Britain's foremost maritime explorer is awarded the prestigious Blue Water Medal

Congratulations to David Cowper who has just been awarded the highly prestigious Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America. To me, and to many others, the chartered surveyor from Newcastle is Britain’s – if not the world’s – foremost maritime explorer.

If you haven’t heard of Cowper before – often called David Scott Cowper, though Scott is his middle name – that’s not surprising; he’s unsponsored, unpromoted and extremely modest and private. Nonetheless, he is a giant in sailing and in polar exploration.

In winning the Blue Water Medal he joins a pantheon of sailing’s greats, including Rod Stephens, the Hiscocks, H. W. Tilman, Eric Tabarly, Bernard Moitessier, Vito Dumas, Jerome and Sally Poncet and Pete Goss.

Even among that company, Cowper stands out. His most recent feat was to navigate through the McClure Strait, the most northerly navigable route of the Canadian Northwest Passage. No sailor has ever managed to get through it before and the last time it was tried, by a 300m icebreaker in 1969, that failed.

This, however, is only the latest of his achievements. Cowper has raced in the OSTAR, broke Chay Blyth’s ‘wrong way’ round the world record solo, and was the first person to sail alone round the world both ways.

Last year I suggested to a member of the committee of the Yachting Journalists’ Association, which votes annually on the Yachtsman of the Year, that David Cowper should once again be up for the award (he won it in 1990 for his three-year solo voyage through the North West Passage in the converted lifeboat Mabel E. Holland). I was told firmly that it would be “a waste of time in an Olympic year.”

How insular we are in our trade, seeing no further than the narrow and unrepresentative world of professional racing. I still maintain Cowper’s feats will stand out in history, and am so pleased that the CCA has recognised them.

If you’d like to read more about Cowper and what he’s done, click here to read one of my earlier reports on this remarkable man.