Share this article with friends
By Vadim STARKOV Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Archeology
The craft of building sailboats, which blossomed up on the Pomorye shores of the White Sea more than 400 years ago, has left a significant trace in the history of this nation. Within a relatively short span of time the country received a whole fleet of seagoing sailing-and- rowing boats, which proved to be instrumental in a range of economic activities including the intensive development of the northern territories of Eurasia.
Already by the middle of the 17th century the Pomors-as the local residents were commonly called-were navigating on the expanses of the Barents and Kara Seas and went as far as the eastern fringes of the seas of Norway and Greenland. Within their reach were the Spitzbergen archipelago, Novaya Zemlya, islands of the Barents and Kara Seas and the northern shores of Western Siberia. Their daring voyages paved the way for the subsequent colonization of Siberia's north.
The Pomorye shipbuilders also paved the way to the subsequent development of the Russian Navy, and the self-acquired skills of the local people enabled them to plough the main as doughty sailors.
As most experts agree today, the early "fleet" of the Pomors included two main types of boats, called ladya and koch, with the two names often used interchangeably and being commonly applied to practically any seagoing boat in general. But, as we can see on one of the early 17th century engravings, the Russian ladya differs in more than one respect from the surrounding koch boats. The drawing is taken from a book describing the first Dutch expedition to the Northern seas (1594) which was published by one of the captains of the voyage, Jan Huygen van Linshoten, in 1611.
The ladya is shown as a long boat with low sides. Its bow is tipped, elongated and raised upwards which simplified the task of the attachment of the forward shrouds(*). The boat was single-masted and carried one square sail. By its looks, it was not intended for long voyages, but rather for coastal cruises.
As for the kochi-and we deliberately use this term in the Russian plural because there were several types of these boats-they looked very differently indeed. This conclusion rests on three main sources of historical data. One is the archeological material (several hundred bits and pieces of these boats) gleaned during excavations in the arctic town of Mangazeya and old fishing villages on the Spitzbergen Archipelago(**). Another one is represented by more then ten drawings of kochi dating back to the 16th-17th centuries. And the third piece of evidence are data
*Shrouds-rope (s) or wire (s) giving support to a mast on a boat or sh\p.-Auth.
**See: V. Starkov, "Who Discovered Spitzbergen?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1994.- Ed.
from the reconstruction of the main sea routes used at that time in various parts of the Arctic Ocean.
The first of these routes was called "passage to the German butt". It went in the westward direction along the northern shores of the Kola Peninsula and Scandinavia with a portage across the Rybachiy Peninsula. The second route was to Novaya Zemlya which started from "the Kulussky Mouth" (estuary of the Kuloi River), went on to the cape of Kanin Nos, then on along the fairway along the eastern shores of the White Sea and from Kanin Nos to Novaya Zemlya. The busiest and longest of these sea lanes was the "Mangazeya route" which linked the White Sea region with the arctic coast of Western Siberia and the destination point in the town of Mangazeya located in the lower reaches of the River Taz. Strictly speaking, this was not an entirely naval lane because of its two portages and river passages and a stretch of the Taz River. And Mangazeya was also accessible via a maze of Siberian rivers and waterways.
One more route to Western Siberia was a true sea lane which went past Kanin Nos and the Yamal Peninsula and on to the estuary of the Yenisei. And one could also get there along the local rivers (in which case Mangazeya became a transshipment point).
Among the sea lanes of the period was what was called the Grumant route which led to the Spitzbergen Archipelago. A small stretch of this lane passed in the coastal waters of the Kola Peninsula and then it went northwards across the Seas of Norway and Greenland.
Even this fleeting glance at the sea lanes of the time reveals some of their peculiarities. On the strength of this evidence one can speak of five modes of Pomorye commercial navigation: along rivers; by sea, river and portage; by river and partially sea but without portages; by hugging the coast; and on the high seas. These different navigation conditions and requirements made it necessary for the Pomors to modify their merchant fleet accordingly. And this kind of specialization of their kochi can be traced back to the 16th century. Old records of travel accounts or "narrations" of merchants and craftsmen recorded in Tobolsk and Mangazeya inform us that they made their voyages on "kochi big and small". The big ones were used on voyages "from the sea into the Yenisei mouth". An ancient "act of acceptance" of a newly built boat describes it as a large koch " of the Novaya Zemlya merchant"
type. In 1556 British traveller Stephen Borough quoted some locals as saying the Russians were in possession of some smaller boats which had a crew of 24 and also bigger ones manned by as many as 30. Archeological studies on Spitz-bergen and in Mangazeya have born out information about kochi of different types, such as smaller and bigger ones.
