Everything you need to know about upping sticks.

Imagine the rest of your life in the suburbs; going to playgroups, washing nappies, joining the PTA and chatting about real estate at street BBQ’s.  

If this makes you want to drown yourself in the paddling pool, then read on.

Here is Mrs Blacksmith’s guide to:

Upping sticks – how to go sailing with a toddler and bugger all cash’

Marry a sailor.
By far and away the best way to ensure large parts of your life are full of adventure, is to marry a sailor.   Hooking a sailor can be a bit tricky as a nomadic life on the sea makes long term commitments difficult, but if you can grab one while they are in port, you have lifelong travel sewn up. 


Have a baby 
This is great training for the four hour watches.  If, like me, you haven’t spent much time on the sea, having a baby is a great way to prepare for the long hard nights, relinquishing control to the captain, and having faith that things will get better.

Create a 500 day chart.   
Even if you think charts are for disorganized losers – get a sheet of paper and mark out 500 days.  DO it now. Put it up in the hallway and on the 500th day write,   Go Sailing.  You can write this in crayon, ball point pen, hell, go crazy with the glitter!  Mark in other milestones like purchase boat, save $10000, book tickets to Aruba. Stick to it, consult it often and mark those days off. The chart will keep you focused.

Read Books.
Children of Cape Horn by Rosie Swale is inspirational.

She sails with her two very small children around Cape Horn in a catamaran in the early 1970’s.  She has amazing tips for keeping kids entertained, washing nappies on board, what to do when weevils attack the stores,  and she does all this with very little money while looking like a total fox.If Rosie can, you can.

Jill Dickin Schinas book Kids in the Cockpit is full of  great practical advice about breastfeeding in oilskins, keeping harnesses on toddlers, making your boat child friendly and has a  whole chapter on safety.  This is GOLD. Whenever I think “what the bloody hell are we doing” I pick up Jill and Rosie’s books and am instantly soothed by their wise words.
Tell people.
Saying out loud that you are going sailing across the world with your family has the remarkable effect of making it real. 

Hammer and tongs.
This is how you must go after your dream.   Other people will think you are mad, they will be jealous, they will think that taking a toddler sailing is tantamount to child abuse, they will try to dissuade you, but stick to your dream. Have some facts at the ready like “it is more dangerous to drive to Auckland than sail across the Pacific”. Hammer and Tongs are also handy bits of equipment on a steel yacht.

Plan plan plan
Become a marine radio operator, do your boat masters, study charts, read other people’s blogs and forums, learn a bit of the local lingo, eat only beans and rice for a month,  practice shitting in a bucket, get your capsule wardrobe together, get your toddler used to wearing his  harness, bulk buy Sea Legs,  get used to  doing exactly what the captain says because  poor communication sinks ships.

Save as much of this stuff as you can.  Try to arrange some income while you are sailing, sell all your land based stuff and have credit cards at the ready.

Positive poverty.
Embrace this concept. It will make being poor so much easier to bear.

Get fit.

Don’t be afraid to go pink in this pursuit. Sailing is physically hard work, looking after a toddler is physically hard work so having good core strength is a sailor’s best friend.  Make the time.

Finally, Do it. Make It Happen. 

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Confession Time

For the last three months I have been seeing someone.  Twice a week I sneak out of work for a hot, sweaty session with Rob.  It has been amazing. I feel like a new woman!

I have kept it secret because I am embarrassed, because Rob is my personal trainer.

I realized I needed to call in the experts after my attempts to run and dance my way back from a c section  plateaued.   

After an online search I arranged to meet Rob one Tuesday afternoon.  We talked about goals. Mine, ‘shrink and tone’,  his, ‘make it happen’. About adventures, Mine, sailing around the world,  his, Arctic expeditions,  Nepalese long distance running and heaps of other really amazing things.

So far so good, until the scales came out.

These beastly things revealed I was obese, (wtf!!) 2 cms shorter than I always thought I was and the most damning of all, I had a metabolic age of 38!!!!!! To add insult to an already severely injured pride, I discovered I was quad dominant.

