Boats' history

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Boats carried aboard Russian ships begin to appear in California's history as early as 1808, when Ivan Kuskov, aboard the vessel Kad'iak, reconnoitered the northern California coast in search of a location for a Russian-American Company settlement.

All ships carried boats, and depending upon their size could carry any number from one to seven. Also depending on their size, the names of these boats could have several designations: the main ship's boat was always called a launch; secondary boats were called cutters, pinnaces, yawls and jolly boats. The launch of a brig might be the same size and type as a yawl for a frigate; and although there were regulation types each class of ship were supposed to carry, there were often substitutions due to necessity or private purchase.

All Russian ship's boats are known as schliupki, (small sloops) and within this designation are found cutters (katerii) yawls (yalii) and whale boats (velbotii). Russian ships also carried barges and launches, larger carvel-hulled boats which normally were rigged with two masts and a variety of sails. As the majority of Russian ships in the Pacific in the first half of the 19th century were either brigs, sloops or frigates, the most common type of boats to be found were the clinker-built yawls, light working boats carrying a single mast and lug sail, rowing between four and ten oars.

Boats of this type are mentioned being built in the shipyard at Fortress Ross in the early 1820s, making them the first ship's boats built in California. Boats from the Russian voyages of discovery, beginning in 1806, were recorded as having explored San Francisco Bay as far south as San Jose, and as far east as Sacramento, being the first such boats to ascend the Sacramento river. (The first trip by boat by Russian sailors in San Francisco was carried out by Lt.Khvostov, commander of the Junon, and nine crew in two ship's boats and a baidarka, (kayak) along the north shore of the bay in 1806. They travelled up the bay for three days, charting the coast and looking for an inland passage to Bodega Bay before returning to the Junon.)

The result of these explorations are the detailed charts produced by Russian hydrographers of San Francisco, Monterey, and Bodega Bays, and charts which documented California's coast from Humboldt (called Rezanov) Bay in the north to Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula. These boats were also the mode of transport for the naturalists whose drawings give us the majority of images we have of early Californian native life. As these ship's boats were the main vehicle employed in these cartographic and ethnographic expeditions, their importance cannot be underestimated.
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The Schliupka (yal-6) used by Boat Base Monterey is an 1820s-type boat. Construction methods are exactly the same as an early 19th-century boat, with the exception that one might occasionally find a phillips-head screw, and the mast-step is steel rather than wood.
The technology of their use is entirely ancient; with the exception of the transom and sternpost-mounted rudder, and oarlocks, they are operated in the same fashion as Viking ships of the ninth century. The exhausting experience of rowing into a head wind and choppy sea is balanced by the sheer joy of racing before a following wind with the lug sail poled out with boat hooks, listening to the unique sound of water coursing beneath the lapstrakes when the boat achieves hull-speed. It is a lesson in itself on the maritime history of California, and the almost forgotten part these boats played in the exploration of our State.
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The history of the modern Russian Navy is bound to the history of one small boat.

In 1688 the young Tsar Peter Alexyevich Romanov (later to become Peter the First) accompanied by his Dutch tutor Franz Timmerman discovered a small English boat equipped with both oars and sail, in a barn in Izmailovo, on the outskirts of Moscow.

Young Tsar Peter and Franz Timmerman discover the Botik in a barn in Izmailovo, 1688.
Etching by G.G.Myasoyedov, 1872. Courtesey of A.A.Razdolgin

Timmerman, who was in the process of instructing the young Tsar in the use of a quadrant, enlisted another Dutchman living in Moscow, Karsten Brandt in restoring the old boat, replacing planks, caulking the hull, and installing new spars, rigging, and sails. Peter and Brandt sailed the 20 ft. long, six ft. wide boat on the Yauza river; Peters first experience in "messing around in small boats" He thought it was immensely fun.

It was the beginning of the Russian Navy.

Model of the Botik of Peter the Great as it appeared after Karsten Brandt's restoration in 1688.
Built by A.Ya. Glotov, Master's model shop of the Naval Museum,1819 St.Petersburg.
Collection of the Central Naval Museum. Photo courtesy of A.A.Razdolgin.

