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Two stories in the upcoming December 2015 issue of Practical Sailor—installing a fireplace and sealing portlights and hatches—had me pondering the challenges of a winter afloat. But what literally raised goosebumps were images sent to us by Jimmy Cornell, whose popular cruising rallies and books have inspired countless dreams of sailing around the world.
Cornell recently completed an icy voyage through the Northwest Passage aboard his Garcia Exploration 45, Aventura IV. Custom-designed for high-latitude voyaging, Aventura IV features a cork deck made by Marinedeck, one of the products profiled in our report on alternatives to teak decks in the upcoming issue.
I was able to tour Cornell’s boat with him a few months before the adventure began. At the time, there was still some question whether the pack ice would part to allow safe passage, and as we spoke I got a sense of what others had written about him—that he credited a good deal of his success to luck. This struck me as a sensible characteristic for a sailor, particularly a high-latitude explorer who deliberately takes on greater risks.
This thought sent me back to the Practical Sailor bookshelf, where I pulled three of my cold-climate favorites from the shelves: David Lewis’ Ice Bird, Alvah Simon’s North to the Night, and Barry Lopez’ Arctic Dreams. Later, I reached for a fourth book, Rounding the Horn, by Dallas Murphy, based on a cruise aboard Skip Novak’s Pelagic, a veteran of many high latitude adventures.
My question was this: How much of their own success did these high latitude sailors attribute to luck?
Drawn by the reflective nature of North to the Night, I kept returning to the tale of Simon, whom I first met in Cartegena, Colombia many years ago. Arriving late, after three days of little sleep on stormy passage, I had laid out enough scope to hold an aircraft carrier, and fallen into my bunk. The next morning I awoke to a thump on Tosca’s hull. It was Simon, who was leaning out from his own Roger Henry, as the boats gently kissed. He said nothing of my transgression—just smiled.
“Good morning,” he said. “Looks like you had a long night.”
Although Simon had not yet wintered aboard in the Arctic (the subject of North to the Night) he had the requisite attributes of a person who would thrive in cold adversity: confidence, self-sufficiency, a sense of humor, and a bit of luck, although I am not so sure that he would call it luck. For in his book I found my favorite bit of insight into the connection between sailing and the winds of fortune. It was something I might have said myself after being awakened that morning by a friendly thump on the hull. “If you still believe in coincidence, then you’re not looking hard enough.”
If you like me, have a high latitude cruise on your mind, you’re in luck. The December 2015 issue of Practical Sailor is for you.