On the first day of July, not the easiest for humanity in 2021, two brave Siberians Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin set sail form Kronstadt on a sailing inflatable trimaran. Their goal is to repeat the path of the first Russian round-the-world expeditions of the 19th century. Now, after a year of sailing, more than 16,000 kilometers of ocean and dozens of ports in 12 countries of the world have been left astern. The Russians met hundreds of new friends, told thousands of foreigners about the beauty of the nature of their homeland and the richness of its culture, charmed many people with their courage and unbending will, friendliness and inexhaustible optimism. From distant Argentina, the crew of the international project of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society shared with our readers the most difficult moments of the circumnavigation, the brightest emotions, views on life, and answers to complex philosophical questions that inevitably arise among people on the boundless ocean.
“A year has passed since you left the coast of Russia and went to conquer the expanses of the World Ocean. How difficult is it to be away from family and friends, to make do with little, to get out of the comfort zone? Where do you get the strength for this?”
Stanislav Berezkin: I have spent 2/3 of my life outside the comfort zone, I am also accustomed to making do with little. I have not experienced any special physical inconveniences during the expedition. The only difficulty is that I am not getting younger – physical activity becomes more difficult with age. And injuries take their toll. Yes, it's hard to be away from family and friends. Of course, I try to stay cheerful, but it's not easy to live without the voices of loved ones. Of course, we correspond, call each other, but this is not the same at all. The ability to see your loved ones, to talk to them – it's impossible to replace. And if I say ‘Come on, there's nothing difficult about it!’ don't believe me.
I’m drawing my strength from a childhood dream. When I just want to drop everything and say ‘Come on, I'm just an ordinary person, why do I need all this?’, I immediately remember the boy who loved summer with its sailing classes more than anything else in the world, washed his telnyashka (which in the USSR could only be bought at a military store) to holes, ironed his sailor collar until it was razor sharp, and dreamed of unreachable then faraway lands... He, that me, cannot be betrayed…
Evgeny Kovalevsky: Being away from family and friends is difficult. They are the ones who create the comfort zone. When you leave home, your favorite city, the country where everything is familiar and understandable, you have already left your comfort zone. Everything around is alien – people, languages, nature. The body gets used to living in a certain place. Especially if this is the place where you were born, where your ancestors and parents lived, where children continue to live. The space is alive, after all. It stores the memory, the foundations, and the concepts formed by generations, the principles of development and survival of an individual in the ancestral nest, in the ancestral territory, working at the level of genetic memory. And suddenly you fall out of the centuries-old way. This is stress, shock. You don't just fall out of the nest, but you get, naked, in a thorny bush, on sharp glass fragments, you encounter a bunch of unfamiliar things that reject you, pressure you. This allegory is the essence of extreme expeditions, the purpose of which is survival in nature. It is this way of knowing the planet and myself as a part of it that was offered to me by the Creator. And thanks to fate, I managed to understand that at least at the age of 41. This is where the answer to the question lies: how difficult it is and where the strength comes from.
An extreme nature expedition is incredibly difficult, to the point of impossibility! After all, wild nature does not adapt to a person, does not roll out carpets and build sidewalks for them, does not mow the lawn, does not cut down thorny bushes, does not make mountains lower, and does not clean up bad roads. It has been the way it is for hundreds of millions of years. And a person is a fragile, delicate stalk that can be broken with a blow, like a wood chip. And they must survive and achieve the goal they have set. So why does a person do this? My answer: the thirst for knowledge and discovery is inherent in every bit of life. This is the essence of every human being. It becomes the basis of the motivation of the individual, looks for the path of knowledge and self-fulfillment. What makes a person risk their life, starve, freeze, lose consciousness from lack of sleep, rejoice every morning that they are still alive, suffer from having to take risks again and again, endure, fall and get up, die and rise again?
The answer is the path that is offered to you by the Creator and your kind. The path that you have managed to discover for yourself. It's not so important how old you are. It’s great if it happens at 17, not bad at 26, tolerable at 38, but not shameful at 46. Having discovered your world, you can try to start from scratch. And you can do it at 50 or 60. And achieve what you want and what you were created for. Going your own way is the main and, perhaps, the only motivation. It encourages you to do incredible things – to walk when your legs will not hold you, to breathe when water is clogging your lungs, to remain conscious when you are immensely exhausted, to eat inedible, to survive where a normal person will not survive. And this is not a fairy tale. This is the real life of an extreme traveler. I've been doing this all my adult life – since 1974. In 1998, I finally diagnosed myself as an extreme traveler in the wild. These are mountains, mountain rivers, oceans... everything that was created billions of years ago. It is in nature that the main knowledge is hidden, where those who want to discover the world go to again and again. The world in which each of us appeared and all of us are together.
