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.

January 15, 2013

Blue Planet Odyssey route map

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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CW: With so many different jumping off points and possible routes, are there times and points during the journey when all the fleet will come together?

JC: Indeed there are. The first will be in the Eastern Caribbean, where boats that had started from Europe, the U.S. East Coast, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro will come together for the first time and will be joined later in Panama by those that started from Miami. Tahiti will be the place where the main route will be joined by boats which started from the U.S. or Canadian west coast. The major point of concentration will be Singapore, where the northern and southern routes will merge.

CW: Speaking of the fleet, how many sailboats do you think will participate?

JC: Initially we were aiming at 40 to 50, but from the response so far there seem to be so many sailors that identify with the aims of the Blue Planet Odyssey, that we shall have to find a way of accommodating a much larger number.

_CW: I know this is being organized as an around-the-world event, but are there shorter circles voyagers can take? _

JC: Because there is such an interest from sailors that wish to sail the entire route, I doubt if we shall be able to accommodate shorter options. However, there may be a very attractive option once we reach the Mediterranean but that has yet to be confirmed.

CW: This being a year and a half before the first sail’s raised, what do you envision will be some of the standout events during the rally?

Undoubtedly calling at some of the endangered islands, some of which happen to be rarely visited, such as Tokelau or the Andamans. For the northern route it will probably be the transit of the Northwest Passage.

CW: Let’s talk about specifics for a minute, what sort of services will Odyssey organizers be providing to participants? Will there be safety guidelines? Route planning? Weather services? Help with clearing in and out of the various countries?

JC: A whole range of logistical support and services: free port, marina, and docking charges at each scheduled start and finish, transit and agents fees for the Panama and Suez Canals, the cost of cruising permits, light dues, and other charges such as overtime and other fees payable to customs, immigration, and quarantine officials when clearing in or out of scheduled ports. There will be routing and weather information for each leg as well as tracking of the individual boats, and their location being shown in real time on our website. As on previous occasions, there will be welcome and prize-giving parties, and various social activities in the scheduled ports. In the run up to the start there will be preparatory seminars for participants as well as personal briefings at all major boat shows.

CW: For those who choose some of the more challenging routes, I’m thinking of the Northwest Passage, for example, what will be the role of the organizers?

JC: Participants who intend to sail that route will be briefed on all safety aspects, as their boats need to be thoroughly equipped, and will be inspected that they confirm with the safety requirements. With safety being uppermost in our mind, we shall ensure that we have plenty of time for the transit itself as in that part of the world being able to wait for favorable conditions is absolutely essential. We shall therefore have access to the latest weather information and are also being advised by other sailors who have transited in recent years.

CW: Speaking of the Northwest Passage, what happens if current trends reverse and the passage remains ice blocked?

JC: The 2014 Northwest Passage timing has been scheduled in such a way that if conditions in summer and early autumn for a transit of the Northwest Passage are considered to be unfavorable or dangerous, the timing will allow for the route to be amended so that participants will be able to sail south from Iceland and Southern Greenland to the U.S. East Coast. They will then have the choice of joining the New York or Miami starts that will merge with the main route in either the Eastern Caribbean or Panama.

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CW: Will catamarans and composite (i.e. fiberglass) boats allowed on the Northwest Passage leg?

JC: We have spoken to a leading catamaran boat builder who has expressed his concern at the risk posed to composite hulls by needle ice, a feature of melting bergs. Some participants are having their hulls reinforced in the bows and along other critical areas. We are treating each case individually before we decide whether to allow a boat to tackle that route or not. So far we have had no interest from catamaran oweners. As to the building material itself, of course it would be preferable for it to be metal, but we do not intend to object to composite hulls as such, provided they are well built, and the owner is fully aware of the risk involved. I must point out that we had two fiberglass boats sail with the Millennium Odyssey to Antarctica, where conditions are similar, and neither suffered more than superficial, cosmetic, damage.

CW: What are your plans for transiting some of the notable hotspots for piracy, particularly in the Indian Ocean?

JC: Bear in mind that there have been no incident involving cruising boats for the last year, and even attacks on commercial ships have virtually ceased in that area. But we are talking about sailing through that area more than three years in the future, and while we are obviously keeping that area under constant observation, any decision will need to be taken nearer the time. However, and not just in that part of the world, because of safety concerns, logistical or political considerations, some countries or stopover ports on the proposed route may have to be avoided and the route and schedule amended accordingly. The proposed route is planned to transit the North Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and Mediterranean but if the situation in that area is considered not to be safe, the route will be amended to reach the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Cape of Good Hope. There is also another fallback scenario but it would be premature to discuss or disclose its details now.

CW: What can participants expect to do at the various landfalls? Will there be organized events, or is the idea to have a more loosely organized schedule and let cruisers discover things on their own?

JC: There will be some of both. In certain areas, there will be free cruising periods between arrival in a scheduled port and departure from the next scheduled port.

CW: Of course everyone’s sailboats and lifestyles are different, but do you have a ballpark budget for what this Odyssey might cost the average husband and wife cruiser, with say a well-found 40- to 50-foot sailboat?

JC: The entry fee for a boat that size with a crew of two will be about $28,000.

CW: And what about your own plans? Weren’t you going to sail in the Blue Planet Odyssey yourself?

JC: Of course I would like to, and sail the Northwest Passage, ideally in a new boat… but let’s leave this for the moment as that could be the subject for another interview!

CW: Ultimately, what do you hope comes from the Blue Planet Odyssey?

JC: I hope that both us as organisers and those who sail in this unique event will have made at least a small contribution to raise awareness of the serious dangers faced by our planet if nothing is done. We also hope that by visiting some of the endangered places we will show our solidarity for communities whose livelihoods are most at peril and make them understand that cruising sailors are concerned about their fate.

For more information about the Blue Planet Odyssey, visit Planning to attend the Strictly Sail Chicago (Jan. 24-27, 2013) boat show? Jimmy will be speaking about the Odyssey on Saturday, Jan. 26th at 4:45 pm.


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