#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy Cornell. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy Cornell. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

The Romanian-born yachtsman, author and founder of the World Cruising Club recalls six special years spent at sea with his wife and two children.

By Dominique Afacan | 11 October 2018

“I grew up in a village in Transylvania and only saw the Black Sea once when I was nine years old on a summer camp. I was immediately fascinated by it and wanted to go to sea ever since. As it happened, I met my British wife-to-be Gwenda and ended up moving to England, where I worked at the BBC. The company happened to have a sailing club and a yachting club, which ended up changing my life. I started sailing on the Thames and qualified on their 40-foot yacht and it very quickly became a passion.

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy and family on their six year voyage. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy and family on their six year voyage. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

After I married and had children, I started to dream about going on a voyage as a family. I was very fortunate that Gwenda shared my dream – and against the odds, we went ahead and did it. We planned to be away for maybe three years but it turned out to be six. Everyone thought we were crazy, but I don’t regret a thing. I had gained my freedom after so many years in a country where I didn’t have any. Freedom is something that you only value when you lose it. I wanted to do something with it. For me, that meant going out and seeing the world.

Our children, Ivan and Doina, were seven and five when we departed on the voyage and we took their education very seriously. Gwenda even went to evening classes in advance to qualify as a teacher so that she could educate them during the trip. We tended to do more school work when we were at sea so that they could have more free time when we were at anchor. When they came back to the UK they were actually well advanced compared to their peers and reintegrated to the school system without any problems. They both went off to university a few years later.

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Aventura IV in the Arctic. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Aventura IV in the Arctic. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

For those six years, we were constantly in the middle of nature so we had a fantastically free life. Our children were exploring all the time – it was an advantage sailing with them as people could immediately recognize us as a unit – as a family. We were welcomed everywhere, but we all particularly fell in love with the islands and the people of the South Pacific.

Of course, there were scary moments over six years of sailing. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, for example, we ran aground – but fortunately, the tide came in and lifted us off the reef. I went diving to see what had happened and there was so much sea life there that I was almost distracted!

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Schoolwork at sea. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Schoolwork at sea. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

I think as a result of our travels our children are particularly open-minded – even all these years later. They certainly can’t understand why people are racist or bigoted. They have met wonderful people everywhere, regardless of their race or wealth. Those impressions have stayed with them for life. Travel opens your mind and I am convinced that people who sail are more compassionate about life and society. I’ve organized 38 transatlantic rallies now and the most important aspect of them is always the people – you make friends for life through sailing.

All these years later, we still sail together as a family. We spent several weeks in Antarctica on a charter boat – and then three years later I went back with my son Ivan and we sailed all the way from Antarctica to Alaska. It was a good five months of father and son bonding and it was a lot of fun. Gwenda even flew in to meet us at Easter Island, Tahiti and Alaska along the way. The same goes for Doina – we’ve done lots of father and daughter bonding on our trips together, including one memorable voyage from Greenland to Newfoundland. I’ve also sailed with my grandchildren – they all share my passion.

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy's voyages from 1974 to 2017. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

#humansofyachting – Jimmy Cornell

Jimmy's voyages from 1974 to 2017. Photo: Cornell Sailing Ltd

I don’t want to end up regretting things I haven’t done. That’s what influenced that trip and it’s what still influences me today. If I decide to do something, I do it and I fully commit to it. Yes I am 78, but so what? I still do everything that I want to do. Me and Gwenda did a 10k walk in the Alps just last week. I want to continue being active as long as I can. I’m already planning my next boat.”

Sign up for updates




Do you work in the superyacht industry? YesNo
I would like to receive updates from Superyacht Life