Lisa Blair, Part 2: ‘How Do I Survive Tonight?’ #48

Warwick Fairfax

December 15, 2020

She set out on a quest to become the first woman to sail solo around Antartica. But 72 days in, when a horrific storm with waves as high as a two-story building caused her mast to topple and nearly sank her boat, Lisa Blair’s journey changed from setting a record to staying alive. In the hours that followed, she called on her months of preparation, all the courage she could muster and her indefatigable spirit to steady her craft — then broke off pursuit of the record to head to port in Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs. But she refused to let the myriad and monumental crucibles she’d endured derail her dream. She launched a second run at the record books that secured her a place in nautical history.
          To learn more about Lisa Blair and her book, Facing Fear, visit www.lisablairsailstheworld.com

Highlights

  • What led up to her mast breaking (2:43)
  • Choosing to head to port and break off pursuit of the record — at least temporarily (7:03)
  • Another dangerous challenge involving a boat that was trying to help her (11:53)
  • Deciding to give the record a second go (15:30)
  • The important difference between known risk and unknown risk (17:45)
  • Critical wisdom from her mom that gave her renewed resolve (22:03)
  • Conquering the fear of “what if?” in going through a crucible (24:43)
  • Crossing the finish line — not how she imagined it (29:26)
  • Her belief that’s she’s not superhuman, just dedicated and focused (34:14)
  • How we all can restructure how we think to make our vision a reality (39:26)
  • Key takeaways from the two-part episode (46:01)

Transcript

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

Lisa B:
So I reached for my life jacket, which was on my bunk right next to me and I was clipping it shot, and I just turned to climb outside the boat, and then I heard the mast come crashing down in this sole minute. And it was this gut-wrenching sound of metal on metal, just twisting and grinding and the entire boat shuddering as all the weight changed on the boat and everything inside the boat was just amplified 1000 times. And I realized in that moment that I had just demasted. And so now that means I’m in a broken boat, 1,000 miles from land.

Lisa B:
If I don’t cut the mast free or separate it from the boat fast enough, it will put a hole in the boat and it will sink me. So that set off this whole new challenge. And instead of thinking about Australia, which was a full week sail away on this record that I was currently beating, it was suddenly like, okay, I have to survive tonight. How do I survive tonight? What do I need to do to keep myself alive?

Gary S:
It’s hard to imagine a crucible experience getting more harrowing than that, chilled to the bone, whipped about by violent winds and waves, alone in the dark in the middle of the ocean, having to think fast, or you just might die fast. That’s what Australian sailor Lisa Blair faced in 2017 when her quest to become the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica literally came crashing down on her. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership.

Gary S:
When we left Lisa’s interview with Warwick last week, she had just described what theoretically happens to a sailboat when it loses its mast. On today’s episode, the second part of that conversation, she shares in heart pounding detail, what happened to her boat when she endured and open sea demasting. As you’ll hear her describe the nautical, meteorological and emotional crucibles that kept crashing into her, you’ll understand why Warwick said reading her book about the voyage was like reading a thriller. A can’t put it down page turner, he consumed mostly in one sitting. Here’s that terrifying, inspiring story as only Lisa can tell it.

Lisa B:
Yeah. So at this point I’d been sailing for 72 days. So I’d gone past South America and Cape Horn and I was just passing in South Africa and I was down at the 45 degree line or 48, 30 South. So I was just over 1,000 nautical miles South of South Africa. And for me, the entire South Atlantic ocean had been effectively one big storm. I don’t think I saw any winds less than 30 knots the entire time. So I was in weather that was quite rough. And so it’s a six to eight meter wave, that’s the height of like a two story building coming down on you. But it was sort of like a normal day at sea, because every other day for that last couple of weeks had been like that. But there was a storm cell passing over me that night that was due to get a bit bigger through the night.

Lisa B:
So the waves were going to get more aggressive and the winds were going to get a bit stronger through that night and it was just coming on dark. So there was that real faint blue tinge left in the sky. And I was having a nano nap in my bunk and I had been down for about 20 minutes when, out of nowhere, I just heard a bang and it was this incredibly loud, just sounded like a gunshot had gone off by my head because it was this metallic after ringing that was going on. And it was just so violent a noise, shocked me completely. And I jumped out of my bunk and I climbed up on my engine box. And my initial thought was that I’d broken a piece of rigging wire at the back of the boat or a piece of rope rigging that we have.

Lisa B:
So the first thing I did was I have this sort of perspex dome on the cabin top. And that allows me when I’m standing on my engine box, to be able to see out of the boat without having to physically climb outside and expose myself to the freezing conditions and get smashed by a wave. So I climbed up on this engine box and I looked to the back of the boat. And the first thing I noticed was that piece of rigging rope was still there and it was fine. And so I looked to the front of the boat and I remember just feeling the blood drain from my face as I looked and my mast is 22 meters long, its aluminum. So it’s this giant spear and it was just sticking up in the sky. And now I realized the piece of rigging had snapped and so the entire mast was just sort of like jellying around like a hula girl shaking her hips. And I looked at it and I just remember thinking to myself, tack the boat.

