Introducing Kim Petersen-A Writer on the Water

Introducing Kim Petersen-A Writer on the Water

I met Kim Petersen, the author of Charting the Unknown: Family, Fear and One Long Boat Ride at the Florida Writers Conference where she was accepting the Royal Palm Literary Award for memoir.  She is a writer on the water.

From the book jacket:

Kim Petersen had big dreams, but losing a daughter to SIDS rattled her faith and instilled fear of the unknown. In her mid-thirties, feeling lost amidst errands and meetings, Kim rediscovers a college bucket-list of dreams that inspires her to confront that fear. Longing to reconnect with herself and her family, she and her husband sell everything and embark on the journey of a lifetime-to build a boat and cross the Atlantic Ocean.

With no nautical experience, they acclimate to living onboard in tight quarters, homeschooling teenagers, seasickness and boat handling, while the dream of crossing the ocean remains strong. Kim begins to believe an alternate reality-that she could be brave-and faces her ultimate fear: 4,000 miles of open water. Underway, Kim discovers that navigating the unchartered water of her soul offers its own adventure.

Charting the Unknown is as much an inward journey into becoming a tight-knit family as it is an outward adventure. It is a thorough account of learning how to become a live-aboard.

As I read the well-written account of Kim’s journey, I laughed out loud at calling her family the crew and cried openly at the heartbreak of losing a child. This book is an emotional adventure. I also connected with the role Kim plays of wife of the captain and scribe of the events. I wanted to know more about how she came to write the book.

1. The moto of WriteOnTheWater is So You Want to Quit Your Job, Move onto a Boat, and Write. It seems like you did that. What prompted the initial desire to move onto the water? Did you always love boating?

KIM- Twenty years ago, sitting in the university cafeteria, my husband and I wrote up a bucket list of dreams and number six on that list was “live on a boat and cross and ocean.” I remember that the idea appealed to us although neither of us had any boating experience. More than anything, I think the notion of breaking free, living simply and exploring the world captured our imaginations. As often happens in life, we had kids, got busy with jobs and it wasn’t until fifteen years later that I happened to be cleaning the basement and found that old bucket-list. We were crazy-busy at the time and longing for a change in our lives. Finding that list reawakened something in both of us, a desire to reconnect with ourselves and our family. “Live on a boat” was a way to accomplish this. Our kids were teenagers at the time and we wanted to instill some good values, the importance of family, thinking outside the box and exploration before they left home. To be honest, because of a previous tragedy, I was quite afraid of the water and had been living in bondage to fear for many years. The desire to change my perspective, to confront that fear, motivated me to live on a boat. .

2. You talk a lot about living unconventionally, which most of us on boats do. What struck you as the biggest adjustment you have to make?

KIM- We found our 65-foot power catamaran in a farmer’s field in New Zealand. The hull, designed by Malcolm Tennant, was new construction but there was nothing on the inside, no plumbing, electrical, or woodworking. We shipped the shell to Florida, sold everything, quit our jobs and moved from Toronto, Canada to finish her. In addition to having no boating experience, save for some canoeing and a week on a Carnival Cruise Ship we had no boat-building experience, either. After moving aboard, the four of us not only had to complete the construction, but learn to live together in small quarters and this was perhaps the hardest thing. I remember after a particularly difficult day building boat cabinets, our son Stefan, who was 11 when we moved aboard, said to me, “Mom, you know when you and dad said living on a boat would be a grand adventure? Well, this isn’t the adventure I signed up for!” One thing we learned in those early days: living unconventionally involves risk and hard work. The payoff (making it all worthwhile) came when living aboard had become the “norm,” and we began to enjoy the outdoors, each other, a simpler existence and working as a team.

3.There has been a lot of talk on WOW about balancing the work needed to be done, exploring new ports, and writing. You had to do this while homeschooling two teenagers. Did you strike a balance? Was one more time consuming that the other? When did you find time to write?

KIM- It took a bit of time to find that balance, to get into a routine, but after that things ticked along beautifully. We fell into the pattern of working hard in the mornings, the kids doing their school work, I was writing and Mike continued to run a business over the internet. I’m a morning person, so I would wake-up early, often around 5am. Doing this, I was able to get a few hours of uninterrupted writing time in before the kids woke up around eight o’clock. Like any full-time writer, being disciplined was something I wrestled with. It didn’t take me long to realize that my best work was done when I was committed to the craft, so I kept a fairly regimented morning writing schedule. The four of us would work until 1PM or so, have lunch, then spend the rest of the day exploring, going to museums, or visiting historic sites.

