Short history of the North East passage

1032 Voyage from the west through the Iron Gateway into The Kara Sea.
1500's Great Manganzea Route from the White Sea to the Rivers Ob and Yenesi was opened to trade.
1597 William Barents overwintered, after shipwreck in ice, in northern Novaya Zemlya.
1617 - 1620 Russian Traders reach Cape Chelyuskin.
1733 - 1743 Czar Peter the Great sent Vitus Bering, with Dmitri Laptev and Vasily Chelyuskin and 977 men on the Great Northern Expedition. They marched and sailed the vast north-east of Russia.
1785-1793 Billings and Kotzebue charted the coast south of the Bering Strait.
1878-1889 Neils Nordenskold, in the steamship Vega, transited west to east.
1914-1915 Icebreakers Yermak, Taimer and Vaigach traversed the passage, discovering Severnya Zemlya.
1998 -1999 Apostle Andrew, skippered by Nikolay Litau, sailed the Passage, east to west, overwintering in Tiksi.
2002 Frenchman Eric Brossier in Vagabond and German Arved Fuchs in Dagmar Aaen, transted west to east in one season.

The history of geographic exploration of Russia's North goes back about a thousand years. The earliest recorded voyage to the Iron Gateway, Yugorskiy Shar Strait into the Kara Sea, was in 1032. Russian 'pomors' from the coastal White Sea sailed eastwards to Novaya Zemlya and to Grumant, beginning in the 15th Century. In the 16th Century, the Great Mangazea Route from the White Sea to the Ob and the Yenesi Rivers was established. This line opened the way to Siberia's riches.

Willoughby of Britain sailed northeastward in 1553, but perished. Dutchman Barents over-wintered after a shipwreck in 1597, on the north east of Novaya Zemlya. He died. In 1617-1620 a Russian trading venture circumvented the most northerly part of Eurasia, Chelyuskin Cape. Archaeological finds in the Sims Gulf and Faddeyevsky serve as evidence of this voyage. In 1632-34 the Yakut Cossacks blazed a trail eastward as far as Yana, lndirka and Kolyma. By 1639 Semon Dezhnev had discovered the strait between Asia and North America.

Ten thousand years earlier, indigenous peoples from Asia had crossed, what was then a land-bridge to travel north and east and populate North and South America.

In the 1660s, Russians established a settlement on Alaska's Seward Peninsula. Russian seafarers K. Ivanov, I. Yerastov and P. Beketov made great contributions to the exploration of the Arctic coast of Siberia. Czar Peter the Great, established the Russian Navy and cartography on a formal basis. He also was a patron of the arts. He is quoted "Once we have protected our Fatherland from enemies, we should bring it all glory through the arts and sciences." On January 6th, 1725 he wrote sailing instructions for Vitus Bering. Bering lead the 977 member strong Great Northern Expedition from 1733 to 1743. Among its leaders were Dimitri Laptev and Vasily Chelyuskin. Separate detachments marched and sailed throughout the vast area.

In 1785-93 Billings led an expedition with vessels Pallas and Yasashna, built in Kolyma. He observed tides and ice dynamics, but due to sea-ice the venture was not regarded as a success in charting the northern coast. However he achieved much south of the Bering Strait, as did Kotzebue. From 1821-35 Fyodor Litke and Pyotr Pakhtusov explored most ofNovaya Zemlya, over-wintering successfully. Also in the 1820s as leader of the Ust-Yana expedition, Lieutenant Pyotr Anzhu, travelling by dogsled, horseback and kayak mapped the coast between the Olenyok " :, and Indigirka Rivers and the New Siberian Islands.

Ferdinand Wrangel, in 1820-24, charted the coast between Indigirka to Kolyuchinskaya Guba. He travelled 250 kilometres offshore on the pack ice. In 1878 Neils Nordenskiold of Sweden sailed the steamship Vega west to east " , becoming beset in ice on September 28th just 120 miles from clear water off Chukotska. He completed his voyage to the Pacific in July 1879. This was the first ship to voyage end-to-end through the Northern Sea Route. 1899 saw the first icebreaker Yermak followed by Taimyr and Vaigach who in 1914- 15 traversed the passage from Vladivostok to Archangelsk discovering the archipelago Severnya Zemlya. By the 1940s there were no more blank spots on the map of the Russian Arctic.

The opening of the sea route had its tragedies, mostly unrecorded as there were low profile commercial ventures by fur trappers. One such was the loss in 1914 of the vessel Saint Anna in the Kara Sea. The survival story of her First Officer, Valerian Albanov ranks with any of the polar epics of Nansen, Amundson or Shackleton. The Russian- Nicolai Litau- as skipper of the Moscow Adventure Club yacht Apostle Andrew set off from the Bering Strait in 1998 to attempt the Northern Sea Route. They were forced to retreat and the second attempt also failed in that year but they started again when the ice broke up in early July 1999. They arrived in Murmansk on the 12th September 1999, to complete the first transit of the Northern Sea Route by yacht and sailed from Murmansk back to St. Petersburg. In 2002, Eric Brossier of France in the yacht, Vagabond, and separately Arved Fuchs of Germany in the ex-Baltic fishing boat Dagmar Aaen made west to east passages in remarkably quick time in almost ice-free coastal waters.

Other relevant websites

North West Passage Expedition
South Arís

Some historical links

The web-site for this venture is in its initial stage of preparation. Material will be added from time to time, as preparations are made, and in particular during the course of the Expedition through our Progress Reports. Our boat Northabout has, in the Summer of 2003, been taken to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. There we will join ship next June to prepare, take on stores and depart for Providenyia, just south of the Bering The obtaining of the necessary Permits from the Authorities is a major precursor to sailing in the waters of Northern Russia. This is a Project in itself on which work has already begun, and is likely to continue up to our departure.