As we have established I am no stranger to public humiliation but admitting to having a personal trainer suggests wankerisim of the highest order. I am not one to bust out “Hello my name is Mrs Blacksmith,  and I have a personal trainer” instead,  I furtively slink down the street hoping no one would see me slip into the studio.

Despite being in denial about seeing Rob, the Blacksmith family motto  ‘Hammer and Tongs’  echoed loudly in my ears.   So, when I was clean and pressing, squatting for the 200th time, swinging dumb bells on a bosu, kneeling on Swiss balls, balancing on one leg while lifting weights above my head I made sure I was going at it hammer and tongs and getting my moneys worth.

While Rob counted  1, 2,3, and  more welly from the legs ( he is British and apparently this means try harder) I avoided catching my reflection in the  mirror, attempted not to breathe too heavily least I appeared totally unfit  and replaced  “ oh the wild joys of living’  with ‘horses sweat, men perspire and women glow’  as my inner monologue. All with a hammer and tong attitude you understand.

Over the course of our twice weekly torture sessions Rob and I became buddies. Shrink and tone became less of a catch cry as I realized being strong might actually be  more important to my family’s safety than looking hot in a pair of togs. (This is still open for debate as I am sure a killer body will pay dividends with a Columbian Coast Guard.)

But  February has rolled around and it is time to say ‘see ya’ to Rob and his scales. With much trepidation I stood on them and was VERY pleased to discover I am no longer obese and have a metabolic age of 30!! This could all be very clever data analysis and the scales could well be rigged but who cares I have knocked 6 years of my age!

All I can say is thank god I went to see Rob when I did.

Imagine; I could have been a morbidly obese ageing midget with giant thighs.

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Love and Lycra

A unskinny mirror, fluro lights, white goose pimply flesh, a tear-stained face, unhelpful assistants, destroyed soul, yep you guessed it I went tog shopping.

I love lycra. I have loved it since I saw Effie on Aerobics Oz style doing low impact lunges in a high impact cutaway tard. I love it so much I spend every Saturday afternoon encased in it.  My most treasured belongings are my custom-made snake-skin unitard,  my ‘sculptured to my body’ tuxedotard,  my collection of vintage leotards,  my industrial strength fish nets and the 3 pairs of fat sucking, lump removing beige goodness that is the dance tight.    I am a lycra clad dance machine!

Last Thursday my love affair turned sour. Lycra betrayed me.

After all I have done.

I gave five good years of my life for the advancement of this wonder fabric. I mean give me a pink frilled gtard teamed with electric blue tights and a leopard print belt I am unstoppable. I strut, pout I put it out;  I sashay the streets knowing my arse is cupped by that supportive weave. 

My dance troupe has been responsible for the dramatic increase in sales of second hand leotards in the lower North Island of NZ for god’s sake!   We championed that brand. 

So this betrayal is all the more hard to bear.

I am going sailing for a year and I wanted a good friend along for the ride, a fabric I could trust to make me look bitchin hot.

But in that changing room the respect went. I tried on 50 pairs of togs. I tried togs with underwire, togs without underwire, togs with halter necks, togs with sweepy fabric over problem areas,  togs with built in support, togs with jazzy straps,  admittedly I drew the line at togs with skirts and all I got was a stark reminder of how fickle love can be, thrown back at me in the mirror.

Sure I have had a baby and things are not quite as firm and perky as they once were but  out of 50 pairs of togs ONE could have made me want to fist punch the air! 

Frankly, I expected more.  There was no support, no cupping of arse cheeks, not lifting and separating, no wobble removal weave. Nothing. Just pinching, squishing, biting lycra.

But I am not one to be defeated. The sweetest form of revenge is happiness and all that, so I wiped away my tears,  kicked aside the giant pile of broken dreams, marched out of the shop and began a new love affair -with a Berkini.

Aruba here I come.

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They have arrived !! The courtesy flags have arrived!

This adventure just got a little more real. 

Twelve 30x60cms rectangles of printed and stitched canvas, more real.  

The brilliant red of Tonga, the crinkly stars of  OZ, the positively Darwinian hues of the Galapagos,  are all worthy of adulation but  my favorite is the banana yellow of Niue complete with the circle of black vivid that some el cheapo has drawn on!!  

