RGS’s Circumnavigation Arrives to the Shores of Fiji

Флаги России и РГО над Тихим океаном. Фото участников экспедиции

The catamaran of the circumnavigation expedition of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society continues its voyage across the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. The brave crew began a new stage of the journey at the end of April, leaving the coast of the hospitable Easter Island. Tuamotu, Tahiti, and Samoa are already astern. On the evening of July 29, the vessel reached Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji is the eastern edge of Melanesia, a unique collection of island groups in the Pacific Ocean, whose black population does not speak Polynesian and Micronesian languages. The archipelago includes about 300 pieces of land of different sizes. About a third of them remain uninhabited. Most of the islands are of volcanic origin, although coral atolls are also found here.


На Фиджи. Фото участников экспедиции

The way to Fiji was not the easiest. The Pacific Ocean continues to test the strength of both the catamaran and its crew with frequent storms, sudden squalls, a sharp change in wind directions, prolonged rains.

Evgeny Kovalevsky, Stanislav Berezkin, and temporary crew member Frenchman Vincent left Samoa on July 24. The distance to the island of Vanua Levu of 520 miles was intended to be covered in five days. Despite the temperamental weather, they managed to maintain the schedule. Initially, it was decided not to go to the largest island of the archipelago Viti Levu, where the capital of Fiji, Suva, is, but to Vanua Levu, which is 200 miles closer. The captain of the catamaran Stanislav Berezkin had fears that the expedition might be caught in bad weather on the way. The forecast was not very favorable.


Пока океан спокоен, можно перекусить. Фото участников экспедиции

At first the ocean was calm, without large waves. The atmosphere was conducive to dreaming.

“I take over the watch at 21:00 in complete darkness. Moonlight illuminates the space, making everything around fairytale-like. The stars twinkle and wink, the moon invitingly throws a silver path to the catamaran. ‘Come to me, inflatable miracle,’ the night luminary seems to be calling, ‘let's have a staring contest.’ 

The catamaran shows off all its inflatable sections, beams, stringers, wags the rudders, and waves the front staysail, responding, ‘I can't keep up with you, oh my heavenly beauty. There is no way without the mainsail.’ ‘So raise the mainsail, my friend, and you will find happiness,’ the Moon insists. ‘No, the crew don't want to lift the mainsail at night in case there is a sudden squall or some other misfortune,’ the catamaran responds sadly.

While I'm listening to their nightly conversation, I'm constantly sick – the waves are rocking the catamaran in all directions, left-right and up-down. I barely sat out four hours of the night watch," admits Evgeny Kovalevsky.

The wind direction changes all the time, the course needs to be aligned constantly. For a few hours of the watch, the travelers get so tired that they fall asleep dressed, but progress is still slow.


Спать приходится одетым. Фото участников экспедиции

“In an hour I'm wet, in two I'm chilled. The waves are already almost two meters. The wind, up to 25 knots, with gusts of up to 30 knots. The guy lines are whistling. Squalls come one after another. It's scary. It's very hard to steer,” says Kovalevsky.

A wave rolls in from the front left. According to Evgeny, it's good that it's not from the side, not from behind, and not straight from the front. When the waves come from behind, the catamaran can start surfing. In this case, both rudders break at once. If the waves come from the side, you can capsize. If the catamaran jumps from a wave into a pit in the front, the structural elements break.

The travelers couldn’t sleep that night. With waves being up to 3 meters tall, the catamaran jumps and falls into the pits so that it feels like it is about to fall apart. The crew dresses in "combat gear", pushes valuables into chests, checks the fasteners in case the vessel capsizes. The deck is flooded with water. In difficult conditions, in complete darkness, there were some mistakes. The crew got entangled in the sails, the storm wind was tearing the sails that weren’t lowered down.

“The noise of the wind, the roar of the waves, it's raining. We are trying to position the catamaran correctly, and make it move so as to avoid capsizing. It is not possible to follow the course. With great difficulty, we put the genoa away, but not completely. We put up the staysail again. The mainsail is working. The catamaran begins to go west instead of southwest. But, according to Stas, the main thing is not to turn sideways to the wave," says Kovalevsky.

The storm turned out to be serious. The wind blew for about six hours at a speed of up to 30 knots, it is pouring rain. The crew couldn’t fall asleep until morning.

“The catamaran jumps, hoots, cracks, groans, survives. I'm surviving, too. The guys are in the tent. The course is completely wrong. Stas suggests starting the engine. The nearest islands of the Fiji archipelago are about 80 miles away. The situation continues to be dangerous and unpredictable. There are no more dry clothes. We completely remove the sails – they just get in the way. The catamaran is being pulled in different directions because of them,” explains Kovalevsky.


Экипаж катамарана: Станислав, Винсент и Евгений. Флаги России и РГО над Тихим океаном. Фото участников экспедиции

The night watch on July 29 finally passes without incident. Only a few times it rained briefly, but there were no squalls. The catamaran is already entering the Fiji archipelago.

“Islands are visible in the dark. They look mysterious. What's there, who's there? What dangers and surprises await us? The unknown is a constant companion of the pioneers. Here is the port of Savusavu. We go past the reefs, we put away the sails, Stas starts the engine, and ... the engine won't start. Oh, heavens! Stas removes the lid, works his magic. It starts, but the engine runs intermittently. We pump gasoline using a primer bulb, it helps. Apparently, salt water or garbage got into the tank when we were last filling it with gasoline. We go to the shore. Hills, bungalows, yachts at anchor are visible. Low mountains,” said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

Now the circumnavigators will have to go through customs procedures. Meanwhile, the catamaran anchored in the roadstead in the middle of the bay of the island of Vanua Levu.


В заливе острова Вануа-Леву. Фото участников экспедиции

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