On Friday 27th December, high profile yachtswoman and Australian adventurer, Lisa Blair, will make history as the first all-female double-handed team to race in Ocean Racing Club of Victoria's (ORVC) 2019 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race. Joining Lisa on her newly retitled yacht d'Albora / Climate Action Now, co-skipper Jackie Parry is an experienced sailor who has strong support of women on the water and conducts maritime navigation courses. Working in partnership with d'Albora Marinas, Lisa's double-handed race aims to encourage more women to pursue sailing careers and to continue to promote positive environmental messages.
The Sunshine Coast-born sailor is on a mission to break records and leave her mark in both the sailing and climate action worlds. Holding multi-records at 35 years of age, Lisa is the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica, the first woman to sail solo and non-stop around Australia and the first all-female team in 16 years to race the Rolex 2017 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This will be Lisa's first time in the Melbourne to Hobart race.
The annual Melbourne to Hobart race, also known as the Westcoast Challenge, takes approximately two to three days to complete and covers 435 nautical miles, approximately 800 kilometres. Complex and testing, the all-female duo will face diverse sea, wind and tide conditions uniquely associated with the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. It's also one of the few blue water races open to two-handed competitors.
Excited by the challenge, Lisa Blair says, "The Melbourne to Hobart is a legendary race where team characteristics such as seamanship, navigation, and tactical skills are key in the outcome rather than the size of the boat. This won't be an easy race to enter, taking us down the west coast of Tasmania before dipping around the bottom into the Southern Ocean where we will be exposed to large winds and waves. One poor decision could cost us the race so we will have to ensure we are focused and push hard the whole race."
Currently based at d'Albora Marina Rushcutters Bay, Lisa and Jackie will set sail for their first time together to Melbourne later this week. Lisa continues, "I'm thrilled to have d'Albora Marinas on-board as the major sponsor for this race. Jackie and I will use this opportunity for some good training, including completing lots of tacks and gybes. Tackling this challenge with Jackie is a great opportunity to align our messaging to encourage more women in sailing, as well as start a conversation about climate change."
Wayne Taranto, CEO of d'Albora Marinas, says, "We are delighted to be sponsoring Lisa in her accomplishment to be the first all-female double-handed boat in the Melbourne to Hobart yacht race. Lisa and Jackie are passionate advocates for encouraging and promoting growth opportunities for women in sailing, as well as a positive environmental action. d'Albora is proud to continue to support Lisa's adventures to achieve this."
Over her sailing career, Lisa has noticed the impact that man-made climate change has had; the storms are more aggressive and less predictable, there is a reduction in wildlife and sea life, and there is an increased risk of collision with ice as the glaciers keep melting. The hull of Lisa's boat is wrapped in notes from the public with pledges for environmental action.
For more information on d'Albora Marinas, visit www.dalboramarinas.com.au.
Question: How are you preparing ahead of the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race?
Lisa Blair: The boat, named d'Albora Climate Action Now, needs to be at a very high level of safety to compete in a race like this. We're heading out into the Southern Ocean and will experience some really rough conditions at certain points through the race. As there's only the two of us on board, if something breaks, we need to be able to fix it on board and it's really taxing because you have to hand steer the boat. While one person is steering, the other person is sleeping. We began to prepare the boat before leaving d'Albora Marinas Rushcutters Bay last week and then Jackie (co-skipper) and I spent five days sailing double handed for the first time together from Sydney to Melbourne, which is almost 600 nautical miles. Along the way, we had every variety of weather so that was a really good training voyage for both of us. In the lead up to the race, Jackie and I will spend time at d'Albora Marinas Victoria Harbour to do final safety preparations.
Question: How does it feel to know you'll be making history with the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race?
Lisa Blair: The Ocean Racing Club of Victoria's (ORVC) 2019 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race is a pretty special yacht race. I've sort of had my eye on it for a couple of years and to be able to be the first all-female double handed team to race, it's a great opportunity for us to continue to promote women in sailing and to encourage women to come into sailing. Jackie has her own business in SisterShip Training so we're both heavily involved with the female sailing industry and the environmental section. For us, this is both a really great opportunity to promote that. I'm looking forward to it, should be really fun.
