The Johnson Family’s Life at Sea
The Johnson family tells tales of life on the water.
The 2004 remake of the classic movie “Around the World in 80 Days” (the movie version of a book written in 1872 by Jules Verne) portrays a humorous race to circle the globe in a hot air balloon — but taking 18 months to circumnavigate the world with your entire family aboard a sailboat is anything but comedic. For longtime Oxford residents Richard and Jessica Johnson, and daughters Molly and Emma, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Richard and Jessica are no strangers to the high seas. From 1997 to 2001 they circled the globe, but Jessica had to miss the transatlantic leg because she was 7-and-a-half months pregnant.
“So this journey ‘closes the loop’ for me, and gives the girls some ‘currency’ for future life adventures,” Jessica said.
Circumnavigators Irving and Exy Johnson (not related, but who sailed around the globe seven times from 1924 to 1959) are inspirations to Richard and Jessica.
Richard has sailed (even operating tall ships) and built boats around the world for the past 35 years. Teaching is second nature to him. He has taught sailing excursions aboard his boat and served as an instructor for the Sea Education Association, a college-accredited oceanography course that uses scientists to instruct students during a six-week period.
Jessica’s initiation to the sea came as a camp counselor on shore sailing dinghies, and she later felt a pull toward the open seas. She has been a student and mate on SEA education voyages, and was a crew member and instructor on the Pride of Baltimore.
Meeting aboard the Sea Education Association’s staysail schooner, Westward, Richard and Jessica developed a shared passion for introducing others to foreign cultures and global environmental issues.
Jessica shared from her journal: “Once sailing gets in your system, it’s hard to get rid of the travel and adventure bug.”
Sailing aboard their custom-built New Zealand catamaran, Elcie, the Johnsons left Oxford in November 2017 to sail around the globe in 18 months. Richard and Jessica were heavily involved with the design, building, and outfitting of Elcie. Designed to withstand the rigors of world ocean travel, Elcie is 62 feet long, weighs 42,990 pounds, has a beam of 30 feet, and has all the necessary technology and equipment to withstand every urgent need or demand.
Molly (14) and Emma (16) have sailed all 50,000 nautical miles on Elcie since it was launched in 2009. They serve as deck hands, stand watches, help with sail-handling, and also help with galley duties.
As Richard proudly declared, “Living in close quarters with guests and family, I tell our girls they will make excellent college roommates as they have learned communal living at an early age.”
Having all the comforts of home (except heat, air conditioning, dishwasher, unlimited hot showers, and unlimited internet access) Elcie, powered by sail and twin Yanmar 65-horsepower inboard diesel engines, can comfortably accommodate 10 crew members in five double cabins. Couples have first preference for the queen guest berth; solo travelers get a single bunk in a shared cabin.
When asked about family lessons, Jessica said, “Our girls are with us full-time. Over the years we have managed a two-years-on-two-years-off schedule with regards to school. The girls went to school in New Zealand for two years. What a great life experience to learn Maori and to play cricket. It was a major decision for them to miss two years of high school. Applying for college will pose a challenge ... but they will have excellent essay material. Our travels have given them a global perspective and made them more prepared for life on their own.”
If you have an adventurous nature, you can apply for a berth on one of the excursion’s 22 legs and be a part of the “expense sharing crew.” An application process for the expense sharing crew is available at www.elcieexpeditions.com/sail-to-see. Such crew members select a particular leg of the journey and can be as involved as they wish. Most “guest crew” pitch in to cook, stand watch, handle sails, and help with housekeeping. Visiting crew members help subsidize the cost of the trip and bring varied life experiences aboard. Always wanted to visit Fiji, Singapore, Cape Town, or Brazil? Here is the opportunity of a lifetime.
In addition to the family growing closer and the girls gaining confidence, there is another benefit from Elcie. Looking for a way to share her family’s adventures and inspire school children, Jessica launched www.sailtosee.org.
“I was deeply impacted by the book ‘Dove,’ (I read it in middle school) about Robin Graham, a 16-year-old boy who sailed solo around the world. I loved that one could travel the world and visit all these fascinating places,” Jessica said.
“Every two to three weeks, we publish a logbook entry that describes our passages with statistics, maps, photos, and discussion questions for teachers seeking to supplement curriculum. Teachers can access previous log entries and receive email alerts on new entries. We were excited to be accepted as a fund by the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, which allows us to accept tax-deductible donations to defray the cost of the website,” Jessica continued.
When asked what they would do upon completion of this worldwide water trek — what would be next — Jessica said, “We will settle back in for Molly to finish high school, and get a different boat, better suited to short-handed sailing as a couple.”
There is no better way to drop anchor now than to share another of Richard and Jessica’s favorite quotes:
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain.