of the night, crystal clear skies, and this couple of whales just popped up around the boat.

Lisa B:
And it was a dark night you couldn’t see them. But you could just hear them breathing and coasting through the waters. For me, it was this really incredible moment of just peace. And I realized through sailing, well through our normal lives, we’re so rush, rush, rush. Everything’s busy. We’ve got a billion things going on. We’re always contactable on our phones, we’ve got have them close. It’s just this constant rush. And I just felt the minute I got out to sea, it was this simplified, almost basic lifestyle kind of camping on the water where your entire world revolves around, eat, sleep and sail. And what’s the weather pattern going to do. And for me, I’ve just loved it. And there’s so much beauty out there. So, yeah. It definitely shaped my wanting to do more with sailing.

Warwick F:
At that point, it sounds like you fell in love with sailing and, “I was made to do this. I was made to sail.” Was there that kind of feeling that this is, I think you said it was your happy place. But it’s some there’s something about that really, I don’t know. It was like a song that sung to your soul or something. I can’t think of the exact metaphor, but did it feel like this is your place, this is your element?

Lisa B:
Yeah, it definitely did. But it also like sailing is still hard. Every day is a challenge because you’ve got to breathe and live and survive in this environment we’re not designed for. So I think I also really relish the challenge of having to get from country to country, just harnessing the power of the wind and how do you do that and what’s the process that makes that possible? And, we had engine issues, how do you fix an engine at sea where you’ve got no spare parts? I think the owner of the boat made a muffler out of a tin can at one point. And it was just this huge adventure and I relished in that opportunity, but I also just found a bit of my soul.

Gary S:
And one of the things I love that you write in your book Lisa, about that experience, and this is a perfect time to bring it in. Because you’re talking about these extraordinary adventures. And you write about reading the stories of other folks who have had adventures on the seas. And you wrote why you became fascinated with it. And I want listeners to hear why the adventures you read were fascinating to you. “I became fascinated by these adventures, and I realized how relatable these people were. There was actually nothing special about them. They just found their dream, set themselves a goal and worked very hard to achieve it. It just so happened, that their goals were extraordinary.”

Gary S:
That can apply to anybody listening to this show right now. You have done extraordinary things, but from the beginning, you have not viewed yourself as necessarily extraordinary. You’re just someone who has a dream, is working hard at it.

Lisa B:
Yeah, and I honestly feel like that’s applicable to all areas of your life as well. It doesn’t have to be a record, it doesn’t have to be this. It could be a business goal. It could be a family oriented goal, it could be the goal of buying your first house. Like that mentality is really applicable to anything that people achieve in their life or that they want to achieve in their life. And the one thing I do really try and highlight is that, I don’t feel different from anybody else because of my achievements. I feel like your average Joe Blow and I still can’t spell to save my life. I still, get me trying to add math and I’m going to fail.

Lisa B:
I don’t have this special set of skills, but what I have is passion and focus and determination and sticking power. And so when things do get hard and when those crucible moments come through, I stick to it until I can push myself through it. And I guess that’s my real superpower the fact that I’m stubborn.

Warwick F:
What I mean, you have dreams, and you were willing to go from, you were willing to risk failure, you were willing to try. I mean, one great example sort of next step on the journey perhaps is the 2011/12 Round the World Clipper Yacht Race. I think one of the things you write is that you, it was… I forget how much was. It was 60,000. I forget how much money, it was a massive amount of money and you only had half the amount to do the training part. And your mum said, “well, you can at least do that. And then maybe you’ll figure out how to raise the rest.” I mean, it’s this sense of I’m not quitting just because I’m halfway there. So talk about because, that’s a microcosm of something a lot of us can learn as you weren’t willing to quit, just because it was hard to get into this round the world race.

Lisa B:
Yeah, and I think one of the biggest things I did to myself or one of the biggest benefits I gave myself was that, I reframed failure in my mind. And failure was the not going for the goal. That was the failure, because if you didn’t start something, then you’ve already failed. Whereas if I go for the goal and I put 100% of my effort in, and I’ve literally tried everything I can think of to make it successful and to make it work. And I’ve explored every avenue and possibility, and I still fail, then that’s just a lesson, that’s just a learning curve. And from there, you can move on.

