Q&A With Jimmy Cornell About the Blue Planet Odyssey
The Blue Planet Odyssey, Jimmy Cornell's latest undertaking, is an around-the-world rally that is focused on raising awareness of the effects of global climate change. See Jimmy at the Strictly Sail Chicago boat show on Saturday, January 26th at 4:45 pm.
Cruising World: Jimmy, the Blue Planet Odyssey is a fairly ambitious undertaking, with multiple routes, departure points from the various continents, and lots of logistics around the globe. Where did the idea come from to begin with?
Jimmy Cornell: The idea is not new at all.In 1997-98 I ran the Expo 98 round the world rally which carried around the world the message of the Expo 98 global exhibition: “The oceans, a heritage for the future.” Unfortunately 15 years later that future has caught up with us, the oceans are in a much worse state than ever, so that message is even more timely and people need to be reminded – and even more urgently now - that it is the oceans that mankind’s survival depends on.
So the aim of the Blue Planet Odyssey is to raise awareness of the effects of climate change especially on the oceans, something that sailors understand better than anyone else. Climate change is a global phenomenon, and therefore the Blue Planet Odyssey must reflect this by being itself a global event, both as far as its routes are concerned and also by having scheduled starts in every continent. There will be a southern route, which will stay mostly within the tropics and call at some of the most endangered island communities in every ocean. We shall also sail a northern route via the Northwest Passage, which after all has only become navigable as a result of climate change.
CW: How big an organization is going to be required to coordinate all this?
JC: The running of the Blue Planet Odyssey is based on that of the Millennium Odyssey, which had a similar global reach and also sailed a warm water as well as cold water route to Antarctica as at that time the Northwest Passage was yet not considered safe to navigate. In this initial phase we already have a core team of nine people as well as regional national coordinators. With registrations pouring in from all over the world (we already have 40 boat owners who have expressed an interest in taking part) we may soon be forced to limit the number of participants.
As to the complexity of running such an event, I am confident that we shall be able to cope with it well. After all, since launching the first ARC in 1986, I have been personally involved in running two dozen transatlantic rallies, also five round the world sailing events. We are also fortunate in having a number of talented people on our team which also includes John Ellis, who was the Event Director of the Millennium Odyssey as well as other round the world events, and also my daughter, Doina Cornell, whose been involved with this kind of event ever since the highly successful America 500 quincentennial event in 1992.
CW: In your discussions involving the rally and in conversations we had during the release of your Ocean Atlas, you’ve pointed to changing climate conditions that affect our oceans. What have been some of your observations?
JC: On my second voyage to Antarctica I was shocked to see that within the short span of only three years since my previous visit, several glaciers had considerably retreated and where before there was a field of blue-white ice, now there was a bank of lichens of a color rarely seen in Antarctica before: green.
But is was the disastrous effects of several natural phenomena which struck in quick succession recently: superstorm Sandy’s path of destruction from Haiti to the U.S. East Coast, unprecedented floods in the United Kingdom, the galloping coastal erosion in low-lying countries like Bangladesh, not to speak of the recently released NASA photos of an accelerating shrinking of the Arctic icecap, which was the final trigger that made me launch this, the most ambitious but also most relevant, of any project that I have ever been involved with.
There is however also an important personal motivation that made me decide to put retirement on hold and, as it were, take on the world: The start of the Blue Planet Odyssey will mark 40 years of my cruising life. My first Aventura was launched in London on 20 July 1974 and the Blue Planet Odyssey will start from London on 20 July 2014. During these four wonderful decades, I have not only realized my childhood dream of sailing the oceans, but have also managed to combine it with my professional life, as a journalist, writer, and event organizer. I have sailed to some of the remotest parts of the globe and have been privileged to encounter some of the most isolated communities. More than anything else, for me the Blue Planet Odyssey will be payback time. I want to show my gratitude to those people all over the world who have welcomed me and countless other sailors with warmth, friendship, and generosity. As this odyssey calls at places where people’s lives are affected already by climate change, we want them to know that cruising sailors care for them and share their concerns for the future.
CW: Describe how this rally will be similar to, but also different from, some of the other events you’ve organized.
JC: It will be similar to the Millennium Odyssey, which was also a global event with a specific purpose. Once again we shall have separate starts and two different routes, just as was the case with the Millennium Odyssey.
The main difference is that with the Blue Planet Odyssey, participants will have the opportunity to be directly involved in community projects in the places visited as well as in scientific research programs while under way. The Blue Planet Odyssey is not another round the world event run primarily for the benefit of its participants, in other words, a rather hedonistic exercise, but it is a sailing event with a purpose, a higher altruistic purpose. And I was both impressed and touched that among the sailors who have registered their interest in taking part three quarters stated clearly that they want to sail in the Blue Planet Odyssey because they themselves want to do something for the future of our planet.
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