Three Years Of Travelling: RGS Circumnavigators Talk About Most Difficult And Joyful Moments

The RGS’s circumnavigation trimaran at the edge of the earth near Cape Horn. Photos of the expedition participants
The RGS’s circumnavigation trimaran at the edge of the earth near Cape Horn. Photos of the expedition participants

Is three years a lot or a little? What can be done in this time? It would be interesting to hear the answer to this question from two brave Russian travelers, courageous Siberians Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin. On July 1, 2021, they set off from Kronstadt to conquer the vast expanses of the oceans on an inflatable sailing trimaran under the flags of Russia and the Russian Geographical Society. In three years, they have traveled about 32,000 nautical miles (60,000 km), visited 30 states and island territories, crashed twice on the high seas, experienced deadly situations several times, held more than 250 meetings with local residents during which about 30,000 people learned about how beautiful our country is and what brave, open, and friendly people live in it.

The circumnavigation celebrated its three-year anniversary by passing through the Dardanelles Strait separating Europe and Asia – the legendary Hellespont, steeped in the spirit of ancient myths, associated with historical events of different eras. The head of the expedition, Evgeny Kovalevsky, sees a special meaning in this because the project "Following the paths of Russian explorers" has become a kind of geographical "connection to the history of mankind", the history of discoveries and exploration of the world, the history in which our compatriots, Russians, also played a huge role.

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After the start of the expedition in Kronstadt on July 1, 2021. Photo: press service of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the RGS
After the start of the expedition in Kronstadt on July 1, 2021. Photo: press service of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the RGS

One of the main objectives of the project dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Kruzenshtern and the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian sailors was the desire to "remind the world of the achievements of Russians." Three years ago, this was especially noted at the start of the expedition in Kronstadt. The planned route followed the path of Ivan Kruzenshtern and Yuri Lisyansky, Otto Kotzebue, Vasily Golovnin, Fedor Litke, Faddey Bellingshausen, and Mikhail Lazarev. Our rather difficult time, of course, has made its own adjustments to the plans of the circumnavigators. However, they managed to fulfill the stated programs: they not only survived in the ocean but also managed to find the strength to film, observe, and educate. Of course, each of our heroes had their own individual plans and tasks. It was also a personal challenge, not even to the ocean and nature, but to themselves.

“There were several personal tasks: to feel nature, to overcome one's infirmity, to gain new knowledge, to be able to form a vector for transferring new knowledge to people. The main motivation was to rise above myself, to become better than I was yesterday. Has this happened in three years? Yes, it happened!” Kovalevsky confessed.

“Today is three years since the start of our crazy expedition. What are my feelings? We are approaching the finish line, and this is very encouraging. There is a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. I've been rethinking what I've seen for the last week, drawing conclusions, making plans. The conclusion from all this is that we have gained a lot of experience, both in terms of yachting and in terms of administration. There is some physical fatigue, chronic problems have worsened. Need to work on this. Strangely enough, it's a bit of a pity that the circumnavigation is ending," Stanislav Berezkin noted.

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 The crew at the presentation of the project at the Headquarters of the RGS in Moscow. Photo: Anna Yurgenson/ press service of the RGS
The crew at the presentation of the project at the Headquarters of the RGS in Moscow. Photo: Anna Yurgenson/ press service of the RGS

About the worst and scariest things in three years

“I can't remember, the bad things get forgotten. I could say that it was scary when I was sick in the Arabian Sea. But I don't remember almost anything from those five days when it was the worst," Stanislav Berezkin said.

“There were several scary moments. And any of them could have stopped the expedition. The breakdown of the mast in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the struggle with a 50-knot headwind in the Beagle Channel off South America, when we ran out of water and gasoline, we were on the verge of death. But the wildest moment happened when the inflatable trimaran was lost near Easter Island. We were evacuated to a giant ship at night in a storm, in five-meter waves. A rope ladder was thrown from the side. We had to to jump onto it from the trimaran, which was flying up and down along the side of the cargo ship. And the ship was going up and down too. It was scary and dangerous. I waited for 30 minutes, trying to catch the moment when the two rocking vessels would be next to each other for a split second. Jumped and barely held on. Stas jumped and fell down four times. It was a miracle something irreversible did not happen. But half an hour later, a much more terrible thing happened: the trimaran, which had gotten tied behind the stern of the cargo ship, was torn off by the waves. I ran out onto the deck. Stas too. We wanted to jump and catch the trimaran, but the ship’s Captain ordered us not to take risks in such a storm. Nothing was scarier than watching the vessel on which we had already covered 16,000 miles, on which we were supposed to continue the expedition, go into the night, into the ocean. It was a shock, a failure. There was nothing worse than the termination of the expedition. But our fairy Yulia Kalyuzhnaya, the head of our coastal headquarters, saved us. She found an inflatable boat for us on Easter Island," said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

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 Evgeny Kovalevsky. Off the coast of Patagonia. Photo: Stanislav Berezkin.
Evgeny Kovalevsky. Off the coast of Patagonia. Photo: Stanislav Berezkin.