Lisa B:
But if you don’t even try, then that’s to me like the real failure. So in that book, I do talk about breaking down in tears to my mum telling her how much I failed. And how that I haven’t got enough money and that I should just pull out now and it’s never going to work. And I had this kind of intense moment of doubt, and self fear and mum has always been a really incredible moral compass for me, and she’s been able to reef point me back in the right direction or she takes the emotion out of it so I can think logically about where I am and the situation.

Lisa B:
And my ultimate goals for signing up for that yacht race was to get experience to learn how to sail properly, and to get enough experience to one day want to try solo sailing. So by going and doing the training, at least I’m getting that knowledge. And then it’s just that whole well who knows, I still had a few months, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but at least I continued to try and you know, it worked out in the end.

Warwick F:
Yeah. And what you’re saying is so profound, is reframing failure, I think failure is not trying if you try and give it 100%, that’s not failing. I mean, I haven’t heard a whole lot of people define or redefine failure that way. It gives you the freedom to try, because if you try, it’s not so much failing you’ve given it your all, it’s just a brilliant way of putting it. So that gave you some experience and money came in for you to, as you met some folks probably in England, just amazing things happen when you put yourself out there. And I really believe miracles happen. And you’ve had your share of miracles, or people the last moment coming across and saying, “Here Lisa,” it’s unbelievable. But you write about it’s obviously true.

Lisa B:
Yeah, and it’s also one of those things that people often say, “Oh, you’re so lucky.” And I’m like, “It’s not luck, you create your own luck.” If you put yourself out enough times, someone’s going to see that and someone’s going to step up and help you and support you, and try and help get you to the next step. People want others to succeed, people want those around them to succeed. They don’t want them to fail, and so everyone is there to help you. It’s how much you try, that actually creates that help and opens those doors and opens those opportunities.

Lisa B:
No much is given for free in life, but you can create those opportunities by trying. And that was the real lesson that I got out of the Clipper Race was that, when people really started to see me put the effort in and I had sacrificed so much of my time and my energy and every cent I had earned in the last 12 months to go into this event. And people saw that, and the dedication and the drive to succeed. They then turned around and helped and I was able to get that money and then set off and did this incredible adventure.

Warwick F:
Again, another profound point you made your own luck by putting yourself out there, people do actually want to help other people. Somebody that has a goal and a dream is willing to work hard. Whether it’s Dick Smith or a number of others, it’s kind of a coincidence. We had another Aussie on the podcast a little bit ago, Ryan Campbell, who probably you heard of, flew around the world solo youngest at 23. And he was at a young and didn’t really know what you weren’t supposed to do. So he also went to Dick Smith and got some funding. And amazingly for US audience, Dick Smith has founded this massive electronics business. It’s a bit like Best Buy here.

Warwick F:
And so when I read that, it’s like “Oh, Dick Smith, I know another guy that obviously supports a lot of adventures. So let’s move ahead a bit, because I want to get to the Antarctic journey. So there was a couple lead ups to that. The Trans-Tasman deal going solo from Australia to New Zealand and back. That was obviously not easy. It seems like there aren’t too many oceans that are calm all the time, like none. Maybe it wasn’t Antarctica, but it wasn’t like a milk pond, it was pretty tough. And then from there you do the 2015 Sydney to Hobart race, which people might not realize here, but it starts in Sydney Harbour and you get a great view near the heads and goes to Hobart, you got to cross the Bass Strait.

Warwick F:
That’s, not every boat makes it. There are some boats that have been lost and it’s not an easy thing. So all of that’s preparing you for this epic Antarctic journey. So, solo sailing is one thing. So you preparing yourself with the Trans-Tasman deal and the Sydney to Hobart. Why sail around Antarctica? Why not do a solo race through the Pacific or somewhere where it’s warm? I don’t know. Why antarctica?

Lisa B:
You know, you’re not the first person to say that. A lot of people would actually tell me, “Why don’t you sail around Australia first? Do that trip, that’s got to be easier, right?” And I always thought sailing solo around Australia was actually 10 times harder than sailing solo around Antarctica, because you’re close to land the entire time. Remember you’re on your own. You’ve got to keep a lookout for all the ships, all the reefs, rocks, changing weather patterns, all the traffic that’s out there.

