Which way is starboard again?
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Oct
16

Ladies and gentlemen I present to you a rare and elusive book update…. (Best said in a dramatic whisper – extra points if you can do a David Attenborough impression).

My house looks like a bomb has hit it, I’ve been living off microwave meals and my garden is full of weeds, but Which Way is Starboard Again? the book is several steps closer to existence.

After deathly silence for what felt like forever the edited version of my manuscript suddenly turned up in my inbox. To my surprise it hadn’t been cut to pieces, instead the editors wanted extra information…. in approximately 10 days.

Cue late nights, messy house and mountains of paper with scribbles on them.

Ollie did his best to help, acting as a paperweight and laptop warmer though.

Ollie help2

Ollie help

 

Assistant editor

Assistant editor

I’m really pleased with what they’ve done with it. They’ve tightened it up so it flows much better and picked up on a few things I wouldn’t have thought of. The whole process has been really quite fascinating.

It’s been a bit of a process for me too. The re-read brought out all sorts of neuroses. I utterly convinced myself that the book was shallow, full of clichés, wasn’t that funny and just tried too hard. Then I got worried about the content. We only dipped our toes in the various cultures and various places before we moved on to the next, what if it was too once-over-lightly? What if I got the wrong end of the stick. I admired the people we met in the islands so very much the last thing I wanted to do was write something that might upset them. There were several times when I was sorely tempted to screw the whole thing up and bury it in the garden.

The other thing I’m a bit nervous about is that some of the extra material they were after was about living with mental illness. I agonised about whether to mention it in the book at all but then realised that sailing offshore with an anxiety disorder is actually something to be pretty proud of and that letting other people living with same condition know stuff like that is possible is actually pretty important.

It’s a hard balance when you are trying to write a sailing yarn that makes people laugh – I hope I’ve managed it alright.

So poor old Paddy has had to put up with me second-guessing myself – What if it’s self-indulgent? What if people hate it? He’s been a trooper though and a real help. I know I’d be much more of a mess without him.

Long suffering technical advisor

Long suffering technical advisor

The publishers have been great, answering all my silly questions straight away and letting me know what’s going to happen next. I have even seen a mock-up of the cover and, while its far too early to share, I can assure you it’s going to be AWESOME!

Now the only thing I have left to do is write the acknowledgements, then the eds add my changes and it goes to a type-setter. If all goes well I may even be seeing a physical copy sometime in December. The plan is to have everything printed by February and in the shops in March or April.

Holy crap. I’m an author!

Sep
21

Ollie – aka the handsomest cat in the world – (he made me write that) is a bit of a literary snob. He has told me I am not to review any books on this blog without running them past him first. Luckily two books arrived last week –  Bailey Boat Cat – adventures of a feline afloat and Olly and Black Build a Boat – that received the paw of approval.

While both books star nautical moggies, Ollie himself is not a boat cat. When Ollie and I met Paddy and Wildflower Ollie was already somewhat of an Older Gentleman in cat terms and, while he is happy in the boat while it’s in the marina, going out to sea isn’t really his thing.

If you start a cat young on a boat they  can adapt quite quickly – moggies have extremely sensitive inner-ears (which is why they have such great balance) and if exposed early can get to grips with the motion of a boat at sea. Though even the most seasoned purrate can get a bit sick from time to time so shade and hydration is really important.

Bailey certainly has his sea paws! (source: http://baileyboatcat.com/about-me/)

Bailey certainly has his sea paws! (source: http://baileyboatcat.com/about-me/)

Older cats though  (with the odd exception) who have always lived on land and don’t have natural sea-legs can get very ill very quickly. We could perhaps get Ollie used to the motion by taking him on trips around the harbour but at nearly 13 years old we figure it wouldn’t be safe or fair to take him offshore.

Like any good armchair sailor though Ollie enjoys sharing the adventures of others (provided they are cats). Paddy and I have shared plenty of our stories with him but as far as he is concerned there are not nearly enough moggies involved.

Story time - Paddy and Ollie check out Bailey Boat Cat

Story time – Paddy and Ollie check out Bailey Boat Cat

The arrival of both books came as a pleasant surprise, though Bailey Boat Cat a little less so – Ollie and I pre-ordered it a while ago but I had completely forgotten about it (Ollie says he hadn’t).

Bailey is a seal point Siamese who travels with his humans on a yacht (a Tayana 37) called Nocturne. Ollie and I have been following his adventures on his blog for quite some time and were very excited when the found out he had a book on the way.  He even has a pretty awesome book trailer:

Bailey didn’t disappoint – with the aid of one his humans, Louise Kennedy, he has produced a gorgeous hardback gift book entirely from his own point of view (which Ollie of course thoroughly approved of).

I was particularly impressed with his navigation tips – which would have made studying for Boatmasters so much easier for me. I’ve previously blogged about Ollie’s own interest in navigation,  which at the time I found rather irritating. Now I realise he was actually trying to point out the blindingly obvious to me and have apologised profusely for shoveling him off the charts instead of stopping to listen to him.

