"The Angels Are With Us": How Atlantic Met RGS’s Circumnavigation

Евгений Ковалевский и Станислав Берёзкин снова в Атлантике. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

Sailing through the rough waters of the Atlantic is a real adventure at any time of the year. The crew of the circumnavigation expedition of the Tomsk Branch of the Russian Geographical Society, who set sail again in early November, was once again convinced of this. Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin tested their vessel, thoroughly repaired over the winter, on the stage from San Fernando to Bahia San Blas. The trimaran presented the crew with a couple of surprises, once almost "running away" on an independent trip. However, providence is on the side of the brave Russians. The circumnavigators know that it will not be easy for them, but they are confident in success and are determined. They shared their impressions of the first two weeks of sailing to Cape Horn with readers of the RGS’s website.

Almost five months of wintering in the cozy harbor of San Fernando were not wasted. Significant changes were made to the design of the trimaran, and its crew found many new friends. Two Argentines – Sebastian Ute, who has experience of circumnavigating the world, and Norberto Luna, who provided great assistance in repairing the ship's inflatable hulls – became members of the crew on the stage to Mar del Plata.


Надувные баллоны тримарана после реконструкции. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

“There were so many pre-launch worries that there was no time to realize the significance of this day – going to sea. Now there is water around, you can finally reflect, analyze. We spent four and a half months in San Fernando. Rose daily at 6:00 or 6:30, lights out no earlier than 22:00. We spent four months doing serious repairs, two and a half weeks shooting videos in Patagonia for another "Lesson from the Ocean" and for a documentary. We were helped by a lot of people who became real friends. San Fernando Club was incredibly friendly towards us, provided us with everything we needed. And so we push off from the shore practically on a new inflatable trimaran, in which we have invested all our engineering knowledge. The four of us are going out to sea. This means that it is easier to keep watch, to do all necessary chores. Again, there is only water around," Evgeny Kovalevsky shared his emotions.

The trimaran moved 30 miles away from the coast of Argentina and headed south. Gradually, the dirty-brown surface of the Rio de la Plata began to lighten – the ocean diluted the river water with its blue. In the morning, a squall hit; the crew had to urgently remove the jib, which was being torn by the wind. However, the sun warmed up in the afternoon, and Stanislav and Norberto even jumped overboard to swim.


Российско-аргентинский экипаж. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

“Sea life again. I was sitting at dawn, drinking coffee and thought, ‘This is happiness.’ How we've been waiting for the sea. This event is a milestone. We did not back down before the challenge that the ocean threw at us. It seemed stronger than the experimental trimaran and would break it, and choke it, and throw us back, and insist that we stop and turn around. But we did not abandon our plans. We spent several months doing painstaking engineering work. We're moving on. In a month we should reach Cape Horn – one of the most dangerous places for sailors in the World Ocean. We were preparing to continue our journey along the path of the great Russian navigators of the 19th century. Their achievements inspire us. We are proud to carry the flag of Russia on our ship, and there are three more oceans ahead: Pacific, Indian and Atlantic again," Kovalevsky said.

The speed was kept at an average of 4-5 knots. The first day ended with a stunning sunset. When the sky darkens and the sun goes below the horizon, its disk turns yellow-orange, then vibrantly red, the sky around turns orange. Against the background of this idyll, the circumnavigators discuss the danger of the arrival of a cold storm wind, pampero, blowing in these latitudes from the south or southwest. They can only guess whether it will happen or not, where to hide from it, because the nearest cape is still three hours away. However, the weather remains friendly. Late in the evening of November 3, 2022, the trimaran approaches Mar del Plata, leaving about 280 miles astern. The expedition intends to rest here.


И на юге бывает холодно. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

“At night, the ferocious Argentine south would chill the watchmen to the bone. I would put on 20 items of clothing and was still very cold," Kovalevsky admitted.

Mar del Plata is the seventh most populous city in Argentina (about 600,000 inhabitants) 400km south of the capital of the country. It is one of the largest fishing ports in the Atlantic Ocean and a popular seaside resort.

Mar del Plata is famous for its sea lions. Being born and growing up in Guanabara Bay in southern Brazil, the animals seasonally migrate to the Atlantic coast up to 40 latitudes, where they organize rookeries. The range of the southern population is in the area of the Argentine city of Bahia Blanca and further to the Strait of Magellan. But in the last decades of the last century, the coast of Mar del Plata attracted sea lions with the waste of the fishing industry in the port. The smartest specimens decided to stay here for the winter. Then they gave offspring that were no longer capable not only of migration, but also of simply foraging. An interesting phenomenon has emerged: "evolutionary populism", an abundance of food, convenient urban beaches, the absence of predators, and a tolerant attitude of man.

