The Shtandart, an exact replica of the famous frigate from the époque of Peter the Great has not been seen in Russia for a very long time and unfortunately there is little hope of seeing her there in the near future. One of the symbols of the City of St Petersburg, patronised by royalty and an iconic participant in the ‘Red Sails’ Festival, Shtandart has been forced to emigrate.
We met the captain of this three masted replica, Vladimir Martus, whist attending a tall ships regatta in Finland. The regatta was to commemorate the 300 year anniversary of the battle of Gangut. Shtandart had rushed from a film shoot in Holland (by the way, the Stars of Hollywood Blockbusters like ‘300 and ‘Troy’ took part in it)) to play the part of the Swedish frigate Elephant in the Gangut battle re-enactment.
So Vladimir how long has it been since Shtandart left Russia?
“It has been five years since we took the vessel in tow and after some severe arguments left Russia. We were forbidden to sail in Russia so I said – if it’s not possible here then I am taking the ship somewhere else where it is possible.”
Why didn’t the ship meet the Russian regulations?
“We were just told that the ship doesn’t meet them ‘in general’ but as it was built from wood it could never meet the regulations. For example: ‘no more than 50kg of combustible material per square meter on the deck. Of course Shtandart is impregnated with special fire retardants, but I asked the authorities what type of expert qualification I had to present but they just would not accept anything.
But the ship does meet foreign regulation doesn’t it?
“The Russian Yachting Federation examined and surveyed the ship and provided all the necessary documents. Unfortunately the Russian Ministry of Transport think that a social organisation like the Russian Yachting Federation is not capable of verifying the seaworthiness of a ship although in other countries it is just such organisations that do it. In any other country I just present the documentation provided by the Russian Yachting Federation and that’s it, because we don’t carry passengers. We only accept volunteers on board, who understand that it is for sport and that this implies risk and risky things like racing around the world are organised by social organisations. Of course that stupid conflagration with Rostransnadzor (The Federal Service for Supervision of Transport – Translators note) influenced the situation a lot. They called us a ‘bundle of wood’- I showed the inspectors’ signatures and asked how a ‘bundle of wood’ could get a licence? The last correspondence with the Russian Authorities took place in 2012. If I am not mistaken there were two letters from the Sea and Rive Registry, both were refusals.”
And where have you been hanging out since then?
“The first winter we spent in Oslo, then in Hamburg and the next two in the Netherlands. This winter we went to the Canaries.”
That must have been a good trip?
“No reason to be sad. Surely, if one has to lead a pirates’ life – why not enjoy it to the full? We went through the Bay of Biscay, across the Straits of Gibraltar, stopped in Morocco in Africa and moored up in Timbuktu Harbour. Then we explored six out of the seven islands on the Canaries Archipelago. This involved sailing non-stop for 1200 miles.
People are changing…and as for the crew the youngest was an eight month old girl! I’ve been on board for five years with hardly any break. Well I have been away for about ten days or so and my family visit from time to time. We did go to the Canaries together and they also joined me on the way from Holland to Finland.”
How do you pick your crew now?
“In the past it was like this: teenagers would turn up during the winter and work for eight hours a week. They knew that if they did this they could earn a free voyage. Our main source was from so called problem teenagers who had nothing to do. We almost caught them in the streets. They could not find a ‘real’ job, so they came and worked with us. It was an education of sorts for them. Then when we set of on a voyage – which is also hard work – they got a different type of education. And of course, the opportunity to sail on a unique replica of an historic frigate is a very unique experience indeed. There have been a lot of guys and girls who have benefitted through this sort of Shtandart School during the last ten years.
Now of course we have different methods of picking crew. People can read about our route on our website and join us at some point for a fee, usually 300-500 euros. But these are very different people to the whistle heads from St Petersburg. Now we get very responsible youngsters, real adventure seekers and each time I am surprised by the standard of the crew we have. There are no bores. For example we now have a group from Ukraine – 15 trainees.”
Ukrainians on board – what about the political atmosphere?
“All such talk is prohibited on board. On the one hand it is a ‘head in the sand’ policy but on the other all these discussions would do no good. Don’t frighten the ostrich because the floor is concrete! The sea is not the right environment for making more trouble!”
How does Shtandart earn her living?
“At festivals for example, we accept visitors on board and put a box out for donations. We can get up to 500 euros per day which helps to pay for fuel and crew transfers. Filmmaking also helps. We have just finished shooting in a Dutch film about Admiral Reuter which lasted for ten days. The special effects were provided by guys from Hollywood and although the director was Dutch he usually worked in Hollywood as well. The cast were all Dutch and it was a great experience. Of course special effects will be added by computer programs. Apart from our ship, there were two big tall ships and some small Dutch sailing yachts.”
Interestingly enough, having left Russian you have not joined any other Countries’ fleet, but in the re-enactment of the Battle of Gangut you played an ‘enemy’ – the Swedish ship Elephant.
“We’re always playing against Sweden in re-enactments of the battles of the époque of Peter the Great. But when I was planning the timetable for Shtandart I had a choice of either going to Norway to take part in a competition or to Finland for the Russian Regatta. To tell the truth, Norway is very appealing – it is amazing there with fjords, beautiful scenery and there is more money to be earned. But I decided that this is Russian History, the first victory of the Russian Fleet and it is more important. Regarding money…we shall earn it another way! We always need money; our sails are eleven years old for example. We decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign (it’s using the internet to raise funding for a specific project-editor’s note). We got almost ten thousand euros in four days! Three hundred and five people responded, mostly Russians. By the way, half of them have sailed with us at some time, but there were those who heard about us for the first time, loved the idea of such a ship, and decided to support us.”
When Shtandart was in Russia, you had planned to build a replica Admiralty building of Peter the Great as a museum for historic ship building. Now you are up to something else?
“Yes we have started a Cutty Sark Project. We are planning trips around possible sites which could become the new shipyard. We have many places to go and see, including Dumbarton in Scotland where the original ship was built.”
Do you think Shtandart could return to Russia?
“I don’t know anything for certain, but I will not return without first obtaining a solid legal position. If I had the correct documentation giving me the right to sail Shtandart we could return, but when Rostransnadzor come and ask me ‘who permitted you to sail’, thy will forbid it immediately. A ship dies without a crew and without any sailing. There are 40 people on board, we’ve been sailing for ten days – constantly repairing something at sea:- re-caulking some of the deck, repairing rigging and sails…if the ship is ashore then the volunteers will quickly disappear. The ship is kept alive by the people who sail in her.”
Source: The Novaya Gazeta Saint Peterrsburg http://novayagazeta.spb.ru/articles/9082/
Translated by Aliona Kravchuck