Tuesdays with Laura: Life on a Boat – Raising a Family at Sea

Off the coast of Ventura, California, the Pendragon Sailboat floats peaceably in the Pacific waters. For 10 years this boat was the home to the Johnson-Villaseñor family.

“We moved into the boat when my youngest [son] was five years old and we moved out when he was 15 so Oscar [the oldest] could go to college,” said Cecilia Villaseñor, the mother of three, who, along with her husband, Jay Johnson, decided to raise their children on a sailboat.

The Johnson-Villaseñor family

“Raising a family on a boat was the right way to go,” said Cecilia, or Ceci, how those who have the pleasure to know her call her by. “It makes kids well rounded in knowledge in so many ways.” According to Cecilia, living on a boat teaches a person the difference between essential needs and wants.

“It teaches them how to be self-sufficient and helpful,” she said about her children. And what parent wouldn’t want that? Cecilia and Jay have figured it out, but not everyone is fortunate enough to live on a boat, sail the warm waters of Latin America, and successfully raise children at the same time. Cecilia and Jay have home-schooled their three sons, but a lot of knowledge also came from being part of the crew of the Pendragon. The “boys” (as Cecilia calls them) know how to read maps and navigate, but Oscar particularly , developed a love for nature; he is now a professional biologist.

What Cecilia loved most about living on a boat was waking up every morning and not knowing what her day was going to be like. “Life on a boat is ever-changing and exciting,” she said. For Jay, the biggest pleasure came from spending time with his family. “I wanted to spend time with my children as they were growing up,” he said.

This is why they sold everything they owned to make a boat their home and worked their way through the years. Although they didn’t have much money, they had everything they needed as they traveled in Central America and the Caribbean. According to Jay, they could get enough fish for the family from local fishermen, for just a couple of dollars. Jay fixed the boat himself whenever needed. The world was their kids’ classroom; they’ve lived a dream-like life, taking it day by day.

What motivates Jay the most is his family. “The biggest joy in my life are my wife and kids,” he said. The boat represents the total of his life’s work and and the relationship with his family. Jay and Cecilia are most happy at sea. “I feel more at home on the water than any other place,” said Jay. For him, the ocean is freedom. “It is me and the elements, me and the earth, me and my family.”

The couple moved to land temporarily, so their sons could go to college, but now that the children are all grown up, Ceci and Jay are preparing to set sail again. They plan to go to Mexico (where Cecilia is originally from) and then Panama. From there, wherever the wind takes them–literary–as long as it is within the tropics. 


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