Anyone with experience on the subject could tell you that raising a family is never an easy task. But raising a family on a boat in the middle of the ocean? Definitely tricky. That is exactly what Jessica Rice Johnson has been doing for almost a decade. Jessica and her husband, Richard, have always shared a love for sailing and now live aboard their custom 62-foot aluminum catamaran, Elcie, along with their two daughters. They’re quite familiar with the self-reliance and ingenuity that is required to thrive on the open seas.
As a tale about sailors, our story naturally begins on the water. Jessica met Richard while working on a sailing school ship in Maine. Sharing a love of the sea, they completed a circumnavigation on a refurbished boat between the years of 1997-2001. They returned home with their first daughter, Emma, and two years later welcomed their second daughter, Molly.
“We wanted to share our sailing life with them and so we worked with a designer to create a boat that would have room for us but also room to carry expense-sharing crew. That boat would become a means of travel but also a source of income for us.”
The answer was simple: New Zealand. While it was a big decision, the family moved to kiwi country to seek out the level of craftsmanship needed to create their dream boat. During their stay, Richard worked in a shipyard alongside the builders and both girls were able to attend primary school overlooking Tasman Bay. “When we sailed out of New Zealand on Elcie, she was still a work in progress. All the systems were in place but some of the interior was unfinished. The girls were 7 and 9 when we headed across the Southern Ocean along with two friends as crew.”
It was early into their voyage that Jessica realized they would need a robust sewing machine to tackle all of the projects that Elcie required. She had always enjoyed sewing and, at first, carried a School Model Singer. While it worked fine, she noticed that it could never sew through several layers of canvas or leather, which was limiting for her future DIY projects.
Every year the Johnsons would attend the Annapolis Boat Show in Maryland and peruse the Sailrite® booth, watching demonstrations and speaking with staff. “Many factors helped me decide the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 was the right machine — the walking foot, the monster wheel, the heavy-duty nature of the machine — but it was also knowing that I would have help along the way if I needed it. I believe Sailrite is a very service-oriented company and their helpful videos and written instructions gave me the confidence to tackle projects I would not have tried to do otherwise.”
After gaining an Ultrafeed, the whole family has been busy creating useful projects aboard Elcie. For Jessica, some of the most enjoyable projects have been making the curtains, pillows and small items for her daughters to keep their room organized. Sail covers and dinghy chaps were some of the more challenging projects, while adding insect screens on all the doors and hatches was one of the most important (especially sailing in areas where malaria is prevalent). She’s also created an ingenious “Cable Tamer,” designed to keep all her computer and charger cords and various cables organized using materials from Sailrite.
It’s safe to say that sailing and sewing have become a family affair. Jessica’s daughters have both created small projects with the Ultrafeed, like making Christmas gifts, stitching a pillow purchased in the San Blas Islands in Panama, and sewing courtesy flags for the countries they visit. They’ve learned valuable lessons during their stay aboard Elcie, and Jessica explained that raising two children aboard a boat is simultaneously the most challenging and most rewarding part of their lifestyle.
“I believe that our daughters share our independent spirit. I also believe they are learning many necessary life skills while sailing. I feel that skills like sewing, cooking from scratch, fishing, navigating and just entertaining oneself have become less important in this age of electronic devices. I’m glad they have had the opportunity to realize the importance of learning these skills and I hope it will encourage them to keep using them later in life.”
As the girls are getting older and closer to attending college, Jessica is savoring every moment with them. She explained that, of course, it was difficult for them to leave friends and forgo a regular school. Sailing aboard Elcie was a huge decision for them as they must conduct all their schooling (and tackle imminent college applications) aboard the ship.
“While their education has been somewhat nonconventional, both girls have managed to stay on track and even are ahead of many of their classmates at home when they have spent time in traditional high schools. It’s my hope that just through the travel, they are receiving a well-rounded education and broader worldview.”
Since 2010, Jessica and her family have sailed over 75,000 nautical miles, including three Pacific crossings with many island stops along the way. It’s even possible for others to join them on their adventures! Elcie can accommodate a crew of 10 in five double cabins and has solar panels to accommodate the necessities. The Johnsons have detailed sailing itineraries and encourage guests to join them on thoroughly planned adventures filled with enriching opportunities. Their current route has taken them from the East Coast of the United States all the way through the Bahamas, Africa, South America, Polynesia and many more exotic locations.
If you’d like to learn more about this incredible group of sailors and see more of Elcie, visit their website: https://www.elcieexpeditions.com/.