A Legend of the Storm: the Discovery of Nakhodka Bay

Developing the southern shores of the Far East in the mid-nineteenth century was of seminal importance for Russia in acquiring new territories and establishing diplomatic relations with neighboring Asian countries. This was a time of great geographical accomplishments, which included the discovery of Nakhodka Bay by the Russian steam corvette America on June 18, 1859.

While returning from the Japanese port of Hakodate 160 years ago, Governor-General of Eastern Siberia Count Nikolai Muravyov-­Amursky, who was onboard the corvette, sent his ship to the then unexplored shores of the Southern Primorye region. After entering an unknown bay on the evening of June 17, 1859, he decided to drop anchor and spend the night. The darkness, fog, and poor visibility stalled the America until sunrise in the bay, which later became known as the Gulf of America. Thus, the ship that made an important contribution to the exploration of Southern Primorye’s shores was committed to the nation’s memory. 

In the morning of June 18, 1859, when the fog cleared, navigator Nikolai Krasilnikov made a historic entry in the America’s logbook: “At 6 o’clock a. m. we weighed anchor, went to inspect the coastline, noticed an indentation in the southwest and discovered a bay, stretching from northeast to southwest for about three miles. Its width is one to 1.5 miles. Its depths are everywhere the same: from five to four fathoms. Its bottom is covered with silt and sand. There are two settlements on its right and left shores. By order of His Excellency (i. e. Muravyov-Amursky) the bay was named Nakhodka (from the Russian noun ‘a find, discovery’).” 

Relying on visual inspection from the ship, a map of the newly discovered bay was drawn. For the first time, the map mentioned new geographic names: Gulf of America, Nakhodka Bay, the Cape of Astafyev, and the island of Oblyzina. This record completely dispelled the popular lege­nd about the origin of the name of Nakhodka Bay. According to that legend, while hiding from the storm the Russian corvette found refuge in a quiet bay, which became a ‘lucky find’ for the sailors. However, as subsequent events have revealed, for Russia this new geographical discovery, in fact, proved to be a real treasure.

Today Nakhodka is the largest port and logistics hub in Russia’s Far East and the final destination of the Trans-Siberian railway. It is justifiably called “Russia’s Eastern gate to the Pacific.”

The story of America’s discovery of Nakhodka Bay is inextricably linked with the name of its commander Alexander Boltin, a naval officer who participated in many expeditions of the Siberian fleet. Boltin was also a distinguished discoverer of numerous bays and gulfs along Primorye’s coast.

The archives of the City Museum of Nakhodka contain valuable materials about the commander Boltin. It is worth noting that until 1993 not much was known about this naval officer and explorer. Thanks to persistent research by local historians in the naval archives, essential facts of the commander’s career have been established. Moreover, the Museum has acquired photograph of Boltin and copies of his paintings.

The city of Nakhodka celebrated its 160th anniversary on June 14–18, 2019. A number of historical and cultural events were held under the auspices of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO. The Nakhodka Museum and Exhibition Center organized the events with assistance from the administration of the Nakhodka municipal district. Such an important celebration has helped to bring research into the historical heritage of the Far Eastern city to a new level and emphasize the importance of studying and popularizing the maritime history of Primorsky Krai.   

For the anniversary, the city administration and the Museum and Exhibition Center organized a large cultural and historical program. The opening of “The Legend of the Storm” thematic exhibition launched the festivities. This is not just a historical exhibition, but a tribute to the memory of the brave sailors and discoverers of Nakhodka Bay. A truly significant moment during the festivities was a visit to Nakhodka by Kirill Rynza, Head of the Secretariat of the Commission of the Russian Fede­ration for UNESCO and the great-great grandson of the legendary commander Alexander Boltin. Rynza brought a family relic to the exhibition — the painting “Steamship America,” which his great-great-grandfather painted in 1886.

Nakhodka Mayor Boris Gladkikh thanked the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO for supporting important events in the city. Director of the Museum and Exhibition Center in Nakhodka Marina Nurgalieva was awarded a diploma and a commemorative Commission medal for her huge personal contribution to the preservation of Russia’s cultu­ral and historical heritage.

The celebrations lasted for several days. A traditional art night festival “Art-Zaliv” that recounted the story of the city in the language of art took place for the fourth time. Various stage productions, meetings, workshops, concerts, and performances dedicated to the discovery of Nakhodka Bay were held at different venues, including theaters, museums, art galleries, clubs, and institutes. The Event studio “Max Happiness” represented by Anatoly Burekhin was the official partner of the celebration.

A naval expedition aboard the yacht Strannik (‘Wanderer’) around Nakhodka Bay “Following the Path of the Corvette America” concluded the celebrations. Over a century and a half after Commander Boltin sailed into the bay, his descendant recreated his route. The idea to repeat the voyage of the Russian corvette, which was the first to approach this shore where the city of Nakhodka would eventually emerge, was suggested by Evgeny Parfenov and Gennady Chechurin, employees of the Museum and Exhibition center and amateur yachtsmen. This unusual event was dedicated to the 160th anniversary of the discovery of Nakhodka Bay and it was granted the status of a true expedition. Museum experts, local historians, and journalists participated in it. The yacht Strannik entered the bay on June 17, 2019, at the same twilight hour as the America 160 years ago. They saw the same outline of the coast, and marveled at the amazing beauty of Sister Hill and the skyline. The only difference was that the inquisitive expeditioners saw the bright lights of a modern port.

Marina Nurgalieva, Director of the Museum and Exhibition Center in Nakhodka