Which way is starboard again?
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Mar
18

So, on the day we were finally ready to cast off for the South Island, just minutes before we were due to motor out to the diesel dock, this happened.

Clumsy Anna

Clumsy Anna

I am absolutely disgusted with myself. I make it all the way around the South Pacific with only a few bruises, and I manage to sprain my ankle filling up the water tank (which I am beginning to think has it in for me) while we are still in the marina.

I had just filled one tank and was trying to stretch the hose across the boat to the other when I slipped on a metal railing and splat – I’m on my arse with water spraying everywhere.

Paddy knew it was a proper injury, rather than one of my usual trips or stubs, because I went quiet. My usual bumps and bruises tend to be accompanied by loud and creative cursing.

“A you alright?” he asked.

“No.”

(The other thing I am when I’m hurt is honest, no time for niceties.)

“Ankle,” I managed to splutter, before lapsing into angry silence – and perhaps a little shock.

Angry because we were so close to getting away and this time it was my clumsiness holding us up.

It didn’t help that there was an audience either. One of our marina neighbours had popped over for a chat about where we were going. I was gossiping with him and not really paying attention when it happened.

When you are at sea you carefully measure each step you take and line up each hand hold, but when you are in familiar surroundings in the marina you tend to get cocky, which is exactly what I did.

Our neighbour was great. Once he and Paddy ascertained there was nothing broken and helped me hobble back to the cockpit to secure a pack of frozen mixed veggies, he finished filling the water tanks for me and gave us a hand at the diesel dock.

I wasn’t going to let an ankle sprain stop me from going on this trip, not after two weeks of boat maintenance. So I sat up on deck with my Watties’ stirfry and tried to work out what I could still do with both arms and one foot (quite a bit actually it turns out.)

To add insult to injury there was, of course, an audience at the diesel dock. It’s located right outside a couple of waterfront cafes and provides an excellent yachtie wildlife show for the latte sippers.

Other than the pitying looks the thing that annoyed me the most was that after my weeks of rope throwing practise, Paddy ended up lassoing the bollard at the dock.

I’d had this vision of myself in my sailing gear executing the move like a pro, drawing admiring gazes from the coffee crowd. Instead I was parked up on the back of the boat with my ankle in the air and the Skipper doing everything.

The power of Watties

The power of Watties

An audience

An audience

Watching them watching us

Watching them watching us

Once we got underway the trip was actually pretty uneventful. There was no wind at all and Cook Strait was flat and still as glass. I managed to do everything I needed to rope-pulling wise from the cockpit and even managed a few hopping missions below deck.

Paddy was incredibly supportive, calling me Big Foot and Sasquatch and repeatedly offering to suture my ankle (which I repeatedly declined).

Between the rapidly melting veggies and pain killers my ankle wasn’t hurting that much and the swelling started to go down so I figured it wasn’t a really bad sprain. What I was really looking forward to was getting to our spot in Erie Bay and soaking my foot in the water.

Straight after anchoring up that’s exactly what I did and it was marvelous. Like sticking your foot in a giant liquid icepack.

The longer my foot was in the water the warmer it felt so I decided to carefully lower myself in (“you have to be cognizant of the fact you are bung” was Paddy’s helpful advice) and just swim with my arms.

It was a bit fresh at first but after a while it was lovely. I invented the double-armed, one-legged bumble-stroke and managed to flail my way to shore.

Lying back on the beach looking over at Wildflower sitting peacefully in the bay’s evening light made it all worthwhile. Just me, the crickets and some yobbo playing Hello Sailor on the boat’s stereo. It was utterly perfect.

Erie Bay being perfet

Erie Bay being perfect

Spot where the Double Armed One Legged Bumble Stroke was invented

Spot where the Double Armed One Legged Bumble Stroke was invented

The bumble-swim had an amazing effect on my ankle too, being in the cool water for so long seemed to work wonders and a bit of enforced rest and some Voltaren later I am now able to put weight on it. The swelling has gone down now and it’s just a bit itchy bruise, which is a good sign it’s healing.

Colouring up

Colouring up

Also, the stew Paddy made with the defrosted veggies was lovely!

Ankle veggie stew/soup (or stewp) Yum!

Ankle veggie stew/soup (or stewp) Yum!