You don't need those Mum, my bowl's this way...

You don’t need those Mum, my bowl’s this way…

While I was struggling with latitudes, longitudes and two different Norths, Bailey had chart-work boiled down to five easy points;

  1. Look at the chart.
  2. Sail on the white bit.
  3. Anchor in the blue bit.
  4. Keep clear of the green bit.
  5. Buy treats in the brown and yellow areas

If only I had known it was that simple!

For me the book wasn’t just about the novelty of a cat on a boat though. For me it was also a reminder of the joy of being at sea. All the simple pleasures this salty sea-cat took in an environment so similar to Wildflower made me remember all the things I loved about our trip – not just the things that scared the pants off me. Sunshine, salty air, the wind on your face, star-gazing, visits from sea critters and making new friends. It helped me remember the magic.

Bailey also has some very sage advice for humans on work-life balance and what we could learn from cats that I think all of us should read.

So thanks Bailey. You’re adventures have got me inspired again and looking forward to more of my own.

Book number 2 – Olly and Black Build a Boat, came as a complete surprise. I was checking our PO Box, expecting nothing more than bills and voting papers when I picked up a surprise package.

One of my lovely Christchurch friends Jamie had sent me a Nick Cave mix tape (okay it’s a ‘mix CD’ but mix tape makes me feel like a teenager again!) because we’re heading to his concert in Wellington in December. He also added a couple of books he had picked up at the Riccarton Market – the Bowie Black Book (with some seriously drool-worthy photos) and an absolutely fabulous kids’ book staring a boat and a very handsome black cat.

My P O Box loot

My P O Box loot

It wasn’t exactly right because the human was called Olly and the cat Black – but it was so close to perfect we’ll let that one slide.

Ollie and Black Build a Boat is by Kiwi author Dick Oliver . Gorgeously illustrated it’s the classic man (and cat) alone, looking out to sea and dreaming of a boat of their own tale. Olly just happens to be a draughtsman however and in his lunch-breaks is actually able to design and, with the help of his furry friend, build one.

I noted that the cat in the book appeared to be particularly handy with boat polish (one of the chores usually delegated to me) but Ollie didn’t appear to be paying attention during that bit.

Ollie and Black Build a Boat also has great characters – I am particularly fond of Happy Jack “a happy man, with only two fingers on each hand and no teeth” who worked a portable sawmill deep in the forest.

Not only to Olly and Black build their boat but they get to use it to help their friends out when the town finds itself in trouble (but I won’t say any more because nobody likes spoilers!)

Ollie and I thoroughly recommend it for kids, cats and adults who refuse to grow up.

Looks interesting...

Looks interesting…

Passes the sniff test

Passes the sniff test

Okay, get reading!

Okay, get reading!

Story time again

Story time again

Well he is quite a handsome chap...

Well he is quite a handsome chap…

But not as handsome as me!

But not as handsome as me!

PS – for those waiting on an update on our own book (which Ollie says does not have enough cats in it but is okay because it includes him) I’m afraid I’ve only got a small one at this stage. It is being edited as we speak and I should have some pages to look at by the end of the month. Of course I know publishers are busy people and ours isn’t their only book so I’m not holding my breath too hard. I think I’m getting a little bit better at this waiting game – but it’s still tricky!

Aug
20

With everything else going on I completely forgot to post these photos of the visitor we had last week!

One cold morning this week I was walking down our frosted pier, thinking Arctic thoughts when a flapping movement caught my eye.  While a polar bear wouldn’t have been out-of-place in those sort of temperatures, it was a slightly smaller mammal I spotted.

Morning!

Morning!

I hadn’t had my morning coffee so I thought my tired brain might be seeing things – but nope, there was definitely a seal – flopping in an ungainly fashion down the ramp.

Ice Ice Baby

Ice Ice Baby

 

Sealvisit4

Sealvist 5

I was a  bit worried he was injured because seals don’t usually come into the marina and also because  he was so very little – but apparently the juveniles like to go wandering, so he was probably just fine.  I snuck as close as I could to check but before I could offer him the leftover seafood chowder I was taking to work for lunch he jumped in the water and swum off – much more graceful in water than on land

See ya!

See ya!

Some factoids about New Zealand fur seals: http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/marine-mammals/seals/nz-fur-seal/facts/

PS – I really don’t have the words to do justice to the amazing people who came out in support of my blog on mental illness. The response was more than I possibly could have expected. I’ve had friends, family and complete strangers contact me with positive messages and stories of their own struggles – some also coming out publicly for the first time. All I can say is that you are all stars. The more we talk about it, whether privately or publicly, the more we realise – and the world realises – we are not on our own and we are a force to be reckoned with. I don’t normally do soppy and emotional, but you guys made me soppy and emotional – shame on you (and thank you!) :)

Aug
16

I’ve written, rewritten and deleted this blog more times than I can actually remember. The timing has always seemed wrong. Every time the issue of depression or anxiety has become a topic of discussion it has been around real and tragic events. Talking about myself has just seemed tacky, like dining out on someone else’s pain.

