Lifestyles of a Not-So-Famous Cruiser

Dropping the hook in remote Bahia Magdalena—on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula—I was instantly attracted to Puna, a plucky little fire engine-red cutter anchored nearby.
Author:
Updated:
Original:
 Kim Bushnell spent her childhood cruising, moved ashore to raise her own kids, and then made her way back to the sea where she met her now-partner, Arnie Lang

Kim Bushnell spent her childhood cruising, moved ashore to raise her own kids, and then made her way back to the sea where she met her now-partner, Arnie Lang

Dropping the hook in remote Bahia Magdalena—on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula—I was instantly attracted to Puna, a plucky little cutter anchored nearby. There was nothing sexy about her—no long overhangs or come-hither tumblehome to get my heart racing—but she was beautifully functional, clearly tough and purpose-built. The colors of her fire engine-red hull and bright-white hard dodger were intensified by the late afternoon light of a December sun.

More often than not, I’ve found that the people aboard interesting boats in interesting places have interesting stories to tell. Kim Bushnell and her partner Arnie Lang were no exception.

Kim rowed over to our boat Del Viento in a pert little hard dinghy, drawn to the sight of our kids playing in the water. “Cruising kids are just the coolest!” She looked squarely at my two daughters, “Don’t you hate it when grown-ups ask you if you know how lucky you are to be cruising? Yuck!” My 10-year-old daughter smiled.

Kim knows about such things; she remembered the freedom of her own seaborne childhood. She was 10 when her parents loaded her and her sister onto a boat and sailed south down the Mississippi River from Ontario, Canada. “My sister and I just kind of ran wild—a great way to grow up, none of the stress and responsibility and all of the joy.”

For an anxious cruising parent, her words were a salve.

“We eventually circled the globe, took us seven years,” she said.

Kim told me about how, in the Cook Islands when she was 12, cruising legend Tom Neale taught her to garden in a place without bees. “Tom took me around—in shorts, no loincloth—and showed me how to pollinate plants using a tiny paint brush.” By 14 she was designing her future sailboats and at 15 lived through a knock-down off Cape Horn. “Three other boats were lost that day, but we were only dismasted and lost our dinghy. We rolled over three times. I still have a bump on my head.”

 To young and aspiring cruising families, Kim's story is especially inspiring

To young and aspiring cruising families, Kim's story is especially inspiring

Now 51, Kim is cheerful and assertive. In her I could easily see the 18-year-old who once stood up in a Long Beach boat show audience and gave Lin and Larry Pardey a piece of her mind. She didn’t know the famous sailing couple behind the podium, but she’d just heard them deride ferrocement boats and that didn’t sit well with her. It was the fall of 1982 and Kim had recently completed her circumnavigation with her parents aboard the 31-foot Dove, a cruising boat her dad built with his own hands, in ferrocement.

“Larry chuckled and asked if I was Winston’s and Carol’s daughter.” Kim smiled as she recalled the encounter. “He said he and Lin had just met my folks at the Toronto Boat Show and that he was pleased to meet me. I turned beet-red.”

“After that, I began visiting the Pardeys in nearby Lake Elsinore and helped Lin apply coat after coat of varnish to the nearly-completed Taleisin.”

Kim married early and started a life that mirrored her upbringing. She and her husband spent seven years building their own 39-foot cruising boat, Shilo. By the time they finished their daughter was one year old, and they took off with her across the Pacific. Within two years they returned home and added a son to their family.

“But I moved north to Nanaimo, BC, in 1998, a single mom.” Her folks lived nearby and her then 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son had five open acres to run around on and explore. Kim taught sailing and worked at West Marine to pay her way through school. In 2001, she and her father began building Puna, a 27-foot steel-hulled Brent Swain design characterized by its frameless origami-like construction. “My dad built her sister ship, Dove III, and sailed her through the Northwest Passage. I told him I wanted to help build the same boat for myself, something small and sturdy that can be my home until I’m 80. We worked together from the bare hull.”

I asked her if she regrets not voyaging with her kids at an older age. “A bit, but I didn’t want to be out there alone with two kids, it’s much harder than singlehanding.” She did spend four years aboard with her kids and four summers cruising the Salish Sea and Desolation Sound, but by then they were ready to move on and start their own lives.

“That’s when I started planning to sail south—and here we are!”

I turned to her partner, Arnie, “But how did you guys meet?”

“I bought Dove in 1985,” Arnie said, “the boat she grew up on—that’s how we knew each other. When she was ready to take Puna cruising, she asked me to come with her.”

The couple squeezed in close together for a picture; Puna’s warm interior brightwork gleamed.

Photos by Michael Robertson

Related

IDECsport_180919_106-2048

IDEC Tri Breaks Tea Route Record

Francis Joyon and his crew aboard the maxi-tri IDEC Sport have set a new record for the “tea route” from Hong Kong to London of just 31 days, 23 hours, 36 minutes. In doing so they bested the previous record set by Italian skipper, Giovanni Soldini aboard the trimaran Maserati ...read more

DawnRileyforSAILmagazine

An Interview with Sailor Dawn Riley

The 2019 sailing documentary Maiden received rave reviews as a human-interest story that featured excellent racing footage and the heartfelt recollections of an all-female team led by then 25-year-old Briton Tracy Edwards. During the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race, ...read more

IMG_9978

Charter: More for Your Money

Though summer may not be when you typically think of escaping to a tropical island, it could, in fact, be the perfect time for a charter holiday. Despite popular perception, the Caribbean isn’t hot as Hades during summer. In fact, the highs vary by only about 8 degrees F ...read more

Riley-and-Elayna,-Sailing-La-Vagabonde

Sailing in the YouTube Era

At the risk of both dating myself and being accused of gross hyperbole, I will say this: it was a bit like 1964 when the Beatles first landed in New York. What I’m referring to is last fall’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Playing the role of the Beatles were not one, but two ...read more

Bill-Hatfield-copy-1024x665

Cruising: Solo Circumnavigators

There seems to be no age limit for solo-circumnavigators. Not so long ago we had Californian Jeff Hartjoy set a record for the oldest American to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted, at the age of 70. A few months ago, 77-year-old Briton Jeanne Socrates became the ...read more

bookrev

Book Review: One-Pot Wonders

James Barber Harbour Publishing, $14.95 I’ll bet a filet mignon against a can of Dinty Moore that almost every cruising cook has read and discarded a goodly number of seagoing recipe books. Some are so simple as to be insulting. Others require too many exotic and perishable ...read more

_DSC7508

A Great Lakes Sailor Rediscovers Cruising

It had been seven years since I’d taken my Westsail 32, Antares, out for more than an afternoon day sail. Such is the reality when taking care of an elderly parent. However, a year ago my dad passed away at the age of 100, and after we sold the family home, I found myself living ...read more