Lisa B:
Now tacking is when we change direction and we change the wind from one side of the boat to the other. So by tacking, I would effectively be able to put the pressure of this storm and these winds from the broken side of the boat onto the other side of the boat that didn’t have the broken rigging. And I would effectively potentially have a chance to then drop my sails, run repairs, fix the problem. And as I’m looking, I remember just thinking tack the boat, tack the boat. And so I reached for my life jacket, which was on my bunk right next to me and I was clipping it shut and I just turned to climb outside the boat, and then I heard the mast come crashing down in this sole minute and it was this gut-wrenching sound of metal on metal, just twisting and grinding and the entire boat shuddering as all the weight changed on the boat and everything inside the boat was just amplified 1,000 times.

Lisa B:
And I realized in that moment that I had just demasted. And so now that means I’m in a broken boat, 1,000 miles from land. If I don’t cut the mast free or separate it from the boat fast enough, it will put a hole in the boat and it will sink me. So that set off this whole new challenge. And instead of thinking about Australia, which was a full week sail away on this record that I was currently beating, it was suddenly like, okay, I have to survive tonight. How do I survive tonight? What do I need to do to keep myself alive? And it started this whole process of fighting to keep the boat floating.

Warwick F:
And that was a journey in itself. I mean, as sailors would know much better than I, it’s unbelievable that you were able to cut it loose and get all those other parts of the masts and cross pieces together and so you start. I mean, talk about when you start heading north towards Cape Town and you’ve got to cross that 45 degree line. Once that happens, you know you’re not going to be in that round Antarctica unassisted no stop record. So when you cross that line, at the risk of asking the obvious question, what was that feeling when you were out of the racetrack and heading towards Cape Town?

Lisa B:
Yeah, it was actually earlier that I had to make that decision. So the next morning after I’d managed to keep the boat alive for the night, I mean, I finished that evening with hypothermia, so I took on a self-treat. I went up on deck the next day, it took me a whole day to sort of patch repairs and clear the debris from the water and clear my rudder and my engine and be able to actually move the boat in any direction. And the storm had broken and it was this crazy blue sky with these enormous waves still coming through. And it was like this completely surreal experience because I knew I had survived, but I was still surviving because I wasn’t on land yet. And I was still in a broken boat with no mast. The only thing I’d managed to salvage was my boom, which is this horizontal piece of equipment.

Lisa B:
And so I had to make a decision at 5:00 PM that night, whether I would turn my engine on or not. And I had to analyze whether I thought I could build a new mast and limp my way to Australia and complete the trip without turning to South Africa or void the record, do a smart decision and alter course for South Africa. And that decision I agonized over for hours. And the reason I chose not to continue with the record by building a jury rig was because there was quite a sizable hole in the side of my boat at the deck hull join. And it was at such a structural point that I worried that the structural integrity of the boat was compromised. And if I got between two of these sort of 10 meter waves and lifted, that the whole boat would buckle in the middle and she could snap in half and then game over.

Lisa B:
So I made the smart decision and I made the call to turn on my motor and alter course for South Africa. But I remember just feeling completely heartbroken because this is three and a half years of work. I’d been at sea for 72 days at that point, completely on my own. I was beating the men’s record when the mask came down. It was an issue that should never have occurred. It was this extreme case of electrolysis, so it never should have happened. And it just caught gear failure and the rigging came down and I was thankful that I was alive. And I remember just thinking to myself, don’t think about the greater goal, just think of the next step. Break it down to, okay, tomorrow I need to do this.

Lisa B:
The next day I need to do that, and just concentrate on getting to land because if I thought about what I was losing or what I’d lost in that moment, as far as the record went and all the work associated with that, I just couldn’t stop crying. I was just a mess. So I had to just suppress all of those emotions and not focus on them and just face forward and think, get to land, focus on surviving this next moment, this next day, this next hour, get to land. And then I can think about what’s next.

Warwick F:
And that’s really important for folks because sometimes you get so caught up in the goal that logic goes out the window. I mean, as listeners would know when I did the $2.25 billion takeover, I was so focused on change management, bringing back the ideals of the founder. There’s no breakpoint, failure is not an option that I wasn’t thinking as clearly as you were. It’s complicated. This is your vision. Mine wasn’t really… my vision was more inherited. It’s a complex comparison, but you were thinking logically and it’s easy in that circumstances to get so bound up with the vision that safety and logic goes out the window. It’s funny. We had this historian talk a couple months ago about Ernest Shackleton that you’re probably familiar with. And his was a story of the vision and his goal overtaking logic and common sense.

Warwick F:
And he was at in fact… one of the places he ended up coming back to is South Georgia Island, which you passed on your journey, funnily enough. But he hit a point where he was in Argentina about to head off in like 19… I don’t know, 15, somewhere around there. And all the experts said the icebergs are further north than they’d been in like decades. Don’t go, suicide. He said, no, but I want to do this, this whole pole fever thing that there was in the early 1900s. And he was going to go there and cross Antarctica from one to the other. And he ended up almost losing his whole crew from making a very illogical unwise decision that totally disregarded safety. So I mean, great guy, epic voyage, but wrong decision, as I’m sure he realized later.