In hindsight that may also have been a convenient excuse to keep putting it off, and I’m not going to do that anymore. If I can’t talk about it now, when everyone is talking about it, when we should be talking about it, it’s a bit gutless really.

Last week an insidious, lying, bastard of a disorder took some of the light from this world.

It was a shock because it happened to the funny one – the talented one, the one who everybody loved.

How could someone who brought so much joy to so many people possibly have been in such pain? It doesn’t make sense.

But in a sad and strange way it does. When you are the funny one you aren’t allowed to feel sad, or you won’t allow yourself to. You are the person that makes other people smile when they are feeling bad and when you can’t do that people don’t know how to handle it – you don’t know how to handle it – you feel like you are letting yourself and everyone else down. The pressure can be immense.

For those who know me well this is not news, but for those of you who don’t – my name is Anna Kirtlan and I have lived with mental illness for most of my life.

I don’t talk about it in detail that often. I was diagnosed in a time when people didn’t talk about it – there were no brave celebrities and sportspeople putting a face to mental illness, there were no campaigns letting people know that 1 in 5 people were going through the same thing you were and there was a constant fear that if you let someone know you could find yourself in a nice comfy padded room.

Things have changed a lot but there is still that hangover there, there’s still the fear that lighting the fuse and pressing ‘publish’ on this post could have an impact on my life, my career prospects, the way people look at me.

What’s more important though is letting people who might be in that black hole right now know that they are not alone and with a little help they can claw themselves out.

Mental illness it does not make you weak. It does not make you selfish and you don’t need to just “cheer up and get over it”. You don’t need to justify feeling the way you do. You have an illness – and an illness can be treated.

So if one person stumbles across this blog and feels the stronger for it, then outing myself so publicly will be worth it.

It took me a long time to be able to speak out about this stuff. I felt I had to wait until I’d ‘proved myself’ – until I’d gotten my degree (which I was told by a well-meaning counselor not to pursue because the stress might be too much), my journalism diploma (which was much more stressful – and rewarding – than the degree) and had held down more than one high pressure job. I waited until I was chief reporter of a (albeit small) daily newspaper before I officially came out of the closet. That was before the paper had a website though – so you won’t find it if you google my name.

Several years ago now I did one of the scariest things of my life (and I am including sailing offshore in that list). I stood up in front of a hall full of teenage boys and talked about mental illness. I had been invited to do this after talking about my experiences in my weekly column – in support of a mental health awareness week initiative the district council had cooked up. The youth branch of the council had designed and produced bright orange t-shirts with five stick figures on then – one of those figures coloured in to represent the one in five who live with mental illness. The idea was to get as many people in town wearing them as possible.

The school was Waitaki Boys High in Oamaru – the hall was huge, and full. I got up on the stage and almost walked right back off again. There were three of us – a radio presenter (bi-polar), a district council spokesperson (post-natal depression) and myself (obsessive compulsive disorder/anxiety/depression).

The kids were amazing. They laughed at all my stupid jokes, but otherwise you could have heard a pin drop. Afterwards they were jostling to put on orange t-shirts. When I came into work the next day one of my workmates came up and gave me a hug. “What’s that for?” I asked. “My son told me about your talk at school yesterday,” she said. “It’s the first time he’s told me about something that’s happened at school for weeks.” I’ve never forgotten that.

So I’ll tell you guys what I told those kids.

First of all, mental illness does not make you weak. It took me a long time to realise this, but it takes an incredibly strong person to fight against their own brain.

I joke about being Anxiety Girl but there is an uncomfortable amount of truth there. I joke about a lot of things, it’s what I do. I am the loud, tacky, bright coloured one. It was an identity I chose for myself in high school after I came to the conclusion that I could hide away and be bullied or stop caring about what people thought of me. It was immensely liberating and helped me create life-long friends.

When you go from being the ‘out there’ one to a gibbering wreck however it’s a little hard to explain. I started showing OCD and anxiety type symptoms from a very young age but it wasn’t until I was in my teens that things really started flaring up. When I was at my worst I wasn’t eating or sleeping and could barely leave the house. I couldn’t stand up or sit down for more than a couple of minutes. I couldn’t stand having people physically near me, but I was terrified of being on my own. There was something affecting me physically but there was nothing that could be tangibly treated. It wasn’t a bug that needed antibiotics or a wound that could be healed.

None of it made sense. Bad things weren’t happening in my life, I had good friends and a loving supportive family, there were so many people out there so much worse off than I was. I had no right to be feeling this way.

I was the bright bubbly one so how could I possibly explain this black evil thing – these compulsions that made no sense. The anger and frustration at myself was visceral.

My parents took me to our GP and he put me in touch with the amazing 198 Youth Health Center in Christchurch (now 298 Youth Health) they in turn referred me to Youth Specialty Services   – unfortunately based next to the mental hospital then known as Sunnyside – which was pretty frightening for a teen. (I used to tell people I had remedial Maths lessons when I had my appointments – they believed that, I was crap at Maths).

