|Over Russia and Around the World|
How one yachtsman plans to circumnavigate the globe--the hard way.
Story and Photographs by Alex McMullen — February 2002
What do you do for an encore when you've already performed four single-handed small-boat circumnavigations, the last one via the fearsome, frozen wasteland of Canada's Northwest Passage?
Well, if you're the seasoned British solo yachtsman David Scott Cowper, you set off on yet another circumnavigation of the globe, but this time you take in the 5,000-mile Northern Sea Route, along the north coast of Russia. Here you face the possibility of being stuck in the ice for several months, possibly even for a year or more. And a winter in these latitudes gives you 24-hour darkness and temperatures down to -40°F.
Long fascinated by the Northern Sea Route, Cowper cites as inspiration the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who in 1894 deliberately sailed his ship, the Fram, into the pack ice in what he called (and some people still call) the Northeast Passage. The idea was to gauge the strength of the current that was known to flow northward and westward, carrying the ice with it.
Cowper is the epitome of British reserve, a quiet man as polite and pleasant as you could hope for, but no publicity seeker. His achievement in being the first person to sail around the world in both directions--and briefly to hold the records for fastest single-handed circumnavigations, in both directions--went virtually unnoticed. Nor did his Northwest Passage feats in a motorboat create much interest even though he was the first person to tackle it single-handedly (albeit taking three years to do so) and the first to go around the world by that route.
If he completes his new voyage, Cowper will be the first person to travel single-handedly by the Northern Sea Route and says he will be the first to use it on a circumnavigation. Specifically, he intends to set off from Rosneath, Scotland, around the time you're reading this, bound for the Azores, then Ascension Island, and then the Falklands, en route to rounding Cape Horn "the wrong way," against its prevailing, often storm-force winds. Then he will head north up into the Pacific, calling on Valparaiso, Chile, Acapulco, Mexico, and San Francisco, from where he will set course for Dutch Harbour in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. From here he will aim to get through the Bering Strait and into the Northern Sea Route in July.
Cowper's first two world-girdling cruises were in a 41-foot sailing yacht, the third and fourth in a 42-foot, wooden ex-lifeboat. For his toughest challenge yet, he has Polar Bound, a new 48-foot motorboat, designed and built not just for oceangoing but for survival in pack ice.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.