Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our greatest living yachtsman runs through Arctic Beaufort Gyre ice choke-point on record setting sixth Northwest Passage

David Scott Cowper, 71, is our greatest living yachtsman.

Our greatest living explorer slips out of harbor un-noticed to continue navigating the epic Northwest Passage for a record breaking sixth time - this will be an unheard of late ice season west to east passage in 2013 which is likely to be remembered before it is done around October 15th at freeze-up.

When you check on legends you rarely find facts which cause you to take pause and ask the question - why have I never heard of this living legend before?

I'm blown away when I find out David Scott Cowper's accomplishments:

  • Fastest solo circumnavigation by sail of the world via Cape Horn, Cape of Good Horn and Cape Leeuwin beating Francis Chichester's record of 226 days by one day.
  • First sailor to solo circumnavigate the world by sail in both directions beating Chay Blyth's record by 72 days becoming the first person to circumnavigate in both directions single-handed and holds the record for the fastest single handed time in each direction.
  • First sailor to solo circumnavigate the world by motoring westward through the Northwest Passage. Upon reaching Fort Ross, Bellot Strait was blocked with ice and he remained two years in the ice before he managed to make repairs and complete his historic westward Northwest Passage. Upon reaching the Bering Strait he became the first person to have completed a single-handed circumnavigation of the world. He continued on via Midway and Papua New Guinea to reach Darwin Australia before returning to homeport via the Cape of Good Hope.
  • Hoping to complete the Northern Sea Route over the top of Russia he took a route around Cape Horn and up the west coast of the Americas but was refused permission by the Russian authorities so he turned east and completed yet another Northwest Passage again in two summers from west to east, becoming the first person to have completed an east to west and west to east single-handed transit.
  • Not done with his thirst for the open sea, in 2009 he sailed on his 6th circumnavigation voyage. Starting in England he motored to Greenland then through the Northwest Passage to Dutch Harbor Alaska to complete his third single-handed NW passage. Departing Dutch Harbor he arrived at St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco then sailed for Chile and Antarctica. He would round Cape Horn for the Falkland Islands and continue to Cape Town then route to South Australia, cross the Pacific Ocean to Fiji, Hawaii back to Dutch Harbor then through the Northwest Passage back to homeport in England. The first circumnavigation involving a double-transit of the Northwest Passage.
  • In 2012 motor yacht POLAR BOUND achieved a historic record to become the first yacht to navigate west of Cape Prince Alfred on the original Northwest Passage through McClure Strait discovered by Captain Robert McClure aboard HMS INVESTIGATOR in 1851. POLAR BOUND departed Portrush Northern Ireland on August 2nd 2012 and arrived in Nome on September 7th 2012 - Atlantic Arctic Circle to Pacific Arctic Circle in just under a 20 day transit.

To appreciate these accomplishments a bit of history is in order. I'll try and give a shorter version... lol (so much to say... so little space... why couldn't this be in a pub with 100 taps and time to enjoy saying it all with friends... lol)

In 1823, Sir John Franklin returned to England from an expedition to Hudson Bay where he lost 11 of his 20 men. Franklin married poet Eleanor Anne Porden. A daughter named Eleanor Isabella was born; his wife died in 1825 of tuberculosis. Later in 1825 Franklin left for his second and third Arctic expedition. The goal was to travel overland from Hudson Bay to MacKenzie River and survey the coastline to the west and meet Frederick Beechey who would try sailing to the northeast from the Bering Strait (Beechey only reached Point Barrow). At the same time William Edward Parry would sail west in Lanchaster Sound. Parry reached Winter Harbour and his ship was frozen in the sea ice. Franklin found the Mackenzie River and followed it down to the Beaufort Sea then west where on August 16, 1826 he turned back at Return Reef just 150 miles from Beechey's Point Barrow. He reached Fort Franklin on September 21 and continued on February 20th 1827 to Fort Chipewyan Alberta for winter and spring. He reached Liverpool on September 1, 1827 and reported his expedition details to the Admiralty.

In 1828 John Franklin married Jane Griffin, a friend of his first wife. On April 29, 1829 he was knighted by George IV. On January 25, 1836 he was made Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic Order and Knight of the Greek Order of the Redeemer by King William IV. 