Warwick F:
So you made the right decision, you’re heading North towards Cape Town. Another not funny, but somewhat amusing in hindsight incident, you put out this not mayday, I guess you call it Pan-Pan, an alert, things aren’t looking good and this cargo ship comes up the Far Eastern Mercury or something, and they want to give you some fuel and there’s a language barrier and they almost sink your boat. And it’s like, I don’t want to come up to between the fenders and the boat, that gives us not good, little boat, big boat don’t mix. And eventually they got the picture, but that must’ve been frustrating. It’s like, I know you’re trying to help me, but you’re about to sink my boat.

Lisa B:
Yeah. And I think that that whole experience with that container ship was more traumatizing to me than the demasting. The demasting, I didn’t have time. I was just like, you have to fight and survive. Whereas the Far Eastern Mercury the collision that occurred between me and them and that whole horrible situation that occurred, which I’ll get into in a second, that was a completely avoidable situation. And it was just unfathomable that they would even expect that. So the Far Eastern Mercury is a 200 meter long container ship. The side of the ships, 30 meters high, they weigh 86,000 tons and I’m a 50 foot yacht and I weigh 10 tons, and the side of my boat is 1.3 meters high. So in comparison, they’re a skyscraper and I’m a tiny little dot on the ocean. And when I arrived, so they had diverted at the time of the emergency, under instructions from the rescue coordination center in South Africa.

Lisa B:
And all of this was unknown to me. I had issued a Pan-Pan to put people on alert that the situation could progress to be more disastrous. But given how remote I was, the rescue coordination center, unbeknown to me, upgraded me to a Mayday. And so they said they sent the ship down to help me, but the ship was three days away. So after the emergency, the initial emergency, and when I was limping to land, they asked if they could cancel the ship. And I said, oh, is there any chance they could do a fuel transfer at sea because I only had 200 liters on board and it’d get me close, but not close enough to get all the way to South Africa. If they could do a fuel transfer, that would be a huge help. So the ship agreed and they kept heading south and I kept going north and we rendezvoused three days later.

Lisa B:
Now we were still in 25-knots of wind and six meter swell. So it’s still really large swell coming through. And when we arrived, they kept saying, come closer, come closer, we have fenders out. And their fenders were these two tires hanging off the side of the ship at waterline in the middle of the ship, on the starboard side. And basically the ship was rolling so much in this swell that one minute these fenders would be touching the water and the next minute they’d be 10 meters up in the air, and it was just like, they wanted me to tie up, bow and stern line to the side of the ship at these fenders. And if I had been silly enough to say yes, they would have lifted me clean out of the water and buckled the boat, snap me in half and sunk the boat.

Lisa B:
So it was this impossible thing and they were Korean speaking ship and it just ended up in disaster. It was a 12 hour saga of me standing off. It resulted in a collision between me and the ship, which did just as much or more damage than the initial demasting did. Yeah. And it was just this horrible, horrible situation. But yes-

Warwick F:
Yeah. I mean, everybody meant well, but there was a communication issue. You got the fuel-

Lisa B:
Exactly.

Warwick F:
So eventually head up to Cape Town and that’s like, what? A couple months of refitting and you had to make a decision, okay, am I going to do this? And you obviously felt, okay, I want to finish. You’ve got a new mast and you’re going to go back onto the race track at the point where you went north to finish. So were you tempted just to say, let’s just pack it in, I’ve achieved something, but what made you want to finish this thing?

Lisa B:
I fell into a pretty heavy depression when it all came crashing down. And that’s why I had to kind of keep that focus on next steps, next goal. And it wasn’t until it occurred to me that I could go back, that I could restart the trip and do it with one stop that I actually felt like I had any kind of life again, or any energy or enthusiasm or I could smile again. And so that became my driving factor. How do I make it so I go back? How can I restart this voyage? And winter was closing in, so I only had a very short period of time to actually do a refit. I had zero money. I had to figure out how to borrow the money, find sponsors, work out a way to make it possible. And then I found this secondhand mast that had been sitting in a shed in South Africa for 15 years that happened to be okay-ish a fit for my boat, that I was able to pick up for 5,000 Australian.

Lisa B:
So I put that in the boat and it took me two months to get the damage and everything done. But I don’t think at any one point I considered not going. I asked my meteorologist to do an extensive research into how bad was it going to be. When I left, it was a couple of weeks into winter. So I was expecting to be sailing into the world’s most dangerous ocean through winter. And that in itself is just an unheard of factor. And I had so many people telling me, don’t go, it’s suicide. And I guess I had my Ernest Shackleton moment and and I was going-

Warwick F:
But I mean, I don’t know. I think not to put him down, I think you deserve a bit more credit, but you had a whole team advising you. They were, they said this is dangerous, it’s not easy, but it’s doable. It wasn’t… There’s a difference.