The boat (Botik in Russian) now is the focal-point of the Central Naval Museum in St.Petersburg, Russia. Peter himself decreed that it should be preserved. It was he who named it the "Grandfather of the Russian Navy", and in 1723, coxswained the Botik himself, with four Admirals at the oars, in a special review of the new Baltic Fleet at the mouth of the Neva. In August of the same year the Botik was placed in a specially-built house in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Model of the Botik as it appeared after the restoration of 1722.
Built in the Master's model shop of the Naval Museum, St.Petersburg, 1872.
Collection of the Central Naval Museum. Photo courtesy of A.A.Razdolgin.

The tradition of training Russian seamen in the use of small boats has continued for three hundred years in boats based on the design and dimensions of the original Botik. Because the original Botik was English, there is arguably a case to be made on Russia's maritime origins being English, and most Russians would not disagree. But many Russians would also argue that their maritime traditions go back much farther to the Vikings, and so in this regard one might say that both the English and the Russians share their maritime history. Whatever the case, English boats have certainly influenced Russian ones, and now three hundred years later, Russian boats are influencing English ones.

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The Nautical Heritage Society organizes a recreation of a scientific expedition at Fort Ross Cove to honor the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy.

Boat Base Monterey's four-oar yawl is shown here in the expedition camp.


The expedition camp at Fort Ross Cove.
Two Russian Navy six-oar yawls arrive in Monterey in time for the commemoration of the Sloat Landing. The yawls are loaned to commemorate both the 150th anniversary of California Statehood and the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy. The boats are owned by the Russian Naval Engineering Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.  

Boat crews from Boat Base Monterey and St. Petersburg are invited to participate in the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy, with a boat race and regatta at Tsarskoye Selo. The Boat Base Monterey crew wins second place and is congratulated by the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Deputy Cheif of Operations, and the U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

Russian-American crew on the lake at Tsarskoye Selo.

Reception at the Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo.
Fromleft: Lt. Middleton, Boatswain Hanus, Crewman Bolles, and the Commander in Cheif
of the Soviet Navy, Hero of the Soviet Union, Fleet Admiral V.N.Chernavin.

Nautical Heritage Society's Eric Christman, John Middleton, Secretary of the Navy and Mrs. John Dalton,
Russian American Circle's Rodger Bolles, and University of Oregon's Prof. Mark Hanus
Re-enactment of Sloat's Landing.         

Photo courtesy of Raymond Santella
Greeting the historic ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain to Monterey. Rowing and sailing competition between crews of the two ships.
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Training programs begun with Monterey Division of U.S. Navy Sea Cadets.

Russian language students from Defense Language Institute begin rowing and sailing courses using Russian language commands.

Re-enactment of Bouchard's landing with the Californian and students from Oroville High School.

Boats and two crews from Monterey are used in the filming of Amistad, a Dreamworks production.

Boats greet historic ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Cheiftain.

Boats represent Revenue Marine boats in Monterey State Historic Park's Living Living History Day. 


The two Russian Navy boats are proclaimed the official historic naval ships boats of the City of Monterey.

Official naval ensign of the City of Monterey
Official boat ensign of the City of Monterey

Boats used in a joint Russian Naval Academy / U.S. Navy Sea Cadet expedition from Vallejo to Sacramento and back.

A single boat with Sea Cadets is used by the Sloat Landing committee in Monterey's Fourth of July parade.

The boats and crews are used by the Monterey Lyceum in their Time Travel Triad. 


Boat crew rows Monterey city officials out to H. M. Bark Endeavour.  


The Schliupka (yal-6) used by
Boat Base Monterey
was recently on exhibit at
California Academy of Science's
Science Under Sail: Russia's Great Voyages to America 1728-1867


Photo courtesy of Philip Barlow
Boat crew recreates the arrival of the first Russian ship -- the JUNON (Juno) -- to enter San Francisco Bay, On April 8th, 1806. Read John Middleton's and John Sperry's articles about the event & anniversary in the Fort Ross Interpretive Association's newsletter. (Articles start on page 2.)
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Page created by Esther Trosow
Last updated December 18, 2012