Sailing to Antarctica

The sailing fleet of the Federal Agency for Fishery organized a unique expedition to mark the 200th anni­ver­sary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian seafarers.

Two centuries ago, a Russian expedition led by Thaddeus Bellingshausen, Captain of Second Rank and Mikhail Lazarev, Lieutenant, discovered a new continent, thus ending the Era of the Great Geographical Discoveries. In incredibly difficult navigation conditions, the crews of the Vostok and Mirny sloops confirmed the existence of the land in the South Pole region named Antarctica.

To mark the 200th anniversary of this significant event and the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the Sailing Fleet of the Federal Agency for Fishery organized Memorial Regatta and the Sails of the World Expedition. Three legendary sailing training ships — the Pallada Frigate, the Sedov and Kruzenshtern barques took part in it. The mission of this event was to remind the world of the Great Geographical Discoveries, heroism of the Soviet people and traditions of Russian navigation in order to strengthen international cooperation, and to expand humanitarian and cultural interaction between countries.

The Sedov and Kruzenshtern Barques are two of the oldest domestic ships, the world’s largest training sailing ships. The Pallada Frigate is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest sailing ship on the planet. For the regatta, the ships’ crews were formed of cadets of Maritime Colleges and Universities of the Federal Agency for Fishery. About 700 youth, including 18 girls, were selected in a serious competition. The cadets had to embark on a unique voyage, to go through a difficult practice, under the supervision of experienced sailors-mentors, to demonstrate their skills in working with sailing equipment.

On November 1, 2019, Pallada left the Vladivostok Port, as the first part of the expedition dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica. On December 8, Sedov and Kruzenshtern sailed from Kaliningrad to meet her. Each of the ships sailed its own course to meet on a certain day in the area of the South Georgia Islands, as close as possible to Antarctica. During the voyage, the sailing ships partially followed the routes of the great Bellingshausen and Lazarev discoverers, who two hundred years ago had mapped a new, sixth continent.

Having met in the southern part of the Atlantic, the ships greeted each other with three horns of the ship’s typhon according to an old maritime tradition. Before the big 200-mile race, the sailboats conducted joint maneuvers. Their cadets partook in a sports competition, during which they tugged a rope, tied sea knots at speed, and demonstrated their professional skills in the sea relay.

On February 20, 2020, at 00:00 Moscow time, a symbolic friendly Memorial Regatta started. For almost a day, the cadets, along with other members of the Kruzenshtern, Sedov and Pallada crews, fought for every meter of distance, fulfilling the commands with maximum concentration and efficiency.

Taking part in a race in a 7-point storm and strong wind that mercilessly tore the sails was a serious challenge, even for seasoned sailors. The course of the competition was always changing. The sails were not inferior to each other; each one had equal chances of winning the Regatta. In the first hours of the race, the obvious leader was Pallada, as the fastest and most maneuverable of the three ships. This Frigate holds the World Sailing Speed Record of 18.8 knots. However Pallada had failed to retain the primacy and the barques took the lead. The crew of the Kruzenshtern was better than its rivals, familiar with harsh waves of the Atlantic, which ensured its victory. Sedov came second.

However, there were no winners or losers in the Regatta. It is a Festival of the sailing fleet of the Federal Agency for Fishery. Its idea was symbolic and signified involvement in the heroic pages of the History of Russian Navigation. The Regatta was an opportunity to express respect for the courage of compatriots who had seen the meaning of their lives in serving the interests of Russia.

The end of the sailing race gave rise to the second part of the expedition dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the Great Victory — the transatlantic voyage of Kruzenshtern and the round-the-world voyage of Pallada and Sedov. The sailing cadets got a unique opportunity to feel like pioneers, to visit areas rarely visited by transport and sailing ships, to expand their knowledge of their chosen profession. Sedov and Pallada headed for Cape Town. Kruzenshtern headed for the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, where the cadets and crew members visited the monument to Thaddeus Bellingshausen. Although the expedition of Bellingshausen and Lazarev on the way to Antarctica had not approach the shores of Uruguay, the City Administration considered it necessary to perpetuate the memory of the legendary Russian navigator.

Part of the expedition, organized in honor of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, turned out to be very rich, interesting, in many ways difficult for the crews of each sailing ship. The initial duration of the voyage, which was supposed to be almost a whole year, was forcedly reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic announced in the world. As a result, the second stage of the Sails of the World expedition passed for Pallada and Sedoy in extreme conditions. Calls to several ports were cancelled and the crews risked being left out without water and provisions. Pallada spent 78 days in autonomous sailing, which became a kind of a record for her.

In the circumnavigation there was practically everything: severe storms, loss of sails, seasickness among the cadets. However, they all withstood the test, no one wrote off to the shore, although they had such an opportunity.

During the voyage, the sailboats visited over 40 ports in North and South America, Europe, Oceania, Asia and Africa. In total, the ships overcame about 100 thousand nautical miles, took on board about 10 thousand foreign guests.

On June 3, 2020, the sailboats returned from the eventful voyage. Kruzenshtern arrived at Kaliningrad Port, Pallada and Sedov did so at Vladivostok. The round-the-world voyage for the Frigate was completed; the Sedov Barque continued the expedition and returned to its native Kaliningrad only in October.

Despite numerous difficulties, including those associated with the coronavirus pandemic, the goals set by the sailing ships as part of the expedition have been fully reached. The significance of the round-the-world and transatlantic voyages lies primarily in the fact that about 700 cadets of domestic Maritime Educational Institutions received invaluable professional experience during the expedition, and also to some extent fulfilled their duty to the History in the year of the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by the great Russians sailors.

Irina Sheikhetova