Switch off "Survivor" and "Lost" on television. Carrie (Hansen) Kinnison ’84 is living the real thing. It is a calm, clear day. The temperature is 88 degrees as Carrie sits in the cockpit while her boat is anchored in Huatulco, Mexico. No, she is not on vacation. THIS IS HER LIFE! Ten years ago, Carrie, formerly an engineer in medical products, and her husband Pat, then a partner in an insurance and financial planning business, bought a 14-foot sailboat and trailer, taught themselves to sail (with a little help from their friends and some formal sailing instruction) and became certified divers. The couple took a chartered trip to Tonga, east of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific, that forever changed their lives. "The hook was set," Carrie says. "We knew we wanted to become 'cruisers.'"
In 1998, the two had a 40-foot cutter-rigged sailboat built, sold their home in Flagstaff, AZ, and later moved to San Diego. Trained as an electrical engineer, Carrie worked as a project manager for a medical device company and her husband was a project engineer. When Carrie's employer moved to Minnesota, she began working as a consultant. By the spring of 2000, Carrie, Pat and their cats were living aboard their cruiser Terra Firma learning about its systems and purchasing and installing gear needed for extended cruising. In 2005, they retired and in late December began cruising down the outside of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Despite a fine weather forecast, the couple sailed into gale winds and rough seas and stayed awake two days until they found refuge. When they reached Zihuatanejo, they spent their first month volunteering for Sail Fest, a fundraiser to buy lumber, paint and cement to repair poor schools.
Lest one think that life aboard a cruiser is all fun and games; it's not. There is trimming, setting and dousing sails (the latter two can require strenuous physical exertion); navigating; checking for obstructions; scanning the horizon for other boats; plotting position and checking the course. "Even when you are not doing anything while under sail, your body is constantly in motion to maintain balance," Carrie says. When the boat is docked, they cook, clean, do laundry, shop for groceries, repair the boat, clean its bottom and change the oil. But by 3:00 p.m., Carrie and Pat are snorkeling, reading, exploring the nearby town, visiting friends or playing in beach bocce tournaments. Following Mexico, the duo departed for a four- to six-week trip visiting Central America. During this jaunt, they explored volcanoes in El Salvador; lived with a local family in Guatemala and took Spanish classes there; visited caves, waterfalls and ruins in Honduras and cruised the Caribbean coast of Belize.
Carrie contends that her Glen Oak/Gilmour education cultivated her desire to be self-sufficient and self-motivated. She also has applied lessons learned "that age, color and creed have nothing to do with who can be my friends. I have found that in difficult, scary situations I perform well," she says. "It comes down to taking things in manageable chunks, sometimes as small as 15-minute intervals, and staying focused," she concludes. "You never know exactly how you will react until you are face-to-face with Mother Nature's nastier side."