Lisa B:
The worst is the little guys who go out on their fishing tinny in this fiberglass fishing boat with no radar reflector and no AIS and you just can’t see them till you’re almost on top of them. So sailing around Australia solo, you can’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a time for the entire trip. So it is more dangerous than it is more difficult. Whereas Antarctica, it was actually a guy I was trying to convince to lend me his boat to sail to New Zealand for the Trans-Tasman Yacht race because I didn’t own a boat. And he had this racing 40 foot yacht that I was trying to charter off him or borrow or beg borrow or steal.

Lisa B:
And he threw out the idea that maybe if I combine this Trans-Tasman Yacht race with a bigger project and combine the two together, I might have a shot at getting sponsorship for it. And then I could look at buying his boat which is suitable for this other trip rather than chartering it. So I looked into it and he said, “Oh, there’s this record I was looking at doing before I had a family and it’s this Antarctica record, you should look it up, Fyodor Konyukhov.”

Lisa B:
And so I looked it up, and there’s this crazy Russian sailor in 2008, who sailed solo nonstop and unassisted around Antarctica, from Albany to Albany, which is located in the bottom tip of Western Australia. And he sailed directly south to 45 degrees south and then completed the whole circumnavigation between the latitudes of 45 south and 60 south in the Southern Ocean. And this guy who was trying to convince me to buy his boat was telling me to go and challenge this record.

Lisa B:
And at this stage, I’d sailed around the world with The Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. So I had sailed 40,000 nautical miles and a fair stint of that is in the Southern Ocean. And we did have some fairly decent storms coming through in the Southern Ocean. So I had a really healthy respect for how dangerous that ocean can be. And this guy was saying, “Oh, yeah. No, you haven’t sailed solo yet. But look at sailing solo around Antarctica, this would be a great trip.” And so my instant reaction was “Absolutely no way. It’s madness and it would be suicide. And why would I want to challenge a trip like that’s just not possible.”

Lisa B:
And I kind of put it out of my mind and I went back to work, and I was skippering yachts at the time. So I was just out at sea sailing boats. And I couldn’t shake this idea that there’s this Antarctica trip. And I was like, I really wanted a project that’s unique enough for me to get sponsorship that’s challenging enough that I want to do it and interesting enough, and it kind of ticked all those boxes. But there was this huge unknown factor with how dangerous it could be down there.

Lisa B:
And it was months of kind of thinking and dreaming and visualizing, and wondering and doing a lot of research on the historical weather data. And I slowly as the time went by, I started to think more and more, maybe it’s possible. Maybe it’s something someone could do, and then I had to think, “Well maybe it’s something I could do.” And then working towards this idea of, “Yeah, okay. I’m going to do it.”

Lisa B:
And it was about four months that time period of thinking and dreaming and I remember calling my mum. And I hadn’t done the Trans-Tasman Yacht race yet. So I hadn’t actually sailed solo before at this point and I called mum, and I said, “So mum, I’ve got this Trans-Tasman what about combining it with this other trip? What if I sail solo around Antarctica?” And she instantly was like, “No, not a chance. You’re not doing it.”

Lisa B:
And then, so I put it to bed and sort of left it on a shelf and went and did the solo Trans-Tasman Yacht race, and I finished that race and I said to mum, it’s like “So, what about this Antarctica idea?” And she was like, “Oh, I suppose you’ve proven that you can sail solo now and you did really well with that last race. Okay, but you got to make sure it’s safe.” And so that started the process, and it was three and a half years till I actually was able to make it happen.

Warwick F:
It’s funny how you know, mums and dads always want the kids to be safe. It’s sort of a funny thing, but you must be hardwired so not quite in the same thing that you’re talking about. But I have two sons and a daughter, a daughter in the middle and they’re all in their ’20s. And my daughter is the particularly adventurous one, and the boys get seasick like me. My daughter doesn’t get seasick at all, so she inherited her mother’s genes.

Lisa B:
I like her already.

Warwick F:
Yeah. Same height as you funnily enough, I know you write about that in the book, but anyway she’s very mission oriented. And so she said to me, “Mom, dad, I’m thinking I’d like to go to the Congo with this relief agency.” And it’s really dangerous place. So initially it’s “”You’re kidding? Forget about it.” But when you’re over 21, you can say forget about it, but it doesn’t have too much weight. And then after that it was, “Well I think I’d like to go South Sudan,” but the same place. I mean, both are really, really dangerous places. She was with a very well run outfit that took care of her. But yeah, so a different orbit. But it’s one thing for mom and dad to say “No, you’re not doing that.”

