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Pioneer couple
On Sunday in San Francisco, a Rochester native was inducted posthumously into the National Sailing Hall of Fame along with her husband.

Electa Johnson, known as “Exy,” and her husband, Irving, were sail training pioneers who circumnavigated the planet seven times from 1933 to 1958. Sailing with mostly college-aged crew, each of their voyages lasted roughly 18 months during which time they would visit some 120 ports of call, Hall of Fame officials explain.

The trips foreshadowed today’s experiential learning experiences, with the Johnsons having a direct influence on today’s sail training programs. Upon their return home, they would spend 18 months lecturing and making films to bring their experiences to a broader audience, while also chronicling their adventures in National Geographic and other publications.

The couple made a major discovery in 1957, finding the anchor of the H.M.S. Bounty in 50 feet of water off Pitcairn Island, in the southern Pacific Ocean, one of their frequent destinations. They also searched for aviator Amelia Earhart, discovered five previously uncharted South Sea islands, and documented the ceremonies, traditions and customs of the inhabitants of the remote islands they visited, hall officials say.

Born in Rochester in 1909, Electa Search graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 1929 and attended University of California Berkeley for a year to continue her studies in French. A summer in France culminated with meeting Irving when, instead of travelling by steamer, she returned to the U.S. aboard the schooner Wander Bird. It was her first sailing experience.

Irving, born in 1905, was a native of Hadley, Mass., and he had grown up reading the novels of Jack London and Joseph Conrad. The books inspired him to become a professional sailor. His talent as an amateur filmmaker became evident in the now-famous film “Around Cape Horn,” filmed in 1929 on the bark Peking, hall officials say.

The couple married in 1933. The Johnsons sailed hundreds of thousands of ocean miles before sailing the inland waters of Europe. They returned to Irving’s hometown of Hadley in 1975 and retired on the farm where Irving had grown up. Electa died in 2004; he in 1991.

The couple were among nine people who made up the 2016 class of inductees. The class joined 48 previously recognized individuals in the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

The 2016 class of inductees were formally celebrated Sunday at an invitation-only induction ceremony at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.

Send tips, rumors, inside information or strange tales for the Loop to Managing Editor Mike Dickinson at [email protected]

11/4/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]


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