Antarctic Sailing Pioneer Lisa Blair Focused on Win to Hobart Yacht Race

The first woman to circumnavigate Antarctica solo is leading the first all-female Sydney to Hobart crew in 16 years.

Lisa Blair has experienced her fair share of challenges during her time, regularly enduring storms, gigantic waves and cyclonic winds, including breaking her masthead 895 nautical miles south of Cape Town.

She has mastered sleeping in 20-minute grabs, in sub-zero temperatures.

But the 32-year-old skipper still sees the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney to Hobart race as a tough challenge.

“Having to mentally switch up sailing solo, back to being crewed, relying on people and asking for help, I think that will be an interesting challenge on this trip personally for me,” Blair said.

The project of creating an all-female crew came to her while she was on her last venture.

“I initially was doing this as a point of difference because I thought an all-female crew would be fun, something different to try, and it would be something interesting for people to watch and follow.

Libby Greenhalgh Director of The Magenta Project

“I got talking to the Yacht Club of Australia, and found out it had been 16 years since there had been an all-female crew and automatically it became something more important to do.”

Blair partnered with The Magenta Project, a UK-based project which grew out of Team SCA, the first all-female crew in almost a decade to compete in a 2014-2015 around the world race.

The Magenta Project aims to create leadership opportunities, and encourages women within sailing and marine industries across the world.

Encouraging others to get involved

Director of operations at The Magenta Project — and navigator in Team SCA — Libby Greenhalgh, said it was still hard for women to progress in sailing.

“People following had been inspired by what we had done, and we realised we wanted to keep that going,” she said.

Blair and Greenhalgh started a new campaign, offering female sailors an opportunity to sail in the Sydney to Hobart on board Blair’s Hick 50 yacht, Climate Action Now.

“The boat I am racing is 13 years old, so we will be competitive on handicap but we won’t be that competitive on line, in comparison to other boats of an equal size, because they’ve got full budgets, and they’ve raced together for a year,” Blair said.

“So instead of focusing on that lets just focus on how we can give this opportunity to others.

“The whole campaign with the Sydney to Hobart is fantastic. It’s giving an opportunity for emerging sailors to get experience in a pretty high-profile race and giving them the opportunity to do all the different roles on the boat,” Greenhalgh said.

“Quite often you might do a race but only do one role, so you struggle to then expand your experience or take that next step.”

Out of more than 175 crew applications, five people were selected.

The team of eight includes three experienced women in offshore ocean sailing, skipper Blair, co-skipper and navigator Greenhalgh, and Ellie Draper.

Climate Action Now all-female crew

The five emerging sailors selected are Alexandra South, Kas Young, Alison Kent, Carina Becker and Allie Gray.

“It’s about giving the girls a positive experience with ocean racing and passing on a lot of the skills that I have learnt from sailing solo around Antarctica, and from what Libby and Ellie have learnt through their own ocean racing campaigns,” Blair said.

South, 24, had her first taste of sailing at just two weeks old.

“It was great to be able to have that opportunity and to tick the Sydney to Hobart off my list,” she said.

The race starting Boxing Day is now in its 73rd year, and hasn’t included an all-female crew since Lisa McDonalds’ Amer Sports Too crew in 2001.

Alexandra South sailing a Nacra 17 with her skipper

Team Climate Action Now will be the 10th all-female crew to race.

This year’s race has some of the highest participation rate of females, although it is still largely a male-dominated sport.

“Of 110 boats racing, there are five with female skippers or female helm on board. So, if you think of those numbers, that’s 105 boats driven by men, and only five that have female captains,” Blair said.

South also wants more women in all roles.

“I think more women should be accepted into mixed teams and in crucial positions like skippers, technicians, navigators. There needs to be more of this greater female representation,” she said.

The Jane Tate Memorial trophy is up for grabs for the first female skipper to Hobart, in memory of the first woman to finish the 1946 race.

Last year, Stephanie Kerin on Dekadence took the honours.