'Highly Recommended': Rutea Reviews '200,000 Miles'

This review of Jimmy Cornell’s book 200,000 Miles – A Life of Adventure was published on the blog S/V Rutea Sails Around the World.

While we were at the United States Boat Show in Annapolis October, 2017, we had the good fortune to meet Jimmy Cornell at the Hydrovane booth.

We purchased his book, 200,000 Miles, had him autograph it, chatted for a couple of seconds, took a photo and got out of the way as a long line of other cruisers were waiting to meet him as well.

This is my take on the book.

Most cruisers know Jimmy Cornell as the author of World Cruising Routes, what many in the cruising community consider the Bible of guide books. Our own copy of WCR is badly worn, many of the pages dog-eared, some pages stained with spilled coffee, lots of notes in the margins, etc. Whenever we’re planning a passage, it’s our first reference – you would think that as many times as we’ve referred to it, we’d have it memorized by now.

Of course, we haven’t always agreed with the advice in WCR (it suggests giving the north end of Madagascar a 20-mile wide berth – it would have been much better to keep ‘one foot on the beach’) but we largely credit its advice for making our circumnavigation free from hazardous conditions – that and good luck.

Even if you’re not considering a circumnavigation, the book is an interesting read. But, this review isn’t about WCR.

200,000 Miles is part autobiography and part ‘how to’ manual. He describes his humble beginnings in Communist Romania, his father who challenged the Party and his fascination with the sea for which he had no explanation.

Born with both brains and brawn, he managed to get to the UK, where he met and married Gwenda, who bore them a son and a daughter. A career with the BBC allowed him some freedom of movement and while the children were still young, he bought Aventura, a small ketch on which they completed a 7-year circumnavigation, the first of his three.

This was well before the advent of electronic navigation and Jimmy would always announce their position and distance covered in the last 24 hours at lunch – when they launched their cruising website, it was Jimmy’s son who suggested they call it ‘noonsite‘.

It was fun to read about many of the same places we had visited: Vanuatu, Suwarrow, Thailand, Chagos, South Africa and St. Helena to name a few.

However, his description of cruising Antarctica was enough for me to slam the book shut, look my wife in the eye and say, “We’re going!” Whereas I found some of his descriptions of places to be a little tedious (” . . . and we were warmly welcomed by the people there . . . “), his vivid descriptions of cruising Antarctica were captivating, compelling and fantastic.

My wife and I were fortunate to have been able to cruise Patagonia aboard some friend’s boat (got to sail around Cape Horn, go ashore, meet the lighthouse keeper and his wife, have our passports stamped) but JC’s description of Antarctica makes me want to make that our next destination.

I didn’t find his trip through the Northwest Passage to be nearly as interesting but I was able to still learn much from it (a Diesel engine will run on Jet-A fuel although JC added 2-stroke motor oil).

He occasionally went on a rant – he finds it incredulous that so many cruisers no longer carry paper charts (guilty) and that he thinks it’s completely unnecessary to have an outboard motor of more than 5hp (we have a 5hp outboard but we also have a 15hp – guess which one we use most?).

It was almost a relief to learn that Jimmy Cornell isn’t a ‘purist’: When he realized that he was running late to make the attempt at the Northwest Passage, he put Aventura IV on a freighter in order to arrive at the jumping off point on time.

Whereas he’s capable of undertaking most repairs himself, he doesn’t hesitate to hire mechanics, laborers, etc to do the work.

Throughout the book are his suggestions in a blue field (titled ‘Tips’) and I found I agreed with most of them (paper charts notwithstanding) and even gave me validation for some of my laziness – if Jimmy Cornell stores his boat with the main left bent to the boom, so can I. Also, there are lots of quotes from people, some famous, some not. Only go on trips with people you love. –Ernest Hemingway

There is a long chapter about cruising rallies and JC rightfully takes credit for establishing them as a viable way to cruise. He doesn’t explain well how he was able to organize so many of the events that participants of his rallies were able to enjoy but I was envious as I read about the meetings with mayors, governors and kings. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine a satisfying circumnavigation in 17 months – we’re well into 7 years and we’re not finished yet (there’s still Antarctica!).

The photographs in the book, of which there are many, are breathtaking. It made me realize that despite the thousands of photographs that we’ve taken, it hasn’t been enough. Perhaps it’s the photographs of Antarctica that has me swooning but, regardless, most of the other photos are likely to light a fire under the most sedentary cruiser.

Granted, I was predisposed to liking the book before I bought it – World Cruising Routes has been a big part of our circumnavigation – but, nonetheless, I found 200,000 Miles to be a worthwhile read, if not great literature. Highly recommended.

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