ERA OF DISCOVERIES
in the September fog, the last contours of shores melted in the distance,
and the endless expanses of Okhotsk Sea opened before Vitus
Bering’s packet boats. Captain-commodore Bering was aboard the
expedition’s flagman, St. Peter. Captain-Commodore Alexei
Iljich Chirikov, his associate, was in command of “St. Paul”.
Like Bering, he was promoted to Captain-Commodore, only later, in 1746.
Having circumvented Kamchatka, both ships in October 1740 reached Avacha Bay, where the packet boat crews founded Petropavlovsk Harbor (the future Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski). Both the harbor and town were named so in honor of the expedition ships. And that is where the Russian seamen wintered.
By that time, Kamchatka was already officially a territory of the Russian Empire. It was annexed by Vladimir Vassilievich Atlasov, yet another remarkable seafarer of Siberian Cossack origin from a galaxy of Russian discoverers and explorers of the lands of the Far East and the Pacific coast.
In 1696. Having assembled a detachment of 120 Cossacks, Atlasov sailed with them from Anadyrsk (Anadyr) to Kamchatka to explore new lands and colonize local aborigines. Atlasov formalized the annexation of Kamchatka to Russia by establishing a memorial cross in the estuary of River Krestovka (Kanuch). The Upper-Kamchatka jail was founded on River Kamchatka.
Noteworthy is Atlasov’s vigorous explorational-hydrographical and ethnographic activity. He compiled the first description of Kamchatka, its nature and population, and that of the nearby islands, Alaska, Chukchi Peninsula, the Kuriles and Japan. In content and completeness of geographic and ethnographic data, his descriptions significantly surpassed the works of other Russian discoverers. One of the Kurile Islands bears the name of Atlasov.
Having successfully wintered in Avacha Bay, the ‘St. Paul” and ‘St. Peter’ on June 4, 1741 sailed in search of the Land of Gama (in those days that was the name of America). The ships’course was plotted to the southeast. On reaching 46o N. lat without finding that land, both packet boats turned to the northeast. On June 20, in dense fog, a normal occurrence in those places, the navigators lost each other, and continued their voyage independently.
Vitus Bering aboard the “St. Peter” sailed to the south, and on July 20 discovered an island christened St. Ilia. On July 26th, the voyagers saw Kodiak Island, and two days later discovered Tumannyi Island (now called Chirikov Island). On the next day, the snowpeaked mountains of Alaska appeared before the navigators’ eyes. Then Bering and his crew discovered one after the other the Eudokian (Semide) Islands, the Shumagin Islands the Islands of St. John (Atkha), the Island of St. Markian (Kiska), and the Island of St. Stephen (Buldyr). Those discoveries naturally gladdened the seafarers. But the severe sailing conditions, the monotonous food, and the shortage of water gradually exhausted the men, and twelve crewmembers died from scurvy on the way.
From the second half of September, the “St. Peter” was constantly beset by autumn storms. Food and water reserves melted rapidly, and the navigators’ energy depleted rapidly. On November 4, having noticed an unknown uninhabited island, Bering directed the packet boat there. The situation was hopeless, and the crew could no longer fight the sea and diseases. So, Bering decided to run the ship on sand shallow, where the crew disembarked. This was the beginning of severe wintering. Soon nineteen men died from exhaustion and scurvy. On December 8, 1741, the seamen who survived buried Captain-Commodore Vitus Bering. The island where his remains were interred was called Bering Island in his honor, and the group of Pacific islands the Commander Islands. The crewmembers that survived, led by Lieutenant K. L. Vaksel and S. Starodubtsev, built a small sailboat from remains of the packet boat, and on August 27, 1742 returned to Kamchatka.
On July 15, 1741, the “St. Paul” under A. I. Chirikov gained North America. Significantly, Chirikov, slightly preceded by Bering, were the first Europeans to reach the northwest coast of America and map it. Then “St. Paul” moved along the coast to the north. Fifteen sailors were found missing at 58o N. lat. When exploring the shore. After a lengthy but unsuccessful search, on July 27 Chirikov decides to return to Russia. On his way back, they discovered several islands from the Aleutian group. But every mile was hard to overcome. Like the “St. Peter” crew, Chirikov’s men were short of water and food. The seamen staunchly overcame thirst, hunger and diseases, and finally on October 10, 1741 the “St. Paul” safely sailed into Avacha Bay.
The era of great discoveries and heroic deeds on the Pacific that the valiant Russian seafarers Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov and their associates began more than worthily in the 18th century was continued by the no less experienced and daring Ivan Krusenstern and Yuri Lisiansky.
On a fine summer day of July 26, 1803, Kronshtadt (Russian naval base near the country’s former capital, St. Petersburg) bid a ceremonious farewell for a long sea voyage to sloops, the “Nadezhda” and “Neva”. Lieutenant-Captain Krusenstern led the first boat, and Lieutenant-Captain Lisiansky the second one. This was the beginning of the first round-the-world expedition in the history of the Russian Navy. They noted in those days that this voyage, never experienced by Russians before, included the best young Russian sailors, including Senior Lieutenant M. Ratmanov, Lieutenants P. Arbusov, P. Golovachov, and P. Povalishin, Warrant Officer F. Bellinsgausen and Cadet O. Kotsebou. The crewmembers comprised volunteer sailors.
At the outset, having called at Copenhagen and the Canary Islands, the expedition then crossed the Atlantic to reach the shores of Brazil. After crossing the equator on November 26, 1803, the Russian vessels for the first time in Russian history entered the waters of the Southern Hemisphere.
