"Sky-High Waves": How RGS’s Circumnavigation Reached French Polynesia

На острове Мангарева. Фото участников экспедиции

The catamaran of the circumnavigation expedition of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society safely reached French Polynesia on May 10. 1600 miles of stormy waters of the Pacific Ocean and 16 days full of adventures and struggle with the elements are left behind. The crew managed to eliminate several breakdowns in difficult conditions of the open sea. Now the crew will be putting their vessel in order, improving their health, and relaxing on Mangareva Island.

Evgeny Kovalevsky, Stanislav Berezkin, Andrey Cherepanov, and Caleb Jara Garate set off from Easter Island in the direction of the Marquesas Islands on April 25. The test of the new vessel, on which the circumnavigation of the world continues after the loss of the trimaran Russian Ocean Way, had to be conducted in "combat" conditions. The Pacific Ocean once again greeted the travelers with a strong wind and high waves.

“Compared to the trimaran, which we’d lost and which had been brought to excellent condition in a year and a half, the catamaran is significantly smaller. It is less stable on the waves. There is a clear possibility of the catamaran flipping over because of a high wave or a low turbulent one with the unfavorable dynamics of the interaction between the wave and the catamaran. It is undesirable to face a wave of 3m or more sideways. And 5m looks scary next to our floating house," Evgeny Kovalevsky noted at the beginning of the voyage.


Тихий океан временами кажется спокойным. Фото участников экспедиции

After leaving Rapanui, the crew did not immediately set course for the island of Nuku Hiva, which was considered as an intermediate point of the route. They moved to the northwest. According to the advice of local navigators, the Russians planned to follow a kind of arc to catch the trade wind, and only then go west to the Marquesas Islands.

The wind was putting quite a lot of pressure on the vessel, and the catamaran's design was experiencing a serious load. Excessively high vertical movement amplitude of the rear beam quickly became noticeable. To avoid deformation of the frame, it was necessary to tighten the joints with rubber harnesses.

On the night of April 25, the first, rather comical emergency situation arose. It was caused by a rescue buoy, which the circumnavigators got together with the catamaran. The device suddenly started flashing.

“We were sure that in eight years the batteries had died and the buoy was not working. We took it to present to the coast guard of Chile for inspection before leaving Easter Island. We decided to call Yulia Kalyuzhnaya's at the coastal headquarters via a satellite phone, since, perhaps, the buoy was issuing an SOS signal," Kovalevsky said.

At the coastal headquarters of the expedition, it turned out that the buoy had activated and was sending out a signal. Chilean rescuers had already contacted Kalyuzhnaya and sent a boat to the scene.

“After our call, Yulia urgently contacts Rapanui, calls the rescuers off. After half an hour, the rescuers call, clarify the circumstances. Caleb, a Chilean who is sailing with us to Tahiti, tells about the inexplicable activation of the buoy that has been totally dead for eight years," added Evgeny Kovalevsky.


Будни кругосветчиков. Фото участников экспедиции

Two days later, strong waves are already noticeably affecting the design of the catamaran. Waves with a height of 3m hit the stern of the vessel.

"The deck has been flooded since the night. The space under the deck is hooting and creaking. We look under the deck from the bow and from the stern. The two central stringers are strongly curved. We suspect that they are broken. This worries us, but it does not frighten us. Two powerful logs, which we tied along the sides inside the tent before the start, carry the load. Everything is fine. We will repair it on Nuku Hiva," Kovalevsky noted in his travel diary.

On the last day of April, a serious accident occurs. At a decent speed, with 3-meter-high waves, and a wind speed of up to 30 knots, the catamaran loses control in the approaching darkness.

“At 20:10 suddenly, on a 4-meter-high wave, we start ‘surfing’. There is a click. It puts us sideways to the wind, I'm trying to straighten us out with the rudders, it doesn't work. Stas and Andrey run out of the tent. Andrey shouts that the rudder blade is floating. God, we’ve lost one steering wheel! At this moment Stas shouts that we have lost both steering wheels!” said Kovalevsky.

The crew had to lower the sail and throw a floating anchor – a water parachute – overboard from the bow. The catamaran was stabilized, after which the steering box was removed from the right stern. The travelers have one spare rudder blade at their disposal.

“Darkness, waves seem to reach the sky. We are afraid we might get flipped over. We all put on full gear, life jackets. Stas and Andrey are preparing a steering box and a rudder blade. There is only one question: how to install them in such waves and wind – the gusts are more than 40 knots! Water falls in large masses on the deck. We still need to charge the electric screwdriver; its battery died when we were drilling holes in the new steering wheel. We sleep in clothes and life jackets. We are slowly being carried west towards Mangareva Island in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia," Kovalevsky described the situation.

Through the night, the Pacific Ocean kept tossing the  small vessel. The travelers didn't get much sleep. The wind and waves did not stop in the morning, on May 1. However, the sun brought hope. In the discussions, the idea of how to install the steering wheel was born.

“Stas undresses and crawls onto the stern of the right hull. Caleb and Andrey push the steering box to him. I have a guy-rope in my hands, I'm on the left hull, on the stern. Plus the camera on the chest – you need to film. We pull, push, give the bolts, the axle. After 20 minutes, the steering wheel is installed. Stas manages to do everything, however, almost losing a finger at the same time. At 13:00 we start moving to Mangareva Atoll, which is 1000 miles away. It's a long way to Nuku Hiva – 1400 miles. We're afraid to go there with one steering wheel. Everyone is dead tired. Stress," admitted Kovalevsky.


Спокойная вахта. Фото участников экспедиции

The wind does not abate for several more days, reaching 40 and even 50 knots with gusts. It rains five or six times a day. Dampness is everywhere: not only splashes, but also waves fly into the tent. From below, under the tiny shelter of the crew, it's like there is a fist fight of heavyweights who constantly miss and hit the bottom of the vessel.

“All the blows hit our kidneys, liver, spleens, faces, and other parts of the body. I have not experienced such discomfort in a long time," admits Kovalevsky.

On the morning of May 5, in addition to everything, the mount of the tiller extension breaks off. Within an hour, the crew finds a solution and carries out repairs.

On May 6, Evgeny Kovalevsky celebrates his 66th birthday. Another birthday in a circumnavigation of the world!

I'm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With what else can we compare the chance of meeting such a milestone in the space of the universe, on the surface of the great ocean? The nearest land is more than 2000km away,” the head of the expedition notes.


Евгений Ковалевский вновь отметил день рождения в кругосветной экспедиции. Фото участников экспедиции

Four days later, the catamaran approached Mangareva Island. The travelers have a lot of work to do here: they need to find plywood or strong wood for new steering devices, and also, if possible, make a plywood deck in the tent. The rest of the repairs will have to be left until Tahiti. There, in more suitable conditions, aluminum stringers will be replaced with stainless steel, pipes or logs will be installed to strengthen the vessel’s structure.

Evgeny Kovalevsky needed a medical examination on Mangareva Island. In the last days of the crossing, the head of the expedition felt unwell. The chief of the coastal staff, Yulia Kalyuzhnaya, was able to quickly agree on medical assistance.

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.

Aleksander Zhirnov