In 2005, Outdoor Industry vets Katie and Jim Thomsen finally decided to pack it in, buy a boat, and sail the Mediterranean. Nine years later, they are still at it, now having circumnavigated the globe, stopping to explore countless countries in the process. Aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 40 named Tenaya, the couple have seen and experienced places that would not be possible by any other form of transport. I was fortunate to meet up with Katie and Jim in Istanbul earlier this month, share a meal and be amazed by their stories of years past and what is yet to come. If you ever dreamt about sailing around the world, be sure to follow the couple on their website, Tenaya Travels, and read our interview with Katie below.
1. What made you finally take the leap of faith and head out on your adventure?
Moving onto a sailboat wasn’t in our plans. We were going back to Mammoth when Jim was done working in Belgium (Editor’s Note: Jim was running Kipling for VF Corp at the time). Then a friend and I went on a live-aboard kayaking trip off Vancouver Island. I love being surrounded by nature and spending nights at anchor added a whole new, wonderful dimension. I was hooked! Jim was thrilled because that was his dream. Eighteen months later we were living on a boat. After 50 hours of private lessons, a season of practicing and a three-week offshore sailing course, we left the security of our Dutch marina and sailed down to the Mediterranean.
2. How long did you plan to be gone at the start and how has your plan changed since?
We only planned to sail to the Med. We had no time frame. We loved living in Europe so figured that if I didn’t like sailing we would just park the boat in Barcelona. The more comfortable I became with the whole sailing thing, the more I liked it. We enjoyed the Western Med and were headed for Turkey when the market crashed in 2008. The idea of spending a lot of money to sit in a marina in Italy for six months didn’t sound like much fun so we decided to sail to the Caribbean for the winter, return in the spring, and continue on to Greece and Turkey.
In the Caribbean we met people who recommended sailing in the Pacific. Why not, we thought, so we switched plans and went through the Panama Canal instead. Fast forward across the Pacific to New Zealand. We were trying to decide where to go next – Japan to Alaska to the US West Coast, back to Tahiti and up to Hawaii to Alaska, or through Indonesia to South Africa and back to the Caribbean? If we did the latter, we’d tie our knot and circumnavigate the world. We hadn’t set out to do that but it would be pretty cool. So we bought guidebooks to do just that.
We took an unconventional route to Malaysia and on the way had second thoughts about sailing to Africa. Our favorite experiences were those from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and we knew we wanted to spend time in Africa but that we would worry about Tenaya if we left her for long. So we changed plans again to go straight back to Europe. But sailing through the Red Sea is too dangerous because of the Somali pirate situation so we booked Tenaya on a freighter from Thailand to Belgium. The company cancelled the transport ship so we altered our plans again and here we are in Istanbul, Turkey.
One thing you asked was how our plan has changed. So many things have changed! Our perceptions of travel, what we need to be happy and even how we deal with packaging and trash all morph as our journey progresses.
3. What is the best and worst thing about living on a boat?
Best: Traveling in our home, with all our stuff, and going to places accessible only by boat.
Worst: Lightning. It’s one of the few things out of our control. We worry we’ll be hit and lose all our electronics.
4. Your most memorable experience to date (I am sure there are many but one you will cherish forever)?
In Vanuatu 16 little girls squeezed into the dinghy and we took them out to Tenaya. They’d never been in a dinghy before, or on a sailboat, or on padded furniture. Their houses are made of bush material and their floors are dirt. We learned a lot about what is not necessary in life at all, and what is.
5. Any recommendations or tips for someone looking to pack it all in and sail the world?
Go for it! Just know that it is more difficult than anyone’s blog lets on. Boats break and you’ll need to be able to fix things yourself and have the spare parts on board. Have a chunk of change, twice what you think you’ll need. Join a Facebook group or a cruisers forum and lurk. Take lessons and an offshore course to learn as much as you can about boat and sail handling. Be sure you have a well-equipped blue water boat. Bundle your sense of adventure and a few favorite goodies and sail away. The wind will blow your sails and the lifestyle will blow your mind.
6. Most importantly, where to next?
We’ll sail into the Black Sea for a month or so and get a feel for the northern Turkish coast. After that…?