Lisa B:
Yeah, and it’s also this idea of an unknown risk that we put in our heads, this expected risk compared to the actual risk that was there, the real risk. And the weather patterns and everything that was presenting itself with the historical weather data, all of that, I’d already sailed through, the worst storm I had on the trip that I’d already sailed through, and we sailed through it really well was what every storm was going to be through the Southern ocean in winter. But I’d already done it once, it was possible. And the biggest concern for everyone was how much colder it was going to be. And the ice line was going to be much higher and the Antarctic convergence line was going to be much higher, which is the difference in the warm sea water and the cold sea water coming off Antarctica.

Lisa B:
So that was probably one of the greatest risks, but I had asked everyone who was telling me not to go, where was the historical weather data that said it was impossible. Because I wasn’t making this decision willy-nilly, like, yes, I had this driving force that I wanted to do the trip, but I had done my research. I had justifiable reasons for thinking I’m capable of doing it, given what I’d already done and how well my boat had presented through these storms already. I knew it was possible. I just had to figure out what was I in for and prepare myself accordingly. So, yeah, so I left after the biggest storm in winter had hit South Africa in like 35 years or something. So in the back of that storm, I set off and I sailed south and I probably hit what I would consider my biggest crucible moment, my biggest moment of potential failure.

Lisa B:
The biggest thing I did was I got inside my head too much, and I allowed all the voices of all those people that were telling me I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t good enough, I’m just a girl, this a suicide. I let all those build and their voices built on my own rational, logical thinking fade. And it wasn’t easy. I was getting my ass handed to me every day out there. And I was living in the eye of the most brutal storms ever to hit land or Australia, the size of hurricanes. And I was going through it every other day. And I was just getting absolutely smashed. And Climate Action Now is getting smashed. And to just give you an example of what that feels like, when you’re inside the boat and you’re not outside in these storms, because the force of the wave hitting you is just so extreme that it can rip you clean off the deck of the boat.

Lisa B:
And in fact, one square meter of breaking white water is one ton of pressure applied. So at this moment I was getting in the eye of these storms, 15 meter waves. So that’s a five story building slamming into the side of the boat and the waves form kind of like mountains, they’re not peaks, they’re kind of rolling hills almost as they come through. But what happens is you get this rolling hill and the boat lifts up the hill as it’s getting lifted by the wave, but the top three or four meters of the wave throws over like a beach break and breaks and ends up with this frothing wall of white water that’s about two, three meters high. And so the boat’s halfway up this peak of this wave and the white water hits you and it throws you to the bottom of the wave. And it’s like slamming into cement. It’s like getting hit by a Mack truck. And you come to a juddering halt and everything, like the g-forces. You can’t even hold on inside the boat.

Lisa B:
So you’ve got to take extreme care, moving around the boat. I have body armor built into my base layers. I’ve got a crash helmet on board. Everything you’re doing is trying to protect injury for these moments where you get slammed into the bottom of this wave. And then what happens is the rest of the wave hits. And so it hits you a second time and then it rolls you on your side and then it rolls you upside down. And sometimes all the way upside down, more often than not around 120, 130 degrees over. And then the wave’s passed over you and the boat starts righting itself. So just the g-forces associated with it. And the difference this time also was that I had done all the right things again, but I’d done them the first time, but now I had this niggling sense of doubt that I’d done all the right things the first time and my mast still broke, what’s going to go wrong this time? Even though I’ve done all the correct preparation and I’ve done everything I can possibly do to make it safer.

Warwick F:
It was an amazing moment that you write about where I think your mum sent you an email that somehow, like any mum, she’s concerned for your safety, but there’s been some critical moments in your journey, in your life where she said these incredibly wise things. So talk about what your mum said that really, it seemed to flip a switch or just, it seemed to really make a huge difference.

Lisa B:
Yeah. So I had been at sea for about five days and I’d only managed to get 200 miles. And I had a head cold, I was exhausted, I’d been seasick. I had all those doubters in my head and I just, I broke and I quit. In my mind I was like, it’s impossible. All those people are right. I quit. I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough. And I remember calling mum that afternoon, I’d almost been washed off the deck of the boat by this wave. And I literally had three quarters of my body outside the safety rail, getting dragged off the boat. And I managed to one arm about it, round a piece of equipment and keep me attached. And I called her up and I said, I can’t do it, I’m just going to die out here. I can’t do it.

Lisa B:
And so she said, okay, well, you can’t do anything right now. I’m in the middle of this massive storm. She said, just wait till the morning, wait for the storm to break and then call me back. Let’s have another chat. And in the meantime, mum had been thinking about, I spoke to her about this afterwards and she said to me, “I just couldn’t imagine you would never forgive yourself if you quit in that moment, it would haunt you forever. You just wouldn’t live with yourself. And I just remember thinking how much you would hate that later, if you let yourself quit now.” And so she sent me this email and she said, “All right, well, just imagine that you’re 72 days into your record. You’ve never demasted. You’re one day ahead of the men’s record, which I was at the time and Australia is four weeks away. And you’re experiencing conditions like this. You’re sick like you are at the moment and you’re feeling like this. Would those conditions in that moment in time, if you never demasted, never had this stop, would that be enough to make you quit?”