Warwick F:
But at a certain point it’s your life and you say, “Well, I appreciate your perspective. But no, we’re doing it.” But anyway, your mum came around. But as we lead up to this epic voyage, so you got this boat, I guess from a fellow that the Funnel-Web, which you then renamed Climate Action Now and redid the whole thing and had all these watertight compartments. And I love the whole thing you did with, obviously, you have a perspective, I know I wrote it down somewhere here about climate change, which can be such a huge issue like how can we make a difference.

Warwick F:
And I think you said something like, “All it takes is one small step or action when you have millions of people taking these positive actions, you have real impact.” So it can be easy to think how can we make a difference, all this pollution in the ocean and climate change, but and then you put post-it notes on your boat Climate Action. So to talk about that, because that’s a very fun thing. So talk about that whole vision, getting the boat and the post-it notes and leading up to setting off.

Lisa B:
Yeah, awesome. So for me, I’ve always been very climate minded obviously with my childhood and being exposed to nature at a young age and growing up in the bush and I have a healthy respect for our environment. And the one thing I’ve witnessed or felt was that, when you mentioned the words climate change or climate action, anything to do with that message, so to speak, it becomes political and people also feel it’s too big of a problem that their little piece doesn’t make a difference. And so they don’t do anything, because they feel like they’re insignificant to creating a difference or making a difference.

Lisa B:
So for me the goal was to inspire a positive message to empower people, to forget about the negatives associated with the words and how can we positively influence people to create a nice change in their life. And so what I did was I went out to community members all around Australia, every talk or event that I did, every time I had the boat on display before the record, and I collected post-it note messages. And each post-it note was a message from someone in the public who was doing something for our environment. And I would just say “Just pop something on the message. And I think you’re doing it or maybe you don’t use water bottles, and you have a reusable water bottle, maybe you pick rubbish up, when you’re walking down the street, maybe your kids have a plastic free lunch box.”

Lisa B:
Whatever these little actions were, and then we collected them all up, and then turn them into this big vinyl wrap that we actually wrapped the whole hull of my boat in. And it really changed my goals with the record because it was less now about just a single girl sailing solo around Antarctica, and it was more about me carrying these thousands and thousands of messages. And the amount of people that come up to me and say that they’ve submitted another message through the website, or they’ve been down to the Marina and they’ve read all the messages on the hull of their boat, or they’ve had their six year old kid reading the messages, and they’ve decided to go plastic free at school. So there is this really positive effect that comes from it.

Lisa B:
And one thing I’ve also learned is that if you start with one thing, maybe you say no to straws, or maybe you say no to single use plastic bags, then suddenly you start becoming a little more aware of your actions. And we do have to take some responsibility for us as consumers with how much we’re consuming and how we’re consuming things. And so people start to think differently, maybe at the supermarket, I won’t grab that packet of veggies wrapped in plastic, I’ll grab the packet of veggies loose and I’ll put them in my own bag.

Lisa B:
Small things like that can all make a really massive difference when one person is influenced, and they start talking about it, they start explaining to their friends. So they’re out shopping and their kids ask why they’re doing it that way and it creates this roll on effect, I feel like it’s a bit contagious. And so that positivity and those positive actions can actually expand from that one person, that one opportunity and my goal is to show people that as an individual, you have the power to create change. It just starts with one thing.

Warwick F:
That’s such an important message because it can be easy to think all the pollution in the ocean that you write about is just one part of it is just heartbreaking and what that does to animals and dolphins. All it takes is one person doing one thing and it does it’s huge. So let’s talk about Antarctica, so you have to buy the boat, refit it, you got all these partners who are helping you out. Obviously still raising money was it’s like when earlier endeavors wasn’t easy. And down to the wire it always seems to be that way. It’s never easy, right?

Lisa B:
Yes.

