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Across the oceans in Old Russian boat

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Across the oceans in Old Russian boat

07.12.2019

Alexander Ryazantsev

At the Piligrim Koch

Sergey Sinelnik, an honored traveler of Russia, has covered tens of thousands of miles in sea runs, thousands of kilometers through great deserts of the world, climbing the highest peaks, and that's not all. And yet his main passion is sea. For several years now Sergey, his wife and children have been circumnavigating the globe on the wooden Pilgrim, a replica of traditional boats of Russian coast-dwellers – the Koch. And before that, he reached the shores of Australia on the Rusich boat, which is actually just a large wooden skiff. And the ancient Slavic vessel was a smash there.

Sergey, you and your brother Alexander were born in the remotest part of the mainland - in the Kazakh steppe, the city of Aksai, the Ural Region. But since childhood you both were fascinated with ship modeling, and then connected your lives with sea. Where does this craving for sea and traveling come from?

It always starts with a dream, so since the age of ten, we started hiking. And the romantic appeal of sea caught us after reading books about marine pioneers and their adventures. Taking hikes since childhood and then large-scale expeditions, it suddenly stroke us that we had stopped playing for the public for quite a while, that I find peace while travelling, my life is all about journey. We go on long hikes because we like it, we enjoy it, and we discover our true identity there. Alexander, my brother, is still engaged in ship modeling. His works are of museum quality; they are kept in many countries of the world. As to me, I began to build large boats

Read about travels of Sergey and Alexander Sinelniki on their websiteThe Sinelniki Brothers

In 2006, you built the Rusich, a sailing and rowing boat, which is a replica of a Novgorod rowboat of the 10th 12th centuries, and went on the voyage along the Volga and the Caspian Sea - “From Varangians to Persians”. Before that, you had already had experience sailing on yachts, but how did you come up with the idea to build and sail on a replica of an old Russian vessel? Why did you choose such a format?

Let me quote Fred Jane, an English historian: The Russian navy, origin of which is usually referred to an institution founded by Peter the Great much later, has actually greater rights to antiquity than the British fleet. A century before King Alfred built British ships (and thus before the Viking invasion to the Mediterranean), Russian ships fought in desperate sea battles; and thousands of years ago the Russians were the first sailors of that time. When we were navigating the Rusich, a Novgorod boat (it is ladia in Russian, but I prefer to pronounce it as 'lOdia', as they say and write in the northern Russian tradition) around the world and in Australia, I had to repeat incessantly that it was not a Viking vessel, but a Slavic boat. So our travels are to remind people and our compatriots of our glorious history, which many do not want to know or do not remember. I am building a certain bridge from the present to the past.

The Pilgrim underway

What inspired our ancestors, our predecessors in their aspirations for the unknown and what inspires us? It is the drive! Though it is not the drive for money-grubbing, but for truth, which makes us actually free, the drive for understanding the world and ourselves within this vast world, which is so amazing and generous, if you treat it with care, selflessness and love. The project reveals the beauty of Russian wooden shipbuilding and architecture through building and sailing on a wooden boat, as well as through establishment of a floating museum of models and dioramas. Numerous spectators and visitors of the floating boat-museum can experience the amazing world of wooden shipbuilding and architecture of ancient Russia, and feel the warmth and grace of wood products.

Building of the Pilgrim Koch. The Chief Engineer is Alexander Karachev

Wood is a live and environmentally friendly material; and boats made of plastic and aluminum alloys are absolutely not in the same league, though such materials may seem efficient. The past experience has shown that the boat always attracted guests, spectators, partners, and there is no such interest in plastic yachts. A wooden vessel embodies the profound childhood dream of every person - it personifies romance in its essence, it fulfills the great mission of spiritual connection between sailors and shipbuilders of all time.

Historical replica of an ancient vessel awakes sincere joy, delight and incredible interest in antiquity in people. In various ports of the world, the flow of people who wanted to go aboard the Rusich, and now the Pilgrim, seemed to be endless, everyone wanted to have his/her picture taken in front of the boat, to touch its board. We had so many encounters and acquaintances with different people: starting from a billionaire or a diplomat and ending with a simple farmer, who gave us a package of wine made by him as a sign of respect. Few people have ever seen so much attention in their life!

- From 2010 to 2014, the Rusich boat covered over 20,000 nautical miles (35 thousand kilometers) in the four oceans of the Earth, including the Roaring Forties! It is remarkable, because everyone imagines the Russian boat as a small vessel, more like a big skiff for coastal navigation, than a ship capable of crossing the ocean. Did such a trip involve risks? Or were our ancestors able to build really good ships, suitable for the most extreme conditions?