Lisa B:
And I remember thinking about that and thinking, well, no, I would have been on day 72 of my trip, there’s no way I’m quitting. And it was this concept that I had started a second trip by leaving South Africa, that I had changed the way I looked at things in my mind and I realized that I wouldn’t have quit. And so I worked out a way to carry on and I effectively stalled the boat out through the center of these storms and just kept sort of bashing my way south and eventually was able to push through it and finish the record. But without that advice, I probably would have turned back to South Africa and thrown in the towel and gone, better lucks next time.

Gary S:
And this’ll be a good time to say, I’ve listened to this show, to this interview like a listener and unlike any other guests we’ve had, Lisa, talk about crucibles. One after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other.

Lisa B:
Yeah.

Gary S:
And you say something in your book, you talked a lot about risk in the last little bit here. And you said something early in your book, page seven, I think it was. No, I’m sorry. This is later in your book, page 186, you said this about risk and about the advice you’re getting. And I want listeners to hear this because what you’re hearing is crucibles lapping like waves into Lisa’s life as she’s going through this experience, here’s her perspective that she brought to this. This is what you wrote in Facing Fear. “I had known from the beginning of this journey that I might face scenarios that I couldn’t have prepared for, challenges that could result in my death.” Not everyone who has a crucible has that second sentence, but the first sentence, that you might face scenarios that you couldn’t have prepared for. You went on. “I’d spoken with my family about this risk.”

Gary S:
“They knew I was willing to accept it because I was following my dreams. I didn’t want to let my fear of unknown factors stop me. Still, there was a vast difference between thinking about it or discussing it and actually facing it.” You’re a great example, and I want listeners to grab onto this example of knowing that you’ve run the plan, you have it set up, you keep hitting crucibles. You don’t want fear to lead you to quit, but you also know the difference. You experienced the difference that you have to move forward, one foot in front of the other. Or insert nautical term here, you had to do that minute by minute, as you were going through these crucibles. That’s what we all have to do in our own ways, going through our crucibles.

Lisa B:
Yes, most definitely. And it’s again, it’s that whole concept of, if you don’t try you’ve already failed. And the crucibles or the moments of failure or the moments of self doubt. They’re all learning opportunities. They’re all chances where I can become stronger, where I can build my own resilience, where I can… And the big thing that I’ve found with all of this is that when I get past a crucible or a moment of failure, and I’m onto the next challenge, I’m stronger because I know I’ve already beat that moment. And so I know I can beat it again. And then when a new situation presents itself to me, and if I get past that, then I’m like, okay, well now I can do that as well. So then the next thing can’t be as hard. And it’s like with my demasting, a lot of people said to me, why would you want to go back?

Lisa B:
And the biggest thing that the demasting gave me, yes, it was like one of my greatest failure moments in time, but I was able to position it and turn it around into a success. But it also, it taught me that I could face those challenges. It gave me enough confidence in my ability to survive in the most extreme situations possible out on the ocean, that I know next time, if I have another situation occur similar to this, I’m capable of overcoming that because I’ve already done it once. And so it takes the question mark out of these scenarios and allows me to have the confidence or the knowledge that I can push through it because I’ve done it.

Warwick F:
And that’s such an important point, is rather than seeing it as a failure, reframe… or your mother helped you reframe it to say, well, imagine you’re still on the journey, you wouldn’t quit. You had a whole… You write in the book, a whole team behind you. Obviously your mum was there, you had a meteorologist, some other fellow that was sort of your go-to person that you would say, okay, I’ve got this problem, I’ve got that problem, what do I do? Do you have any advice? It’s the rigging company or the engine company, whoever it is, it’s almost like a mission control for astronauts, right?

Lisa B:
Yes basically.

Warwick F:
You’ve got a whole mission control there. An army of people, it’s like, okay, who’s an expert in whatever it is. So you were reframing challenges that could have made you quit saying, okay, I’ve learned from this, I’ll learn… next time, I’ll be better equipped. So you get through that, you get back to Albany and talk about how you’re entering Albany, going through the heads there. What was that feeling like? Yes, you’d made a stop, but you’d still gone around Antarctic, that was still a win, right? Because there aren’t many people who’ve done that even with one-stop. So what was that feeling like when you entered Albany and five or six months later, including the two month stop in Cape Town? What was that feeling like when you went there, saw your family and your grandfather and they’re all there. What was that feeling like?

Lisa B:
I mean, it was an incredible experience and the weather gods are always proving to just throw the last curve ball at you. So coming up to the finish line, the winds just died. I was actually five hours late for my own party because the weather just wanted to be an absolute nuisance to me. And I was so frustrated because all I wanted to do was cross that line and be able to just say, I’ve done it and it’s finished and then I can focus on the future. And that last couple of weeks sailing, I was already planning the next challenge and the next challenge and the next challenge. And I was already creating this whole scenario of things I was going to go and do.

Lisa B:
So I crossed that line and my family… like nobody was there, I was on my own and a flare was let go on the other side of the bay when they could see that I’d crossed the line officially and then like literally a minute or so after I crossed that line and I drifted across the line, because there was not a breadth of wind, the new winds arrived. And it was just like this big challenge where the weather gods wanted to keep you because they were like, no, we’re not going to help you across the line, you’ve got to work for it. And then the minute you cross the line, oh, here’s the wind this’ll help. So I sailed into the harbor and as I sailed, it was nighttime. So it was about 8:00 PM at night. And I was sailing down and as I was going more and more boats started joining this kind of little welcome flotilla and my family were on a little motorboat nearby and they started shouting and screaming and everyone’s waving.

