Museum on the water to explore the bottom of the White Sea

Rostislav Vylegzhanin, Moscow News
Yacht "Saint Peter" is a copy of the ship from the 17th century, in which the Russian Tsar Peter the Great once came to the famous archipelago. In the future the yacht will go on scientific expeditions to the White and Barents Seas.

The first time, "Saint Peter" was built in Arkhangelsk by local shipbuilders under Dutch engineers in 1693 and became the first seagoing vessel of Tsar Peter the Great, who became famous for extending the frontiers of Russia in the Baltic region and large-scale state reforms. In 1694, the young king sailed on the "Saint Peter" to the Solovetsky monastery. During this event, going from Arkhangelsk to the Solovetsky Islands through the White Sea, the ship hit a violent storm. But the helmsman managed to steer the yacht into the Unskaya bay. After the storm, Peter made a cross two meters tall with his own hands and put it in the very same place where he was miraculously saved. Then, at the entrance to Solovki, Peter ordered that a chapel be built and a large cross next to the local monastery pier.

The small sailing ship had one mast with a direct and oblique sail according to the Dutch sample. The yacht raised the Russian ship standard for the very first time. The flag of the king of Moscow, being the national relic, is the oldest surviving Russian tricolors and is now kept at the Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg.

The yacht became the first museum object in Arkhangelsk. In the late 20s of the 18th century the yacht was inspected for the purpose of possible future use, but the body was literally crumbling. Arkhangelsk authorities did not dare to disassemble the schooner, and eventually by 1730, the ship fell apart.

Already back in the 15th century on the Solovetsky Islands the Solovetsky male monastery was founded where, in the 20th century one of the first concentration camps for opponents of the Soviet regime was held – Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp, after which, the famous book of Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" was named.

Solovetsky Maritime Museum

The creation of the "Saint Peter" took 10 years – a huge amount of time. The same amount of time it took to build the grandiose walls of Solovetsky monastery. All the parts needed to be delivered to the island from the mainland which complicated construction and increased the cost. For several years, the work was carried out seasonally – winter is too cold in Solovki and there is no communication with the mainland. If the boat was not built on the islands, its creation would have taken probably only 3 years.

Project curator Dmitry Lebedev said: "... No one really took to rush, the goal was achieved in the process; we have created here this parallel space, that we dreamt about, which we lacked in the real life, so no one really wanted to finish the construction, and now we still don’t know how to fill the void that was left behind."

The void thus formed in a very real sense, because the shipyard being used all these years was a part of the exhibition of Solovetsky Maritime Museum. This was an unusual institution that was located on the shore of the bay in a historic building which was originally an old storage and repair barn for rowing boats. At one time it belonged to the monastery but in the early 2000s was given to enthusiasts of the Association of Northern Navigation – to the public organization, which was raised from a dilapidated state.

On the upper tier an exhibition that was dedicated to Pomorsky navigation was created, and at the bottom was the shipyard. Year after year the guests of the "living" museum could observe how the creation of the skeleton of a wooden vessel is constructed, as it accumulates skin and is filled with a variety of equipment and gets carved decoration. The entrance and sightseeing in the Solovetsky Maritime Museum were free.

Museum on the water

The yacht "St. Peter" is not a "reconstruction" but a "replica", which means having the appearance of the old ship; however it is equipped with a motor and with all the other components of a modern ship. The Fellowship of Northern Navigation is planning to use it for their expeditions - to explore the bottom of the White Sea and supplement the museum's collection with new finds. The traditional celebration of cutting off a rope, smashing a bottle of champagne against the side of the ship and having invited local press was scheduled ahead of time, but almost fell through. It happened that at the very last stage on the way to the water the twenty-ton boat suddenly caved in and got stuck. At 11 pm, on the eve of the celebration, a crowd gathered on the banks to watch the latest attempt to align the position of "Saint Peter". And suddenly, someone suggested an idea – everyone who came to watch could gather on the edge of the pontoon, and create the biggest possible opposite force. Abandoning their cameras, the audience obediently climbed onto the pontoon, placed their hands on its cold railings and began to squat on one-two, trying to synchronize their movements and rhythmically rock the construction. This completely unexpected situation looked like a planned performance.

In the fourth hour of the night with rapturous applause and shouts, the ship, was lifted up and moved forward, passing the dangerous stretch of the road.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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