Sure we didn’t pay top dollar but I expect their sewing skills to rival my own.

I fancy myself a bit of Martha Stewart and like to mark all major milestones with a nod to the creation of needlework heirlooms.  Lofty ideals? moi? 

While others put pen to paper I pick up a needle.

Take the last few years in London; board with stitching bunnies in baskets I decided to put the X factor in cross stitch and create a series of porn crosstitched works.

These  sextiles got me banned from exhibiting in Upper Hutt,  (I know, Upper Hutt, the high point of any artists career) saw my long-suffering mother almost disown me and had me cast as a  “good time” girl .  ( Not such a good thing in a city the size of  Wellington) BUT they did lead me to the first ever meeting with my husband.

I needed a quick turnaround on framing of some ” feature” pieces for Done Dirty Cheap (an exhibition I was in).  I walked into the picture framers across the road from the café I was in downing coffees and freaking out  about how little time I had to too everything and standing behind the counter, in a spectacular brown checked jacket, was a take-my-breath-away total fox.  He was time poor and couldn’t frame them, but the vision of that jacket was potent. 

So potent that when I saw a  flash of that same check  in a bar 14 months later I knew I had to ditch the date I was with and go and say hi.  That check jacket now lives in our joint wardrobe. 

Oh yes take me to Arthur Toy’s!  Leave me at spotlight! Give me a gift certificate to Liberties!  This fabric love affair is real. Check out these examples:

I got married in my grandmother’s wedding dress under an embroidered banner bearing the words Cherish / Perish.

Dashkin’s 100 day feast saw him wearing a hand made gown made out of beautiful sliver silk,  the conversation we committed to  actually  going sailing was had under the watchful gaze of a large Fijian Tapa cloth,we sleep under the weight of blanket hand-woven by an 80 Greek year old women from Zakynthous and Dash under the crocheted blanket I made  for him.  My step daughter often spends her evenings making tivaevae, and my inheritance from my grandmother is a pair of white mesh socks!  

Beat that!

On Monday  I got out the  40 year old Husqvarna, laid out the zips, measured up the fabric and got busy with the soft furnishings.  I didn’t stop for dinner. It was that exciting.  Then the next day the flags arrived, and then to round off an exciting week I discovered the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands are gun at applique and trade molas with passing yachts.

With all this raving about textiles you would be forgiven for thinking I am accomplished needleworker.   But I have to come clean and confess, the bitches motto of ‘what I lack in technique, I make up for in passion’ is closer to the truth.

Perhaps that Nuian  black vivid circle is not so shonky after all.

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Parlez vous Francais?

Hands up if you can speak another language? Now hands up if you can REALLY speak another language?

I ask because a couple of days ago my colleague and I were flexing our linguistic muscles as we hunched over the 5 minute quiz in the Dom Post.

Question three presented the perfect opportunity to put my four ever French lessons into action. ‘What would a Tricoteuse being doing at an execution?’ It asked.

Jumping in before anyone else had a chance, I piped up with “Well obviously it has to do with hair -Trico that has to be to do with hair. Maybe they made wigs for people to wear at an execution. Or perhaps they would plait the hair of the person who was about to be executed. Like a creepy hairdresser”

“Hmm nice try, but I think it is something to do with the number three.  Tri, three get it, like triathlon, triangle?” my colleague said, armed with her 3rd from French.

Each confident that we had ‘nailed it’, we continued on with the quiz in a quietly competitive manner. Checking the answers, our dreams of bilingualism were crushed.  

Tricoteuse is not a creepy hairdresser, nor does it have anything to do with the number three, it is, in fact, the name used for the women who frequented 18th century public executions and knitted their way through the beheadings. .  

Just a little something to think about.

It got me thinking alright.   I am a typical English monoglot. I have tried very unsuccessfully to learn Japanese, Italian, French and Maori.  

A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing.  When I was in Japan I was very aware of how limited my comprehension was, yet as soon as I left I was proffering to “get the gist” of most things. (WTF?) Talk about selective memory. Yes I could watashiwai, and subarashi, and pull out the waikarimasen but when I got beyond talking about drinking or the weather I was a stuttering muttering fool.

