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A Lifetime of Ocean Sailing Knowledge

by Greg Van Belle

200,000 Miles – A Life of Adventure by Jimmy Cornell

There are few, if any, adventure sailors as accomplished as Jimmy Cornell. He has sailed over 200,000 miles in all oceans of the world, circumnavigated three times, and completed a successful transit of the Northwest Passage. His sailing credentials are unquestionable, and his knowledge of the cruising world is unparalleled. His publication credentials are impressive as well. My dog-eared copy of his most famous book, World Cruising Routes has inspired many blue water fantasies of my own while I waited out the dark winter months in the Pacific Northwest.

A_Life_of_AdventureFew people have actually logged, or will ever log, 200,000 nautical miles of sailing – but Jimmy Cornell has, and living vicariously through his words is a treat in and of itself.

Cornell’s latest book, 200,000 Miles – A Life of Adventure, has taken up permanent residence on my nautical bookshelf. It is the perfect combination of adventure, imagery, and practicality. Not quite a memoir, not quite a cruising guide, 200,000 Miles is built to educate and inspire would-be ocean sailors. As I sat onboard recently, securely tied to the dock and pouring over Cornell’s latest book, I found myself remembering and reconsidering long-distance sailing plans of my own. His matter-of-fact style makes extreme ocean challenges seem manageable. The running thesis of the book seems to be: if you prepare for it, nothing is that daunting.

The structure of 200,000 Miles is refreshingly original for a sailing book. Cornell alternates between chapters on practical concerns and chapters of cruising narrative. This creates a sort of “theory into practice” design that is refreshing and interesting. Not too much technical material, yet not too much narrative.

In this book, Cornell lets much of his objectivity go, and it is to the readers’ benefit. Getting a more personal look into his personal life is refreshing and the reason this book is as readable as it is. I am an admitted nautical nerd, so I read technical manuals and find them enjoyable, but to really enjoy a book at anchor or on the couch at home, I need the writer to show his or her personality and give life to the information.

Cornell finally gives us the narrative writing that elevates his excellent technical and journalistic work to the next level.

I also find myself just flipping through the pages and looking at the hundreds of full-color photographs Cornell has included. They are snapshots of a world we all find ourselves dreaming about.

Of particular interest to me is Cornell’s material on choosing and setting up a voyaging yacht. Every offshore sailor has strong opinions about the best practices here, but Cornell’s hundreds of thousands of miles of sailing experience gives him a degree of credibility that is certainly worth paying attention to.

The chapter on ocean-going safety is refreshingly honest and does without the usual bravado offshore sailors can have after the fact. Safety is a real concern, and Cornell does well to address what many first-time blue water cruisers are anxious about.

A good sailing adventure book should inspire dreams of blue water, distant lands, and epic challenges. This book goes well beyond that by combining practical and technical information with wonderful narrative adventures. It is very enjoyable for seasoned sailors and dreamers, and deserves a spot in your library. Learn more about Jimmy Cornell, his publications, and his company at cornellsailing.com.

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