Seafaring puss brings family for a visit

21:58, Jan 23 2014
SEASONED TRAVELLERS: Emma Johnson, 12 left and her sister Molly, 11, with Moonlight and his homemade passport on his return visit to Nelson on board the 19-metre catamaran Elcie berthed at Nelson Marina.

Five years and 55,000 kilometres later, Moonlight the cat is back in Nelson, complete with his own officially stamped passport to prove it.

Moonlight Johnson was procured from the Nelson SPCA when the Johnsons, from Maryland in the US, lived here in the mid-2000s, as Richard Johnson and his wife Jessica Rice Johnson finished building their catamaran Elcie.

Sisters Emma and Molly were aged 7 and 8 when the Nelson Mail last saw them, not long before they left on their long voyage across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and back home up the eastern seaboard of the US.

The family is now back in Nelson and plan to soak up the remainder of the current watery summer here.

Emma turns 13 this week and Molly is now 11. They were tackling correspondence school lessons in the saloon of the yacht when the Mail caught up with them.

"We've been back and forth and home again since last here, and we've covered just over 30,000 [nautical] miles since we left Nelson," Mr Johnson said.


Mrs Johnson said there was no question over why they returned here: "This is Nelson, we love it. It's so much fun to come back to see old friends."

Plus, they needed to replenish their stocks of Pic's Peanut Butter.

The family rented a house in Atawhai when last here and the girls attended Clifton Terrace School.

Moonlight, who was just a kitten when they left, was happy to be strolling on home turf, which he had not been allowed to do until clearing quarantine.

"We came into Opua from Fiji, and Customs cleared him with a stamp in his passport," Mrs Johnson said.

Their custom alloy ketch-rigged catamaran was a special project for the Johnsons, who had the hulls built in Whanganui before motoring to Nelson to complete the build, including the interior.

Elcie was built to handle expedition voyages and accommodate fare-paying crew on offshore passages and throughout the Pacific Islands.

The Johnsons are US Coast Guard-licensed captains and between them have half a century of sailing and teaching on vessels of all types.

Mr Johnson is a boat builder and professional yacht skipper, and Mrs Johnson is an artist who works freelance and on commission for various special projects, including the art work for shirts for the large Annapolis boat show each year.

Their expeditions, which this year depart Auckland for the Cook Islands on May 6, offer prospective boat owners and offshore sailors a chance to sample ocean-going sailing before committing themselves to something that might not be for them.

"We invite people to join us and they pay to come as part of the crew. They take part in watches, sail handling and navigation," Mr Johnson said.

Mrs Johnson did not hesitate in saying Easter Island has been a journey highlight so far.

They also spent 18 days in the Galapagos Islands before their last journey back home through the Panama Canal and the Bahamas.

The trip back to Nelson produced some of the worst weather they had encountered, in the Cook Strait last week.

The experiences have helped shape the girls' career ambitions. Emma has her heart set on a career on superyachts, and Molly wants to become an architect.

"I would still get to travel and learn a lot of things. I think it would be fun - I like being on the water a lot, and oh, the food would be good too," Emma said of the superyacht industry.

Molly was drawn to architecture because it combined the building and artistic talents of her parents.

Emma said she liked Nelson because she could walk to the library from the marina, and there were nice parks everywhere. Molly also was impressed with being able to walk everywhere, and the fact everything was "really bright" here.

"It's really pretty and a lot of work has gone into the bike paths."

Elcie Expeditions 2014 itinerary starts with a passage to Rarotonga from New Zealand, and west to Australia in seven legs via Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Further details visit

The Nelson Mail