Cowper navigates through the ‘world’s most difficult’ route
British sailor and explorer David Cowper has successfully transited one of the most difficult routes of the North West Passage, the Hecla and Fury Straits. On 27 August, accompanied by his son, Fred, Cowper became the first to navigate through this passage since William Parry discovered it in 1822 with the ships HMS Hecla and HMS Fury.
Cowper, on whom we reported in our October issue, is one of the world’s most accomplished yet little-known modern adventurers. He has made six circumnavigations of the world, first beating Francis Chichester’s non-stop record in 1980 and, in 1982, bettering Chay Blyth’s record in the other direction, both in Ocean Bound,a 41ft Sparkman & Stephens sloop.
This summer, he departed from Maryport in Cumbria at the end of July in his strengthened and specially designed 48ft aluminium motorboat Polar Bound, navigating singlehanded to Greenland. Then, joined by his son, he continued beyond the Arctic Circle, and south of Baffin and Victoria Islands on a route considered by some to be the world’s most difficult.
Conditions were ferocious at times, with strong tidal rips, seas of 7m and more and winds gusting over 60 knots. In Hudson Strait they encountered several miles of ‘swirlers’, which he noted was ‘like being in an 18ft sea that couldn’t find its way out of a washing machine; we were trapped in the cabin being washed around with green water flying over Polar Bound.’
The boat was nearly pitchpoled and father and son were bruised from being thrown around. They lay ahull for several hours until the tide turned. David Cowper noted: ‘conditions were atrocious’.
“That is pretty strong language coming from him,” comments Jane Maufe, who has accompanied him on a previous Arctic voyage. Cowper is a former Yachtsman of the Year and Cruising Club of America Blue Water Medallist. Maufe believes he deserves to be more widely recognised, but says: “He just does it for the challenge. If it is seemingly impossible, that is enough for David to want to prove that he can. He is a man born after his time; he is really an Edwardian adventurer of the old school.
“He doesn’t involve any charities, nor sponsorship, although one or two marine companies have most generously volunteered their products to his cause.”
Above: British explorer David Cowper’s specially designed 48ft aluminium motorboat Polar Bound