October 25, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 43

Voyage through the Northwest Passage, again

Petersburg will be a winter home for the 46-foot vessel, Polar Bound, while owner, David Cowper awaits the opportunity to take her out again.

David Cowper

The vessel can be recognized easily by the bright yellow color.

“The color is for easy identification by the icebreakers,” Cowper said. “The boat is so small, if it was a darker color, it wouldn’t be seen.”

Cowper, whose home is near Newcastle, England, has completed six circumnavigations of the Northwest Passage and three of the trips included the Arctic and Antarctica and until this last trip, he has always sailed alone. This time he has taken on a passenger, Jane Maufe, who wished to take the trip due to her family connection with Sir John Franklin, the British explorer lost in the late 1840s while leading an expedition searching for a sailing route through the Northwest Passage ice. She has joined him for this trip and the next.

Two of his trips lasted several years at a time. “The first trip I made was in 1986 and I didn’t return until 1990,” he stated. “Now two of those years I was iced in and spent my time in Fort Ross.”

It took him those two years to make repairs to his boat and to get underway again. The next trip took him two years.

“These are not trips made for fanfare or excitement, they are more like marathons,” Cowper stated. “It is satisfying to me, to figure out how to get where I am going.”

Cowper explained that his purpose for making the voyages is to satisfy his need to do something that hasn’t been done before, photographing wildlife. He loves calculating the logistics and making sure he has enough supplies.

“I enjoy getting into the ice in the Arctic and finding a crack,” Cowper stated. “That is where the excitement lies, in figuring out how to get from point A to point B and then to point C.”

When he first went to the Arctic it was the genuine article where the lanes were all iced over.

“Now with global warming,” Cowper explained. “There is more open ocean and there isn’t as much ice.”

Cowper also stated that he feels in the next five years there will be no ice at all and it will only be frozen in the winter.

“One of the biggest problems with that is that it will begin the slow demise of the polar bear,” Cowper said. “The polar bear is dependent on catching the seal as their staple diet and without the ice they will not be able to find or catch them.”

He explained that while the water is frozen the seal have to make air holes in the ice and the polar bear find the seals by those holes and wait for them to rise, but they cannot keep up with the seal swimming.

Cowper also stated that the landscape is not as pretty when not covered in snow and ice.

“The Arctic is an absolutely stunning place when it is covered in snow and ice,” he stated. “It just looks like dirt and earth outcroppings otherwise.”

He said that even here in Petersburg, with the snow slowly making its way down the mountain, it transforms the look of the area.

“This is still an impressive place,” Cowper said. “But it is so much more when covered in snow.”

Cowper is a commercial surveyor by profession but would rather be on the water at all times.

“That is a benefit to being my own boss,” he stated. “I can say, I’m taking a sabbatical and maybe I’ll be back in a year or so.”

The Polar Bound, Cowper explains, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“This vessel is designed as an all weather craft and can withstand any place on the earth regardless of the weather,” Cowper stated. “She is double hulled, with water tight compartments and the windows are made with 20 mm glass, which is about ¾ of an inch thick and made of the same materials that riot shields are made of.”

He also explained that the boat can completely turn over and will not take on water. “It would take a big catastrophe to sink her and would almost be impossible to do so,” Cowper stated. “I once hit an iceberg after falling asleep at the wheel. There was only minor damage to repair after the hit.”

Cowper said that the weakest link is the guy inside thte boat because the boat can survive pretty much anything.

“Even in the “Perfect Storm” which was portrayed in the film, they figure she still can’t be sunk,” Cowper stated. “I feel completely safe and at home in this boat.”

Cowper will begin another trip North in the spring but will be taking a different route this time.

“I am going to another area and will be the first to make it through,” Cowper stated. “This is what I enjoy and don’t know how long it will take, but I am ready to be on the sea again.”

Reader Comments