An important source of information about the Pomorye kochi of the 16th-17th centuries are drawings of that period. Apart from revealing a wealth of technical details, these drawings offer the basis for attempts at reconstruction of these vessels, including their general appearance, sails, rigging spars(*), and steering gear.
The above sketches and drawings are of different origin, such as in books by the Dutch travellers of the latter half of the 16th century- Gerrit de Veer and Jan Huygen van Linshoten, who describe their attempts to find the shortest sea route to India and China across the Arctic Ocean and their contacts with Russian seafarers. A drawing of a large koch boat sailing from the mouth of the White Sea was found a few years ago on an old map of Russia's north which was published in 1592 by the Dutch cartographer Lukas Janszon Wagenaer.
Five graphic sketches engraved on wooden panels were discovered during the 1968-1973 excavations of Mangazeya. Another two were found on the Vaygach Island in 1987 by an expedition of the Russian Research Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage (Moscow). All of these drawings and sketches must have been made by people who went on such voyages themselves.
*Spars-spars and masts. Spar is a pole that holds and stretches out a sail of a ship. A yard, a boom and a gaff are kinds of spars-Auth. and Ed.
Most of them show the smaller kochi like those pictured in the books of the above Dutch authors. And the central point about these pictures consists in their complete identity. They all show single-mast boats with a typically seagoing hull, with a deck "saddle" in the middle, and a typical "spoon-shaped" rounded bow with a slight forward slant. What the Dutch called the achtersteven(*), protruding from under the stern, supported a massive rudder which was controlled with the help of a helm, ortiller.
And there is another detail which attests to the authenticity of de Veer's drawings-this is the skin-plating with special boards covering
*Achtersteven-a vessel's stern-part that continues the keel.- Auth.
the seams and joints and attached to the hull with clamps or shackles. This method of "sealing" the hull was typical of Russian shipbuilding.
The small kochi measured not more than 8 meters in length and were designed for a cargo of about 7 tons.
Until recently the common view was that such small kochi were equipped with a rather primitive square sail only. And this is what we actually see in the drawings of Gerrit de Veer, in Mangazeya sketches and also in one of the illustrations of Linshoten. But a second Russian boat like that shown on the same drawing is very different from the others. It boasts a complicated set of sails including a triangular
staysail(*) and a square mainsail(**) which made the boat more maneuverable and facilitated the trimming of its sails.
The bigger kochi were designed for long sea voyages and could enter deep rivers, but without portages. The geography of their uses was very broad and extended from the Spitzbergen Archipelago to the Bering Strait. Starting from the 17th century it was these boats which dominated the sea lanes along the coast of Siberia. Depending on their applications these bigger sailing boats were divided into three main classes, called after Novaya Zemlya, Grumant and Verhoturye.
The common prototype of these boats must have been the "Novaya Zemlya" koch depicted on one of the boards from Mangazeya. The sketch is rather detailed and shows a particular type of vessels which bears but general similarity with its smaller brethren. This boat is of much massive build and features a more complicated design and rigging (up to 21 m long and 6.5 m wide). It had a typically seagoing hull with elevated forecastle and quarter-deck. Its two masts carried square sails and a flying jib(*) was attached to the bowsprit(**).
A similar sailing boat is depicted on the board from the Vaygach Island, together with a small koch (mentioned above). And the early artist not just traced their outlines, but showed one sailing in the wake of the other. This drawing could not have been made later than 1619-the year when the "Mangazeya route" was abandoned and the Pomor kochi sailed no longer into the Kara Sea past the shores of Vaygach.
The bigger vessel sailing in front looks much more massive than the boat behind. Its high sides bulge out in the middle and its blunt nose is raised upwards. The stern has a slight slant and carries a huge rudder, which looks big out of all proportions and even against the massive hull. It appears that the artist
*Staysail-a sail, usually triangular, that is attached to a stay (a strong rope und to support a mast).-Auth.
