March 5 in Russian history. Captain Sedov.


Russian polar explorer, Georgiy Yakovlevich Sedov, died near Rudolf island in the Arctic Ocean.

One of the best adventure novels in the Soviet (and Russian) literature, The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin, is a story of a boy, Sanya Grigoryev, who becomes a polar pilot. Since childhood he dreamed of finding the traces of the lost polar expedition of captain Tatarinov and finally found. By the way, this book gave the second life to the famous motto:"То strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Captain Tatarinov had a literary prototype in real life. Even three prototypes: Georgiy Sedov, Georgiy Brusilov and Vladimir Rusanov. All three departed to the polar seas in 1912 and neither of them returned.

Sedov was born in 1877 in Ukraine, on the shores of the Azov Sea. His father left his family looking for job and Georgiy became a fisherman in the age of seven. He was illiterate till 14 years; then his father returned home and Georgiy finished three-year course of a church school in two years and left his home. In 1894 he entered the sea college in Rostov, but abandoned it in 1897. He then entered the sea school in Poti (modern Georgia). He studied and worked and finally in 1898 he got the diploma of the navigator. Three years later he became a navy officer and for the first time he came to the Arctic Ocean, where he participated in a geographic expedition. During the Russo-Japanese war he was the captain of a ship in the Bay of Amur. In 1908-1910 he worked in a geographic expedition on the Caspian Sea and on Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic. In 1911 he became a member of the Russian Geographic Society and Russian Astronomical Society. After this success, the tsar Nikolay II invited Sedov to visit him and during a long conversation Sedov told Nikolay of his dream.

Robert Peary discovered the North Pole in 1909, but it was soon found out that because of the inexact astronomical instruments it's hard to tell whether he really was on the Pole. On the other hand, Russia was often criticized for the lack of efforts in the exploration of the polar seas. Sedov decided to become the first Russian to reach the North Pole. To do so, he had to begin the expedition earlier than Roald Amundsen, who planned to depart in 1913. Sedov hurried and his plans were censured by the Russian geographers as too dangerous and poorly prepared. So, Peary had 250 dogs and 4 support groups, while Sedov's expedition included 3 men and 39 dogs. However, Nikolay II supported him and donated 10,000 rubles for the expedition. Newspapers organized the fundraising campaign and soon Sedov was ready to go. Sedov reviewed his plans and increased the number of dogs to 60, but had to decrease the food rations. What he didn't know was that while he was so busy with the preparations and had not enough time for the control, the merchants sold him local mutts for huskies and rotten meat for pemmikan.

On 27 August 1912 the ship Svyatóy Múchenik Foká (Saint Martyr Phokas) left Arkhangelsk. Actually, it was too late to begin the expedition, but the race with Amundsen forced Sedov to depart. Of course, Sedov knew it and he planned to spend the first winter on Novaya Zemlya, on cape Pankratyev. During the whole winter they performed geographic and astronomic observations. So, Sedov and the boatswain Inyutin mapped 700 kilometres of the northern shores of Novaya Zemlya. Because of the cold winter, in 1913 only on 2 September they managed to get out of the ice and to head to Franz-Joseph Land where they spent the next winter. By this time the food shortage became obvious and some of the members of the expedition, including Sedov himself, fell ill with scurvy. In spite of the disease, on 2 January (15 January New Style) 1915 Sedov and two sailors, Grigory Linnik and Alexander Pustoshny, went to the North Pole with only 8 dogs. They were very ill. The temperature fell to -40C. Trying to save the fuel they ate cold meat and made "tea" by melting the snow with their own breath. On 22 February (5 March New Style) Sedov died near island Rudolf, the northernmost island of the northernmost Russian archipelago. Linnik and Pustoshny buried him on the island, erecting a cross made of two skis with the English inscription: "Sedov Pol. Exped. 1912". On 9 March the sailors decided to return and on 19 March they came back to St. Foka. In August the ship returned to Arkhangelsk. Only then his wife Vera learned of his death.

How could Sedov, an experienced traveler and geographer, hope to reach the Pole, to follow 1,000 kilometres to the Pole and 1,000 kilometres back, with only two ill sailors and a handful of dogs? Perhaps, it was hopeless. I think he knew it was. Of course, it was not a suicide, rather a desperate attempt to leave Amundsen behind. Not to become the first, but to win the pole for Russia (Sedov's diaries seem to confirm this point of view).

His expedition, however, was not a complete disaster. First, they gathered a huge amount of information about Russian North. The information which was invaluable for the next expeditions. And second, there was a man in the crew, Vladimir Vize, who became later one of the leading Soviet geographers, exploreers of the Arctic. It was Vize who proposed to use drifting ice polar stations to explore the Arctic Ocean. Probably, two years on St.Foka helped him to elaborate this idea.

In 1931 N.Pinegin, painter and scientist who was a member of the expedition, returned to island Rudolf and built a new cross on Sedov's grave.

There are eleven geographic locations named after Georgiy Sedov. The largest training tallship of the world is named Georgiy Sedov. Sedov's grandson was the first captain of the tallship. There is bay of Vera and glacier Vera in Novaya Zemlya named by Sedov after his wife.

1 comment:

Dia said...

Fascinating! Thank you! I've loved Kaverin's "Two Captains" since I was a kid. I've heard about Brusilov being the prototype of Tatarinov, but not about Sedov and Rusanov.