About the most memorable and most pleasant

“When I saw Hornos Island, tears came out of my eyes, despite the fact that I am not a sentimental and emotional person. It seems to have appeared in me. And another vivid feeling was when, on the approach to Ushuaia, I saw the mountains in the light of the dawn sun and realized that I had once been born here," Stanislav Berezkin shared his memories.

“There were two most joyful moments for me. The first one was when we lost the trimaran 800 miles from Easter Island, a Panamanian ship was returning us back to Chile. I was depressed, because half the way was over, but we had lost the means of transportation. I was sobbing in my cabin, feeling the most terrible loss in my life. And suddenly, on the fourth day, Yulia calls and literally screams that she found an inflatable catamaran on Easter Island. We have a chance to continue the expedition! It was an explosion of emotions. It's like I've been reborn from the ashes.

The second moment was after the loss of the inflatable catamaran off the coast of Australia. It sank as a result of a shark attack. We were rescued and put ashore with literally nothing. But the depression didn't last long. We started looking for ways to continue the expedition. The greatest joy came when a local businessman from Tomsk gave us a sailboat. We had been reborn from the ashes again," said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

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The expedition traveled from Easter Island on the inflatable catamaran. Leaving the harbor of Vanua Levu. Photos of the expedition participants
The expedition traveled from Easter Island on the inflatable catamaran. Leaving the harbor of Vanua Levu. Photos of the expedition participants

About the experience gained in the expedition and new plans

“I'm not sailing on an inflatable boat ever. And the yacht will be completely different. Now I know what I need from a boat," Stanislav Berezkin noted with a smile.

“The expedition is three years old. Feelings and emotions are calm on this date. In three years, so many emotions have been poured out and feelings spent that it is much calmer now. After all, it is already clear to us on July 1, 2024, that we will definitely reach the end. The expedition really turned out to be the most difficult, the most unpredictable, the longest, and the most expensive in my life. There were situations that called into question the possibility of continuing the journey. If we had returned without completing the work, it would have been the collapse of hopes, claims, and challenges. Now I am sure that the challenge to myself has been won. My partner Stas also overcame all his infirmities and weaknesses. We both didn't give up. Several times we literally died, but were reborn from the ashes. Yulia, our coordinator from Tomsk, our angel, and our fairy saved us several times. I am happy that the team of three people who started this project (Evgeny, Stas, Yulia) did not retreat, did not give up under the pressure of circumstances and the elements. I feel that I am not living in vain, and at the age of 67 not only can I live, but I can do excellently. I have new dreams and long-term plans," said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

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From the coast of Australia, the crew sails on a sailing yacht. Evgeny Kovalevsky, Yulia Kalyuzhnaya, Filip Alekseev, and Stanislav Berezkin. Photos of the expedition participants
From the coast of Australia, the crew sails on a sailing yacht. Evgeny Kovalevsky, Yulia Kalyuzhnaya, Filip Alekseev, and Stanislav Berezkin. Photos of the expedition participants

On July 2, the expedition "Following the paths of Russian explorers", organized by the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society, had covered about 32,000 nautical miles (60,000 km). Stanislav Berezkin and Evgeny Kovalevsky visited 30 different countries and island territories.

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With Chileans in the port of Talcahuano. Photos of the expedition participants
With Chileans in the port of Talcahuano. Photos of the expedition participants

“There were two to four points of call in each country; we went ashore at least 100 times. We held more than 250 meetings with the local population at the points of call, and conducted many excursions to our inflatable boats. The total number of tourists is estimated at 15,000 people in three years. We know this for sure, because at meetings and during excursions, we personally handed out 30,000 of our calendars, talking with these people. About 30 people have been with us in the crew for three years at different stages: Brazilians, Argentines, Chileans, French, Australians, Russians. Our mission is the friendship of peoples, the formation of a positive image of Russia in different countries along the route. Our contribution to the prosperity of Russia is educational ‘Lessons from the ocean’ for schoolchildren. Now we are close to fulfilling the main goal of the expedition: to go around the world, repeating the path of the first Russian circumnavigators. I'm pretty sure now – we had left Kronstadt, we will return to Kronstadt! We have not let ourselves or Russia down," Evgeny Kovalevsky stressed.

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In the Dardanelles Strait. Captain of the expedition vessel Stanislav Berezkin. Photo: Denis Gorbushin
In the Dardanelles Strait. Captain of the expedition vessel Stanislav Berezkin. Photo: Denis Gorbushin

At midnight on July 2, the RGS’s circumnavigation sailboat anchored in the harbor of the Turkish city of Yalova, completing the crossing of the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Marmara Seas. The expedition will be staying there until July 10. In Istanbul, Russian travelers intend to hold educational events, meetings with local residents and compatriots, and filming materials for a documentary.

“We will also tell the Russian Ambassador to Turkey about the expedition. And go back home," said Evgeny Kovalevsky.

The way home lies through the Black Sea and along the native rivers to Kronstadt. We wish success to our brave travelers!

Aleksandr Zhirnov