Lisa B:
And it was this whole sense of elation that you get. I don’t think I imagined the arrival. I didn’t really know what to expect when I got there and because I was so late, I was like, oh yeah, there might be 10 people on the dock, my family and one or two media personnel. I just didn’t expect it. And as I sailed into the harbor, someone shouted out from a boat nearby. There was about 12 boats or so out with me, “Look up, look up.” And I looked up and there’s this lookout overlooking the harbor. And up in the lookout, there was about, I don’t know, 20 or 30 cars. Apparently they’d all been sitting out there for five hours waiting for me to arrive, tooting their horns and flashing their car lights and shouting and screaming, and just welcoming me into the town of Albany.

Lisa B:
So that was so special. And then I docked the boat and the whole dock was just chockers, I’m surprised it didn’t sink, but it was just chockers with people and media. And I kind of answered a few questions from the deck of the boat and then I was like, “I’ve got to get off this boat.” And so I jumped down onto the dock and my family still went there because they were trying to come in on this other motorboat. And I was like, “Where’s my family? Where’s my family?” And yeah. And then finally found the family and gave everyone a really big hug and it was chaos, but it was a beautiful form of chaos.

Warwick F:
And just for US audience chockers is short for chockablock, which means really crowded. So-

Gary S:
Thank you. I had no idea.

Warwick F:
I had to do a double translation there, but an epic moment. So that was special. Then you had to get the boat back to Sydney. You pull into Sydney Harbor and into… it’s funny, I was reading about Rushcutters Bay, which is funny because I grew up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Double Bay, which is like two or three minutes away between Double Bay and Rushcutters bay. So like, oh, I know exactly where that is. So you do that, you go on to do 2017 all female crew, Sydney to Hobart. You do around the Australia trip. And at least the end of the book, like about the last line, it’s like, yep, I want to go back, as you’ve mentioned, to do around Antarctica and people would say, well, why would you want to do that?

Warwick F:
But you’ve obviously… it’s like, well, I can do this now. I got this electrolysis thing down. I understand this. So people listening to this would say, well, I’m not Lisa Blair, I’m not this hero. I’m not brave. I can’t do this epic thing. I’m just a normal human being. It’s funny. I think, I don’t know if it’s the… I’m trying to think what it is. It might be people in the US that get in the military, the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is in Australia, the equivalent would be the Victoria Cross. And I think the motto of the society of the US Congressional Medal of Honor society is something like ordinary people doing the extraordinary. And it’s hard for most of us to think, oh, well, I’m not… who of us could be Victoria Cross people and save your buddy that’s near you in war and it’s like, oh, that’s just…

Warwick F:
But I mean, can you identify that with that in a sense that I’m not saying you’re ordinary, you feel like extraordinary, but some people hearing this story say well, I’m not Lisa Blair, I’m not this hero with supernatural perseverance and calm and intelligence in the midst of dire crisis, and I’d go to pieces. And a lot of people might say that to you, you’re this super human, superwoman type of person, oh, that’s not me because I’m just an average bundle of nerves and fears. And what do you say to those people who say, oh, well, I’m not super human like you, Lisa. How do you answer those people?

Lisa B:
Yeah, it’s funny because I had a recent debate with a really good friend of mine like a week ago or so around this topic specifically, because I said to her, anyone can do what I did. There’s zero about me that’s unique or special. I’m five foot two, I’m not built like an Amazon warrior. I don’t have any special skills except that I’m dedicated and focused. And she said to me, “The minute you say that you’ve lost me.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” She’s like, “The minute you say that you’re not different from me, you’ve lost me.” And I was like, “Well, that’s how I feel.” And she said the one thing that I should be saying instead of saying that anyone can do it, is that anyone can learn to do it, because it wasn’t something that I woke up and one day could do, it was something I learned to do.

Lisa B:
And I think that that’s an important distinction that I’ve now taken on as part of my mentality with it all, because I really struggle when people try and put me on a pedestal or try and make me different because I really honestly don’t feel different. I feel like an average, like I’ve said before, Joe Blow I’m just your normal person. I’ve done some absolutely extraordinary things, but they’re opportunities that opened because people could see my perseverance and they could see my dedication to what I was trying to achieve, but it wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, I’m going to sail around Antarctica. I’m going to become this record setting sailor. It was a series of small events and small learnings and moments in time that shaped my values and my beliefs and crucibles and these opportunities. These things that I got past.

Lisa B:
And I remember one of the biggest moments of that was when I did the clipper race around the world, and this is an amateur race. Anyone can sign up to do it. You pay the berth fee, you sign up, you race around the world. And I remember finishing that race and just being amazed that I’d done it, that I had been able to get the funding and gone and raced around the world. And two years earlier, I’d never even thought about crossing an ocean, and here I was a circumnavigator. And I remember asking myself in that moment, well, if I can do this, what else can I do? What else is possible? And it was that attitude that really allowed me to kind of progress and become bigger and try these different challenges. But it didn’t start with just one big challenge, it was this growth that I went on.

