Launching the Shtandart

01_shtandart.gifThe million-dollar rebirth of the first ship in the Russian navy drew forty thousand of St. Petersburgers to the banks of the Neva River on September 4th to witness the recreation of history.

With the help of many sponsors and the hard work of 40 local volunteers an exact replica of Peter the Great's Shtandart was lowered into the water by a giant crane, looking exactly as it did nearly 300 years ago.

Sporting 28 cannons and 10 sails affixed to three masts, the 30-meter- by 7-meter frigate was lowered by crane and set afloat behind Smolny Cathedral - the same spot where the original was launched in 1703.

The project was the realization of a dream held by Vladimir Martous, director of the Maritime Training Center, who first saw a model of the imperial warship on display at the city's Menshikov Palace in the early 1990s, and vowed to make it sail once again.

"The moment I saw it, I fell in love," he said.

Working only from that borrowed model, Martous drafted plans for recreating the Shtandart with the help of researchers at The State Hermitage Museum.

Using 18th-century technology and working at a replicated 18th-century shipyard built specifically for the project, Martous duplicated with only 10 professional shipbuilders and 30 students what originally took the combined efforts of over 300 men.

They made the ship's frame from oak grown in the forests of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast, and rebuilt an 18th-century steam box to soften and shape the planks, which they made from local larch. According to Martous, they even recreated the fuel used to power the steam box - the sawdust and wood shavings that were byproducts of their carpentry work. The only modern conveniences the crew allowed themselves were power saws because, he said, it was simply more cost-effective.

In a letter sent from Buckingham Palace, His Royal Highness, The Duke of York, congratulated the crew on the completion of the frigate: "Although the Shtandart serves as a wonderful celebration of Russian naval history, she is, just as importantly, an investment in the future, helping young Russians - both those who have been involved in her construction as well as the many more who will be involved in future sail and training activities."

02_shtandart.gifOn Jan. 22, 1702, at the height of the Northern War, Peter the Great ordered the construction of the 28-gun Shtandart to commence. The ship, which was responsible in part for repulsing the Swedish naval assault on St. Petersburg in 1705, was the first component of what would become known famously as Russia's Baltic Fleet.

"Only a worthy navy may sport a flag emblazoned with the Cross of St. Andrew," Peter the Great was quoted as saying in 1712. And so it was Saturday as the Shtandart proudly flew the cross, along with the flags of the Imperial family, the city of St. Petersburg and the Russian Federation.

When the Shtandart originally set sail, it carried with it a wartime crew of 150 men. Today, the crew will be much smaller and the 28 cannons on board the ship won't be firing at oncoming Swedish fleets. The new Shtandart will sail, instead, with a crew of no more than 40 to England and the Netherlands - two of the stops of Peter the Great's Grand Embassy.

Peter the Great designed St. Petersburg to operate as the core of Russia's shipbuilding industry - and the rebuilding of the Shtandart is perhaps a symbol of the rebirth of a long-forgotten industry. On Monday, Martous announced his next endeavor - building an exact replica of the Royal Transport, Peter the Great's private yacht. Although no details were given, Martous said he will seek additional funding from the British government to recreate the 25-meter, 220-ton sailboat, which was gifted to Peter by England's King William III in 1698.