**Mainsail-the principal sail of a ship set on the mainmast.-Auth.
*Flyingjib-a small triangular sail set out in front of the jib, another triangular sail set on a stay in front of the mast or foremast.- Auth.
**Bowsprit-a large pole or spar projecting forward from the bow of a sailing ship.-Auth.
deliberately stressed the dimensions of this key element.
Incidentally, in the 1972 excavations of Mangazeya a fragment of a rudder was found, and its size caused general surprise. The head of the expedition, Mikhail Belov, later wrote that "the rudder was so massive that it took five workmen to carry it over a distance of 50 m across the site". It was 3 m long and 2 m high.
The big boat of the Novaya Zemlya type provided the basis in the early 17th century for what was called the "Verkhoturye make" of the kochi often mentioned in historical sources. It owes its origin to a new policy of the Muscovite state-a transition from random exploration of Siberian territories to their planned colonization. One of the chief measures in the implementation of this new policy was the closure of the uncontrolled Mangazeya shipping route. It was replaced with a new waterway along rivers, leading from European Russia to Mangazeya with the starting point of this vital lane being the town of Verkhoturye which rapidly grew into a major center of shipbuilding. Dutch traveller Nicolaes Witsen wrote at the end of the 17th century: "In this region there are dockyards everywhere building ships sailing all along Siberia and up to the Arctic Ocean and Novaya Zemlya."
Kochi of the Verkhoturye type can be compared with two drawings from the Mangazeya collection which look rather more like technical diagrams and which make it possible to single out some specific features of these vessels. Their hull had a flowing "saddle-like" shape with a rectangular deck structure at the stern. The bow is raised and more pointed. On one of the drawings the stern is turned towards the spectator and looks like a continuation of the side. It is flat and square and reveals the main frame supporting the ships skin and the achter-steven. The rudder is of a fantastic trapezoidal shape. The rigging includes one mast placed closer to the bow and attached to the sides with shrouds and a bowsprit with an additional horizontal spar for the jib. Boats of this kind were 16 to 17 m long and 4 m wide.
The summit of achievements of the Pomorye shipbuilders of the 16th-17th centuries was a koch of the "Grumant type" which was intended for cruises along the Spitz-bergen-the main hunting and catching zone for the Pomorye folk. The islands attracted hunters by an abundance of marine and ground game combined with its relative accessibility. And you can judge for yourselves-it took no less then six weeks to reach Mangazeya, negotiating two portages on the way; but a voyage to Spitzbergen on the high seas took no more than 8 to 9 days.
Today Spitzbergen is the best archeologically studied island area in the Arctic. Expeditions from various countries have been constantly at work in these latitudes since 1956 and the abundance of their findings also includes important data on early Russian shipbuilding and navigation(*). Students of the region have at their disposal a rich collection of some 300 bits and pieces of old sailing boats, and their analysis leads one to the conclusion that the Grumant kochi were designed for voyages in the conditions of an increased danger from ice. They were large and heavy vessels with high and rounded sides, smoothly rounded massive bows, sloped butted sterns, and flat bottoms with three keels (these boats were usually hauled ashore for the winter).
The above description fully accords with the drawing of a Grumant koch on Lukas Wagenaer's map. The vessel is fitted with two tall masts and a bowsprit, supporting large triangular sails and a square jib. The top of the sail is attached (spanker, otherwise known as "driver") to the gaff linked with the mast with the help of a "wheel" which made it possible to trim the sail to the wind and or lower the gaff. The sail was trimmed with the help of braces, fitted with pulleys-the tackle for raising or lowering the sail. The drawing clearly shows the shrouds or backstays attaching the masts to the sides of the vessel.
Rigging of this kind corresponds to the type of sailing boats for navigation on the high seas in severe arctic conditions. It ensured freedom of maneuver and made it possible to keep on course with different directions of wind and even head winds.
Such were the Pomorye kochi which were viewed with amazement by European seamen. Based on the traditional time-tested Russian shipbuilding methods, they were successfully used also in the 19th century while retaining many of their original features.
*See: V. Starkov, "On Location: Recherche Bay", Science in Russia, No. 4, 1997.- Ed.
Permanent link to this publication:
LRussia LWorld Y G