Small Craft

Late 19th & Early 20th Century British Yachting

The Sailors: Amateur British & Irish Yachtsmen Before World War One

Frank Cowper, 1849–1930

One of the older guard in our pantheon, Cowper was a trail-blazer when it came to single-handed cruising—and writing about it. The obituary from The Yachting Monthly provides a brief overview of Cowper's life. It is also interesting to note that he had a fondness for writing ghost stories, too. Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk is an example of one he produced during his life. He also wrote one or two historical melodramas.

Loose Ends
Mr. Frank Cowper
Our readers who have enjoyed the yarns by Mr. Frank Cowper which have appeared in these pages will be sorry to hear that this veteran yachtsman is in very poor health and is confined to his bed on account of a slight accident. It is not generally acknowledged how much Mr. Cowper's single-handed exploits, in the days when anyone who "went yachting" without a crew was regarded as insane, influenced the public into realizing that sailing in a small yacht can be enviable sport and its followers not entirely mad. His famous "Sailing Tours" are well known and probably these and his other books originally introduced hundreds of keen yachtsmen to their sport. We wish Mr. Cowper a rapid recovery to his former good health and, if any of our readers desire to asssure him that he is not altogether forgotten by his fellow cruising men, we shall be pleased to forward letters addressed to him.

The Yachting Monthly No. 290, Vol. XLIX June, 1930

Mr. Frank Cowper
The death, on May28 at St. Cross Hostel, Winchester, of Mr. Frank Cowper, at the age of 81, will be a loss to all cruising men who have read his many contributions to the pages of this magazine. His well-known books - "Yachting and Cruising for Amateurs," "Jack-All-Alone, His Cruises," "Cruising Sails and Yachting Tales" and the inimitable "Sailing Tours" - have become classics, and the last book which was published just before his death - "Vagaries of Lady Harvey" - will probably become as popular

From his earliest days Mr. Cowper took cruising to heart and probably did more to popularize this particular way of life than any man of his day. It is almost inconceivable to us now the predjdice which then existed in the public mind against the man who did not employ hands aboard his yacht. But it was through this veteran singlehanded sailor's adventures and writings that the public began to recognize small yacht cruising as a sane man's pastime.

During a varied life Mr. Cowper had many interests: his knowledge of classical history was extraordinary; he was both a painter and an architect and he designed his house, Lisle Court, at Wootton, Isle of Wight, in 1883. His knowledge of boats resulted in his designing and building the Undine II at Strand-on-Green in '97 and, although most of his writings concernced his ventures in the Lady Harvey, the Undine was his favourite boat.

Such a life of freedom and adventure did not prepare him for a quiet sojourn in the confines of St. Cross and he never overcame the feeling of being tucked away and forgotten by the hurrying world. His one great desire was to build another single-hander and to sail away in her and never to be heard of again alive - even as his predecessor, McMullen, passed away down Channel. But when he realized he was to die at St. Cross he resigned himself like the man he was to his fate and acknowledged that it was all "as it should be."

But the soul of Frank Cowper, the love of adventure and the joy of taut sheets and a hurrying wake at dawn, will live; those youthful aspirants to cruising from Oxford University and Winchester College who were wont to go to the old man for advice and help, and came away fired by his unquenchable enthusiasm, they will help to keep alive the spirit of cruising.

The Yachting Monthly No. 291, Vol. XLIX July, 1930

Known Boats:

  • Undine II
  • Lady Harvey