David Scott Cowper

David Scott Cowper
David Scott Cowper

David Scott Cowper at Stomness, South Georgia in 2003
Photo: David Scott Cowper
Born 1942
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Occupation Chartered Surveyor
Known for Yachtsman, circumnavigator

David Scott Cowper is a British yachtsman, and was the first man to sail solo round the world in both directions and was also the first to successfully sail around the world via the Northwest Passage single-handed.



Born in 1942, David Cowper was educated at Stowe School and lives and works in Newcastle upon Tyne. Although he is a Chartered Surveyor and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, sailing was his passion from an early age.

In 1974, Cowper participated and successfully completed The Observer Around Britain Race in his Wanderer-class sailboat, Airedale, designed by John Laurent Giles. In 1976, he successfully completed The Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race, again in his boat Airedale.

In 1980, Cowper completed the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe solo via Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin in Ocean Bound, a Sparkman & Stevens 41' sloop, beating Francis Chichester's 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 record by 71 days and becoming the first person to circumnavigate the world in both directions single-handed.

In 1980, the city of Newcastle, celebrating its 900th anniversary, recognised his feats and awarded him honorary Freedom of the City.[1]

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 and a half years 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, 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 is to be his 6th circumnavigation of the earth. The journey is 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, half-way through the Northwest Passage, and on the 24th 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. 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),[2] 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."[3]


Follow the "MV Polar Bound" via APRS Automatic Packet Reporting System at http://aprs.fi/vp8deu.

5 October 2011, 0900UTC. MV Polar Bound arrives Whitehaven UK completing his sixth circumnavigation and fourth Northwest Passage transit.




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