That’s where my recovery began. I fought against it for a while, but eventually a combination of counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and (I’m not ashamed to admit it) medication started to work for me.

One of the biggest helps was when a psychologist sat me down and drew a diagram of what was going on in my brain. She showed me how the chemicals in my brain were out of whack and how medication could help balance them up again. She said it was no different from a diabetic needing insulin to balance their blood sugar levels and that I had  no reason to be ashamed.

Over the years I did go off and on the meds. Particularly in the 90s when a number of high-profile studies came out saying how terrible they were and that  doctors were prescribing too much. When I went off them I would be fine for a while but then everything would come crashing back with reinforcements. This  happened while I was at university but with the support of my family, friends and partner at the time I got back on the rails and passed with a double major. I now accept that happy pills are a part of my life and I am okay with that.

I have pretty much kicked the OCD symptoms now, but the anxiety still rears its ugly head on occasion. I am an A-grade worrier. If being terrified was an Olympic sport I could represent New Zealand.

The trick is to learn the difference between practical fear and completely pointless fear.  For example, fear of falling off a boat in rough seas is sensible. It’s self-preservation and you can address it by making sure you are firmly attached to the boat by a safety harness and by not doing anything stupid. An absolute conviction that the boat is going to fall to pieces every time it makes a perfectly normal creak is not.

You may ask why then, if I am such a ball of neurosis, I would even consider getting on board a tin tub and sailing into the middle of the ocean? The answer is simple. I’m not going to let fear win.

I still get anxiety attacks from time to time, often in situations that people normally wouldn’t find stressful at all. Driving breaks me out in hives. I can do it, but I hate it. Put me in a high pressure work situation and I thrive, ask me to drive down the road and pick up a bottle of milk and I become a nervy, sweaty mess.

Funnily enough sailing doesn’t often do that to me. When things get a bit bumpy I may freak out a little but even then there’s a huge sense of accomplishment and pride when I get through it – and the beauty of a watch on a settled night with nothing but stars and ocean for company is incomparable.

I guess what I am trying to say is that mental illness may never completely go away but it doesn’t have to stop you living the life you want.

And for those of you who haven’t experienced this just remember, more people around you have than you think. And it’s the people you don’t expect  – the zany ones, the bright ones, the people you respect and admire – it’s your boss, your doctor, your teacher, the fix-it person you go to when everything’s falling apart.

These people don’t need pity or sage advice, they just need to know that you know and you care and you don’t judge. You can’t fix them, but you can support them while they fix themselves.

As for Robin Williams – the amazing man who inspired this post – don’t focus on how he died, focus on how he lived and how he managed to touch so many people in his short time on this earth.

Dead Poet’s Society was one of the first films that truly inspired me, Mrs Doubtfire was one of my comfort films when I was feeling down. He’s been a fixture of my life through film and TV for as long as I can remember and the world is a better place for having had him in it.

Resources:

Mental Health Foundation

Lifeline Aotearoa

Youthline

Sparx

The Journal

 

Jul
19

I’ve just finished reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Colonel Chris Hadfield’s autobiography.

For those of you who don’t know Hadfield became a bit of a social media rock star after posting a series of amazing YouTube videos from the International Space Station – everything from scientific experiments and stunning space vistas  to how to brush your teeth in zero gravity.

Most importantly of all, he  recorded his own version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity – IN SPACE!

Being the Bowie freak I am this of course is what first brought him to my attention.

He popped up on my radar again when I was talking to a friend about how sailing scared the hell out of me but I still found myself doing it. He said he’d just finished reading a biography that he thought I’d really like and promptly handed me An Astronaut’s Guide to Life – what going to space taught me about ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything.

My first thought when starting to read was ‘pssshh, overachiever! There’s no-one in the universe (s’cuse pun)  more utterly out of my league. My second thought was ‘hey, wait a minute! This guy thinks just like me!’

One of my particular skill sets is being terrified of everything (it doesn’t stop me doing things – but it can make them a lot more difficult). Paddy calls it catastrophising – put me in any situation and I will come up with the worst possible outcome, however improbable.

So you can imagine me astonishment when I read that Mr Overachiever Astronaut was actually scared of heights! It seemed about as logical as a person with anxiety issues floating offshore on a tin tub (sorry Wildflower!)

Hadfield did something I really admire, he harnessed his anxiety and made it work for him. He wrote about the power of negative thought and sweating the small stuff – and of course as an astronaut you have to sweat the small stuff to survive.

While nowhere near the same league he’d got me thinking – I’d never seen my negativity as having power before. When you think about it though it makes sense, as long as you actually know what to do if the worst happens.

In fact, during the one really scary experience I had on the boat (sorry – but I’m saving that for the book), I was actually able to handle things because I had a job to do and I knew how to do it. It’s the not knowing that turns you into a wreck.

Hadfield sums it up perfectly right here;

“In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew all the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming” (pg 52 – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth)

That sentence propelled me right back to our first night out of sight of land,  the boat creaking and groaning as we punched  into the wind that insisted on blowing in the exact direction we wanted to sail in. It was a little uncomfortable, but the boat was sturdy and we were safe – all the same, I was freaking out.

