My Boat | SV Wondertime

Michael and Sara Johnson's 1985 Benford 38’ ketch, Wondertime.

Michael and Sara Johnson had lived aboard three different boats before moving ashore for a few years with their first daughter. After their second daughter was born, they couldn’t wait to get back on the water. When they found their custom-designed 1985 Benford 38’ ketch, they knew immediately it was the right boat for their family. They’re now getting ready to head off for a few years of cruising in British Columbia, Mexico and possibly points further south.

Tell us about your boat’s name.
“Wondertime” was the title of one of our favorite parenting magazines that sadly ceased publication in 2009. We loved this magazine because it contained beautifully written articles and photographs that truly evoked the wonder and carefree nature of childhood. I always thought the title was just the right word to describe how children move about the world: with wonder, all the time. With two little girls aboard, we thought that Wondertime also describes how cruising with kids is: never-ending moments of wonder with plenty of time for it. With the uniquely whimsical character of boats drawn by Jay Benford, we still think the name fits our little ship perfectly.

Tell us the story of how you found your boat and what makes it special to you.
Michael and I had lived aboard together on other boats for seven years before moving ashore for a few years with our baby girl, Leah. We always knew that we’d get back to sea again but were just waiting for the right time. When our second daughter, Holly, was just a few months old we thought it would be fun to start looking at boats again; we just couldn’t stop thinking about getting back on the water. Browsing around on Yachtworld, we came across this interesting-looking boat that was moored in St. Helens, Ore. One weekend we loaded everyone up in our Subaru and took a little road trip to check the boat out. We stepped aboard and were goners; we just knew this spunky little boat was right for our small family instantly.

What’s the history of your boat?
Wondertime is a 38-foot ketch built to a custom design by Jay Benford, commissioned by her original owner/builder in the 1970s. Her Airex-cored hull and decks were laid up by Miller Marine of Bainbridge Island, Wash. Her bare hull was trucked down to Southern California, where her original owner finished out the interior. She was finally launched in 1985 under her first name, Meridian Passage. We believe the boat was not actually finished until 1998 as most of the gear, plumbing, and electrical is of that vintage. Her first three owners sailed her in Southern California waters; her fourth owner sailed her up to the Columbia River, where we found her in 2009.

What do you like best about your boat?
We have owned and lived aboard three other boats: a Hans Christian 33T, an Alberg 35 and a Tayana 42; Wondertime truly incorporates our favorite features of all three boats. She has the traditional nautical look and salty character like our HC33; she is small by today’s standards (38’ on deck), easy to handle and has simple systems like our Alberg 35; and finally, she has a roomy, dry, comfortable center cockpit and similar underbody to our T42, making her super fun to sail.

It has also been great fun to own a boat that is truly one of a kind. People are always stopping by our boat at the dock to ask us about her with puzzled looks, trying to figure out what kind of boat she is. And of course we love to tell Wondertime’s story.

Michael, Holly, Sara and Leah Johnson aboard Wondertime.

What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
When we purchased the boat there was a lot of extreme vibration coming from the Isuzu Pisces diesel engine; we knew it had some alignment issues but it turned out to need quite a lot more work than we’d known (new motor mounts, new transmission, new prop and shaft). Michael also discovered difficult-to-repair rot in the bowsprit that took many hours to fix. This still would not have changed our minds, though, as we figure it’s all part of owning an older boat.

How does your significant other feel about the boat (be honest)?
We both absolutely love Wondertime! There are probably just different things we’d each change about the boat (Michael would love a new Yanmar and Sara would really like more storage … of course!).

What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
Michael and I sailed together for seven years before we had our first daughter. Now that we have achieved our dream of sailing with our children, we are amazed at how different – richer, really – the whole experience is. One of our favorite memories so far is catching jellyfish in a five-gallon bucket while anchored off American Camp on San Juan Island last summer. When night fell, the stars lit up the sky and we went outside to watch the phosphorescence in the water. Leah was playing in the seawater with our bucket and both the seawater and our pet jellyfish lit up, phosphorescence sparkling brilliantly. “There’s magic in my bucket!” Leah squealed.

It’s the small moments like this that make cruising – with or without children – so magical and worthwhile.

Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
Last summer we took a trip to the San Juan Islands for a week. On the morning we planned to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca to San Juan Island we were fog-bound in Port Townsend as we did not have radar yet. Finally, by early afternoon, the fog started clearing and we set out across the Strait. We’d gotten about half way across the first shipping lanes when we caught up with the fog; we were completely sacked in with visibility of about 100 feet. It was terrifying. Thankfully there were other sailboats nearby that did appear to have radar, so we just figured if we stuck close to them a huge ship wouldn’t run us all down! Wondertime performed marvelously, of course, but our nerves were totally shot.

Wondertime was built to a custom design by Jay Benford, commissioned by her original owner/builder in the 1970s.

Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
We are currently prepping for two years of full-time cruising beginning this summer. During July and August we will be circumnavigating Vancouver Island; in late August we will point our bow south, headed ultimately for at least one full year in Mexico. This we know for sure, but plans for heading further south to Panama then westward to the South Pacific and New Zealand are also in the works.

If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
We would definitely install a new Yanmar. Our mid-1970s vintage Isuzu Pisces diesel is extremely reliable and easy to find parts for, but it is a big, smelly, loud, fuel-guzzling (0.8 gal/hour) beast. On the other hand, the deafening racket of our diesel has made us better light-air sailors.

Wondertime's cozy forward cabin

How long do you plan to own the boat? What would it take to get you to part with it? And what advice would you give to the next owner?
We plan on owning Wondertime as long as we are cruising and living aboard as a family, hopefully until the girls are well into their teenage years. We think we’ll keep the boat until long after then, though. Having owned a larger boat before, we truly like having a boat under 40 feet, so we are not looking forward to a “bigger boat.” I think actually that after the children are grown and off on their own we might have a smaller boat. But one big enough for visiting grandkids, of course!

If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
Michael grew up sailing on a steel Amazon 37 and we are both fond of the ruggedness and versatility of being able to sail colder waters comfortably in a steel or aluminum yacht. We could definitely see ourselves in a metal boat exploring higher latitudes one day.

What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
What is the interior like – or what is most unique about the boat? Wondertime’s interior is so unique and so brilliantly laid out that everyone that steps aboard is just shocked; they’ve never been aboard a boat like it! The aft cockpit ladder leads you to our “great room” featuring a roomy dinette aft, galley to starboard and additional galley/navigation counter space to port. Continuing forward past the navigation counter is a walkthrough past the engine room with excellent accessibility and a pilot berth (storage) outboard.

The forward space contains the head with sink and shower to port and the sleeping areas: a double bunk to starboard (next to the forward companionway ladder) and the girls’ room in the bow with two stacked bunks and lots of storage space. It is just the perfect layout for our family of four.

You can read more about Wondertime and her crew at our website:

We’re always looking for boats to feature – powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, wooden boats, work boats and others. If you’re like us to feature yours, drop us a line at and tell us a little about it.

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