British sailor/adventurer, David Cowper, who already holds several world records decided to take on the quest for the Northwest Passage. Here's his story:
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.
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.
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’.
Polar Bound was designed by Dennis Davidson of Murray Cormack Associates and built by New Century Marine in one of the former minesweeper sheds at the old McGruers yard in Rosneath that Cowper owns. She is shaped like an egg – Cowper would rather describe her as ‘spoon-shaped’ – albeit an egg designed not to crack even under the pressure of 65 tonnes of ice.
Prior to this summer’s Hecla and Fury voyage, Polar Bound underwent a two-year refit, having successfully returned from the Arctic after Cowper’s fifth – and most audacious – transit of the North West Passage, via the McClure Strait, the most northerly of the seven routes, one of a number of ‘firsts’ achieved by this most modest of seafarers.
Polar Bound’s refit has been forensic. Cowper leads me down the double-dogged forehatch in the forepeak, where shelves of plastic boxes contain everything he will need on a voyage he says will last one, maybe two – who knows – three years? A vicious-looking old wooden-handled RNLI boathook rests against the hull, a relic from the Watson, used for cutting weed off clogged propellers.
Watertight bulkheads separate this from the engine room and bow compartment. The space is immensely strong. This is the second line of defence, the first being a stem, already super-strong, further protected by a sharp, hefty strip of aluminium.
Every seacock and valve is accessible; every one has been dismantled and greased. Cowper has a tool for everything. A Dickinson Bering stove in the saloon, insulated with one tonne of rock wool, has been nickel-plated. “I hate rust,” he says with a passion you might express about mice in the rafters.
That's it for now; I'm still shivering!