Warwick F:
Yeah six months to go, got 110% of funding. That doesn’t seem to be your life and anybody’s life, but so you got to get the boat to Albany, West Australia. And for US listeners, Australia is about the same size as the continental US. So going from Sydney to Albany is like a long, long way and not an easy voyage. So you finally get to Albany and you get yourself together in January 2017, you launch out on this epic voyage. So talk a bit about that because you talk about the race track and having to be below 45 degree parallel and if you go above it, you know you lost before you began or it’s over.

Warwick F:
So talk about that whole challenge and what it was like day-to-day. I’m not a sailing person but reading about changing sails and jibs and then tacking and the preventer line continually busting and you know? I mean my gosh, you had to be not just an avid mechanic professional. I mean, every day was just so hard, what do they say? I think the US Seals when they’re asked they have some mantra like the only easy day is yesterday. It sounds a bit like your life. The only easy day was yesterday, which wasn’t that easy, right? So just talk about the whole race track 45 degrees and the day-to-day life on this epic voyage.

Lisa B:
Perfect. So basically, because I was challenging Fyodor Konyukhov’s record, he was the second person to upsell solo around Antarctica. So I was trying or aiming to be the third person to do the trip, solo, nonstop and unassisted. And because I was challenging his record the World Sailing Speed Record Council, which is the governing body of sailing records, they basically said to me, in order to be eligible, I would have to start and finish from the same place he did, which was Albany in Western Australia. And I would need to keep between the same parallels that he was sailing on.

Lisa B:
So when Fyodor Konyukhov did it, he did it as part of this race called the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race. So he was effectively on this race track, which was that parallel between 45 and 60 south. And if you went outside of those lines at any point, he voided his record. So because I was challenging his record, I had the same rules, even though I wasn’t actually racing on the racetrack or had the committee behind me the race committee behind me. So I set off from Albany I had to go directly south for about 700 miles, until I entered into a formal racetrack, and then I could turn left under 45 degrees south and start heading over towards Tasmania, and I effectively went clockwise around the bottom of the planet.

Lisa B:
And I remember the day I left it was this, I was just so tired, because as you said, you never get the sponsorship or the money until right at the end when people know you’re going and you’re making it happen. And then you’ve got like a year’s worth of work, you got to cram into a few months. And so it’s just this intensity that you have that I don’t think I’ve ever done a trip that doesn’t have me up all night, the night before I leave. And I think I managed about two hours sleep the night before I left.

Lisa B:
And in fact that first week at sea, I feel like I got more sleep than I did in the weeks leading up to the departure of the voyage, which is unusual considering I’m sleeping in cat naps. And so I left and I remember casting off the lines. And there was this moment of complete panic, because I hadn’t been visualizing leaving. And I’ve been visualizing all the things that could possibly go wrong out there.

Lisa B:
And the Southern Ocean is well known as the world’s most dangerous ocean and that’s because, effectively there’s no landmass down there to break up the storms. So as a storm rolls around the bottom of the ocean, it goes the entire way around the planet. And it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and more aggressive as it goes. And it creates this unique swell where you can have waves the size of houses or more, just on a daily basis. That’s your average swell. So it’s this incredibly dangerous place to be in.

Lisa B:
And as part of my preparation process, I’ve been visualizing all these scenarios that could occur from knockdowns, to rollovers, to breaking masts, to hitting an iceberg, to hitting a sunken container, to flooding the boat, to losing the keel, to getting myself injured. And so I was thinking about all these possible scenarios. And when I finally left, it just crashed into me that, “Hang on, I’m now having to do this. It’s no longer this thing I’m visualizing, it’s not this thing I’m imagining. It’s something I’m actively going out and doing right now.”

Lisa B:
And I then had to remind myself that I had done the preparation because I was terrified, I started shaking, I started hyperventilating. I was like, choking on my air, and I just was freaking out completely. And I had to take a couple of calming breaths and remind myself that I’d prepared for this, that I’d worked really hard for this and that I could do it. And when I left, I then just settled in, but there was this sort of ominous feeling as a sailed, south to that line, because the further south I went, the grayer the skies would get and the bigger the swell was and the colder it was, and just how much more isolated and alone you feel.

Lisa B:
And there’s this idea of how bad is bad going to be, because you never quite know. You can always think about it, but you never 100%. You just don’t know how bad is bad. But I went off, I used the first couple of weeks of the voyage just to settling into life at sea, I was going to be on board for an estimated three months. So I was planning to be isolated for that length of time. So I really wanted to pace myself and I wanted to pace the boat as well.

