All Aboard Elcie: A Family Affair

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.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset
Jessica, Emma, Molly and Richard in Haiti last Christmas.

“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.”

pjimage (7)
The process of building Elcie in New Zealand.

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.”

IMG_5373 (1) copy
Jessica and the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 in Norfolk, Virginia.

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.

pjimage (12)
Jessica’s plethora of projects (clockwise from top left): Lure holder, bedroom organizer, the ingenious cable tamer and new cockpit cushions.

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.

pjimage (11)
The Johnsons and their floating home, Elcie.

“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/.

The {Bike} Path Less Traveled: One Man’s Creative Journey

Creativity is the common denominator that exists in all crafters regardless of their preferred medium. Whether it’s the need to feel productive, to channel restless energy, or to unwind and relax after a stressful day, having a creative outlet is good for the soul. Having a hobby, especially a craft such as sewing in which you make something with your hands, engages the mind, promotes wellness and is a great way to connect with like-minded people in your community. It’s the perfect remedy for the overwhelming dominance of our technology-dependent lives.

Brett Walker has searched for a creative outlet his entire life. A hobbyist at heart, he describes himself as a “DIY type of person” who enjoys learning how to do things himself. He learned how to sew about eight years ago by watching videos online. He wanted to get into puppet design and stop-motion filmmaking, but when this idea didn’t work out, he switched to live-action filmmaking to channel his creativity.

biking 1
Brett saw a need for well-made, custom bicycle bags for storing essentials.

“I always try to find hobbies to keep myself busy and have an artistic outlet. I’ve done a lot of drawing and painting, then filmmaking, and now cycling and bag making.”

It’s his cycling hobby that propelled his desire to get back into sewing. “After cycling for a while and more than a few flat tires, I realized I needed a bag to carry my flat tire repair kit with me. The custom ones I wanted kept selling out, so I figured I could just make my own. I had also started to hear about bike camping and wanted to buy panniers (a pair of bags or containers attached to the sides of a bicycle for storage), but found out that they are pretty pricey, so that led me to want to make my own as well.”

bike camping
Some panniers that Brett made for bike camping to carry all his supplies.

Ready to pick up his sewing hobby again, he needed to test the waters and find out if he still had his sewing skills. It had been a few years since Brett had sewn anything, so his best friend’s wife let him borrow her machine to see if he could relearn how to sew; he practiced making a few bags and instantly fell back in love with the craft. With his hobby firmly reestablished, he began sewing his own bags to carry things on his cycling adventures.

Enjoying making bags for himself and his cycling excursions wasn’t enough. He recognized a need in his cycling community for locally made, custom bags and decided to turn his sewing hobby into a small side business. He named his business Canal Workshop, inspired by the canal located next to his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides miles of traffic-free bike paths. It’s this canal that spurred Brett to get back into cycling as an adult, which he’d dropped after outgrowing his childhood BMX bike.

bag collage
A sampling of the bicycle bags Brett custom designs through his business, Canal Workshop.

For about a year and a half, he’d been sewing bags with a Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine, but he found that it wasn’t handling the workload as well as he needed. So he began his search for a more powerful and dependable machine that could handle the thick Cordura canvas, packcloth and nylon webbing he uses for his bags. “I was talking to a cyclist friend of mine and he told me about Sailrite®. He mentioned that their machines were more economical and could just as easily get the job done [compared to more expensive heavy duty machines on the market].”

Brett initially looked at the Ultrafeed®, but Sailrite happened to be running a sale on the Fabricator® Sewing Machine, so he decided to take a look at an industrial sewing machine instead. “I figured that an industrial machine was more suited for the work I was doing. I liked that it had a classic steel look, was all black, and the name of the machine spoke to the type of work I was doing. When it went on sale, I thought this was a no-brainer.”

He’s been sewing with his new Fabricator for about six months and has no regrets about his choice of machine. “It’s strong, straightforward, and when I see it, I just want to sit down and work. The machine hums along and causes me no real issues. I love that it’s inset into the table that it came with and that you can wind the bobbins while you work. It works like a charm.”

brett sewing
Brett sewing a bag with his Fabricator set in its industrial sewing table.

The sewing process has been a bit of trial and error for Brett, as it is with most hobbies, and he’s learned some valuable lessons along the way about how to sew with skill and professional results. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to take my time. Like in filmmaking, the more time and effort you put into preproduction (planning, pattern making and cutting), the faster and more efficient the production (sewing) is. I like to make one panel of a bag at a time, then put them all together. When I first started I was so eager to see the final product that I often left off important parts like a handle or my label.”

“It’s such a timesaver to take your time with a project. Planning out the process and then executing it correctly the first time means spending way less time with a seam ripper. One thing I’ve learned, and am still trying to perfect, is setting the tension properly. I had a hard time sewing certain lightweight materials before I learned to dial back the tension.”

triangle bag
Brett’s bags are truly unique, like this custom-fit frame bag.

When asked what he enjoys most about the sewing experience, Brett mentioned the sense of accomplishment he feels when making something himself and how his sewing hobby has led to new friendships. “I enjoy that I can make something for myself that is exactly the style, size and quality that I look for in a bike bag. I also really enjoy that I can provide that same service to the cycling community in Phoenix. What I love most is I’ve made a ton of new friends; a lot of my customers have gone on to become close friends because we’re all into cycling so much.”

While the majority of his sewing projects are for his bike bag business, Brett has put his Fabricator to other uses. “I’ll hem some pants or make some pillowcases for my girlfriend. I did recently make a regular backpack. I’ve also got an order for a bike bag with leather accents, which will be new territory for me. I did some research on that through the Sailrite website and am putting in an order for diamond tip needles from Sailrite for that project.” 

bike and lake
Where will your sewing adventure take you?

With a restless, creative spirit, Brett is constantly searching for the next project to tackle and a new skill to learn. “I’m always looking for ways to grow and add to my skill set. I recently learned that custom bags for off-road vehicles is a thing, so I’m going to try that out. My buddy actually put a bug in my ear about making some bags to organize his new truck. Another project I’ve got on deck is blackout window coverings for a van.”

The creative vein through it all is Brett’s need to channel his artistry into something tangible. Whether you’re a sewer, woodworker, painter or knitter, the pure joy of creating something with your hands is the thread that ties us all together.