Franklin was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land in 1836 but was removed from office in 1843. He was remembered in Hobart with a statue which below appears Tennyson's epitaph:

  Not here! The white north has thy bones and thou
  Heroic sailor soul
  Art passing on thine happier voyage now
  Toward no earthly pole

Lady Jane Franklin was quite a liberated woman of her day, known for 'roughing it' to the extent that she made crossings to wilderness areas, established a university, a museum, and botanical gardens. She helped colonize the village of Franklin on the Huon River named the Franklin River on the West Coast of Tasmania.

Back in England, Franklin, now age 59, was offered command of a well funded Arctic Expedition to close the remaining 300 miles of uncharted sea and land of the Northwest Passage. He was given command on February 7, 1825 and received his orders on May 5, 1845 sailing on HMS EREBUS and HMS TERROR for the Arctic with both ships outfitted with steam engines enabling the ships to power at 4 knots of speed. The Franklin Expedition set sail from Greenhithe England on May 19, 1845 with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men. Five crew were discharged and sent home on RATTLER and BARRETO JUNIOR from Greenland, reducing the ship's final size to 129 souls. The Expedition was last seen on July 26, 1845 when Captain Dannett of the whaler PRINCE OF WALES encountered TERROR and EREBUS moored to an iceberg in Lancaster Sound.

After two years there was no word from the expedition. Lady Jane urged the Admiralty to send a search party but delays took another year and it was not until 1848 that the first ships started to search. A note found indicated that Franklin died on June 11, 1847 after the ships had become trapped in ice off King William Island in September 1846.  

The Admiralty, not to give up, dispatched two more ships to the Pacific Arctic in 1850. HMS INVESTIGATOR under the command of Captain Robert McClure and HMS ENTERPRISE under the command of Captain Richard Collinson. The ships sailed in Janaury 1850 from England south through the Strait of Magellan then northwest to Hawaii then north into the Pacific Arctic. INVESTIGATOR was ahead of ENTERPRISE who retreated to Hong Kong for the winter while McCLure was excellent at navigation and his crew recovered their ship from sandbars by rowing and kegging them off with skiff crews. The first winter was spent in Prince of Wales Strait in 1851 where Captain Robert McClure observed the prominent 1,000m peaks on Mellville Island and used his sextant to determine that Captain Parry's Winter's Harbour was less than 100 miles distance. During that winter when the sea froze he sent a sledge party across the sea and discovered in Winter's Harbor a carin landmark and named it Parry's Rock where they left a message in case a search party came this way again. 

The next summer HMS INVESTIGATOR navigated the western shore of Banks Island and reached Mercy Bay on the north east shore. The ship became stuck in the sea ice in 1852 and was abandoned in 1853 after Lieutenant Pimm from HMS RESOLUTE who had discovered their message in Winter's Harbour at Parry's Rock and came looking for the INVESTIGATOR and crew.

The INVESTIGATOR crew in their third year in the Arctic started to walk across the sea ice to Winter Harbour and joined the crew of HMS RESOLUTE on June 17th. But HMS RESOLUTE (Ex barque Ptarmigan) became stuck in the ice and was abandoned in August 1854 when there was no hope of more ice melting. The crews were forced to walk out over rotten sea ice some 340 miles to Beechey Island where they met up with the HMS NORTH STAR. The RESOLUTE and INVESTIGATOR crews returned aboard NORTH STAR to London in 1854. McClure and his crew were rewarded 10,000 pounds by Parliament for the discovery of the Northwest Passage and all were awarded the Arctic Medal by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom.

The search for the Franklin Expedition involved over 50 ships and encompassed ship navigations in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Arctic seas. It is consider one of the largest maritime searches in history.

SIDEBAR: The HMS RESOLUTE was later recovered adrift in 1855 and timbers from her ultimately were used to construct a desk which was presented to United States President Hayes in 1880 for the United States contribution to searching for the Franklin Expedition in the Arctic and the return of HMS RESOLUTE. 

SIDEBAR: If we ever meet and you have time for a pizza and pint, I'll relate the rest of the HMS INVESTIGATOR story about Captain of the Foc'sle John Calder and his new life in America with wife, Frances (Fannie) Farmer.