 

Mar
11

One of the things I have learned from sailing is that you can’t do it to a deadline.

Yet every time we try to get ready for a trip, I find myself getting pissed off at that very fact.

Back when I was blissfully ignorant of the ways of sailing, I assumed that if you had a boat, and you wanted to take it somewhere all you needed to was untie it and go.

I am afraid I am here to report that it’s just not that damned simple.

Paddy and I have both taken this month off to take Wildflower for a trip across Tasman Bay to Nelson.

Preparation for this started last month, on Valentines Day to precise, when I spent an incredible romantic weekend cleaning the boat’s bum.

This necessitated hauling her out of the water and putting her up on blocks.

Strops ready to haul the old girl up

Strops ready to haul the old girl up

 

Heeave!

Heeave!

 

Up on blocks

Up on blocks

 

Wildflower's bum

Wildflower’s bum

Making sure we're secure

Making sure  we’re secure

I was quite taken with the colour of the mallet used to hammer in the cradle legs!

I was quite taken with the colour of the mallet used to hammer in the cradle legs!

Securing the 'stairs'

Securing the ‘stairs’

Once properly secured I got to spend the day with my beloved covered in barnacles and stale seaweed.  Being smaller and bendier than Paddy I get all the fun jobs like lying under the boat scraping goop off its rear and painting antifoul on the bottom.

As usual I ended up getting more paint on myself than the boat. I also learned a valuable lesson. If you accidentally drop one of your headphones in a puddle of antifoul without realising then get back on with listening to your music you end up looking like you are bleeding from the ear. This necessitates a good scrubbing with solvent and gets you funny looks in the supermarket.

 

Bum scraping prep

Bum scraping prep

Nothing says 'romantic valentines day' like scraping slime off a propellor

Nothing says ‘romantic valentines day’ like scraping slime off a propeller

The 'after' shot

The ‘after’ shot

One of the main reasons for this trip is practice for the next Big One (Fiji next year). We have a lot of new systems on the boat designed to make life on Wildflower easier, safer, cheaper and potentially a little bit faster and the plan is to test them out.

This has meant the week from hell  hanging, wiring, hauling and installing all the things we haven’t had the chance to while we’ve both been working full-time.

To make things a bit cheaper – Paddy is installing a couple of alternative power sources. Solar panels and wind generators (yes, plural. Paddy’s logic is if some is good more must be better. This is the logic that has also led to my aching arms after helping winch up our massive new sails). Wiring up the wind generators has been a massive, fiddly and time consuming job for Paddy, but hopefully it will be worth it. Our last wind generator blew itself to bits in Tonga so a test run is definitely in order!

Hooking up the wind generators

Hooking up the wind generators

The next step is hauling all the stuff we don’t need off the boat and putting on the things we we do (dinghy, life raft supplies etc) which can be a bit of a frustrating process.I am definitely looking forward to not tripping over drills and toolboxes every time I need to go to the loo.

There's a boat under all this somewhere!

There’s a boat under all this somewhere!

And then there is the weather. One of the most important things when you want to go sailing is for the wind to blow from the right direction – in this case we are after a nice gentle Southerly. So of course, pretty much as soon as we took leave from work the weather turned 50 shades of crap. That was fine while we had lots of prep work to do, but lately (if you believe the weather forecasters) we are being faced with either too much wind or none at all. Case in point today we were supposed to be hit with a 30 knot Southerly. I didn’t see it, did you?

I could start getting despondent but what would be the point? We will get away eventually and in the meantime we will be able to get a bit of practice with the new toys out on the harbour. One of those new toys is a much longer boom. Added to give us extra sail area in the hope that we will move a bit faster in lighter conditions. Wildflower is great in Wellington conditions because she is solid and stable and build for strong winds. Give her anything less than 15 knots however and she just sits there going ‘nope, not gonna move.’ We munched through a lot of diesel in the islands.

The new boom scares me. There’s more of it to knock you on the head with and it’s too damned high. The old boom used to knock on the roof of the pilot house occasionally, so Paddy, in his wisdom, decided to raise the new one a couple of inches. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but I’m a sea ‘Munchkin’ dammit. I didn’t even make it to five foot (and have now accepted that 34 is too late for a growth spurt). Paddy’s ‘couple of extra inches’ mean I need a kiddie stool to help pull the sail down. In short (see what I did there?) I’m going to need the practice!

