Jimmy Cornell is one of the great figures of long distance cruising. He first sailed away with wife and two small children in the mid-’70’s and has done three and half circumnavigations since, plus some stunning high-latitude voyages. His books, particularly the reference texts, are on almost every yacht in the cruising fleet, and the shelves of many armchair wanderers. The development of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) and similar events has done a huge amount to open up blue water sailing to more ordinary folks.
Yesterday he spoke at a local club, under the aegis of the Cruising Association. He had a lot to say and it was a long session. Lots of it was very practical stuff: watch routines, the best rigging of a spinnaker pole and a very neat mooring using two anchors for small bays prone to sudden squalls. Inevitably he talked quite a lot about heavy weather, which is one of the main fears of anyone heading out to sea. He was at great pains to emphasise that in all his sea-miles he’d never encountered a true survival storm, and attributed this to careful planning and good use of weather forecasting tools. In many of his stories, when the windspeed reached 35 to 40 knot range he began to show caution. He put in the first reef in his mainsail at 18 to 20 knots. Much like us, in fact. Very comforting.
He showed lots of pictures, and he’s an excellent photographer. (Better than me; this is our boat in the very pretty La Maddalena islands off Sardinia, this summer.) These enabled him to show the good sides of cruising. Often, when sailors get together, all the tales are of too much excitement. The blown sails, the near miss, or the massive wave are retold in loving detail. Or turned into jokes. This winter, I’ve tried hard to tell some of the good stories.
Our crossing from Cagliari in southern Sardinia to the north-western tip of Sicily took two nights. The first night was perfect. A gentle breeze in the sails kept us moving all night, the only sound a gentle shush from the water around our hull. The Perseid meteor show gave us a great light show, and we had the sea to ourselves. The second night, we lost the wind. We turned the engine on about midnight, and the steaming light on the mast lit up the water around us. Immediately shrimp came swarming. And after them came the dolphins. For over an hour the dolphins hunted around the boat, not playing as they usually do, but on killing business. We sat and watched them, a rare insight into their effectiveness as hunters. They moved on in the end, and we resumed our normal watches. The next day we tied up in Marsala.