Lisa B:
And so I think the biggest thing I can give to any of the listeners here today is you can learn to do it. Anyone can learn to do it, but you’ve got to want to learn, and you can allow your opinions of yourself to dictate your outcome, or you can change your opinion of yourself and go, okay, well, I can’t do that yet, but maybe one day I can. And how do I get from here to there? And what are the steps involved and how do I break it down?

Warwick F:
What you’re saying, I mean, there’s some profound truths that you’re saying. I have to confess I’m inclined to agree with you, Lisa, not your friend, nothing against your friend.

Lisa B:
Yes.

Warwick F:
Sorry, friend. But here’s why, because anybody can change their thinking. We can’t control our height or where we were born. A lot of things we can’t control in life, but you change… I don’t want to say change, but you have this way of thinking that anything is possible, a sense of perseverance, a sense of learning, taking step by step. I mean, it’s not like you wake up… you wouldn’t wake up at age 12 and say, great, I know nothing about sailing, hey, let’s go sail around Antarctica. That would be dumb.

Lisa B:
Never even thought.

Warwick F:
Because you weren’t old enough, didn’t have the experience at that point. It was probably never on a boat or certainly never really meaningfully contributed at that age, but it’s a step by step. When you took the trip to Hawaii, okay, boy, that’s a big voyage. Maybe I can do this around the world, clipper race. Gee, I did that. Okay. Maybe I can do a solo race to New Zealand. The step by step by step. Each goal a bit more challenging than the last, but each goal preparing you for the next. The sense of perseverance, the sense of I’m willing to fail. Most people aren’t willing to fail. If I don’t get the funding, great, but I’m going to try.

Warwick F:
I’m going to put myself in a position where I’m willing to fall short. I hope I’m not, but I’m going to go for it. I’m going to ask. Everybody can do those things. Step by step, having a dream and saying, it’s okay if I fail so long as I’ve tried my best. So there’s certain ways of thinking that you have maybe not everybody wants to go around Antarctica, but whether it’s in business, starting a non-profit, helping a neighbor. The thinking that you applied, anybody can use that thinking. I mean, does that make sense?

Lisa B:
Yeah. And I think that’s the biggest lesson I try and contribute to people when I share my story is, we can restructure how we think, or we can restructure what our goals are to create the future that we want. And that’s coming back to that car ride to uni, that was probably the first moment where I applied some of that thinking. And I saw the success out of it because I became authentically me and I was able to move past that. And so I think anyone has that capability, but it’s about you as an individual, identifying that as a skill inside you and then using it as a skill.

Lisa B:
And when you do it once, even in a small way and the smallest thing you could do and go, okay, I’ve always been hesitant to try this. I’m just going to do this one thing, sign up to a social evening event, whatever it is, and then go, okay, well that wasn’t so bad, what can I do next? And it’s that constant question that I ask myself, what’s next? And I’m always striving and trying to work towards the next big goal. And yeah, so I think that it’s an incredible lesson that I can share to people. And I really hope that others listening and who are reading my book can actually find that and take that on board for themselves.

Warwick F:
And that’s a good place as we kind of bring to this to a conclusion. People may not be able to identify with Lisa Blair going around Antarctica, but I think a lot of folks, young people who maybe they were bullied in high school, you mentioned you were dyslexic, had a lisp. You were standing up for people that others didn’t and protecting people, animals, but you were going to reframe how people saw you when you went to university. For a lot of people, certainly in the US, they go to college. That’s not an uncommon thing. And some people don’t have a great experience in high school. That’s a fairly relatable example you reframed, but that was the first step on your journey to not being defined by other people’s views of you, reframing how you would approach things, how you’d be seen. And that step led to many others from Hawaii to around the world clipper race to Antarctica. So they were all steps on the journey.

Lisa B:
The other thing I think that’s really important is that if you’re looking for opportunity, you’ll find opportunities. So if you’re not looking for this change, if you’re not putting yourself out there and trying to seek these opportunities, you’re not going to see them when they’re presented to you because you’ll be too narrow-minded or to focused on your current goal, that you won’t see the opportunity around the corner. And coming back to that trip to Hawaii, I never planned for that to turn into what it did or for me to become a sailor after that, but that was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore because it was just such a cool sense of adventure.

Lisa B:
And it was, I could have easily turned around and said, oh no, no, I’ve got my exams for my education degree coming up soon with the board of education in Australia. And I could have postponed the trip and said no, and gone with this education life very easily and be justifiably able to do that. But instead, I had identified the opportunity and I took it and that’s led me on this amazing path. So I think the other thing people need to be aware of is that when opportunities do present themselves, don’t say no to those doors that open.

Gary S:
This is the time in the show, and I’ve been waiting for a long time to say, normally I say at this time in the show, it’s getting to be time to land the plane. But I can’t say that today, of course, because it’s time to dock the boat.

Lisa B:
Yeah.