And then there's the weather

Was quite taken with the striking contrast in water colour here. The grungy, churned up water is the shallow stuff and the dark blue the deeper.

The main frustration I am finding with all of this is actually me. It’s been a while and the terminology has completely gone. I’m finding myself still at the level where ‘genoa halyard’ and ‘main sheet’ are just ‘that red rope’ or ‘the blue and white one’. Who am I kidding pretending I know anything about sailing?

‘But wait. Didn’t you just write a book about sailing?’, you might ask.

Well, yes and no. It’s more of a book about not knowing how to sail and making it up as I go along. I’m still making it up.

At the same time though, there is stuff that’s coming back. Silly things like the fierce surge of pride you get when you tie off a rope (sheet, whatever..) with a figure eight and a half hitch without thinking about it. That you can still tie a bowline or a stopper not without really trying (though my clove hitches still needed a bit of practice!)

I have also been practicing throwing a rope down my hallway and lassooing the exercycle – to avoid some of the embarrassment caused by my crap throwing skills in the past.

Those of you who actually sail will be rolling your eyes, but you honestly don’t realise quite how bumbly I am . Those of you who do know how bumbly I am are probably quietly terrified right now. In fact, just this morning a friend of mine  said ‘If there was a high school award for Least Likely to Become a Sailor, I think you would have won it.’

Hopefully we will be on our way soon and in the least bumbly way possible.

And when we get back it will be straight into book stuff. Which Way is Starboard Again? The book hits the stores on April 1. There will be a launch/signing at Unity Books at midday April 15 and a party/signing at the Evans Bay Yacht Club on the evening of the 17th (details to be confirmed)

I think I’m more nervous about that than the upcoming sail!

Either way -wish me luck!

My first review - thanks Boating NZ!

My first review – thanks Boating NZ! (Not sure about the whole ‘set off with her man’ bit, but Paddy’s pleased to be introduced as ‘an experienced sailor’!

 

Feb
28

Paddy is in Australia.

He flew out on the red-eye and had to get up at 4am to check in at the airport.

I took pity on him and offered to pop by the boat this afternoon and do the pile of dishes I knew was sitting there.

I turn on the tap  ‘splutter, splurt, splat’ – no water.

No problem, time to fill the water tanks – I hop off the boat, grab the hose, chuck it in the tank and get on with the job.

Am washing away when suddenly ‘woosh, gush, splash!’- water is bursting in through the pantry and pouring into the boat.

Top tip – water usually belongs on the outside of a boat, not blasting in through the kitchen.

I drop everything, leap off the boat and turn the hose off. Rush back in and mercifully there’s no more water coming in to the boat. The bilge alarm – which goes off when there’s water draining out of the boat – is however going bananas, so we might not be out of the woods yet.

Paddy is in Australia.

I take a deep breath, hands shaking a bit – but can’t lose it now.

I figure there’s no immediate danger as the boat isn’t listing and there’s no more water coming in. The alarm is screeching because it is doing what it is meant to, draining the excess water out to sea, but I can’t honestly say I know everything is actually okay.

Paddy is in Australia.

Frazzled brain remembers he left an Aussie celphone number. I call it. A nice young woman answers. She is most definitely not Paddy.

Must have put the number in wrong. I go through my contacts, call Paddy’s sister, babble a million miles a minute.

She calmly details a number of ways she will try to get hold of Paddy.

Alarm is still screeching. Time to get the cavalry in. I leave Rachel to go on a Paddy hunt while I look for someone to help.

Hands shaking a bit. Can’t find my keys to unlock the pier gate. Another deep breath. No time for this – chill out woman!

It’s getting darker now and there are no obvious lights on any of the boats on our pier. I run down the dock until I see a boat with lights on and bang on the side.

Yes I was doing the damsel in distress thing, but I honestly didn’t know if the boat was okay. I would rather make a bit of a dick of myself than not have done everything possible and have our house sink.

I was reasonably confident this would not be the case because there didn’t seem to be any more water coming in the boat, but I wanted all my bases covered.

At this point I feared we had a split in our water tank. Not life threatening, but a big, messy job to fix – just as we had taken leave and were planning to actually take the boat away on a trip.

