ANTIOCH -- Many times retirees dream of sailing away once they are finished with the day-to-day tasks of punching into a time clock. For Matt and Judy Johnston of Antioch that dream became a reality in 1999. The couple sailed along the coast of South America over the next several years. Their experiences and thoughts from their journey are compiled in Matt Johnston's recent book "Sailing Elsewhere."

"As a young boy I was injured and laid up for a while. Someone gave me a book on Peru and I always thought that would be a fun place to visit," Matt Johnston said.

In 1996 Johnston retired on an early retirement option from AT&T. "For 15 years I put money into stock options to raise enough money for the sailboat," he said.

After spending the next few years learning how to drive the sailboat, Johnston and his wife headed out of the Richmond Bay Marina down the coastline of California to meet up in Southern California with a group of 126 other boaters to ride in the Baja Ha-Ha. The sailors left in mass for Cabo San Lucas.

"From there we were on our own," Johnston said. "About two-thirds of the boaters turned around and headed home."

The Johnstons' travels continued from there to Mazatlan where they stayed for 11 months working on getting a part for their boat that couldn't be found at that location. Staying so long gave the Johnston's time to explore the region on foot. This was generally the practice throughout their trip.


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"We next spent a very hot summer in the Sea of Cortez," he said.

During their trip the couple left their boat at a couple of different locations and came home to spend time with family. They later went back to the boat and began their voyage again.

They visited El Salvador and spent several weeks in Guatemala and the Mayan Temples. On land they climbed a volcano, visited market places and toured the region's villages meeting all types of people.

For several months the couple visited the Panama Islands and the tropics of the Balboa region.

"The longest time at sea, 11 days, was spent in Ecuador area. For the most part the rest was only two or three days at sea," he said.

Their trip was spent hugging the coastline whenever possible.

The Johnstons visited the top of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin to Nopala, before they finally reached Peru. By this time the Johnstons had spent five years on their trip.

"That was a beautiful part of our trip," he said.

Other ports along the South American Coast included Galapagos, Marquesas, the Tuamotos, Tahiti, the Society Islands, the Cook Islands, Samoa and American Samoa, the Tonga Islands and the Marshall Islands.

At one point their 12 year-old grandson met up with them by plane and traveled with them on the boat.

By the time they reached the Marshall Islands it was 2008. In one instance of bad seas the steering went out on the boat and within seconds the boat sailed into a reef and was completely destroyed.

"We were picked up by one of the 10 richest men in Russia on his yacht," Johnston said.

They traveled with him for a time until they could find a tramp steamer that was delivering construction equipment to one of the islands in the area. They stayed on the steamer until they could get to an airport that could take them home.

During their trip Johnston sent regular emails to about 70 family members and friends letting them know in journal form about their travels. When he came home, he was encouraged by friends to publish his travels and compiled the emails and thoughts in "Sailing Elsewhere."

He also has a website, www.sailingelsewhere.com where he shares photos of his journey and other information. The book is available on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites in paperback, as well as e-book format.

Since he lost his sailboat, Johnston said that he wouldn't purchase another one. He does continue to sail with friends; however, his wife, Judy, has decided that she's had enough with sailing to last a lifetime.

"I've been visiting Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Indonesia and Micronesia on other sailboats," Johnston said. "I have plans to continue sailing (with friends) and will return to Micronesia to continue taking Hawkeye (a sailing trail) farther west in 2013."

In our "Neighbors" series, we give you a personal look at the people who are serving your community. If you would like to nominate someone for this column, contact Judy Prieve at 925-779-7178 or e-mail jprieve@bayareanewsgroup.com.