A seafaring life

  • Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson, who lived in Hadley, made seven around-the-world sailing voyages during their lifetimes. They were selected last month for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, two of 11 inductees. “It’s obviously a great honor,” said their son, Robert Johnson of Sherborn. “It’s really a significant honor. They join some very notable sailors, designers and builders of sailing ships.”  —Submitted Photo

  • —Submitted Photo

  • Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson owned many ships, such as the sailboat in this photo, under the name “Yankee.” The couple last month was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in part for their seven around-the-world voyages. —Submitted Photo

  • —Submitted Photo

  • Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson, who lived in Hadley, made seven around-the-world sailing voyages during their lifetimes. They were selected last month for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, two of 11 inductees. “It’s obviously a great honor,” said their son, Robert Johnson of Sherborn. “It’s really a significant honor. They join some very notable sailors, designers and builders of sailing ships.”  —Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2016 7:39:24 PM

HADLEY — A husband-and-wife sailing team from Hadley who made seven around-the-world voyages were posthumously inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame last month.

Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson were among 11 inductees enshrined as part of the the 2016 class at a ceremony held at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco Oct. 30.

Robert Johnson of Sherborn said in a phone interview Thursday that this recognition shows that those in the sailing community continue to remember his parents’ contributions.

“It’s obviously a great honor. It’s really a significant honor,” Johnson said. “They join some very notable sailors, designers and builders of sailing ships.”

Johnson was joined by 14 other family members who attended the induction, where framed certificates and medals were given out to recognize the inductees.

Irving Johnson, a Hadley native who grew up on a farm, and Exy Johnson, a 1929 Smith College graduate originally from Rochester, New York, are credited with being sail-training pioneers.

From 1932 to 1958, the couple took young crews, numbering 18 to 20 people, on seven across-the-globe trips aboard the 92-foot wooden schooner “Yankee” and the 96-foot steel brigantine “Yankee.” Each trip lasted 18 months. From 1958 to 1975, they sailed in Europe on the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, as well as rivers such as the Rhine, on their 50-foot steel ketch, “Yankee.” In 1976, they settled in a home in the Hockanum section of Hadley.

Robert Johnson was aboard his parents’ third trip around the globe, as the “ship’s baby,” as he puts it. He also accompanied them on their fourth, sixth and seventh journeys. Coincidentally, following the ceremony in San Francisco, Johnson said he went to Galveston, Texas for a 60th reunion of the surviving members of that final trip which set sail from Gloucester in 1956.

“One of the things my father did was link the age of working sail, which mostly ended after World War I, with the present renaissance of tall ship sailing,” Johnson said.

Lee Tawney, executive director of the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Annapolis, Maryland, said the museum tries to reflect the entire sailing community, beyond just those who race.

“These people were really significantly responsible for the whole sail-training movement,” Tawney said.

Prior to her death in 2004, Exy Johnson talked with the Gazette about her exploits. Once was on the occasion of two 100-foot-tall wooden brigantine ships built in a Los Angeles harbor that were being dedicated to her and her husband, who died in 1991.

“Irving was a very good skipper, and we had very good boats,” Exy Johnson said.

Another time she regaled Hadley schoolchildren with tales of her adventures.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Johnson said. “I should say we had a wonderful life. We were very fortunate.”

The Johnsons co-wrote six books about their trips and documented their time on the ships and visiting people of foreign lands through photographs and videos. These items, along with scrapbooks, ship logs and other artifacts, are housed at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.

Christopher Freeman, director of development at Mystic, spoke about the Johnsons during the induction ceremony and described the world they encountered.

“The globe was vast, the oceans were boundless, our world had not yet begun to shrink, foreign ports were still exotic and remote and the indigenous people they met were not yet introduced to western culture,” Freeman said.

Mystic also sells a DVD titled “Around Cape Horn” in which Irving Johnson filmed and narrates a 1929 trip aboard the Peking, which traveled through a severe storm as it passed by Cape Horn. Robert Johnson said the black-and-white footage remains among the most popular videos that Mystic sells.

Others in the newest Hall of Fame class include Ed Baird, who helmed Alinghi to victory in the 2007 America’s Cup, Bill Ficker, who skippered Intrepid to a win in the 1970 America’s Cup, and Malin Burnham, who sailing in the defense trials in 1977 and backed many of Dennis Conner’s campaigns.

Also in the 2016 class are brothers and J/Boats founders Robert Johnstone of Newport, Rhode Island, and Rodney Johnstone of Stonington, Connecticut; boat designer, yachtsman and sailmaker Dave Ullman of Newport Beach, California; and innovator Tom Perkins of Belvedere, California.

The National Sailing Hall of Fame began selecting enshrinees in 2011.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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