“Our friend Alexey from Buenos Aires told us about this. The anthropogenic factor of evolution is obvious,” said Evgeny Kovalevsky.


Морской лев в Мар-дель-Плата. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

In Mar del Plata, travelers realized that the May decision to stay in San Fernando for the winter was right for many reasons.

“From Punta del Este to Mar del Plata, it is only 225 miles in a straight line. But it took us five months... I remember how in May we had to refuse the offer to cross the Gulf of La Plata against the south winds. If we had agreed to this then, everything would have ended in evacuation at best. And now, having examined the surroundings of the port, I understand that the decision to winter in San Fernando was more than right. We would not be able to carry out repairs here in the same conditions. And winter in the delta is warmer than on the Atlantic coast. And so, after, hopefully, the last sudestada of this season, we moved on. To be honest, when we started assembling the ship in early October, I did not believe that we would set off before mid-November. And we indeed set sail two days later than planned, but the weather was to blame for that. The sudestada raged for two days, and leaving the delta was absolutely out of the question. And on November 1, the clouds parted, the wind started blowing from the north, and we set off. Summer is not in a hurry to arrive in Argentina. It’s cold and the wind is piercing even though the sun is bright and warm. The water is cold water, the waves are a short and lashing. It won't be easy," Stanislav Berezkin, the captain of the trimaran, assessed the situation.


Легко не будет, но они справятся. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

On November 8, the expedition moved from Mar del Plata farther south. On the evening of November 9, they anchored off the town of Bahia San Blas. There the first unpleasant surprise was waiting for the crew – the harsh ocean broke the fastening of the steering device. It became clear that repairs were needed.

“Apparently, the cause was cyclic fatigue. Damage gradually accumulated. There is a node there – an aluminum pipe enters a steel one. Aluminum corrodes. There was a hard short wave on the way – a bumpy one. Fatigue cracks have accumulated. It burst along them " said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

The repair, according to the first estimates, was supposed to delay the circumnavigators for a couple of days. However, on November 11, a new misadventure was waiting for Evgeniy and Stanislav: the trimaran almost "ran away" from its crew.

“We were moored by the shore in the town of Bahia San Blas. We arrived at night, anchored, spent the night. The steering device mount is very loose. We believe that there is a break inside the pipe, we decide to find a quiet place, go ashore, disassemble, repair. We walked 8km to the bay. We got there in an hour and a half or two, found a place where there is no waves, no current, and the wind does not blow so much. Stas offered to take another look, but then we met a local fisherman who had a car. I asked David to take us back to the city to the trimaran," Kovalevsky began the story.

The travelers did not assess the coast further and returned to their vessel by car.

“Imagine our surprise when we did not find the trimaran where we’d left it. It was torn from its anchor and carried away. We rushed by car along the coast and after a kilometer saw the vessel. The trimaran was slowly being dragged 300m from the shore," Evgeny said.


Тримаран после дерзкого побега. Фото участников кругосветной экспедиции РГО

On the shore, near the anchorage, the circumnavigators had a small rubber boat. It and the fishing nets saved the situation.

“We turn around in the car, go to the rubber boat, jump into it. We start the tiny engine of the “Mercury” and realize that for some reason it barely works. Then we grab the oars. Only after 40 minutes we catch up with the trimaran. The angels are with us! We were wildly lucky that, first of all, we went back by car. It was fast – a 15-minute drive, not two hours on foot. Secondly, there are a lot of fishermen on this shore and the anchor, when dragged along the bottom, caught on someone's net. Therefore, the trimaran moved very slowly. We pulled the anchor out with difficulty, since this net was wound on it. And there was one fish in it," Kovalevsky finished the story cheerfully.

By evening, the crew moved the trimaran to a lagoon. On November 12, the expedition will move farther south. The next key point of the route is Comodoro Rivadavia.

On July 1, 2021, Siberian travelers Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin set off along the route of the first Russian round-the-world expeditions of the 19th century: Ivan Kruzenshtern’s (1803-1806), Yuri Lisyansky’s (1803-1806), Otto Kotzebue’s (1815-1818, 1823-1826), Vasily Golovnin’s (1817-1819), Fedor Litke’s (1826-1829), Faddey Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev’s (1819-1921). The international project of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society "Following the paths of Russian explorers" is dedicated to the 250th birthday anniversary of Krusenstern and the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian sailors. These events for a long time determined Russia's leadership in the development of the oceans and the discovery of new lands. You can learn more about the project and provide all possible assistance in its implementation on the website of the expedition.

Alexander Zhirnov