The reason I was freaking out was simple. I didn’t know exactly what was going on. Wildflower was making creaking, straining, banging noises I had never heard her make before. Because I couldn’t be certain if they were good or bad, the catastrophiser in me immediately decided they must be all bad. In short, I didn’t know what to be alarmed about – so everything was alarming.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Taking Wildflower offshore for the first time was a massive undertaking. We had a limited time window to wind up our jobs and our lives and make sure the boat was ready, but we didn’t spend enough of that time making sure that we as people were ready.  Theoretically I was – I’d passed my Boatmasters exams, I knew the safety drill – but mentally I had no clue what I was letting myself in for. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t be scared of.

Paddy was then faced with the unenviable task of skippering the boat with the first mate was popping up and down like a meerkat on speed going ‘what was that?’ ‘is that noise normal?’ He lay down with me in the back cabin (one of the noisiest spots) and explained to me what each creak and groan was and that helped hugely – but that was one more task he shouldn’t have had to do.

What it taught us was that next time, along with the boat prep, there will have to be more people prep (at least for me) – and one of the things I am keen to do is an offshore survival course. The kind where you practice skills you more than likely are never going to need, where you actually deploy the life raft and bob about inside it in a swimming pool.

I already feel much better now I have actually fired off a flare and I would rather know what to do if things went to hell than have to rely on others to tell me what to do. I’m never going to be an all-singing, all-dancing, fix-it-at-sea woman – but I would like to be able to do something practical without losing my mind.

Paddy worries this focus on the negative will put me off, but I think the opposite. I think it will calm me to know I am as prepared as I can be.

Worrying is something I’m good at, so I might as well harness it.

And, as Hadfield says “Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. Likewise, coming up with a plan of action isn’t a waste of time if it gives you peace of mind. While its true that you may wind up being ready for something that never happens, if the stakes are at all high, it’s worth it.” (Pg 72 – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth)

You have to be careful though, there is a balance when you are at sea. Sometimes immediately leaping into survival mode can actually decrease your chances of survival. The thing with a boat is, no matter how uncomfortable things get, often the safest place to be is on board. It’s counter-intuitive, but it really does take an awful lot to make a boat sink – and  if you cut yourself adrift on a life raft you are at the mercy of the elements. Nine times out of ten the safest thing you can do is stay on board as long as possible – the golden rule is that you should “always step up into your life raft”

A tragic example of this was the 1979  Fastnet race that got caught out in freak weather – it was the people who abandoned ship into their life rafts who were the ones who were injured or lost their lives and when the storm cleared the majority of the boats were still floating.

So I am going into this painfully aware of the balance but also with  a sense of confidence that I think this will work for me. So thank you Col. Hadfield  for helping me realise I can use my anxiety as a tool and that the power of negative thought could actually make me a better sailor.

PS: Note to my Mum – who I know is reading this: Stop freaking out. We will be taking a ridiculously safe and well-prepared boat at a safe time of year on an easy passage across the Pacific ocean – you have nothing to worry about (but I know you will because I know who the worry gene came from!) Love yoooouuu! xxx

 

Jun
01

Wildflower was named after a Tom Petty song

 

which I think is just perfect for her and Paddy, but it is another Petty song

 

that’s haunting me right now.

The first question I get from people I haven’t seen for a while is ‘so when is the book coming out?’

If I had my way the answer would be tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the answer is still – next year.

Getting a book published involves large amounts of agonising waiting. There’s the wait after you pop your baby in the post and send it to various publishers. Did they get it? (that is normally answered by the first rejection letter) Did they read it? (also answered by the rejection letters) Do they think it’s a stupid idea?  – I was lucky in this respect. A lot of people warned me not to expect to hear anything back from the publishers, not even a rejection. But those I did send material to all got back to me in some form or another and gave me reasons and helpful advice (none of which, thankfully, was ‘it’s a stupid idea’).

If you are fortunate enough to find someone willing to take a punt on you (thank you David Bateman Publishing!) then there is even more waiting in store.

It’s a hard wait too, because you have adrenalin coursing through you. You’ve run hysterically around the office, squealing and waving your arms in the air like Kermit the frog. You’ve told all your family and friends. Your dream has come true, you are going to be an author – and you want it to happen now, now, now!!!

kermit-arm-flail-1392075955

However – while your book may be the center of your universe, at this stage it is only on the periphery of your publisher’s. As one of my publishers politely told me on our first meeting “I have about seven books  in different stages of development on the go at the moment. The one closest to being published is the one I love the most. When yours gets to that stage, you’ll be hearing from me every day”.

While that gave me a bit of a reality check and stopped me freaking out over long periods of silence, it didn’t make the waiting any easier.

The first really nerve-wracking wait was the wait to iron out the contract – as far as my paranoid brain was concerned until my signature and the publisher’s signature were on that piece of paper there was every chance they could change their minds.

It's real!

It’s real!

After everything was signed and sealed it wasn’t so bad. There were still things I could do – arrange photographs, send them in. Then it was back to waiting.

