Jimmy Cornell: A winter trip to St Petersburg

A frozen Neva with the famous Aurora cruiser of the 1917 Revolution moored on its bank.

Vladimir Ivankiv has been described as the sailors’ best friend in St Petersburg. A title this generous man fully deserves as in the last 25 years he has helped countless sailors navigate through the bureaucratic maze facing anyone intending to visit this fascinating country on his own boat.

During all those years he has supported many of my own projects and we had become distant friends, so when I suggested that the newly launched European Odyssey should also have a start in St Petersburg, Vladimir arranged for me to make a presentation in his home city.

Jimmy Cornell with Vladimir Ivankiv at the Russian Geographic Society Presenting the Vice-President of the Russian Geographic Society with Cornell’s Ocean Atlas

February is probably the worst time to visit St Petersburg and I was surprised by the mild temperature and lack of snow that I noticed on arrival – one more sign of climate change.

Vladimir was quite concerned that my invitation to give a talk at the Russian Geographic Society on a Friday evening that also happened to be St Valentine’s Day may not attract the expected audience. We were received by Dmitri Shchepetnov, Vice-President of this illustrious organisation founded in 1845, who counts among its members some of the the most famous explorers and navigators of the 18 and 19th centuries: Fabian von Bellingshausen, Fyodor Litke, Nikolai Mikluho Maclay, Adam von Krusenstern, and many others.

With over 500,000 original books, manuscripts, charts, albums, explorers’ reports and logbooks, the library of the Russian Geographical Society holds one of the largest collections of its kind in world. Signing the Russian Geographic Society’s book of honour
St Valentine’s Day with cadets of the Naval Academy
Jimmy Cornell with Nikolai Mikluho Maclay, in front of the portrait of his great-grandfather and distinguished explorer of the South Pacific with whom he shares the name.

The subject of my talk “Forty years of roaming the oceans of the world“ must have struck a chord with the local sailing enthusiasts as the large auditorium was filled to capacity, not just sailors but also cadets from the Naval Academy, Arctic explorers, charter skippers, city politicians, and many young adventure seekers.

For the first time in my experience, the questions and answers session lasted more than the presentation itself, with the audience hungry for information on all aspects of long distance cruising, but also on the psychology of offshore sailing, favourite cruising destinations, formalities worldwide and boat design.

On the latter subject, some of the features of my new boat were keenly queried, not surprisingly as it is after all based on the concept of a boat suitable for both high latitude and warmer climates, something that would suit local conditions perfectly.

In my many years of lectures and seminars this was not only my most successful presentation but also the most satisfying as I recognised myself in many of those youngsters, looking for inspiration, dreaming of distant places, away from the constraints of their current life.

St Petersburg has captured my heart – on St Valentine’s Day.

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