Matt and Jessica Johnson: Building their Dream Sailboat

The Johnsons toasting off the coast of Norway to celebrate five years at sea

In 2008, Matt and Jessica Johnson were living a 'regular' life. They were married high school sweethearts, had a house, and stable 9-to-5 careers. Living near the Great Lakes in Grand Rapids, MI, they figured they would buy a sailboat in order to spend more time on the water that was so close to them.
Matt and Jessica doing some work on their first sailboat, Serendipity
Neither had any sailing experience, and had previously only spent a short amount of time on small power boats. Besides traveling within the US and a trip or two to the Caribbean, Matt and Jessica hadn't traveled much until Jessica’s dad moved to Vietnam for work and they visited her parents in 2007.
Trying out the local coffee in Vietnam with Jessica’s parents
"From that moment, we wanted to travel the world, visit new places and experience different cultures."
In order to make their purchase of the Hunter 240, Serendipity, worth it, Matt wanted to spend every weekend out on Lake Michigan. Without a galley or head though, they soon outgrew it and went with a larger 24-foot Saber, Elements of Life, in 2010. While researching and learning about sailboats, Matt discovered a whole world that was new to them – cruising as a lifestyle.
Matt on the bow of Elements with their cat, Georgie, who’s been enjoying life on the water since 2012
Once they realized they could combine their newfound love of travel with their boat, they started saving for a long journey, estimating a year that quickly turned into 3-5 years.
The Johnsons snorkeling off Christmas Cove in the Virgin Islands
"At that point, we had left our jobs and sold most of our belongings, along with our house, so we decided might as well make our travels longer."

The Johnsons started their own blog in 2012, as they prepared to head off, wanting to inspire others the same way they had been by cruisers such as Bumfuzzle and SlapDash. 

Jessica with Elements, docked in a marina in south Florida while doing a refit

"Seeing other people with no experience making it work made us realize our four-year timeframe was doable for us as well."
Exclusively using their savings at first, though, made it a little depressing watching their bank account being depleted. Through the boatyards, they learned of other cruisers, like Sailing SV Delos, starting their own YouTube channels to help supplement their incomes. Once Will and Kat Marks from Monday Never explained everything they had done to start up their channel a few months before, the switch became more appealing.

"I was against it, but Jessica was determined. She’s the videographer, editor, and producer. I’m just the talent!"

The Johnsons enjoying a sunset off the coast of Thailand

Their lucky break came mostly because it was so early on and few cruisers were on YouTube at the time. It helped that they already had so many loyal followers from their blog, too, and were even interviewed by The Today Show.

Years of adventures and videos later, the Johnsons decided it was time to upgrade and build their dream boat home. Finding the Max Cruise Marine Max 42, an electric catamaran, they made plans for the build.


Renderings of what Matt and Jessica’s new Max Cruise Marine Max 42 will look like once complete

Originally going down to do the build in South Africa, where there are many others doing the same and saving costs, their plans were derailed as the COVID 19 pandemic swept the globe.

Matt and Jessica admire their work after getting the decks down

They were on lockdown in England for a few months, able to sell their boat there after a long process before their visas expired and they had to come back to America in September. As they had a year-long wait for their new boat to arrive with all the delays, the Johnsons were surprised they turned Annapolis, Maryland, into their home.

Jessica Johnson applies TotalBoat 2-Part Epoxy Primer
Jessica applied TotalBoat 2-Part Epoxy Primer to the cabinets in the guest berth

"We thought it would be too expensive to build here, but we lucked out with our Annapolis Boat Show connections, including Jeff Bach, who introduced us to a marina owner who lets us stay here while we’re building. Definitely helps motivate us to finish quicker!"

When they started their build, TotalBoat products were right there to help from the ground up. So far, they’ve been relying heavily on Polyester Structural Repair Putty and Polyester Fairing Compound. TotalBoat Polyester Resin, 2-Part Epoxy Primer, and TotalBilge paint have also started getting more use.

 The Johnsons using TotalBoat High Performance Epoxy to glass their daggerboard case.
Matt and Jessica used TotalBoat High Performance Epoxy to glass their daggerboard case

"The personal touch is great – we get emails returned immediately and everything ships out the same day. It becomes like a family – we can even count on getting technical help from Mike Mills."

 TotalBoat CEO Mike Mills with the Johnsons inside their boat during the build
TotalBoat CEO Mike Mills with Jessica and Matt Johnson in Annapolis
TotalBoat Founder and CEO, Mike Mills, visited Matt & Jessica’s boat build during the Annapolis Boat Show

Ever since they started on YouTube, the community that has grown from watching their videos has blown them away.

"Before, we spent the years cruising and not knowing anyone, now people are welcoming and want to show us around their towns while we're visiting. Those local experiences have been the biggest bonus."

 The Johnsons visiting a family while in Ireland
Shortly after docking in Crosshaven (Ireland), the Johnsons spent time with locals Justin and wife, Patricia

After finishing the fairing and painting on their boat, Matt and Jessica are looking forward to making it feel more like a home. After so many years away, their plan is to launch in early 2024 and head up the east coast, back to their roots. Then they'll put their boat to the test, heading toward the Caribbean before sailing across the Mediterranean.

 Onboard reminder to do what you love
A reminder the Johnsons keep on board during their build

"We're so grateful for TotalBoat's support of the entire YouTube community – even the smaller channels can count on them."

 The Johnsons with James Evenson
Fellow cruiser, James Evenson of @sailing_zingaro, visits the boat build before heading off to Ibiza

To follow the rest of their build and their future adventures, follow @mattandjessicasailing on Instagram, subscribe to @MJSailing on YouTube, and check out their blog.


Isn’t this like the third “dream boat”? Are they adventurers or boatbuilders? They’re certainly not cruising sailors.

I too used to follow them and was also disgusted with their comments about older people. Time will make them eat those words :)


I used to follow these two on utube until they just outright said in so many words they didn’t like older people.
Well I have worked for almost 50 years to be able purchase a boat and retire. Not sorry about it. I made it in life regardless of how old I am. And I plan on cruising with my boat until the end when I really old.


Been following Matt & Jessica’ youtube since the “Aluminum Elements”, what great boat builders and storytellers.

LeRoy Mazyck

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