The thirst for discovery and knowledge puts everyone on their own escalator of development and improvement. There are a great many ways. Most of them are in the comfort zone, with science, engineering, landscape design, art, and hundreds of thousands of other things. The natural path is difficult and unpredictable, just as nature itself is unpredictable. The ocean can send a divine night with the moon, the stars and the dolphins, or it can destroy you with one big wave in a matter of seconds. But... the ocean contains knowledge, information, energy, truth. In it is the truth of the planet, and it itself is the truth. To understand the essence of this truth, to immerse yourself in it, to live in it for a long time, to feel the ocean at the cellular level, to become water yourself, and finally to understand why everything is this way – this is my main motivation. The motivation for obtaining knowledge from the primary source – nature, in the current expedition – the ocean. This encourages you to get out of your comfort zone again and again, to suffer, to survive and ... to be happy. It gives strength.
The energy reserves are finite. There comes a period when you get up by sheer force of will, when you don't want to do anything, but you need to. I read in the works of Confucius and Aristotle that we should live in nature. Thor Heyerdahl wrote a wonderful book "Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature". It seems to me that I have reached this idea myself, and I have received confirmation from the great ones. Nature gives energy, cleanses from toxins and dirt, prevents moral degradation, gives sincerity and purity, which it itself possesses. At the age of 16, I started running 4-5 kilometers in the morning. I run when it snows, when it rains, when it’s 30°C and when it’s -30°C, when my legs hurt and my back aches. Birds are singing around, the sun is rising, the leaves are rustling, the whisper of invisible stars is heard. I'm 65 years old, but I still run. For me, this is meditation, connecting with nature, being on the same wavelength with nature. I believe that this is what gives me strength, replenishes the lost energy, brings me back to life.
Things have come full circle. The path offered to me by the Creator and my parents turned out to be learning about the planet and myself as a part of it, entering into nature. It is this path that has become my motivation, and it also gives me the strength to keep going.
“What is the most difficult thing in circumnavigating the world on an inflatable sailing trimaran? What scared or upset you the most during this year of sailing? Or are you not afraid at all?”
Stanislav Berezkin: “You think we are not scared? We are! We always say to everyone: the most difficult thing is to tolerate your comrades in misfortune, those who are unlucky enough to be on the same ship with you. I was disappointed that the ship turned out to be very fragile. Maintaining it in working condition takes a lot of time and effort.”
Evgeny Kovalevsky: Circumnavigating the world on an inflatable sailing trimaran is a challenge first of all to yourself. It's not easy to get out of your comfort zone, leave home for a long time, change things up for a while. This is a complete lifestyle change. You are putting yourself in extremely difficult, unsuitable for normal life conditions for a long time. Wet clothes, wet salty sleeping bags, chronic lack of sleep, cold, hunger, shark attacks, and pirates... Unpredictable situations that come tumbling down, so that you just get used to them as something expected.
Multiple repairs were added to all the problems, the possibility of which was completely denied by the manufacturer. We received the trimaran not two months before the launch, as agreed, but two days before we set off. Barely had time, thanks to the help of friends, to finish assembling this amazing vessel, to throw inside the tent, belongings, devices, and food. We decided to comply with the deadlines, and did not have time to really appreciate the nightmare that the manufacturer had provided us with. They did not take into account the experience of previous voyages, made strategic design mistakes that disrupted most of our plans. The breakdowns began on the second day of sailing the Baltic Sea and are still chasing us. Before crossing the Atlantic, we had to do major repairs twice, and evoked not sympathy, but indignation of many friends, envious people, and those who were following the expedition. We missed the season – we didn't have time to go around Cape Horn in December 2021, so the expedition turned from a two-year expedition into a three-year one. We spent all the funds of the sponsors and the presidential grant we won on emergency stops, repairs, and unplanned expenses. As a result, the budget that was supposed to last until the end of the project ended a quarter of the way in. The search for funds continues, we are applying for grants to foundations and believe in success.