Successful navigation on watery waste of our planet has proved that structure of the ancient Slavic wooden vessel of the 10th-12th centuries, which our ancestors used to navigate to the very south of the Caspian Sea and to the Mediterranean Sea, and, of course, through the Arctic Ocean, is excellent for severe conditions of oceans and seas.

But the main thing, probably, is a great desire to travel beyond the horizon and God's help! You can go down with an ultramodern yacht, or you can float across the ocean on a trough. Of course, it’s risky to navigate such wooden historical replicas.

The Rusich boat

Sorry, I cant help but ask an environmental question. During his recent voyage across the Pacific Ocean Fyodor Konyukhov reported that the ocean had turned into a desert - there were few fish there. I will even quote him: Today the Pacific Ocean is a desert; there are no flying fish, tuna, dolphins, or sharks. I keep a diary on daily basis; there is nothing special to write in my observation log. What is the situation according to your observations?

Flying fish come by itself during the night; in the morning I go around the deck and pick it up, then we kipper and eat it. The ocean - Atlantic, Indian - is clean and not littered. We often see whales; sometimes they just peacefully pass by showing their mighty backs, and sometimes jump out of the water completely.

In general, it depends. The oceans are huge; somewhere islands of garbage float, somewhere there is fish, but somewhere not, sometimes we sail for a long time and we are not able to catch fish.

The catch

Let's talk about your new project. In 2017, the Pilgrim, a wooden vessel, was put afloat in Petrozavodsk. It is a historical replica of the 18th-century belomorian boat. The Pilgrim is a sailboat 13.2 meters long, 4.1 meters wide, with a displacement of 15 tons. At the same time, a new cultural component was arranged on your vessel - the museum of traditional Russian navigation.

Actually, we already had experience of demonstrating our culture and history on the Rusich boat. Back then we had a photo exhibition on board. There were portable stands with photos of Russias nature, architecture, as well as photos from our trips. If we talk about the Pilgrim, it left Russia, as usual, unfinished. It was being built for more than two years, and literally by the whole world. We were helped by Russians, New Zealanders, Australians, Kazakhstanis who used to sail with me before, as well as former compatriots who are enthusiastic about history of our country. Many of them are descendants of emigrants from the first wave and have never even been to Russia

A wooden vessel requires continuous maintenance

We have been underway for little more than two years and covered 10,000 miles. It is quite a lot for a wooden boat by contrast to a modern yacht - it's like comparing a cart with a car. In fact, we are ride more than sail. First of all, the vessel is a replica of a coast-dweller boat of the XVIII century and has straight sails that do not allow you to sail at an acute angle to the wind, like yachts do. We spend more time just waiting for a fair wind. Secondly, the vessel is a museum, and inside there is a collection of models, boats, vessels until and including the time of Peter the Great and the wooden architecture of Russia. One of the project objectives is to demonstrate our history and culture to the inhabitants of the planet, and, of course, get acquainted with culture of other nations.

Museum exhibits aboard the Pilgrim

Which route are you following now?

Currently the Pilgrim has set off on a voyage along the coast of America. And then we intend to get from the US east coast to the west through the Great Lakes, partly being dragged.

On the way, while in Europe, we participated in marine festivals, including several large ones. For example, we participated in the Turdensköld, a cultural and historical festival in Copenhagen, Denmark. Children were interested to participate in reconstruction of the sea battle between the Swedes and the Danes: the guns were fired for real, and they shot from the muskets. The event was even more spectacular, because it took place in dark, two nights in a row. A squad of musketeers was placed on our board.

The Pilgrim in Saint-Malo, France

In Belgium, it was the Ostend at Anchor Festival, and etc. Such activity helps to raise a small amount of money. Then, members of the Pilgrim Club help. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated support from anyone, we travel the world with a hat in hand; this is the most extreme part. Somehow we are trying to go ahead, live, maintain the boat in the proper condition with donations from people who are fascinated with our history and culture, but the nerves, frankly speaking, are on edge.

You ask about plans for future, however, so far we cannot afford further sailing, moreover, we need to do repairs. I hope someone hears me and helps us.

We hope you find support. Tell us about your team.

Friends and people from different countries (Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Sweden) have been taking part in the current voyage - mostly those who helped build the boat.