The wonderful thing about homeschooling teenagers is that they are at a point in their education when they can take responsibility for their own learning. Both our kids were enrolled in a correspondence high school (Keystone National High School) that kept track of their records. Working independently, Lauren and Stefan did their work online and sent it in over the internet. They were even able to join some clubs like the school newspaper and the yearbook. When Mike or I couldn’t answer their questions, they could email their teacher. As parents, we simply acted as scholastic mentors. It was wonderful practice for university.

4. You write that “Over the course of years, my childhood love of adventure had largely been tamed.” Did setting sail ignite your sense of adventure?

KIM- It absolutely did. I think anytime you put yourself in a position where what you are experiencing is new, is foreign, that constitutes adventure. Everything about living aboard was a fresh encounter. Whether it was manatees swimming by or the feeling of the boat as it bobbed fifteen miles offshore; anchoring among uninhabited islands in the Bahamas or being 900 miles from the nearest land, as we were while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, it was all new for us.

The Mediterranean in particular was an adventure because so much of what we were experiencing was outside the realm of our experience. While in Morocco, we rode camels into the Sahara Desert to spend a few days in a Bedouin camp. One night as we sat around the campfire, a middle-aged Bedouin man we had befriended suddenly looked at Mike with enlightenment, saying, “OH! I understand now! You travel with your family across the great ocean. You are nomad. I travel with my family across the great desert. I am a nomad!” Then he reached over to grab Mikes arm, looked warmly into his eyes before saying, “You are my nomad brother!” And this is the best thing about adventure: it is not about the experience itself, but the way it changes you that makes it valuable. This, in turn, affects the way you respond to the world.

5. It seems that you really explored the food in many places Chysalis voyaged. Do you have a favorite culinary destination? Favorite cruising ground?

KIM- Food was a motivating factor in my agreement to cross the ocean. Whenever I had visions of dark clouds and twenty foot waves coming over the bow, I would therapeutically envision plates of fettuccini alfredo, nocciola gelato, paella, hummus and lamb kabob and my strength would return. We anticipated good food in Italy and it certainly didn’t disappoint us. But the best culinary collisions were the ones that happened in unexpected, often out-of-the-way places.

For instance: on our way from Gibraltar to Barcelona, we had been forced to seek shelter from a storm in the small Spanish fishing village of Calpe where no one spoke a lick of English. That night, we walked to a local restaurant and tried to interpret the menu, all in Spanish. When we asked him about it, our server simply shrugged his shoulders. So, much to the amusement of the restaurant staff, we put the menus on the table, closed our eyes and each pointed to something. When my plate arrived, it supported the largest purple octopus tentacle I had ever seen, probably 3 inches in diameter and 10-12 inches long, the tip draped over the plate. It was well salted and sitting in a puddle of pale green olive oil. When I raised my eyebrows at our server, he nodded, went away and came back with a large pepper grinder with which he generously peppered my tentacle. Never mind that I had been hoping for a cup of garlic aioli. Once I got past the look of it (the suction cups were large), I found it delicious. I dipped small, tender chunks in the fruitiest olive oil I’ve ever tasted, the rock salt and pepper clinging to the morsel as if applied with glue. The simplicity of the whole dish was brilliant.

I love this quote by Henry Miller because it sums up not only my culinary experiences underway, but how I have come to look at the world with its amazing inhabitants, geography and history: “Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music—the world is simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”

* * *

This is a book, not only for those of us already on the water, but those on the shore who will recognize the familiar fears and learning curve Kim went through. It is a book for all of us who want to quit our jobs, move onto a boat and write.

Kim continues to live aboard Chrysalis and is still writing on the water. She is currently working on her second book about her pilgrimage through the Mediterranean. You can read more about her at her web-site

Victoria Allman, author SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, has been following her stomach around the globe for twelve years as a yacht chef.  She writes about her floating culinary odyssey through Europe, the Caribbean, Nepal, Vietnam, Africa and the South Pacific in her first book, Sea Fare:  A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean.

You can read more of her food-driven escapades through her web-site,

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3 Responses to Introducing Kim Petersen-A Writer on the Water

  1. Tom Tripp says:

    Kim’s story is truly inspirational. It’s on my Amazon list now. I have to say, I laughed out loud (LOL?) when I saw the food question. The unavoidable hallmark of a Victoria Allman interview. I love it!

  2. Victoria Allman says:

    Tom, you are not the first to call me single-minded!
    You will enjoy Kim’s tale of building the boat before taking off across the ocean-it is the complete story from hull to voyage. She and her family are obviously not scared of teh hard work involved with living on a boat.

  3. Great interview! Kim’s book sounds fascinating… and I’ve just added it to my reading list.

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