CCA selected Michael J. Johnson (Santa Fe, N.M.) to receive the Club’s Blue Water Medal for 2016, awarded for his extensive cruising for over 40 years, covering more than 125,000 nautical miles and including an east-to-west circumnavigation below the five great southern capes. The Board of Governors established this award to recognize “a meritorious example of seamanship.” The medal will be presented at the CCA’s annual Awards Dinner in New York on March 3, 2017.
Johnson was born in Virginia in 1944 and, after serving in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper trained in Arctic Warfare, he received his doctorate from the College of William and Mary. A quick scan of Johnson’s sailing resumé shows that beginning in 1975 he started sailing and never really stopped. He was not particularly choosey about the type of vessel he sailed in: Chesapeake Bay skipjacks, British training schooners, square-rigged barkquentines, East Africa dhows, cutters, yawls and sloops. Johnson was as eclectic about his place in the crew order as he was about the boats he sailed. Captain, navigator, deck hand, expedition leader, bosun and commercial fisherman are all positions he has held. This peripatetic approach to sailing ceased 17 years ago when Johnson purchased Gitana, his 44-foot staysail schooner.
Over the years, Johnson has voyaged to the Arctic, Antarctic and all the remaining continents. In 1988, Johnson left Norfolk, Virginia in his 32’ Westsail cutter, Aissa, for what would become his seven year and seven-month circumnavigation. Without an engine or electronic aids, Johnson, after stopping in Rio de Janeiro, headed south, rounded Cape Horn and eighty-four days and 6,630 sea miles later anchored at Easter Island. Johnson continued to Tahiti and then New Zealand. In 1990 he left New Zealand only to return later that year to repair the damage caused to Aissa when she was rolled 360° during an attempt to round New Zealand’s Southwest Cape, the world’s second most southern cape. Not to be deterred, the following year, Johnson not only successfully rounded Southwest Cape but also voyaged on to round Tasmania’s Southeast Cape (the world’s third most southern cape) and Australia’s Cape Leeuwin (the world’s fourth-most southern cape), before coming to rest in Freemantle. The year 1992 saw Johnson head east to Kenya and thereafter, until 1994, he enjoyed the west coast of Africa and Cape Town. The following year Johnson rounded the Cape of Good (the world’s fifth most southern cape), crossed the South Atlantic and, after adventures in the Amazon and Xingu Rivers, he arrived in Virginia in 1996 via Macapa and the West Indies. More recently, in 2013 and 2014, Johnson completed an east-to-west transit of the Northwest Passage.