It would be a short wait until 1900 when Roald Amundsen would buy the 70 foot second-hand herring smack named 'Gjoa' built in 1872 and would outfit her with a 13hp parafin single-screw motor. In June of 1902 Gjoa sailed with seven crew for the Arctic. Reaching King William Island on the Boothia Peninsula in late September, Gjoa was iced in by October 3rd in what Amundsen called "the finest little harbour in the world." There she remained for two years before mother nature's grip was released on August 13, 1905 and sailed as far west as Herschel Island and was once again iced in for the winter. On August 31, 1906, Gjoa arrived in Nome Alaska. The first Northwest Passage entirely by sea route. Gjoa sailed on to San Francisco and in 1972 was returned to Norway for historic restoration.

In 1940-44 Henry Asbjorn Larsen would command the RCMP auxiliary schooner ST. ROCH on both a west to east two season passage and the returning first one season east to west Northwest Passage.

There would be many icebreakers and commercial vessels challenge the Northwest Passage - their place in history is duly noted - but not until 1977 would a yachtsman named Willy de Roos, in his yacht WILLIWAW succeed in an east to west Northwest Passage, much of it solo single-handled.

From 1976 to 1979 Real Bouvier would winter at Holsteinborg, Resolute and Tuktoyatuk to succeed in a Northwest Passage aboard his 10m J.E. BERNIER II ketch.

From 1979 to 1982 Kenichi Horie aboard his 15m MERMAID sloop with winterings at Resolute and Tuktoyatuk to complete his Northwest Passage.

In 1983 to 1988 John Bockstoce's 19m motorsailing yacht named BELVEDERE under the command of Sven Johansson conducted whale research in 1987 near Tuktoyaktuk would later complete the transit in 1988 through Pond Inlet.

In 1985-1988 Janusz Kurbiel ('85-87) and Wojciech Jacobson ('88) would navigate 12.8m VAGABOND with wintering in Tuktoyaktuk and twice in Gjor Haven would then complete a Northwest Passage and go on to circumnavigate North America.

In 1988-89 Richard Thomas in his 16m ketch named NORTHANGER after wintering in Inuvik would complete a Northwest Passage.


In 1980, Cowper completed the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe via Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin in Ocean Bound, a Sparkman & Stevens 41' sloop, beating Francis Chichester's 16m Gypsy Moth IV, record of 226 days by one day.