How do you spend your days underway? Does the team have a lot of free time or is the day scheduled minute-by-minute?

We have nightly runs, which means that adults keep the watch at night as well. The watch-keeper is responsible for the vessel; he must be careful, because he has life of the vessel and crew literally in his hands. Basically, all participants have certain responsibilities, I dont agree for travelware on board, and there is always a lot of work, something breaks, it has to be repaired. Svyatoslav (15 years old) and Yaroslav (13 years old) keep the watch only during the day.

Are they your children? Does your wife accompany you on voyages?

Yes, my wife Marina and I have already travelled 10,000 miles together. For two years now they have been traveling with me and living on board. But next year Svyatoslav has exams, and it is more than likely that he will have to study and live a land-based life. Well wait and see how everything goes. A wooden vessel requires constant care, attention, and we were the boat keepers.

Sergey Sinelnik with his wife Marina

Probably every boy dreams of the travels you describe youve had since childhood, but only a few are given the chance to fulfill their dreams. What do you personally appreciate in these trips the most? What is it that makes you go sailing again and again?

Everyone has his/her own life; everyone is needed and useful in his/her place. Sea is mostly unforgiving when it comes to ​​mistakes; in reality, everything is not as romantic as it seems to onlookers. Going out to sea can end in tragedy for an inexperienced person. Sailors experience stress and difficulties more often than admiration. This is my life, I just love sea and deserts, they have a lot in common - especially in long runs when there is no land, no people...

However sea brings joy as well. During two years, there have been different people on board with us, about 50 people in total. Some guys came back three times and participated at different stages.

During the voyage of 2012 2013, the Rusich traveled all around Australia, visited Tasmania, where it participated in the Festival of Wooden Shipbuilding - 2013 and the International Festival of Square-Rigged Vessels - 2013. Tell us about those festivals and the movement in general. Are there many enthusiasts in the world who build and flogging-the-ogginon traditional wooden vessels? By the way, are Russian Koches very different in design from Viking boats?

Wooden, traditional shipbuilding is alive in Russia, as well as in the world, but there are not many wooden historical replicas, they are few. There are only plastic and steel yachts around. Cost-dwellers koches were made especially for navigation in ice-covered waters. Their hull is egg-shaped, so ice forced the hull out instead of squeezing it as in a vice. Sometimes cost-dwellers had to pass the winter on koches in the Arctic Ocean. So there were stoves, and it was no coincidence that two or three masts were used... Viking boats were not suitable for such severe navigation in the ice, although they were also strong vessels. Northern shipbuilding had a lot of things in common, because the peoples of the north lived in close contact with each other.

The Rusich at Australia's National Maritime Museum, Sydney

As to your first question,we became headlinersat the largest of such festivals in the southern hemisphere held in Australian Hobart. We had a crowd of spectators from morning to night! Although there were many different and interesting ships and boats, almost all of them were from Australia or New Zealand. And here is such a miracle - the boat sailed from the north of Russia, is it a joke?

Any port visit is always a celebration, especially when there is such an unusual vessel. How were you received in Australia, and how do they now welcome you in the USA?

Australia is the most hospitable country in the world, at least it made us feel so. Maybe because we sailed on a boat. And now we are also very well received in the USA. In most cases Americans are very attentive and help travelers.

And for our former compatriots it's like a balm for the soul! Many of them do not want to leave, children ask their parents to return on board. They are interested in everything: what we eat, because the boat does not have a refrigerator, how we tolerate dus ting, how the children endured a long run across the ocean, if we feel gloomy, how we live without comfort and in such a sweating room inside.Just to illustrate the point, here is the impressions of one of the Pilgrim guests left on social networks: At first we didnt even believe our eyes: it looked as if it came from ancient history - a wooden three-masted boat without plastic and iron, without bright colors, live wood under natural linseed oil, masts, ropes, Orthodox crosses on four cardinal points, a barrel-shower on the deck, there are no winches or autopilot system, everything is done by hand with blocks, and the anchor is raised with an old windlass; there is a large shark mouth drawn on the bow, a trophy from Cape Verde ... There is the wooden architecture museum on board with layouts, models, photographs and dioramas. You can see koches and rowboats, Cossack strugs (river boats) and shnyakas (small flat-bottomed fishing boats), fishing fleet of pre-Peter era, photographs and maps, models of ancient northern buildings. And all those things came from Russia aboard a shaky vessel travelling ten thousand miles through storms and waves! Yes, this is a feat in itself - to preserve such things in the sea thunderdome!


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