 

Patience is a virtue I struggle to posses however – so about a month ago I dropped the publishers an email (trying not to sound too needy) just to get an idea of where everything was at.

They were kind and humoured me – giving me late June – early July as my next milestone. That’s when editing will start in earnest. They’ll go through the book decide if they want any changes made and whether they want me to add anything. I’m a little bit nervous about that, but also intrigued as to how the whole process works. Then we start thinking about things like the cover and hopefully by Novemberish there should be an actual, physical book to hold.

It takes about nine months to get a book out into the wild (not counting the time it takes to write it) – and then you have to think about the best time to release it.

This bit I found kind of fascinating because it’s something I’d never really thought of. Christmas is the time that jumps immediately to mind, but for a newcomer into the market it’s not actually that practical. Yes there are more people out there buying books, but there are also more books out there. At Christmas time you are competing with cook books and All Black biographies – even a relatively well-known writer risks getting buried.

Other than that – the next biggest book-selling days are Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Not exactly days I would have thought of, but it kind of makes sense. You don’t really buy books for Easter or New Year, everyone’s birthdays are on different days and books are often the perfect gift for Mum or Dad.

So we are aiming for Mothers Day next year – which means this time next year you could be holding a copy of Which Way is Starboard Again? (or whatever the book ends up being called) in your hot little hands. The aim is to have the book in shops by March and get promoting after that – so I apologise if I am insufferable for few months round about then.

But for now, it’s back to waiting. I’m not complaining – this has already been an amazing ride. I still can’t believe it is actually happening – but I do wish it would happen a little faster!

May
04

There’s nothing like being ripped out of a dream by a blaring alarm to remind you you’re not sleeping in a house.

Paddy and I had a 4am wake up call today courtesy of the bilge alarm (an insistent shrieky siren that lets us know when there’s water in the boat that shouldn’t be there).

The alarm was a little overenthusiastic during our trip to Tonga and had me leaping out of my skin a bit so I think I might be a bit sensitive to the sound.

It was certainly me sitting bolt upright yelping “what the hell is that?” while Paddy dozed on peacefully.

After some yawning, muttering and pulling up floorboards we deduced that yes, there was water in the boat that shouldn’t have been there.

I was quite proud of myself actually – once upon a time Anxiety Girl would have heard the siren blaring, taken one look at the water sloshing into the bottom of the boat and immediately decided we were done for.

It would have been “throw the goodluck trolls in the grab back and get off the boat, we’re going down!”

This time though, even in a 4am fug, I was able to avoid leaping to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound, go get a torch and help Paddy check out what was going on.

I figured since he was only  looking mildly annoyed that it wasn’t anything too catastrophic, but decided not to ask any annoying questions until he had finished bailing the offending water from the bilge with a glass and sponge.  (Admittedly I may not have been quite so chilled had this happened in the middle of the ocean…)

Wildflower's innards

Wildflower’s innards

The most important thing to check when you have water coming in to the boat is whether it is salt or fresh. If it’s salt water then it’s coming from outside and you might have a leak, if it’s fresh then it was inside the boat already and can be isolated.

In this case the water was fresh and coming from, of all mundane things, a leak in the bathroom piping. So after bailing out the excess water from the bilge and shutting up the alarm we were able to crawl back into bed and deal with it in the morning.

After pulling everything out of the bathroom cupboards the next day we discovered the culprit was a tiny crack in the piping leading up to the tap in the sink – a lot of fuss and noise for a minor household chore (albeit one you have to bend yourself into awkward positions to sort out).

So think about that next time you are grumbling about having to do plumbing repairs at home – at least your house doesn’t holler at you until you get it fixed.

Apr
29

Getting a reasonably sized boat down from the hard and back into the wet stuff is challenging at the best of times – add a typical Wellington gale into the mix and its even more so.

Complicate it further by having to reattach the forestays (wires at the front of the boat that hold the mast up) while you are bouncing around in the water and you have a recipe for an interesting Sunday afternoon.

Wildflower on wheels

Wildflower on wheels

I have immense respect for the people who operate the travel lifts that move these fish out of water. Sven, our driver, was a master – essentially reversing 18 tonnes of ship with a giant tractor while Paddy paced behind like a broody chook.

I, who at the best of times struggle to reverse a Mitsubishi Mirage, could only look on in awe.

A bit of brute force was needed to get her out of the cradle

A bit of brute force was needed to get Wildflower out of her cradle

Heeeeave!

Heeeeave!

Sven doing what he does best

Sven doing what he does best

Master at work

Master at work

"Be careful of my baby!"

“Be careful with my baby!”

Paddy the broody chook

Paddy the broody chook

Entertaining the locals

Entertaining the locals

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Supervising

Supervising

Watching Wildflower being slowly edged backwards towards the water was nerve-wracking enough but that wasn’t the end of it. The travel lift has a belt that goes across the front of the ship exactly where the forestays sit, so they have to be removed in order to move the boat.

