Reading 200,000 Miles: A life of adventure, I had the sense of sitting over a cup of tea, below deck, with a sailing legend, while he enthusiastically told me everything I ever wanted to know about offshore cruising.
Having completed three circumnavigations, two voyages to Antarctica, and most recently a successful transit of the Northwest Passage, Jimmy Cornell will be familiar to most readers. He is also the founder of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) and has organized 28 transatlantic and six around-the-world rallies. He is the author of several cruiser-library staples including, Cornell’s Ocean Atlas, World Cruising Routes, and World Cruising Destinations.
200,000 Miles is based on an earlier book, A Passion for the Sea (published in 2007 and now out of print). It is one part memoir and one part offshore sailing how-to, or as Cornell modestly puts it in the introduction, how-not-to.
As the title suggests, 200,000 Miles covers a lot of territory. It begins in 2014, with Cornell (then age 74) attempting an east-west transit of the Northwest Passage. He captivates with descriptions of dramatic bergs and humorous exchanges with locals (see: “how to purchase a rifle for polar bear protection”). The chapter culminates with a harrowing ordeal, when Aventura IV is trapped by ice floes for 14 hours.
From the Northwest Passage, Cornell takes us back to the 1940s, through poignant accounts of growing up in Romania and his attempts to escape the communist regime. In one particularly riveting passage, he surreptitiously boards a coastal trading ship in the Black Sea but is forced off and finds himself evading gun fire as he swims for land.
From his yearning-to-be-free childhood, we see Cornell evolve into a husband and a father, without losing his insatiable love of the sea. His adventures span four boats, five decades, and much of the globe, including travels to Antarctica, the South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.
Interspersed between personal and travel stories, Cornell includes whole chapters of technical information about cruising. This information includes boat design, voyage planning, navigation, electronics, weather, self-steering, and engine maintenance. He addresses the interpersonal aspects of cruising: managing crew, sailing with kids, and his suggestions for a happy life afloat.
Cornell has successfully pulled off an ambitious book that is part memoir, part cruising manual, and part travelogue. But the parts aren’t distinct, rather they are a marriage of information and inspiration, and that is probably a reason for the book’s success. The practical sailing sections are comprehensive and brought to life with fascinating anecdotes. The personal narrative is brimming with technical tidbits. This is a must-read for anyone dreaming of offshore sailing.