Russian foursome back in Phuket after round-the-world catamaran odyssey
Four Russian sailors have finally reached Phuket after an epic first-of-its-kind voyage around the world on an inflatable catamaran, battling storms, broken equipment and, on one occasion, a shark that mistook one of the air-filled hulls for a whale.
- Published: 29/03/2013 at 02:35 PM
- Newspaper section: topstories
The team pose for a photo in Papua New Guinea on Dec 17, 2012. (Photo courtesy of ocean.energydiethd.com)
“Sorry we’re late. An hour late...” said one of the four as they stepped ashore after their five-year odyssey.
The team, under skipper Anatoly Kulik, 59, left Phuket in February 2008. They sailed some 60,000 kilometres, made landfall in 38 countries and spent a total of 13 months at sea.
Kulik explains that the crazy idea of circumnavigating the globe on an inflatable catamaran of his own design came to him a quarter of a century ago.
But it was not until 2008 that he could turn the idea into reality, though the team did first make a lengthy ocean trip on a similar catamaran, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, and then north to Japan, thereby proving that it was possible to cross the ocean on a shallow-draught inflatable vessel.
The global journey was divided into four stages. Having started from Phuket in February 2008, the sailors headed for the United Arab Emirates. In the Maldives, however, they were forbidden to continue because their route would have taken them into Somali pirate territory. Instead they headed across the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles.
The third stage of the trip was more arduous, crossing 12,500 kilometres of ocean. The Russians had chosen the route considered by many to be the most dangerous – from the Seychelles to the the African coast, down around the Cape of Good Hope, and then across the Atlantic to the shores of Brazil.
For this run the crew were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, but the longest and hardest part of the journey was still ahead – 30,000 kilometres from Brazil to Phuket.
At the end of March last year, they sailed from Fortaleza in northeast Brazil to conquer the last leg of the route, sailing up the coast to Mexico, where the boat was taken apart and trucked from the east coast to the west.
From there it was a long haul across the Pacific to Papua New Guinea, following the northern coast, skirting Sulawesi and then along the north coast of Java and Sumatra, through the Strait of Malacca then north to Phuket.
Comfort was never at a premium. Accommodation was in a 12-square-metre tent-like structure erected above the hulls, which also served as a miniature kitchen, and a warehouse for boxes of supplies, drinking water tanks, communication equipment and everything necessary for a long voyage.
On each stage of the trip Kulik’s team of four were joined by additional crew, usually specialists of some kind. For example, while sailing in French Polynesia Kulik wanted someone on board who could speak French.
But the core members were:
Kulik himself, a master of boat-borne water sports, a “Distinguished Traveller of Russia” (an award from the Russian Sports Federation), and a member of the Russian Geographical Society (RGS). Responsibilities on the expedition: team leader, ship’s captain and cook;
Evgeny Kovalevsky, 56, twice Russian champion and silver prize-winner in boat-borne water sports, also a Distinguished Traveller and member of the RGS, the crew’s “chief diplomat” (responsible for establishing rapport with local authorities and the community), interpreter, videographer and photographer;
Evgeny Tashkin, another champion in boat-borne water sports, acting as video and camera operator, chronicler of the voyage and in charge of internet connectivity; and
Stanislav Beryozkin, Russian champion in long-distance sailing, the expedition’s navigator and communications chief.
They met an astonishing range of people. “Approaching a coast, we often didn’t even know what colour skin the people would have,” Kovalevsky recalls with a grin. By the end of the voyage the crew had learned to communicate with local people, even when they did not understand a word of the local language.
The crew spent five years on this inflatable catamaran as they circumnavigated the globe. (Photo courtesy of ocean.energydiethd.com)
They arrived in Phuket with a “map of happiness” from Tomsk in Russia – a flag that accompanied them on the whole trip, picking up signatures of consular representatives, prime ministers and members of royal families.
Almost every stage of the round-the-world trip had its frightening incidents. On the deep ocean, in heavy weather, there was the constant worry of capsize – though this never happened. On the final leg up the coast of Malaysia one of the stays holding up the mast snapped. Luckily there were two stays on each side, and the remaining one held up.
The scariest incident was when a shark decided one of the hulls looked edible. It nosed up alongside, tested the hull with its lips and then bit into it.
They chased the shark away but then had to tackle underwater patching of the hull, without scuba gear – there was none on board – never knowing whether the shark would come back for another bite.
Captain Kulik admits the trip was no cake-walk. “The ocean is an alien environment for people. From the shore it looks romantic, but being out on the open ocean you realise that you’re a speck of sand.”
It was also tough on the crew’s families, and on their own physical condition. “Thirteen months – that was something terrible,” says Evgeny Kovalevsky. “The body wears out, and it is impossible to recover.”
All the participants confessed the trip was a kind of “internal record” for each of them. Stanislav Beryozkin adds, “We finished the trip having become different people, not the ones who started.”
The team now plan to take a couple of months off for rehabilitation and recovery.
But Anatoly Kulik’s crew have no doubt that after that a new challenge lies in wait.
About the author
- Writer: The Phuket News