Katie and Jim Thomsen were living in Antwerp, Belgium, when Katie returned from a 2003 kayaking trip off Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and announced, “I could live on a boat.” Two years later that’s exactly what they were doing. Nearly 50 hours of private lessons in the Netherlands gave them the skills to sail to the Mediterranean on Tenaya, their new 40-foot Hallberg-Rassy sloop. As their passion for sailing and traveling grew, they continued west across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and then across the Pacific to Thailand before returning to the Mediterranean eight years later. The more they traveled, the more they learned from the people and places they visited.
When Jim and Katie returned to a land-based life, they bought a 2016 Sprinter 4×4 cargo van and converted it themselves to a “land yacht” adventure camper. They had visited 50 countries while sailing 50,000 miles aboard Tenaya, but they hadn’t seen much of the United States. The van is changing that. And their adventures continue.
Filling in the details
Born and raised in Southern California, Jim Thomsen majored in mathematics and philosophy at UCLA but spent much of his time rock climbing. After university graduation, he went to Mexico to climb the volcanoes and chill on the beach. That’s where he first sailed, and he returned home with dreams of owning a sailboat. Eventually he bought one but the fledging outdoor company he started with his brother, Greg, took all of his time so he traded his sailboat for five sewing machines. That company, Wilderness Experience, was one of the leading outdoor companies of the time, making backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and some of the first waterproof Gore-Tex jackets. His sewing skills would later come in handy while sailing and building out their van!
In the mid ‘80s Jim partnered with Larry Harrison in the Earth Games sales organization representing outdoor equipment and apparel. Katie was managing Pat’s Ski and Sport in San Diego when Jim and Larry gave a clinic there for outdoor pack company JanSport. Jim and Katie fell for each other and shortly thereafter Larry offered her a job. When Earth Games began selling snowboards in 1988, Katie Thomsen, a passionate skier, convinced Jim to move to Mammoth, Calif., where they soon opened a small store that offered shipping services, copy and fax machines, and also sold art and office supplies.
With kids approaching college age, he returned to JanSport, moving to Wisconsin, and took a job as senior vice president, his first corporate job. Katie stayed in Mammoth, but joined him during the summers, spending winters in Mammoth to run her store and of course to snowboard. In 2000, VF, then the parent company of JanSport, offered Jim the chance to run their newly acquired brand, Eastpak, in Europe, where he had to establish the business from nothing. Jim retired the end of 2005, and the sailing and travel adventures began!