Around He Goes (Again)

World Cruising Routes author and Atlantic Rally for Cruisers founder, Jimmy Cornell, still chasing the horizon


Jimmy Cornell: under wayCourtesy Of Jimmy Cornell

William Shakespeare once wrote that all the world’s a stage. For Jimmy Cornell, it’s been all that and more. One can get extremely weary just reading his résumé. In some 30 years of offshore sailing, including two circumnavigations and a couple of trips to Antarctica, Cornell put over 150,000 miles under the respective keels of a pair of boats called Aventura. His wanderings have been the grist for nearly a dozen books, including the definitive guide to seasonal sailing directions around the planet, World Cruising Routes, which has sold over 100,000 copies.

And then, continuing the global peripatetic theme, there are the rallies.

In 1986, Cornell organized the first Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, and in so doing literally invented a brand-new way for sailors to address the pursuit of bluewater voyaging. The inaugural ARC drew 209 boats, earned a mention in the Guinness Book of Records, and launched its founder on an event-management career during which he produced 23 more transatlantic rallies and five round-the-world epics. Then he sold the whole shebang, duly retired, and pottered off into the sunset. Well, sort of.

Cornell is still chasing sunsets, but he’s doing so with the same characteristic zeal that he applied to his first six-year spin around the planet with his wife and two kids, which began in 1975. Now on his third Aventura--an aluminum, French-built OVNI 43 with a retractable keel--Cornell has once again set out for distant horizons. And it appears he’s just as crazy about ocean sailing as he was when he first took off three decades ago. "Having been involved during some 15 years in helping thousands of other sailors realize their dreams, the time’s come to take care of my own dreams again," he wrote to CW in a recent high-seas e-mail note.

That message was the first of many we expect from him in the months ahead. For in this issue we’re pleased to introduce a new occasional column, Letter from Aventura. In his Letters, which he’ll file on the move, Cornell will profile a recently visited destination or port-of-call, with the latest advice, information, and local color on the place, all written with his keen eye for nautical detail.

Also this month, check out the wild father-and-son story of Aventura III’s rugged trip from Antarctica to Alaska during Cornell’s swan song on the rally circuit, the turn-of-the century Millennium Odyssey Canarias.

A journalist of many years who reported on his travels for the BBC during both of his round-the-world journeys, Cornell is a natural storyteller. And he has no lack of stories to tell. Born in the Transylvanian mountains of communist Romania, he survived a difficult childhood and enrolled at Bucharest University, where he met a student from England, Gwenda, who would become his wife. They eventually moved to London and have been more or less on the go ever since.

Cornell recently opened his bulging passport, looked at the date of birth, and was surprised to note that he was pressing 62. He mentioned it in his e-mail in response to a simple question that wasn’t really simple at all: After all the voyages and all the miles, why head back to sea?

"I’m still very young--both in spirit and, thank God, in body," he responded. "And I know that only sailing will continue to keep me fit and able into ’real’ old age. Because I can’t stand still. Because I love the sea, and being at sea. Because there are still lots of places I’d like to see, and getting there on your own boat is still the best way. Because last night, when I was sitting in the cockpit looking at the star-filled sky, I was really happy and wouldn’t have been anywhere else." OK, maybe it was simple. Continued fair winds, Jimmy. Keep those cards and Letters coming.

Herb McCormick