For many years Mike Johnson has been cruising to far-flung corners of the Earth with little fanfare. Although his exploits could easily be the focus of a series of a National Geographic features, he travels aboard his 44-ft fiberglass schooner Gitana — and previously aboard his Westsail 32 Aissa — simply for adventure and the personal satisfaction of exploring remote destinations.
A former Army paratrooper with a Masters in Psychology, he’s been around Cape Horn three times, up to Greenland, Iceland, Spitzbergen, and through the Gulf of Aden, experiencing wild, wonderful and sometimes terrifying things along the way. The worst was a 360° rollover in his Westsail in the Southern Ocean (with Californian Becky Walker aboard as his only crew). That made getting hit by a sperm whale — which had happened previously — look tame.
Although Mike, now 68, is not from the West Coast, we’ve gotten to know him because he recruits paying crew by advertising in Latitude 38’s Classy Classifieds. As we described him in an October 2011 interview, he’s a “soft-spoken southern gentleman with tousled gray hair and a smile so broad that it makes his eyes squint.” Where’s he off to next? He dropped by our Mill Valley offices the other day to say hi and show us his planned route, east-to-west, through the Northwest Passage this summer with two crew aboard.
As he pointed out on a chart, the route will take them through a maze of potentially ice-covered waterways, so there’s no guaranteeing that they’ll make it. As he explained to a potential boatmate, “There are four possibilities: We’ll 1) make it all the way; 2) haul out halfway across and winter-over at an Inuit village; 3) turn back; 4) disappear and never be heard from again.” We hope to receive updates from Mike and his crew along the way. In the meantime, we’ll hope for any outcome other than #4.