Two years later, he repeated the feat, sailing against the prevailing westerly winds and rounding all five capes in 237 days, beating Chay Blyth's 59' British Steel record by 72 days and becoming the first person to circumnavigate Cape Horn in both directions single-handed and also holds the record for the fastest single handed time in each direction.
In 1980, the city of Newcastle, celebrating its 900th anniversary, recognized his feats and awarded him honorary Freeman of the City.
Cowper then switched to motorboats, and in 1984-1985 he sailed westwards round the globe in a converted ex-Royal National Lifeboat Institution Watson 42 foot wooden lifeboat, the Mabel E. Holland, via the Panama Canal, becoming the first person to circumnavigate solo in a motor boat.
These feats served as a prelude to the first solo circumnavigation via the Northwest Passage, which consumed four years two months and ended in 1990. On 14 July 1986, he departed from Newcastle to make his way across the North Atlantic up the west coast of Greenland to enter Lancaster Sound, eventually reaching Fort Ross at the east end of Bellot Strait. Due to heavy pack ice and the start of an early winter, Mabel E. Holland remained in the ice for two full years at this location. When Cowper returned the next summer, he found the boat waterlogged, and spent the short summer pulling her ashore and repairing her. In 1988, he managed to reach Alaska and left the boat at Inuvik, Northwest Territories (east of Alaska) on the Mackenzie River, before one of the coldest winters in recorded Arctic history.
On the tenth of August 1989, he sailed into the Bering Strait, becoming the first person to have completed the passage single-handed as part of a circumnavigation of the world. Continuing via Midway and Papua New Guinea, he reached Darwin, Northern Territory on the Australian coast just before the start of the hurricane season where he laid up his boat. Returning in April 1990, he continued via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving back in Newcastle on 24 September.
Subsequently, Cowper attempted to complete the Northern Sea Route (North East Passage) over the top of Russia. He had an aluminium boat, 14.6m Polar Bound, built and took it round Cape Horn and up the west coast of the Americas in 2002, but was refused permission by the Russian authorities. He turned east and completed the Northwest Passage again, in two summers, from west to east, becoming the first person to have completed an east to west and west to east single-handed transit. He then prepared Polar Bound for another attempt, should permission be given by Russia.
In August 2009, Cowper began what was to be his 6th circumnavigation of the earth. The journey was planned to last fifteen months and cover 35,000 mi (56,000 km). Starting at Maryport in Cumbria, England, the intended route is to sail to Greenland and then through the Northwest Passage and the Bering Strait. On 6 September 2009, he was docked in Cambridge Bay, halfway through the Northwest Passage, and on 24 September he sailed into Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, after completing the passage single-handed for the third time. David Cowper is the only person to have done the Northwest Passage three times. He is also the only person to have done it solo in a single season (in 2009). In 1979-82, Kenichi Horie in Mermaid, was the first person to do it solo, but took two over-wintering stops. Two other individuals, Arved Fuchs and Oliver Pitras, have done it twice as part of a crew.
Cowper left Dutch Harbor on 29 September 2009 and sailed into the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco on 14 October. He left the Sausalito Yacht Club on 28 October, heading south for Chile and Antarctica. He would then make his way to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island (where he was sighted on 21 April 2010), Tristan da Cunha and Cape Town. From there the intended route is to South Australia, then across the Pacific Ocean to Fiji, Hawaii, Dutch Harbor and then through the Northwest Passage back to England. According to The Daily Telegraph, this "will be the first circumnavigation involving a double-transit of the Passage."
On 5 October 2011, 0900UTC. MV Polar Bound arrived at Whitehaven UK completing his sixth solo circumnavigation and fourth Northwest Passage transit.
When Polar Bound called at Honolulu for a brief refueling stop in June 2011, before continuing up to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, agents for NASA were trying to find a vessel which would undertake a 900 mile journey out into the Pacific to try and locate a $2.5 million prototype beacon that had developed a fault, that they wanted retrieved.
This was a far from easy task as it required extreme accuracy in navigation and literally it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack as the only part of the beacon visible was its slender antenna measuring approximately 18 inches high, colored black with a diameter of approximately 10mm.
Polar Bound was given the task and an approximate location of the beacon. After setting out, NASA would bring the beacon to the surface to obtain an accurate position. It was necessary for Polar Bound to reach that position within 48 hours before the batteries died.
It took Polar Bound 6 days to reach the location and at that time there was approximately 15 knots of wind blowing with a 4 – 5 ft swell running. Four hours were spent in the location looking for the beacon and purely by chance and good fortune it was observed in a breaking wave which showed the body of the beacon from a distance of approximately 20 yards. Polar Bound was then put alongside the beacon and a sling attached. The beacon was then brought on board, stored on the aft deck and taken to Dutch Harbor where it was duly collected by Yi Chao and Thomas Valdez who were the innovators and designers of the beacon.
The dimensions of the beacon were 97 inches length, circumference 37 inches and weight 200 lbs.
At 15.33Z on 29 August 2012, David Scott Cowper and Jane Maufe, whose four-times great uncle was Arctic explorer Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin, was aboard motor yacht Polar Bound, became the first yacht to navigate west of Cape Prince Alfred on the original Northwest Passage through McClure Strait discovered by Captain Robert McClure aboard HMS Investigator in 1851.[4] Polar Bound departed Portrush, Northern Ireland on Thursday 2 August 2012 at 1030 GMT and arrived at the port of Nome Alaska on Friday 7 September 2012 at 1800 GMT completing an official Northwest Passage by crossing both the Atlantic Arctic Circle 17 August at approximately 1000 GMT@ 66.31 N 54.20 W and crossed the Pacific Arctic Circle Thursday 6 September at approximately 0640 GMT at 66.31 M 167.59 W. This northwest passage was just under 20 days transit.
Cowper has completed five (5) official Northwest Passages (four solo single handed and one with crew) passing through the Atlantic Arctic Circle and the Pacific Arctic Circles; in 1986 aboard M/V Mable E Holland, in 2001, 2009, 2011 & 2012 aboard M/V Polar Bound.