In the middle of crossing the Atlantic – from Cape Verde to Brazil – 800 nautical miles from the shore, the base of the mast broke. It was a critical situation. We were on the verge of sending out a May Day – SOS. Our coastal headquarters worked quickly – they involved the Russian embassy in Brazil. The Brazilian Navy and the rescue service sent a cargo ship to us for evacuation. Together we neutralized the emergency and managed to reach the shore.
In South America, we are facing a new challenge – the sanctions. Our Visa and MasterCard cards were blocked. We have lost the ability to pay for services, materials, groceries. We managed to find a temporary solution. The head of the coastal headquarters of the expedition, Yulia Kalyuzhnaya, issued a Chinese Union Pay card, brought us a duplicate. Some foreign banks accept this card, but you can't pay for services or use it in stores. We are looking for banks and ATMs that accept Union Pay. We find them. The dollar exchange rate is unclear to us. There is one on the Internet, another at an ATM, and another among the people. Satellite communication is blocked. We have ‘Iridium’ satellite systems that have stopped working. At the moment, we have no communication with the coastal headquarters on the ocean, it is dangerous. The available rubles had to be exchanged for the local currency with a three-fold loss before the cards were blocked. The entrance to the Presidential Grants website is blocked, there is no way to send postcards and parcels to Russia – the shipping is not available. This is at the very least upsetting.
We work a lot; we don't get enough sleep. It turned out that it is difficult to sail with just the two of us mainly because there is not enough time to recover. We change each other on watch every four hours. You need to hold the tiller for four hours, keep looking around, not close your eyes for a second, look at the chartplotter, at the stars, at objects in the ocean. If you are distracted for a couple of seconds, the trimaran stops going in the right direction, an accident is likely. After you go off watch, it is necessary to sleep, it does not matter if it’s day or night. Otherwise, you'll go on the next watch tired and make mistakes. At night, several times we almost ran into yachts and fishing boats that did not use the automatic vessel identifier. We don't see them on the chartplotter screen, they don't see us. In fog and on a moonless night it is dangerous, a collision is possible. After two days of continuous sailing and changing shifts, due to chronic lack of sleep, the body is worn out so that you can lose consciousness on watch.
Frequent breakdowns of the main elements of the trimaran frame, node joints, and steering wheel are very annoying. We cannot accelerate the trimaran to the 13 knots declared by the manufacturer, because the structural strength does not allow us to move quickly in conditions of continuous excitement and vibration. The Atlantic crossing was completed in the north of Brazil due to a mast failure, and not in the south, as planned. From Fortaleza to Salvador, we sailed 800 nautical miles against the headwind, the oncoming waves, and the head current. It took us not a week, as usual, but 30 days. It was incredibly hard.
Now we are in Argentina, repairing the vessel for the fourth time. We will change the main beams, change the structures of most of the node connections, strengthen them. Technically, we are making a new vessel that will be able to bypass Cape Horn and cross the Pacific Ocean. And then the Indian Ocean and once again the Atlantic.
But the only thing that really scared me during all this time was the impossibility for one reason or another to continue the expedition. The expedition is my life for me. We have done, are doing, and will do everything to ensure that it continues and is successfully completed where it started from – in Kronstadt. We are strengthening the maritime glory of Russia, the glory of the first Russian navigators, whose paths we are following.
And yet, the most difficult thing has always been and always will be not sharks, not storms, not giant waves, not uncomfortable living conditions on a trimaran without amenities. The most difficult thing is communication in a confined space. There are two of us. We are coping with this main difficulty. We have learned to accept additional participants, including foreign ones. They lighten the mood in our small space. We've learned to ignore each other's weaknesses. We have learned to avoid serious quarrels and avoid conflicts. We were able to endure before, and now we are able to endure three times that. And patience is the only way to overcome everything. And we will overcome. We have challenged ourselves and the Great Ocean, and we will see it through.
“What is the most memorable event that happened during the trip? What day would you like to relive?”