Lisa B:
So I took the approach of having a really fast boat, and sailing it slowly. And by having a light fast boat, it meant I didn’t have to change my sails for every weather pattern or every weather change that came through. And if I was a little under canvassed with the sails, that’s okay, because I was still making pretty decent speeds, even with the less sail up. So that really allowed me to take the pressure off me by having that approach. And my greatest goal of the whole trip whilst I was challenging Fyodor’s record, and whilst I was trying to become the first woman to do it, my biggest goal was just do the loop and come home alive, because then I would have succeeded.

Lisa B:
Everything else was just extras, actually just coming back to that point of talking about success or failure in those moments in time. The other thing I really did was because the challenge of getting to the start line was so big, I actually said to myself, “Well, as long as I can leave, as long as I get on the boat and I leave regardless of what happens next, I’ve succeeded.” Because I’ve got the goal, I’ve got the boat, I’ve got the trip off the ground, and I left. And everything else was this kind of thing that I couldn’t really control because weather and factors are around that. But as long as I left, I knew I had already succeeded. So that really took that pressure off.

Warwick F:
And that’s really an important point is reframing the big goal of going round Antarctica into mini goals. Okay, first goal was to leave, second goal was to get on the race track or maybe there was a goal before that, but just mini goals, waypoints is I guess they call them in boating. But reading that book and anybody that’s read it or I think there’s a documentary, it’s just hard to fathom how you could carry on each day because each day was unbelievably hard. So talk about an average day. You’re sailing below the 45th parallel, what was an average day? Help the listeners understand what you did on an average day when there’s storms and gales going all over the place?

Lisa B:
Yeah, so an average day is really, like I said, it strips you back to that eat sleep sail mentality because you don’t have room for anything else. Your whole world is how do I survive in this storm? And so every decision you make is around that. So generally, my body clock got completely out of whack and the weather patterns affected when I could sleep or when I couldn’t sleep. And more often than not, there was a weather shift in the morning around 6:00 a.m. so I’d be up on deck trimming sales and changing the angle of the sails. Then I’d get below, freezing cold. It’s all about two degrees, three degrees, so it’s icy cold and I try warm myself up-

Warwick F:
So that’s two or three degrees Celsius which is-

Lisa B:
Celsius, yes.

Warwick F:
Not quite sure it’s still probably. Well-

Gary S:
It’s still cold.

Warwick F:
Yeah. It’s probably in the 30’s. I don’t know what it is. Probably it is terrible. Anyway, go ahead.

Lisa B:
And then I would send a text message to my shore team to tell them what happened over the night and let them know that I’m safe and I’m alive still and that’s all going okay. I would either eat something if I was hungry, which I’d normally wasn’t at that point or I would get a couple more hours sleep and I would then bounce out of bed again or crawl out of bed should I say, at about 12 o’clock after having four or five little nano naps, I call them.

Lisa B:
So they’re generally 20 minutes. The further I got from risks, I could increase those sleeps up to 40 minutes. And I think the longest single sleep I got in the whole record was about an hour and a half. So it’s lots of little baby sleeps, so you’re never really sleeping, so you’re always operating on this intense level of fatigue and sleep deprivation. And I would have to alter my priorities when my sleep deprivation would get so bad that I couldn’t function very well or my emotions were out of whack and change it so that I wasn’t optimizing the sails anymore, I was just trying to get some sleep, but I still couldn’t sleep more than that 20 to 40 minute block at a time, before the boat would need some attention.

Lisa B:
I would then get up, I would have to do some daily maintenance. So I’d walk around and I would, check the bilges for water, I would go on deck and do a deck walk and I would just check that things are looking okay, I’ll get a weather forecast, communicate with my shore team, send a blog home, those sorts of things. And by about eight or nine at night, I’d be trying to have some dinner, which was always a really basic, we call it freeze dried food. It’s like what the astronauts ate, which is like a patch of dried goods and you add a cup of boiling water to it. And it’s all kind of the same texture, all kind of tastes the same. But you get on with it and then so have my dinner.