The cavalry came in the form of a lovely chap called John, from a launch with the serendipitous name of Friendship. A professional skipper, he was calm and relaxed with me – everything I needed right then.

Deducing no immediate danger, John set about looking for the leak while I tried to get hold of Paddy again.

Turned out I had dyslexiced the number when I put it into the phone. A quick fix up and I manage to get through. At this point Rachel has reached him as well. It was good to know I had a team backing me.

I tell Paddy “there’s no need to panic but…” I hear my own voice and nearly fall over. Me telling someone else not to panic? What topsy-turvy world is this!

Paddy of course is calm and zen and we agree I will call him back once we have found the root of the problem.

Mercifully it was not a split water tank.

It turned out the seal on the screw top that closes the tank had stretched to buggery and the water pressure just popped it off, spewing a bunch of water into the bilge. It will be as simple as going into a shop and buying a new one.

The alarm cheerfully honking away in the background was doing exactly what it was meant to as the water drained out (it’s still piping up on occasion). All is as well as it can be.

John kept to the yachtie code – politely leaving me to lick my wounds in the knowledge that next time he could be the one needing help. I owe that man a beer.

I am overnighting on the boat just in case, but other than the odd honk from the alarm all seems fine.

Yes I probably could have found the source of the leak myself eventually, but I would rather have someone on board who could have helped if the situation was worse than we thought.

Also, I did all this without having a screaming panic attack.

That is no small thing.

I live with the kind of anxiety disorder that, on a bad day, can have me leaping out of my skin if someone beeps their car horn.

Yes, my heart rate got up and I talked really fast, but I made myself understood and got the job done.

I am not curled up in a foetal ball gasping for air.

I haven’t kicked this thing yet – but I am feeling calm and the boat seems to be fine.

This is something to celebrate.

 

Jan
25

For those of you who haven’t been following my excited Twitter and Facebook squawking – the author’s copy of Which Way is Starboard Again? has finally arrived.

In the flesh

In the flesh

 

It’s gorgeous! It has chapters and pictures and pages and an ISBN number and, and, it’s an actual book! I can’t stop staring at it and I am carting about in my handbag everywhere I go like some kind of tragic proud book mummy.

Innards

Innards

Spine

Spine

It’s publication date isn’t actually until April 1 (April Fools!) so this copy is just a part of a small run to go out to journalists and the like.

The April Fools publication date is actually kind of apt (though I can assure it won’t turn into a whoopee cushion if you buy it!)

You see it still feels like a bit of a trick. I’m holding this thing in my hands, flicking through the pages and I still can’t quite believe it’s there.

When my publisher sent me the author’s copy she said “So do you feel like a real author now?” and the honest answer is actually, “no, I don’t”.

I feel like a fake author. Like somehow this whole process of getting a book deal and getting published was actually some kind of fluke and that any day now people will realise I Don’t Actually Know What I’m Doing.

Deep down I know that’s a load of rubbish but I still feel like an utter fraud. Like someone playing pretend at being a writer.

Despite the fact I’m loud and bolshy and not exactly shy, I’m really nervous about promoting this thing. Most probably wouldn’t believe it, but I am much better at writing about myself than talking about myself. Essentially this is a book about me and my experiences, but I would much rather someone else do the talking.

I’m used to being the person behind the notepad and camera or the person advising others how to work with those people. Now I have a publicist writing press releases for me.

I struggled with that for a bit since I do that for a living and I did have to nix the line “an inspirational tale of love, travel and overcoming the odds” (after Paddy and I spent a good while laughing). But at the end of the day I figure I’m never going to like something someone else writes about me so I might as well just go with it.

To help get over my self promotion fears I have also employed an unofficial ‘spokesMuppet’ (though I haven’t quite told the publicist about him yet…)

Paddy got me the best Christmas present ever last year (with a little bit of suggestion from myself) – a Muppet Whatnot (basically a design-your-own Muppet) a proper Jim Henson number.

Gus Transom Muppet (Gus as a nod to my asparaGus farming roots and Transom being the arse end of a boat, as well as sounding kind of fancy) is a devilishly handsome orange tropical Muppet. He has a stylish Hawaiian shirt, fabulous fuchsia hair and makes everyone around him smile.