This is a teensy bit unnerving because it means, for a short amount of time, there isn’t really a whole lot holding the mast up. The  rear wires (backstays) are still up but there’s always the nightmare that the mast might fall backwards. Since it was only for about 15 minutes and we weren’t actually sailing this was pretty unlikely, but Paddy wanted to get the everything fully attached quick smart.

This was no mean feat  – there is a huge amount of weight on the wires (it’s a pretty big mast they’re holding up) so it takes a fair bit of brute force to get them reattached. The cavalry, in the form of Sven, arrived to help, while Wellington did it’s best to be as unhelpful as possible – in the form of 35 knot gusts. Wildflower is stroppy in reverse at the best of times (she has a big bum which tends to go where it wants to) and it was only the ropes lashing her to the dock that kept her from making a break for freedom.

I stopped taking photos pretty much as soon as I got onboard as I kind of had to hold on while she jerked about. Some grunting, heaving and a few cheers later though and the mast was well secured. We hurriedly let go of the ropes holding her to the wharf and glamourously ploughed backwards into the harbour, finally on our way home.

Fixing the forestays

Fixing the forestays

Calling in the cavalry

Calling in the cavalry

You can do it!

You can do it!

After a slightly bumpy ride across the harbour – with the lovely Grace, a resident boatie, as an extra set of hands – and a slighty bumpier landing we were back in our berth at Chaffers Marina.

While it was great spending time with the awesome folk at the Evans Bay Yacht Club , after 103 days on the hard both boat and skipper were glad to be home.  Even in rotten Wellington weather, she just feels happier in the water.

 

Apr
24

Last night Paddy and I sailed into the middle of Wellington Harbour and let off explosives – all in the name of boat safety.

Strange lights over the harbour

Strange lights over the harbour

Having completed my Boatmasters certificate through the Wellington Coastguard and done a keel-boat sailing course at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club I still get the odd email from both organisations and the other week one caught my eye.

It was an invite to a night out shooting expired flares from the top of the Dominion Post East West ferry – how could I possibly refuse?

In all seriousness, knowing how your emergency equipment works is pretty important – and I have to admit I went offshore on our last trip never having fired a flare.

It’s somewhat perverse really. You spend hundreds of dollars (it costs about $1000 to kit out a boat with flares to pass its category 1 certificate to go offshore) on equipment you never want to have to use, then when you don’t use it it expires and you have to replace the lot.

This is where demonstrations come in – it means the flares don’t go entirely to waste – and you get to make things go boom!

When Paddy told me the most important thing was to make sure you held them the right way up I figured he was just messing with me. After a couple of horror stories about people who had melted their hands or shot themselves with the things however, I began to have second thoughts.

When faced with the different types of flares on a rocking boat in the dark I began to realise he had a point. We were bouncing about a tiny bit in relaxed circumstances and it was damned near impossible to read the instructions. I don’t even want to  imagine how much trickier it would be in an actual emergency where things are happening really fast.

It also doesn’t help that the cap you unscrew to set them off can be either at the top or bottom of the flare depending on whether it is a rocket or a handheld one. This threw me a bit at first until Paddy helpfully pointed out (the probably quite obvious) indents where your fingers are meant to go.

Spot the useful handholds

Spot the useful handholds

 

Smokin'

Smokin’

The flare demonstration required an impressive amount of coordination – with the club, coastguard and even air traffic control taking part. We had a light system which let us know to cease-fire when a plane was due to fly over. A very good thing I reckon because what looked eerie on the water would probably look catastrophic from the air.

Dom Post East?West ferry by the light of a parachute flare

Dom Post East/West ferry by the light of a parachute flare

Ooooh.... ahhhh....

Ooooh…. ahhhh….

While the parachute flares got the air time, the handheld ones were just as dramatic and with loads of people letting them off at once it gave the rather creepy illusion that the boat was burning.

Concentrating on a burning issue

Concentrating on a burning issue

'Bright light! Bright light!' (said in a squeaky Mogwai voice)

‘Bright light! Bright light!’ (said in a squeaky Mogwai voice)

Don't look now Paddy, but I think your arm's on fire!

Don’t look now Paddy, but I think your arm’s on fire!

Erm, anyone got a bucket of water?

Erm, anyone got a bucket of water?

My personal preference was shooting rockets however. The handheld ones went molten after a while and it was no mean feat to hang on to them.

Burn baby burn!

Burn baby burn!

Then there were the smoke flares – a bright screaming orange that can be seen really well by daylight and has anyone in a 10 mile radius coughing and spluttering. Those were great fun, but a little hard on the old allergies.

No smoking!!!

No smoking!!!

Apparently the explosives are on the way out though, with more focus on laser lighting that lasts longer and has a farther reach. At this stage though that is a rather expensive option so it will be a while before they are phased in I suspect.

And besides – flares never go out of style! (that Dad joke was brought to you by Paddy)

Groovy baby!

Groovy baby!

 

Apr
14

Weighing in at a sturdy 18 tonnes, Wildflower is built for comfort not speed (kind of like me!) – so we generally don’t take her out racing

The other weekend however, before the weather turned to custard, Paddy and I found ourselves right in the middle of the action at the Evans Bay Yacht Club regatta.