Gary S:
We’re getting to the point that it’s time to dock the boat. But before we do that, Lisa, I would be remiss if I did not give you the chance, particularly with Climate Action Now, still doing things, how people can reach you, how they can connect to Climate Action Now, how they can help you in your cause.

Lisa B:
Yeah. Awesome. So I’m still actively collecting post-it note messages. So as Warwick pointed out, I’m planning on going back around Antarctica. So I’m looking to set off at the end of 2021 to do the circumnavigation again. I’m hoping to do citizen science on board the boat as well, taking microplastic samples, water salinity, things like that, so that I can contribute a little bit more back to this message. But if you want to get involved, you can go to my website, which is LisaBlairsailstheworld.com, and you can fill out a form on there under the Climate Action Now tab and make a post-it note. And then your messages will get on the boat for the very next record as a sail around Antarctica. So that’s a pretty cool way to get involved in the trip. And the other thing you can do is just share it, talk about it, tell your friends about me. I’ve got this fabulous book here that you can get.

Gary S:
Look at that.

Warwick F:
Lisa, that is a great cover.

Lisa B:
Yeah.

Warwick F:
So yeah, Facing Fear. I mean, that’s pretty relatable, right? Who doesn’t have fear in their life? Every human being.

Gary S:
Well, Lisa, you should know I have my sticky notes with me and I’m a big superhero guy. So there I’ve got Superman there. I will be doing that. Warwick, I’ll give you the last word and then I’ll close this up with some takeaways.

Warwick F:
Well, Lisa, thanks so much for being here. I mean, your story is so inspirational. I mean, I would read each page and it’s like the storms and these preventer lines, which again, obviously I don’t know exactly what it is, but reading about jibes and beam reaches and all. I got to put these patches on the sails and the engine keeps going up that gives you electricity to boil water. And every day is like this, you get up and you do it all over again. And I’m like, how does she do this? But it’s, you have this dream and it’s just one step, one step.

Warwick F:
And it’s easy for people to look at this and say, oh, I’m not Lisa Blair, I’m not this unbelievable person, but it’s the way of thinking that you have of seeking opportunity, of getting help from your team, of having perseverance, of being willing to fail, being willing to fail means you’re willing to succeed. If you’re not willing to fail, you’ll never succeed at anything. And so it’s those key elements of your mindset that I think everybody can learn from. So don’t think of, oh, I’m not going to sail around Antarctica, there’s nothing for me to learn. Your message in this book can help you face your fears and achieve your dreams. So it’s more than just about sailing. It’s really a parable, if you will, that I think everybody can learn from.

Gary S:
And in light of that, here from this robust discussion that we’ve had with Lisa, here’s three takeaways I got from the episode. I’m probably very short on takeaways. There are probably many more than three, but here are three takeaways from this discussion between Lisa Blair and Warwick about how to overcome your crucible applied in her life and in her situation, but I think applicable to all of us. Number one, Lisa said very early on in this discussion that you need to ask yourself two deep and meaningful questions. And she didn’t phrase it like that, all she said was that she asked herself these two questions and they were, are you happy, and are you doing what you’re supposed to do? If not, you can start today to change your answers. You can step into who you are, the authentic you at any time.

Gary S:
And that is the start of a journey you’ll not only enjoy taking, but one that you can take that will make a difference, not just for you, but for others, as Lisa’s journey has done. The second takeaway point. We’ve talked about this a lot, reframe failure. It’s not falling short, it’s failing to try. I’ll say it again. It’s not falling short, it’s failing to try. Not a single goal was ever achieved by giving up, by giving into the fear of falling short. Dreams always die every single time when they aren’t even attempted, but when you give it a go, anything is possible. And the third point I would leave you with listener, from this conversation is this, humans think plans are a good thing. Guess what? Crucibles don’t agree. They are no respecter of the things we do in pursuit of a goal, in service to our vision. When a crisis hits, getting through it often requires altering your plans.

Gary S:
That was certainly what Lisa had to do. If you adjust to your circumstances, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding than if you try to outrun your circumstances. Doing so not only preserved Lisa’s journey, it may have just saved her life. So thank you listener, for joining us on Beyond the Crucible. We have a couple of favors to ask you, Warwick, and I do. One would be to tell your friends if you’ve enjoyed the show, especially this conversation with Lisa, tell your friends about it. And secondly, hit subscribe on the podcast app in which you’re listening to the show right now. What that’ll do is help us reach more folks with stories like this, with inspiration like this, with hope and healing like this, as well as allow us to reach even more folks who are out there.

Gary S:
So until the next time we’re together, listener, thank you for spending time with us and do remember this truth, unpacked so vividly in the story of Lisa Blair, that our crucibles can come in bundles and they are very painful. Sometimes they can feel unrelenting, sometimes they can feel like… they can make us feel like we’re done, we want to give up. But if you persevere, if you push through, if you learn the lessons of them, they’re not only survivable, they are, if I can make up a word, thrivable, you can thrive beyond them. And the great thing about them is your crucibles, as you learn the lessons of them, are not the end of your story. They are, in fact, as they have been for Lisa, the beginning of a new story, a better story, because that story leads to a life of significance.

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