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'What has enabled Russia to rise among the great powers of the world…has been the conquest of Siberia'

An expedition retraces the steps of explorer Vitus Bering, as Russia once more looks to the Arctic

By 0 and 0 and 0
14 August 2012


Portrait of Vitus Bering, basen on research of Professor Victor Zvyagin, Moscow Institute of Forensic Expertise 

Now, 285 years after the end of his first land expedition to Kamchatka, a new 7,000 odyssey is underway in his honour under the slogan 'Different Epochs - One Tradition'. This time the aim is to establish three Arctic firefighting and rescue centres in Siberia, the Russian northwest and the Far East.

The centres are seen as vital to the Russian objective of re-establishing itself as an Arctic power as many nations scramble for energy riches in the region. 

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry will open centres in Dudinka, Anadyr and Naryan-Mar, said Minister Vladimir Puchkov.

Dudinka, in Krasnoyarsk territory, is the first centre to be constructed with up to 60 staff members and a number of helicopter pads. The Far Eastern centre is in Anadyr and have 76 employees.

'Three major fire rescue centres will be created. They will be responsible for all northern territories and the off-shore regions of the Arctic Ocean with a view to the possibility of industrial development, off-shore exploration and the revival of the Northern Sea Route,' said Puchkov.

The expedition has been organised by the ministry along with the  Russian Union of Rescuers and St. Petersburg University of the State Fire Service. Among those taking part are are representatives of the Russian Geographical Society and Student Union of Rescuers.

It was staged in four different sections and unlike in Bering's day, planes will be used to hop over difficult terrain. 

Archangel Gabriel, Vitus Bering's boat during First Kamchatka expedition

'The Gabriel', 1827, as drawn by Martin Spangsberg. Picture: Danish Geografisk Tidsskrift

The plan is to arrive in Kamchatka on August 30 and proceed to the Commander Islands, where the famous Bering is buried. The expedition will end in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

The first Kamchatka expedition proceeded from St. Petersburg to Okhotsk in two years - from January 1725 to January 1727  - through Siberia on horseback, by foot, and using river boats. Later, after wintering in Okhotsk, Bering's expedition transported used boats and dog sleds to the mouth of the Kamchatka River on the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the summer of 1728 the building of the Saint Gabriel boat was completed. 

In July and August, the vessel moved to the north and then to the northeast along the mainland. During the voyage the expedition participants mapped the Karaginsky Bay with the island, the Kresta Bay, Providence Bay, Gulf of Anadyr and the St. Lawrence Island.

It sailed from the present Bering Sea into the Chukchi Sea, not finding the coast of North America, so coming to the conclusion that the Asian and North American coasts were not linked. In 1729, the expedition skirted Kamchatka from the south, discovering the Gulf of Kamchatka and the Avacha Bay, and again through Okhotsk and across Russia back to St. Petersburg.

The expedition is also commemorating other key Russian dates such as the 340th anniversary of Peter the Great's birth and the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Ross in California.

The diaries of Vitus Bering's First Kamchatka Expedition - kept by commander Pyotr Chaplin - will be published for the first time.

Comments (2)

Having lived and worked in the Aleutian Islands, I have some idea what that journey would be like using today's technology. Hard to imagine travelling all that way back in 1725 basically living off the land and sea.
David , Minnesota/USA
01/08/2013 01:02
imagined myself on that boat...! not your package tours, hey. true bravery
Anna, currently in Ulan-Ude
14/08/2012 20:25

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