I WANT TO BE a little more like Angela.
Angela Meyer-Blacksmith is a sailor, dancer, mother, matchmaker, cross stitcher, and a very funny writer. She’s also a MatadorU alumna who recently published a book based on her travel blog, Mrs. Blacksmith Sails, a tale of “love and lycra on the high seas.” Right now, she’s working on a novel to be published by Random House. I interviewed her last year, when she was working on Sea Fever, and I just recently I read the finished product.
I started the book in a quiet coffeeshop. The first chapter about her encounter with the American Coastguard made me laugh, because I remembered last year when she told me about it: “If you’re going to get rescued, it may as well be by a hottie.” That should give you an idea of Angela’s style. Optimistic, and a little silly.
Angela and I spoke above love, lycra, and Latin America last year while she was housesitting in Panama, working on her book. She was writing all morning and then “mucking around in the afternoon” with her husband and two-year-old son Dashkin, her shipmates.
In 2009, Angela and her husband bought a 40ft boat and made plans to sail it from Aruba to Brisbane with their son. Then, in October of 2010, she started a blog for her family and friends, thinking it’d be easier than sending mass emails about their adventure.
Most of the readers and commenters initially were friends and family from New Zealand, which is what makes it even more impressive that a 10-month-old blog attracted a major publisher. I complimented Angela on getting a book deal based on a blog that started out basically as a mass email. But she corrected me, “Of course I dreamed about a book deal.” It was just never the point of the project.
In early posts on her blog, she’s organized and each entry is based on a specific topic. It’s also very funny. She gives updates on trip planning, or discusses sailing tips she’s picked up, and sometimes she just writes about stuff she enjoys. Like cross country running: “It appeals to my love of adventure and drama.” (from Oh the Wild Joys of Living)
“Positive Poverty” is also a major concept in the blog and also makes its way into the book. Angela and her husband had to work hard to save money for the trip and take a good look at the difference between “need” and “want.” Positive Poverty, for them, was going without certain things to reach their goal.
In later entries, when they’re spending days at a time working on the boat or at sea, the posts are longer, less structured, and still very funny. Reading them, it feels like she has 15 minutes at an internet cafe and just wants to get it all down.
When she began her first draft of the book, she realized her sailing story really started the day she met her husband. She never wanted Mrs. Blacksmith Sails to be a “love blog” in any way. She assumed her readers knew Ross, her husband, and how they met and why their relationship is important to the story. So her first major project was writing about the five years before the blog starts. Their first kiss “smells of booze and boat and potential.”
I enjoyed Angela’s book because she is somehow sarcastic, positive, and realistic all at the same time. She describes difficulties in dating, childhood embarrassments, and the tough life aboard a sailboat in a way that lets you know she gets hurt sometimes, but she thinks it’s funny too, and she wants you to laugh with her.
One of the chapters begins, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a dancer. Not just any dancer, but a Solid Gold Dancer.” She is as matter-of-fact about lines like this as she is about the history of South America, technical descriptions of her boat, and tips on parenting at sea.
One difficulty in reading the book was the New Zealand slang, some of which I had to google. And once or twice she wrote something and I thought, “Maybe that’s not a bad word in New Zealand…”
I also appreciate Angela’s ability to talk openly about negative experiences and how she overcomes them. There’s one scene on the boat where she breaks down and is honest about how much it sucks to be cleaning a toilet when it’s 100 degrees outside. A lot of people who travel have bad, overwhelming experiences, but many don’t write about them. Angela has moments where she doubts whether they should be taking the trip at all. But she writes about it all. Other times, she puts on a gold unitard to feel better.
Gold unitard? I’ll end with my favorite thing about Angela — her dance troupe, the Real Hot Bitches. The group is literally record breaking — they beat the world record for greatest number of people doing a synchronized dance to Shot Through the Heart (video below). They dance with attitudes and leotards (“tudes and tards”) to ’80s classics and their “choreography often ends in us dying.”
Sea Fever: From First Date to First Mate is available on Amazon.