Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Northeast Passage – a Russian arctic odissey (I)

The Northeast Passage is the water route along the northern coast of Europe and Asia, mainly North Russia’s coast, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The distance from Saint-Petersburg to Vladivostok via Northern Sea Route is 14 280 km, via the Suez Canal — 23 200 km, around Cape of Good Hope - 29 400 km.

Beginning in the XV century, efforts were made to find a new all-water route to India and China. Most of these attempts were directed at seeking a Northwest Passage. However, English, Dutch, and Russian navigators did try to seek a Northeast route by sailing along the northern coast of Russia and far into the arctic seas.

In the 1550s, English ships made the first attempt to find the passage. Willem Barentz, the Dutch navigator, made several failed attempts in the 1590s. The decline of Dutch shipping in the 1700s left the exploration mainly to the Russians; in 1648 Russian pioneer Semen Dezhnev made a voyage on a small boat proving existence of a strait between Asia and America; he made first detailed description of Chukotka, and founded Anadyr burg.

Dezhnev’s voyage and discovery of a strait between Asia and America was compared with the feat of Christopher Columbus. Vitus Bering also explored the eastern part of the passage and discovered many islands.

Steam vessels Vega and Lena near the Cape of Cheluskin

The Northeast Passage was not, however, traversed by anyone until Nils Nordenskjöld of Sweden accomplished the feat on the steam vessel Vega in 1878. Starting from Karlskrona on June 22, the Vega doubled Cape Chelyuskin in the following August, and after being frozen in at the end of September near the Bering Strait, completed the voyage successfully in the following summer. The steam-engine power was 60 horsepower. The vessel was equipped with sails; its velocity was 6-7 knots.

The route of steam vessel Vega

In the early 1900s, icebreakers sailed through the passage, and in the 1930s the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane, was established by the USSR. Since World War II, the Soviet Union, now Russia, has maintained a regular highway for shipping along this passage through the development of new ports and the exploitation of resources in the interior. A fleet of Russian icebreakers, aided by aerial reconnaissance and by radio weather stations, keeps the route navigable from June to October.

Nils Nordenskjöld and the Vega

Thanks to Lastochka!

Commemorative Coin

To be continued