Motor yacht POLAR BOUND entered Nome's Harbor on August 14th, topped off with diesel fuel good for a 5,000 mile non-stop voyage and departed for the Arctic without anyone realizing that the greatest living yachtsman had just past through Wyatt Earp's 1899 frontier gold rush town where the likes of Jack London, Rex Beach, Wilson Mizner and Tex Rickard had walked the boardwalk and enjoyed a friendly game of cards in Earp's saloon. No one took the opportunity to break bread with David and Jane in Nome. Opportunity to live our history... slipped through Nome residents' fingers.
Realizing the Arctic does not wait for anyone, POLAR BOUND was underway the next morning for the Arctic.
Captain Cowper realized after "turning the corner" east at Point Barrow that the Beaufort Sea gyre was pushing ice south and his sixth Northwest Passage could be blocked near Cape Barthurst.
Here is a slice of the Canadian Ice Service Amundsen Gulf ice chart dated 20130824:
The obvious south drifting ice has blocked navigation around Cape Bathurst.

Not to be stopped at one of his favorite meridians, David pulled the rabbit out of his bags of five previous voyages to know that he might be able to squeeze between Baille Island on the north and a channel of shoal water to Cape Bathurst.

During the late approaching Arctic sunset David increased POLAR BOUND's speed slightly in hopes he would have enough visual light to see the shoal waters and current running over Cape Bathurst. 

Here is his approach (note the ice blocking his approach) first POLAR BOUND had to zigzag though drifting ice then make an approach at sunset into the shoal waters between Baillie Island and Cape Bathurst.

Just as sunset was fading to night, POLAR BOUND turned the corner once again he proceeded to duck under the eastern ice edge. Here is POLAR BOUND's tracker map showing how close it was... truly a master mariner doing what he loves... navigating his beloved vessel through to the other side... leaving Cape Bathurst astern.

CONGRATULATION DAVID!  Thank you for sharing this so we all can learn how to better navigate the Northwest Passage.

Through the shoals towards deeper waters which are filled with ice east of Cape Bathurst...

Then towards Franklin Bay (cape) to avoid the eastern ice flow edge.

What a joy to watch a master mariner exercise his skill and knowledge... no less than while underway on POLAR BOUND during his sixth Northwest Passage. 

Your voyages give me shivers and bring me to near frostbite.

Wishing you and Jane a very safe voyage to your home harbor. 

You are the greatest!

Not here! The white north has thy bones and thou
Heroic sailor soul
Art passing on thine happier voyage now
Toward no earthly pole

Godspeed POLAR BOUND and her good crew!

Many of the recognized Northwest Passage routes through the Arctic between the Pacific Ocean Arctic Circle in the Bering Strait and the Atlantic Ocean Arctic Circle in Davis Strait.



Anonymous said...

Truly amazing man. Thank you for posting the details. David Cowper makes it look so easy yet from readying your blog I know that another boat was stopped dead in they wake and could not get through the 2/10 ice. Experience makes all the difference in the world. Thanks again and keep the details coming. I think we are in for a real adventure (Amundsen definition) this season in the NW Passage with early freeze-up.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Good luck and stay safe.

Anonymous said...

It is August 25th and DC is at C. Bathurst. What do you think his plans are to get through Victoria Strait and Bellot Strait? He has a strategic advantage of motoring compared to sailing. It is obvious that sailboats are at the greatest risk of weather and ice limiting their forward progress - kind of like a rowboat vs kayak - they kayak guys are able to freely advance and openly navigate. Motor vessel seems the obvious choice if I was going through the Arctic.

Voyage Adviser said...

From the previous 24 hour observations I watched POLAR BOUND go through 2/10 ice by changing course and speed. On the other end of the discussion was a 10m fiberglass sailboat which stopped and did not proceed through the same 2/10 ice. People or equipment? Both? Likely. I'd recommend a metal motor vessel not only for the Arctic but for worldwide cruising. When you look at the cost of rigging and sails and replacement I've heard several cruisers over the last 15 years say next time they will be a motor vessel. To each their own. Let experience teach you lessons.

Lets keep watching POLAR BOUND - I'm sure we are going to learn more of David's Arctic hat tricks.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Jane !!!

Eric said...

Longest single handed sailing trip I ever made was three weeks. I was talking to myself after the first three days.

Eric said...

Longest single handed, non stop sailing trip I ever made was three weeks. I was talking to myself after three days.

Eric said...

Wow ! Longest single handed sailing trip I ever made was three weeks non stop. I was talking to myself after three days.

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