Same thing in Italian, aside from ordering a glass of vino or  un café per favor, I spent my time relying on my then boyfriend to translate everything. Get me back on English speaking soil and again I am deluding myself about my ability.

This personality flaw does not bode well.

On this voyage I am responsible for soft furnishings, navigation and wait for it translating the weather forecast!!

Sweet baby Jesus.

Luckily the Spanish Embassy is in the same building as me so fingers crossed I will get my head and chops around the spanish for  “A large cyclone is heading your way”

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Hit it Hard

I finally, after five and half years of running a dance troupe I have managed to choreograph a song mostly on my own!   Boom. I hit it hard. So hard I have a bruise to prove it.

In a departure from the 80′s and in a return to the core ethos of Bitchin.. ie leaving no dance stone unturned I choose, bitch by default,  Peaches. She spoke to me. Her electropop beats have got me through some rough times… I have taken her advice and F*cked the Pain Away,  when she sung Hit it Hard, I asked how hard? And when she asked if that was a tent in your pants, I investigated.  Oh yes me and Peaches… we go way back, back to 2006/7.

I am the Bitch Mistress, my bitches are formidable.   Only way to start,  bitchin arm work.. Candy styles.

But as of 2011 the bitches are going on ice. We are cryogenically freezing our bitchin selves until the next 80s revival.

In early Feb there will be one huge BITCHIN party to celebrate all that is good about lycra, sweat and shitty yet ace music.

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Oh the Wild Joys of Living

It all began in standard four with the Our Lady of Lourdes cross country.

I was 10, it was raining and the course was around the soggy back field.  I was hooked. Cross country running was ace. 

No nasty sprints where the long legged redhead could streak past me, no compulsory rompers, no embarrassing bar moments on the high jump, no having to do chest passes.

Just me, the field and a longish bumpy  track.

The words ‘natural’ and ‘talent’ have never been used to describe my athletic ability.   But something about jogging in the bush is my idea of a good time,  it appeals to my love of adventure and drama. You never know when you could twist an ankle, or a tree could become adversary.  And it is a great way to learn lines.

To this day every time I go running. (And when I say ‘run’ think of it more as a jalk -jogging mixed with walking.) I quote Browning.

Picture this, a shortish, chubbish, bright pinkish girl jogging around the dirt tracks of the Palmerston North Esplanade puffing her way through  ‘Oh the wild joys of living, the leaping from rock up to rock, the strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree,  the cool silver shock of the plunge in a pool’s living water.’

I am sure some people were thinking WTF?   I am sure some people are thinking WTF?

Well because about the same time that I discovered the joy of running I decided that I wanted to be an actor and the only way I could really learn the poems for my speech and drama exams was to jog them out.  

So now while others feel the need plug themselves into an iPod I give the old grey matter a workout and whip through a few choice picks from the Anthology of Victorian Poetry.

Being the inclusive gal I am, I have also been known to work on a haiku or two as I slog my way up the Karori hill, recite the whole of Kookaburra Sits on the Old Gum Tree as I pass through the Australian section of the Bot Gardens and occasionally the lyrics to Pour Some Sugar as I make my way along the Nydia Track.

The dreams of stardom on the stage have faded but the sweaty trainers still remain.

I can only imagine what literary treats are in store for Dash and Ross on those moonlit nights I am on watch.

With lines like “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” chances are Alfred Noyes’ Highway Man will be heard whispering from the cockpit.

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Not being Negative – Just being Honest.

Earthquakes, floods, shootings, vomiting, 2011 could rival a chapter in revelations for the drama and intrigue.

In fact I reckon those doomsday cults in the US who have predicted that the world is going to be in 2012 might be on to something. 

Even more reason to be going sailing. Or is it?

As a worst case scenarioist I spend a lot of time planning what I would do in  various potentially dangerous situations.  For example, right now, it is currently gusting 120kms in Kelburn, there are old pine trees very close to our window that are swaying  A LOT.  It is within the realm of possibility that they could fall through our windows into our lounge shattering glass everywhere, compromising the structural integrity of our house and cutting me off from Dashkin’s room. I could be left dangling on a bit of splintered timber while my infant son is inches away from being impaled.   Luckily I have thought all of this through and have a plan at the ready.

