Seeking a westward route to America across an uncharted sea, Vitus Bering led two of the greatest expeditions of discovery ever, crossing the entire length of Russia three times in all. Seventeen years, 7.500 kilometers - 5,000 miles - each way, through savage Siberian winters, endless swamps the rest of the year, dragging a ship the first time - and his awfully young wife three times. Endless hardship, fly and mosquito hell.
Yakut settlement, Siberia, ca. 1728
Pagan ceremonial altar, Irkutsk, ca. 1728
The first expedition was a walk into virtually unknown wilderness. Along the way his small troupe of tough, disciplined adventurers discovered and recorded the existence of ancient indigineous cultures. They created roads and opened trade routes throughout east Asia, founded outposts and brought life to towns that would become cities. And they made maps which carried Russian civilization ever-farther eastward, to the ends of the Asian continent and beyond, finally to North America.
Kamchatka Peninsula, the far southwest corner of imperial Russia, circa 1740. All the communities noted on the map were founded as a result of the first momentous expedition, 1725 to 1731, during which Bering's cartographers gave shape to the land itself.
In the lower right corner lies the Ostrova Komandorskiye, the Commander Islands. Unknown when St. Peter began its voyage, in June 1741, on their return after finally discovering the American continent, it was where the ill-fated crew were marooned - and where Bering died.
Petropavlovsk, viewed from Avacha Bay in Bering's time, ca. 1740. An outpost on the eastern side of Kamchatka, founded in 1727, on the first expedition, shown above in the lower-right corner of land amid a green sea, it is where both Bering's epic voyages were launched -
- today, from above Avacha Bay, a sprawling regional hub and major Russian port for all northern Asia.
The komandorskiye finally returns to home port aboard the proud cutter 70th Anniversary of the Border Guards, 250 years after he left, in August 1991.