After a beer or three Paddy had his arm twisted into taking the weekend off boatwork to act as flag marshal  and somehow mine got twisted too.

While neither of us were crazy about losing our weekend sleep-in, it was really great to get back out on the water – and it certainly gave me a whole new appreciation of the complexities of yacht racing.

Racing

We joined race officer, and Evans Bay Motorboat and Yacht Club stalwart Mike Appleyard aboard the launch Pania (another club stalwart) and headed out on to the bay. I think Mike pretty quickly worked out we were starting from scratch in terms of racing after his first conversation with Paddy, which went along the lines of:

“Do you know how all this works?”

“Nope, we’re cruisers!”

So we were given a brief Flag Waving 101 course and set to our respective tasks – Paddy was dispatched to put up the boat class flags at the stern of the boat after we worked out the flagpole was taller than I was and I was in charge of hoisting the P (preparation) flag – which signaled the race was about to start.

Luckily there was a handy timer that beeped urgently when you needed to do your job, so there were only a couple of minor scrambles to get the things up in time.

They're coming straight for us Captain!

They’re coming straight for us Captain!

Safety first!

Safety first!

Anchor flag (great colour!)

Start line flag (great colour!)

Lidgard Sails ensured we were waving flags in style by providing support crew with sponsors t-shirts. Although these were slightly anatomically incorrect (for the female sailors at least – of which there were many) they certainly got the point across and I spotted yachties of both genders wearing them with pride.

PC tee

Beach balls I assume…

The weather on the Saturday was gorgeous – if you were sitting on a boat drinking coffee and reading a book –not so much if you actually wanted to sail anywhere. For perhaps the first time in Wellington’s history the wind didn’t turn up, at all. So the first race was pretty much a controlled drift. The frustration was palpable as we watched people desperately willing their sails to fill and a number of boats were unable to make it round the course in time to complete the race. Luckily the wind picked up later in the afternoon (though it took its time making up its mind which direction it was going to blow from) and the racing started in earnest.

Relaxing

Just chillin

That's how you get past em

That’s how you get past em

I wish mine went that fast!

I wish mine went that fast!

It was pretty intense – and Paddy and I had the easy jobs! There were 63 boats, but there were different types that went at different speeds and so sailed different courses. We were starting four different races one after the other, with a different coloured flag for each class of boat (Catamarans, centreboarders, trailer yachts and Hartley 16’s) – How Mike managed to keep an eye on what was happening with them all was well beyond me.

Then you had to factor in the length of the course (would all the boats be able to complete it in time?), the direction the wind was blowing (which necessitated a little bit of up-anchoring and moving marks) and whether any boats had dropped out between races.

Pania was the starting boat so once we’d sent all four groups on their way we had a bit of breathing space to watch the race and enjoy being back out on the water again. Our boat also served as a marker point and it was rather unnerving how close some of the boats got when rounding it!

No sooner had one race finished then the next group were circling like vultures waiting for the next race to start– and woe betide anyone who gets the flag timing wrong – it could throw the whole race out. Luckily Paddy and I managed to keep things on track and so didn’t have to face the wrath of thwarted yachties.

Cats circling

Cats circling

We were also introduced to the concept of ‘protests’ where participants take any issues they have with fellow racers up after the regatta and seek redress if they feel they have been hard done by. It all seems to be done pretty good-humouredly though and from what I saw issues were sorted out amicably. I was also informed there was a similar arrangement with the cruising division (the bigger boats got a race of their own), which they call “having a whine”.

The wind picked up again on Sunday with a more usual 15 to 20 knots and changeable wind conditions. A few more boats got up close and personal with each other and a couple ended up in the drink – but the smiles all round afterwards said it all.

Racing 2racing 3Racing 4Racing 5Racing 6Racing 7Racing 8

 

In the drink

Whoops!

I had great fun adding new monikers to my ‘interesting boat names’ collection too. They ranged from the short and sweet  - Bob and Bill to the children’s book inspired One fish, Two fish, Hairy Maclary to colour themed Tickled Pink, Simply Red 

Bobbing around

Bobbing around

One fish two fish

One fish two fish

Think this one's a girl

Think this one’s a girl

Tickled pink

Tickled pink

One thing that was really lovely was the number of people who stopped Paddy and I at the event prize-giving. They’d spotted us out on the start boat and wanted to thank us for donating our weekend to them. It was really nice of them and much appreciated. We both had a ball and enjoyed the excuse to get out on the water for the first time in ages.

For those of you interested in who actually won the races a wrap of the weekend can be found here: Live, Sail, Die – regatta wrap up with a link to the race results on the EBMYC website 

Unfortunately with last week’s weather being grey and ghastly plans to get Wildflower back in the water this week were thwarted – but I am sure we will get there soon. The poor old girl must be desperate to feel salt on her steel again, but I am in no doubt she will be appreciative of the many hours of hard work Paddy has put in.

 

 

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