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Life Afloat: Q&A with Jimmy Cornell

by Jimmy Cornell 20 Feb 20:16 UTC
Jimmy Cornell at helm © Jimmy Cornell

Recently I received a list of questions from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School in Aretxabaleta, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. I found them so interesting that I decided to post them on our website.

What makes life at sea so attractive for you?

It has been my dream to go to sea since I was a very young child. That passion has never left me. I have been fortunate in being able to spend so much of my life at sea. It is the place where I feel happy and at ease, although I must admit that I missed being with my family on my recent voyages. This is how we sailed on our very first round the world voyage when we spent over six years with Gwenda, Doina and Ivan. In 1975, when we started from Europe, Doina was eight years old and Ivan six. For me that was the most beautiful and happiest time of my life.

In later years Doina and Ivan sailed with me to Antarctica, and on another occasion Ivan accompanied me on Aventura III all the way from Antarctica to Alaska. More recently Doina and my granddaughter Nera sailed with me in the Northwest Passage on Aventura IV.

Gwenda is not a cold-water sailor, but accompanied me in various parts of the world, so it was only in recent years that I had to sail with non-family crew.

Do you think that people are not too aware of climate change because they do not know what is really happening?

Until quite recently too many people were either not aware of climate change or chose to ignore it. All that has changed because of the Covid pandemic. Mother Nature has sent us a very clear message: we either start doing something about climate change now, or your generation will suffer the consequences of what people of my age have done to the planet. So I hope that you and your friends are aware of this existential danger, and must do what you can to try to protect the environment. You owe it to yourselves!

Aren't you tired of sailing?

Most certainly not. But, with Doina and Ivan being busy working, Gwenda no longer interested in long distance cruising, and our granddaughter Nera and grandson Dan being both at university, I have to accept the fact that my sailing plans are no longer realistic. However I do plan a voyage around the North Atlantic this coming summer, as I am still determined to prove that the concept of an electric boat is feasible. But it could very well be my swan song.

What is the worst thing that happened to you when you were travelling by boat?

I must admit that I never had any really serious problems when my or our lives would have been in danger. Probably because I'm really lucky, but also because I am very cautious. Sailing on your own boat is still the safest way to travel, so although there are plenty of potential hazards, a well-equipped boat is still extremely safe.

What happens when you are trapped in an extended calm?

The Mediterranean is the place where I have been becalmed on most occasions. Once you are sailing in the ocean, calms are fairly rare. Even in an extended calm there is always a little wind to keep the boat going. Unless I want or need to get to the next destination quickly, I prefer to wait and enjoy myself: reading, fishing, listening to music. Up to now, when I was becalmed and needed to keep moving, I started the engine. But Aventura Zero doesn't have a diesel engine and I am entirely dependent on my two electric motors. As I have only limited battery capacity, I do not have the luxury to be impatient.

What do you do during the day? Don't you get bored on the boat for 24 hours?

I don't think I've ever been bored on any of my boats. I always have something to do and like to be active. There is always something to do on a boat. I make sure to have plenty of books, I like taking photographs, cooking, listening to music. Especially on a clear night, I like sitting in the cockpit, enjoying the night sky and simply being happy to be so fortunate to enjoy those wonderful moments.

Next week, the answers to the rest of the questions.

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