Lisa B:
And then I would always be aiming to get to bed before midnight. It almost never happened, and so I’d be getting ready for bed at like 10, 11 o’clock at night. And when I say bed, I mean, I would be in bed for four or five hours. But I’m still doing all those little naps in that period of time. And then inevitably around midnight, there would be a sail change required. And I would either have to put a reef in because the winds have increased, shake a reef out because the winds have decreased, or they’ve changed direction on me and I’d have to be on deck doing something with the sails.

Lisa B:
So that would then cause me to get completely soaked head to toe by icy cold water which wakes you up, which makes it impossible to try and get 20 minute naps. And then I would have to come back down below after an hour or two of fighting with the sails on deck and getting smashed by waves and just generally having a really fun time of it. And then I would try and get a couple more nano naps. So it was just this constant… Your priorities are secondary to the boat’s priorities in that environment and the boat’s requirements generally outpaced what your requirements are.

Lisa B:
So you forego things like sleep or food on occasion, because the boat needs attention or the boat needs work. And I generally operated, I would try and do something that I called sleep banking. And that is where I never know when the next emergency is going to occur. I never know when I might have to be up for two days at a time or when the next storm is around the corner, something could go wrong. And it causes me to be awake for a long period of time.

Lisa B:
And because you’re already operating at these extreme fatigue measures, I would bank my sleep. So that meant anytime I wasn’t trimming sails or eating, I was trying to rest in my bunk. And even if I couldn’t sleep, I would at least be laying down in bed, whether I was reading a book in bed or not, just so that my body is getting some rest. Because the rest of the time, it feels like you’ve run a marathon, and you’ve got another five marathons to go and you just got to suck it up and find the energy from somewhere.

Warwick F:
And what’s amazing is every day was like what you just described as I read the book. Sail changes, 20 minute nano naps, and then you’ve got this alarm thing saying change sail, you’re off course, do something. It keeps blaring away. Then the team approaching “Yep, it’s not looking good,” because it seems like it’s the Southern Ocean. So obviously, a key moment is you’re somewhere probably seven, 800 miles south of Cape Town somewhere. And you’re in another big storm and somehow the mast breaks, you talk about electrolysis and lines and you figure some of that out later. But that was when your whole journey changed. Talk about what happened when the mask broke and that was a huge, crucible, if you will in this journey.

Gary S:
And can we stop one second for listeners who may not have a great grasp of of sailing. When a mast breaks, let’s explain what that means. To me, that means you don’t have a sail anymore. Is that right?

Lisa B:
Yeah, so you don’t have any means of propulsion anymore. So the mast is the pointing out bit that all your sails fly off. So when it snaps, all your sails are gone as well. And what also occurs is that your mast can become a weapon. And it’s this thing that’s still attached to the boat through ropes and riggings. But it’s now getting pushed and shoved by all the swell and the waves that are out there. And more often than not, it can get driven by a wave through the hull of your boat effectively sinking you.

Lisa B:
So a mast breaking is an incredibly dangerous thing to have occur. It’s snapping, ripping ropes, it’s just tons of force of pressure getting applied to everything. And, in fact since I’ve been back from this trip, I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, “I survived a de-masting with a crew of 15 and I was terrified. I don’t know how you did it, on your own in the middle of those oceans.” So it’s certainly one of the bigger risks should I say that sailors face out to say yes, it definitely not a good thing to have happen.

Gary S:
So as Warwick said, enormous crucible, what was it like for you when that happened to you? That, friends, is what those of us in the communications business call a cliffhanger. How indeed did Lisa Blair move on after she lost her mast, after she lost her power of propulsion, while circumnavigating Antarctica? You’ll find out all about that in some extraordinarily interesting detail in next week’s episode of Beyond the Crucible.

Gary S:
Until that time, until we’re together again, please remember as Lisa’s story up to this point has proven and will definitely prove in the second half next week, that crucibles are painful, emotionally painful, physically painful, circumstantially painful, they upset the applecart of our lives. They can knock us off course, they can change the trajectory of where we’re going, but they’re not the end of our stories.

Gary S:
In fact, as we examine, on Beyond The Crucible in offering hope and healing to folks who have been through crucibles just like you, just like Lisa Blair, that crucible experiences if we learn the lessons from them, aren’t the end of our stories. They in fact can be the beginning of new and exciting and rewarding stories, because they lead after we’ve learned those lessons and applied them, those new stories lead to a life of significance.

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