I grab Dash and run like wildfire.

You can imagine I am having an absolute field day thinking about the coming months. Oh yes this particular scenario is a worst case scenarioist’s paradise.  You have all the elements needed to really get your imagination going; small child- check, unpredictable natural world -check,  high potential for illness and accidents check,  possibility of tsunami ( this is my biggest fear, so big I have dreams about it,  and yes I do know what Freud says about large bodies of water appearing in your dreams)- check,  large mammals – check,   potential for being in a situation where canibalism may be an option- check.

It is exhausting and has totally shot my adrenal system so a couple of weeks ago I decided to take action against this sea of troubles and become a marine radio operator.

Armed with  Safety in a Small Craft, a pamphlet about the ionosphere and a grade 8 Speech and Drama certificate I took myself off to meet Dave and get qualified.

Not content with just a VHS qualification I wanted an international SSB one too.

We met on a wet and windy night in that hexagonal building down at Evans Bay Marina.  After some quick introductions it was straight to the kettle for a cup of tea. Dave has big  mugs.  Then me and the four other gents on the course got busy. We Maydayed, we Pan paned we alpha, bravo, charlied, we learnt about the revered channel 16, we had more tea,  we got our head around radio waves bounces all over the earth, and we learnt the most important lesson of all – how to turn your radio on.

Three gruelling hours later, high on chocie bickies and too many cups of tea we emerged. Qualified.

Which was lucky as sometimes things are sent to try us.

Like  our dodgy toaster that caught fire the next morning. This was no pan pan situation. This was a  MAYDAY. We are talking flames licking the ceiling, evacuation, fire extinguishers, we are talking tea, not just milkly tea but hot tea with sugar and a five-day clean up.

This was a total meltdown of my adrenal system. Luckily my stepdaughter Nina,  enacted my plan. She grabbed Dash and ran like wildfire.

Needless to say the marine fire extinguishers have been ordered and are en route to Aruba.

Papa, hotel, echo, whiskey.

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Solo vs Duo vs Trio

Imagine being in a boxing ring with no opponent. There you are punching the air, swinging at shadows, motivating yourself, getting all the glory. Now imagine being in a boxing ring with two people, punches coming from the left, jabs from the right, you’re wishing you had eyes in the back of your head, there is no time to relax, you are constantly on guard, never knowing when you might get KOed.

Adventuring solo is one thing, adventuring as a family is another. I am not really suggesting that sailing as a family is like being in a boxing ring but I am suggesting that your chances of being side swiped are greater. Much greater.

There is not one ego to contend with but three! Anyone who has spent any time with an 18 month old knows that this is an ego that knows NO bounds. (Anyone who has spent time with me knows that mine is pretty heathy and take it from me, Ross is not exactly lacking in the ego department.) Add this to a confined space,  10 meter swells and you’ve got a fight of David Tua proportions. 

When I say ego I don’t just mean the usual  “check me out look at how amazing I am” ego, I mean, what I like to call, the ‘hopes and dreams’ ego.

This ego is about why we are all doing this. What our hopes and dreams are for the journey, what we have to prove to ourselves vs the practical day-to-day living on the ocean.

It bugs the shit out of me when people say they are going to do something and then don’t. I am terrified of becoming like that so before Ross and I started even talking about going sailing I had to know that it had a 90% chance of happening.   ( We have 6 weeks to go before we fly to Aruba so fingers crossed. )

I have gallivanted around the world by myself and occasionally with a boyfriend or friend but never with a child.  I feel huge responsibility to make sure his ego is feed, he has a great time, hits his developmental milestones,  and most importantly stays on the boat  in one piece.

So folks out there, what do you think, which is easier solo, duo or trio? Any advice for sailing or travelling with kids?   What motivates you to up sticks and head off into the wild blue yonder? What keeps you at home?

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What's in a name?

Okay guys we are after a new name for our yacht. Vote now!

I asked my face book buddies for some ideas and below is a selection of the greatest hits.

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