At Tierra del Fuega, the “Nadezhda” and “Neva” encountered a severe storm. Excellent training, physical endurance and moral stauchness helped the crews overcome all trials and obstacles. However, when they had already circumvented Cape Horn, the sloops were about to emerge on the expenses of the Pacific, a very dense fog set in, and the boats lost each other. Attempts to find their bearings with the aid of sound signals proved unsuccessful. The “Neva” called for a short while at Easter Island to then sail for Marquis Islands, where the two ships met. From Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands to Marquis Islands, the two sloops sailed together and then their routes parted. Ivan Krusenstern sailed to Petropavlovsk, where the “Nadezhda” arrived on July 3, 1804, while Yuri Lisiansky sailed for Russian America, and on July 1 the “Neva” arrived on Kodiak. Island, where the crew wintered. Not to waste time, the seafarers inventoried the Kodiak group islands and Sitkha Bay islands.
The “Neva’s” winter and summer camps were slightly protracted when the sloop had to be overhauled and the crew needed to bolster their physical condition. For these reasons, the “Neva” stayed in Russian America for over a year, and having loaded a cargo of fur, sailed for Canton, China. On the way to the south, Russian sailors discovered an island, which they christened after their captain, Yuri. Lisiansky, and also two reefs (Neva and Krusenstern). Both the “Nadezhda and “Neva” met on November 21, 1805 at the roadstead of Macao (Portuguese colony in the south of China). Then both sloops left Canton to sail back home via the Indian Ocean. At the Cape of Good Hope, the two boats lost each other in fog, as it happened several times before. Then they sailed separately. For 142 days from Cape of Good Hope to Portsmouth, Britain, the “Neva” called nowhere. This was a record for those days. On July 22, she entered Kronshtadt, and two weeks earlier the “Nadezhda” returned there as well.
In 1815, Krusenstern summarized the results of the first round-the-world voyage of the two Russian sloops in the “Southern Sea Atlas”. He also wrote a “Marine Instruction”, in which he indicated “doubtful sites” present in those days in the Pacific. The experience of I. Krusenstern and Yu. Lisiansky proved very useful to Russian navigators in subsequent round-the-world expeditions that continued one after another from 1806 through 1818.
The sloop “Neva” made its second round-the-world voyage under Leontii Gagemeister, subsequently Manager of the Russian-American Company. The vessel sailed from Kronstadt to Novoarchantelsk, capital of Russian America, around Africa via the Indian Ocean, south of Australia (calling at Port Jackson (now Sydney) and via the Pacific. This itinerary came to be called “Gagenmester’s Route”.
In 1807-1811, V. M. Golovnin circumvented the globe on board the sloop “Diana”. This expedition resembled a detective story. The vessel was taken prisoner by the British to escape in the dead of night. Later, Golovnin was imprisoned by the Japanese, and in 1817-1819 led one more round-the-world voyage on the sloop “Kamchatka”, during which he performed numerous investigations in the Pacific.
In yet another Russian round-the-world expedition in 1815-1818, the brig “Riurik” under O. E. Kotsebou discovered several new lands in the Pacific, e.g. in the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Marshall chain, and also a bay in western Alaska called after Otto Kotsebou.
A special place in the series of geographic discoveries
by Russian navigators in the first thirty years of the 19th century belongs
to the expedition by the sloops “Vostok” and “Mirnyi”
under Faddei Faddeevich Bellinsgausen (1819-1821).
The vessels left Kronshtadt in summer 1819 with the assignment to investigate
the possible proximity of the South Pole. Looking in retrospective on the
existence of Antarctica, it should be said that ancient geographers had
developed the hypothesis of Terra Australis incognita, which was shred
already in the middle ages. Yet, the Portuguese explorers B. Dias (1487-1488)
and F. Magellan (1520), the Dutchman A. Tasman (1644) and the Briton
James Cook (1772-1775) looked for and never found it. After his hopeless quests, the latter even declared: “ …I can boldly state that no man would ever resolve to penetrate to the south further than I managed to do. Lands that might lie in the south will never be explored”.
However, Russian sailors from the sloop “Vostok”
(Commander Captain Belinsgausen) and sloop
“Mirnyi” (Commander Lieutenant Lasarev)
refuted James Cook and proved he was wrong. Sailing southward and
maneuvering in dense fog and often near icebergs, Russian sailors on January
16, 1820, in the area of 69o21’ S. lat. 2o 21’ W. long. made an outstanding
geographic discovery by revealing the sixth continent of our globe, Antarctica
(today, the land that the Russian ships had approached is called Coast
of Princess Martha) On October 31, 1820, the “Vostok” and “Mirnyi”, after
undergoing repairs in Australia, again sailed to Antarctica, this time
to the Western Hemisphere. Again maneuvering between ice floes and icebergs,
sloops crossed the Antarctic polar circle twice, and on January 9, 1821
discovered an island they christened Peter the First Island. On January
17, the Russian sailors saw a mountainous coast they named Land of Alexander
Thus, having emerged on the expanses of the World Ocean, Russian navigators, the predecessors of the sailors of Russia’s Pacific Navy, proved themselves to be courageous men capable not only of overcoming hardships effectively and daringly, but to conduct profound research in seas and oceans, and perform scientific feats. This was recognized worldwide. F. Jane, a British sea writer, once wrote: “The Russian navy indeed enjoys right to earlier existence than the British Navy. A century before Alfred built British ships, Russian vessels had fought in desperate sea battles, and one thousand years ago the Russians were foremost mariners in those days…”
A.V. BORODIN, Leading Editor, Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Colonel (Retired), Pacific Navy veteran.
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