Peter on the White Sea


Peter I (Peter the Great) - (1672-1725)
Tsar from 1682
Emperor from 1721

On June 10, 1694 Peter boarded his yacht, the St. Peter, and set out from Archangel. He traveled with the Archbishop Afanasy and a small group of friends and soldiers. Leaving with the tide, but failing to catch a good wind, they did not make it into the White Sea until the next morning.

As the day progressed, the weather conditions worsened. Eighty miles out from Archangel the small ship was beset by a gale. The sails were ripped from the masts, and water from huge swells rolled over the decks, threatening to capsize them. The crew of experienced sailors and the passengers huddled together, certain they were doomed. The Archbishop struggled around giving last rites.

Peter, however, was not as certain their fate had been sealed. He continued to struggle with the rudder to keep the bow into the wind. The pilot eventually managed to join him. Together, the pilot manning the helm, they managed to bring the boat to safety at about noon on June 12 in calm waters near the Pertominsk Monastery.

Peter's interest in the sea and in creating a Russian sea power greatly preceded this incident, however. A gift of an astrolabe to the young Tsar in 1687 fired his study of math, ballistics and geography. In 1688 Franz Timmerman, a man both friend and tutor to young Peter, assisted him in the restoration of a decaying boat found in a storehouse. A man named Karsten Brandt showed him how to sail it against both the current and the wind. It is these early experiences that many feel fueled Peter's obsession with creating a powerful Russian fleet, and his desire to learn from the west.

Peter was himself aware of the importance of these events in his life. This small boat was preserved, and in 1701 was taken into the Kremlin for safekeeping. On May 30, 1723 Peter sailed it down the Neva and into the Gulf of Finland where it was met by the Men-of-War of the Russian Baltic Fleet. In August 1723 it was placed in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, where it remained for 200 years. It is currently on display in the Navy Museum.

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