Question: Are you surprised to be the first all-female double handed team to race?
Lisa Blair: Yes, I was surprised. When I entered the race, I thought it would just be really fun to do it with another girl and I really like being able to open up opportunities like this to other women to race with me and help leverage their profile in the racing industry. When I spoke to race officials, they mentioned that since founding the race 49 years ago there was an all-female crew that competed 18 years ago and another all-female crew team last year. However, we will be the first all-female double handed team to ever do the race. When the race first started women weren't allowed into yacht clubs. Although there are more women in sailing now, it's still unusual in the sailing industry to have women at a skipper level or boat ownership level. We are therefore really proud to head out and represent women in sailing and show the boys what we're made of.
Jackie Parry: It's great to be out there showing that it can be done and should be done, especially to encourage other women.
Question: What are your hopes for the race?
Lisa Blair: The West Coaster race as it's known, is sometimes considered more difficult than the Sydney to Hobart yacht race because it is very tactical. The 'rip', which is the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, requires quite a lot of skill to navigate. If you've got light winds and really strong currents it can really affect how the boat reacts. You then have the Bass Strait, infamous for really disastrous conditions. On top of this, there is a lot of shipping traffic that you have to be aware of. Once you clear the Bass Strait, there is the area of King Island and Hobart that is very tidal but if you choose your tactics correctly it's a huge bonus. Next is the west coast of Tasmania which is normally a close reach, meaning it's difficult sailing down the coast and then you hit the Southern Ocean which is famous as the world's most dangerous ocean. Overall, I'm expecting a really diverse mix of conditions, some light winds, strong currents, big seas and strong winds. I think both myself and Jackie are actually going to have to work really hard to do well because it is such a tactical race. We need to be able to take the opportunities when we are presented with them.
Question: What messages do you hope to spread with this race?
Working in partnership with d'Albora Marinas, I want to empower more women to take on challenges like this and give them the confidence to go out, sail, and take on the ocean. I didn't start sailing until I was 22 and I've done an extreme amount of different races and records. It's a fantastic sport that anyone can get into at nearly any age. Through all my sailing, I've also noticed the environmental impact which has made me want to promote positive actions within our community. This is why I named my boat d'Albora Climate Action Now and why I actively collect post-it note messages on environmental actions at every port and every talk that I give. We then wrap those post it note messages around the hull of my boat and they are carried proudly as I do events like this. The ultimate goal is to inspire people to make a positive change in their day-to-day life for climate change. If a million people make one small step in the right direction, it can create a positive impact.
Question: Are you able to talk us through an expected day, during the race?
As there is only two of us on the boat, when one person is sleeping the other person is driving. What I've highlighted to Jackie and she's concurred is that we need to make sure that our communication is very, very clear throughout the race. For example, if one of us is getting really exhausted and the other person has more energy, they might stay on the helm a little bit longer to let that person get more sleep. It's going to be a bit of a balancing act, but generally with sailing we're on 24 hours a day, there is no downtime. If you're on deck sailing, your whole focus is on how to make the boat faster. Where you can, you get little catnaps or a little bite to eat, but basically it's race, race, race.
Question: What kind of food do you take on board to eat?
Lisa Blair: Lots of muesli bars and chocolate, but we also have freeze dried food on board, it's basically what astronauts eat. Warm meals are a pouch of dried powdered food that you add to a cup of boiling water, let sit for 15-20 minutes and eat out of the bag. I eat half the amount of food at sea than I do on land because my routine is so broken and sleep is usually a priority over food.
Question: Anything else to add?
Lisa Blair: As the primary sponsor, d'Albora Marinas will help Jackie and I make history as the first all-female double handed team to compete in this race. d'Albora Marinas, Australia's largest marina group, were my first sponsors four years ago and continue to sponsor me in all my adventures.
Interview by Brooke Hunter