Stanislav Berezkin: “Perhaps the strongest impression was made by Cape Roca. Usually it is hidden by fog, but apparently God decided that we need to examine it from all sides, and from the sky too. The weather was lovely for three days, we enjoyed its view from the sea, went to the observation deck by car, and filmed it with the drone. It is very difficult to convey with words the feeling you get standing on a rock with three thousand miles of the harsh North Atlantic beyond it. The world painted a unique picture – the sky and the sea merged in a haze, the horizon was invisible, there was an indescribable feeling of being at the edge of the Earth. If there was a ‘flat-earther’ with us, they would be delighted and would say ‘You see, I told you so!’
Unfortunately, it is impossible to live one moment as it was the first time. I say this as a photographer – the same place is never the same.
Evgeny Kovalevsky: Memorable events: seeing new countries, new territories, meeting new people. There are many of them; the list of new good friends has been replenished with dozens and hundreds of names of different nationalities. Some, it seems to us, will be our friends forever. We are here, they are there, but our hearts are together. I remember Europe, where I got to for the first time in my life. Bright, prosperous, chill, positive. I remember the Cape Verde Islands, especially Santo Antão. Mountains, jungles, exoticism, cleanliness, tranquility, slow pace. And this is a rare place where no one has been colonized. When the Portuguese landed here in the 16th century, there were no people here. In the mountains, on the rocks, in the jungle, people have founded settlements and live happily. The town of Mindelo gave the world the famous singer Cesaria Evora.
I remember Uruguay. Small, expensive, clean, colonial architecture. I remember the homeless residents of the streets of Brazil. This is a special ‘anti-culture’ that I have not yet understood. And, of course, Argentina was memorable and will be even more memorable. Bright, friendly, promising a lot of new adventures, acquaintances, knowledge. After all, we’ll be staying here for a few more months. We’ll see Patagonia, the Andes! In general, South America is fascinating, contagious, positive.
Everywhere, in all countries, the kindness of people and the positive attitude towards Russians amazes and pleases. I would even say, it is often enthusiastic towards ‘ruso’, as they say here. When they find out that we are from Russia, you almost always hear in response ‘Ooooh! Ruso!’ Stas and I are pleased and happy.
“How does the ocean change a person during such a long ‘personal contact’? What new things have you discovered for yourself during this voyage?"
Evgeny Kovalevsky: Prolonged communication with the ocean changes a person. After all, it contains megatons of information, energy, and knowledge. It regulates the temperature of the planet, it absorbs the energy of the Sun. The ocean is grand! And how much life there is in it! Enough for 100 planets. And when you are on the night watch in beautiful weather, the moon is creating a silver path for the trimaran, the stars are continuously falling into the ocean fulfilling wishes, sometimes a flock of dolphins will swim up to our ship. They jump and rejoice and circle around. And everything glows with phosphorescent light. It's magic! This is a water Cosmos. And this is life!
You can put your feet in the water, as if you are plunging into the planet Earth, or rather into the Ocean, into the near Cosmos, as I call what we see with our eyes. And you feel that you belong to the universe, that you are an integral part of it. And you understand that we are part of a Single Law of the Universe. I call this single law the Creator. I do not know what it looks like. Perhaps this is some incredible source of energy and knowledge somewhere in outer space. Being in the ocean for a long time, you start to resonate with it, you begin to feel it as your ancestor, as your foundation. After six months of being in the ocean, I sometimes stop feeling the difference between me and it. We are one. We are together. We have the same biochemical composition. I've read smart books about this. I feel like we're flowing into each other. ‘I see you,’ as the heroine of the movie ‘Avatar’ said.
For me, the ocean is a source of new understanding of the planet and, most importantly, understanding of myself. One day I looked at the ocean for a long time and thought: ‘Is the ocean good or evil?’ I've been watching for six months. And suddenly the answer came to me. I understood. The ocean is neither evil nor kind. It is balanced. This is the ‘Yin-Yang’, the basis of balance on the planet Earth, the basis of truth, morality, moral concepts. Concepts of justice, values of Nature. The ocean does not lie, there is no hypocrisy in it, it does not deceive and does not betray, does not pretend to be better than it is. The ocean is natural and reliable, thanks to its unshakable truth of nature. The ocean is the carrier and the keeper of truth. And the one who will be able to understand this truth is worthy of the Nobel Prize and all the awards of mankind. I am going after the truth.