Gus Transom Muppet

Gus Transom Muppet

 

Roadtrip!

On the road

I love the fact that even people who profess to hate puppets will answer him rather than me when he speaks, looking straight into his big googly eyes. With that kind of people power I figure he’d be a great spokesMuppet for the book so I have helped him set up his own Twitter account.

@GusTheMuppet

@GusTheMuppet

So if you are on Twitter then feel free to follow @GusTheMuppet (or if Muppets aren’t your thing you can follow me on @SeaMunchkin). I have also set up a bit of a Facebook promo page for those on there https://www.facebook.com/whichwayisstarboardagain?

He stole it from my handbag

He stole it from my handbag

Mup reviewer

Mup reviewer

So from Gus and Me and our brand new book – happy 2015, we’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a good one!

Gus and I

Dec
09

I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but look at this cover!!!!

WWIS cover front crop

 

It took an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing but we are finally there. The cartoon on the front was drawn by the very talented Joshua Drummond – famed for his Horrible Picture of Michael Laws and Relaxed Painting of John Key (a version of which features on the cover of the hilarious Steve Braunias’ book Madmen – pretty illustrious company I reckon!)

I must admit I am quite relieved to have gotten off more lightly than either politician in terms of artistic representation – though I now have until the book’s launch in April next year to get a waistline that matches my cartoon (or buy a corset!) .

Paddy took one look at the cover and felt the need to inform me that the Starboard marker was on the wrong side and my cartoon thighs were rather large. I, somewhat huffily, informed him that yes, that was the whole point (with me having no sense of direction) and that it was obvious I was wearing pirate trousers.

The lovely blue wash colour scheme and funky font were courtesy of Shelley Watson from Sublime Design and the inside of the book looks just as lovely.

There was a tiny point in time where the cartoon’s future was in doubt though, which was the reason behind the to-ing and fro-ing. While the publishers were pre-selling the book into stores one of the potential buyers opined that it might sell better if there was a photograph of me on the front instead (why on earth anyone would want that is beyond me!). In the end a compromise was reached where I would be allowed to keep my lovely cartoon in exchange for a more ‘emotive’ tagline after the title than ‘Sailing the South Pacific’ and two photos of me on the back

WWIS cover back crop

 

The book talks a bit about mental illness and the, what could be seen by some as, bizarro decision to go sailing with anxiety disorder, so I figured by ‘emotive’ they meant ‘ham up the crazy’. I’m actually okay with that, provided it isn’t too tacky, because the more we get these things out there as something that can happen to anyone and something that can be conquered the better.

So the skipper and I gleefully started throwing ideas about, including such gems from Paddy as ‘Sailing, it’s harder when you’re nuts’, ‘Losing the plot on a yacht’ and ‘Pirates, panic and Prozac’ (okay the only pirates were in fancy dress, but what’s wrong with a bit of creative license?) For some reason none of our suggestions made the grade, but the suggestions from the publishers weren’t cutting it either. It’s a fine line between fun self-deprecation and sounding tacky and twee and too many of them made me sound like some ninny having a cry on a boat, which is not the image I want to portray of people living with anxiety disorders. So in the end we settled for something more prosaic – Which Way is Starboard Again? Facing fears and overcoming challenges – Sailing the South Pacific. Not exactly sexy, but a reasonable compromise I reckon.

WWIS cover final

I’ve found it quite funny that, with all the editing and different eyes on the manuscript, the only real compromises were the cover (you can probably tell the blurb on the back wasn’t written by me!). The editing process was a fascinating one, picking up things I would never have thought of – but that’s the subject of another blog because I am too distracted by the pretty cover right now!

So the upshot is, the book has gone to print and there’s no going back now.  I have been instructed by my editor not to look at it anymore until it is a physical book because every time I do I decide that it’s twee, pretentious crap and I really don’t like it. Apparently this is quite normal and happens to most authors.

I’ll be promoting it next year and it will be in bookstores in April/May as well as available as an e-book. As soon as there is a way to buy or pre-order it I will let you all know.

Thanks so much to Josh, Shelley, Caroline and the rest of the team at Bateman for making my baby look so beautiful and thanks so much to all of you for coming on this journey with me so far – I guess we’ll all see what comes out of it soon – fingers crossed!

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

 

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