Stanislav Berezkin: I am not inclined to assign the ocean the role of some special environment. It is not the absolute truth, but just one of the elements. Yes, it looks like a living being, but if you approach it from this perspective, then it is rather a symbiosis of living beings, a planet, a state. During the last trip, I finally became convinced that nothing can change a person, even themself. Our sense of the world is changing, our character, the way of thinking, approach to learning about the world. But the person themself, their personal qualities do not change. It's just that on a long voyage, in extreme conditions, in solitude the ‘veneer of civilization’ comes off and the one who was hiding behind this veneer comes to the front. With all the ensuing consequences. And the sea is only one of the factors here. This can happen in the mountains, in the ice, and in the city. The main thing in ensuring human purification is extreme natural and psychological conditions.
I have stepped onto the next step of knowledge in this voyage, but it is not connected with the sea, but with people. My social circle has expanded a lot, and it turned out to be very useful for understanding that we, as a people and a civilization, live by the same laws as other peoples and civilizations. No one has a ‘special way’; all civilizations, countries, empires are organisms that are born, live, and die. And like all living organisms, they are unique and similar to each other at the same time. It so happened that I am now in another stage of God-seeking – the search for the divine in man. And the ocean in it is a means of transportation.
“Do you think a man on a small ship on the boundless ocean is a natural part of this vast world? Or does he, with his unbending will and personal courage, resist the hostile element, conquering it? Who are we on our planet, how does it perceive us?"
Stanislav Berezkin: The question is complicated, because I have never been a man of unbending will and personal courage. And on the other hand, it's simple, because I know for sure that the elements are not hostile to us. They just don't notice us. The sea cannot be conquered like a marathon distance at a stadium. You just need to give a signal to the higher powers about your intention. And they'll make sure you get through. Or they won't. Or they'll make sure you won’t get through.
Well, as they say ‘Put hope in Allah, but tie the camel’. It is necessary to know when and where it is possible to cross the oceans, and when and where it is impossible. This is especially important for our vessel. It is impossible to treat the elements in a fraternal way, it is necessary to know navigation, meteorology, weather features of the navigation area, rules of vessel divergence, rules of radio exchange, to know the structure of the vessel – everything that relates to the material support of navigation. And then the probability that the gods will be kind to you increases significantly.
Evgeny Kovalevsky:“Stas and I are very close to the ocean. We live in it. There is a special feature in the vessel we have chosen and built. It does not separate us from the ocean with the amenities that are on yachts, boats, liners sailing the ocean. We are not separated by reliable protection, barriers, we have no amenities, and the main convenience is the ocean itself. We are defenseless if it suddenly decides to play with us. And it does play and have fun. It rumbles, and becomes harsh, and tests our strength of character.
I feel that humanity has already moved away and continues to move away from the correct understanding of the ocean. It moves away from proper interaction and dialogue with nature. This distance naturally affects the decline of morality and moral degradation. Integrally, humanity is moving away from the values of nature, although individually everyone wants to be in nature more often. This is a contradiction that I'm still trying to understand. The craving for nature is understandable, because we all came out of it, from the ocean. It is our father. We reach out to it. We instinctively feel the greatness of nature and its rightness, purity, justice. Nature, the Great Ocean, the Great Mountains cannot, cannot be conquered. We are a tiny nanoparticle compared to them. And we are part of this vast world. We live in it because of it. It is no accident that climbers do not use the word ‘conquer’. They say ‘ascended to the top’. We conquer our laziness, our weakness, our fear.
I go to the ocean as a son to his father, as a newborn to his mother. For me, the ocean is everything. This is a powerful part of the Creator. But even though I am a tiny nanoparticle, I am also part of the Creator. I go to the ocean to feel and realize it. And an indomitable will and courage will help me to withstand all the adversities of single combat with the raging elements, to cope with the complete lack of usual comfort, with the challenge that I have given myself.
Humanity was created as a part of our planet. That's how the planet perceives us. We belong here. We are its children. Moreover, our planet is a part of the universe and observes its basic laws. We humans reproduce the same laws in our development. And going into the ocean, I hope to understand these laws, formulate them for myself and others. I go for knowledge, for feelings, for purity and morality. The ocean is a teacher. It accepts me as a disciple. If I can hear it, accept its energy, if I can understand the truths of nature, I would like to bring this knowledge to the youth, to the people of Russia, to the people of the whole world. We are part of nature and we must protect it. If we can understand this, we will save ourselves and our children. We will save the whole Earth.