Magazine article Russian Life

Setting the Standard

Magazine article Russian Life

Setting the Standard

Article excerpt

On the banks of the Neva River's northernmost curve, the wooden skeleton of a great frigate is slowly taking shape. And just as it was nearly 300 years ago, the construction of the Shtandart (`standard') warship is being led by a charismatic, driven man, one whose love for the sea is something of an anomaly in this nation of landlubbers.

The similarities end there, however. The builder of the first Shtandart was -- the reader will not be surprised to learn -- Peter the Great, who commenced building Russia's first warship upon his return from studying shipbuilding in Holland and England. The tsar had at his disposal 40 carpenters, 20 blacksmiths, 150 workers and 300 peasants with horses; the ship was completed within five months.

Petersburger Vladimir Martus, on the other hand, is building a reconstruction of the famed ship mostly through volunteer labor, donated materials, and the strength of his own monomaniacal zeal for the project. Nearly two years after the keel of the ship was laid, the Shtandart is coming together slowly but surely, the pace of work ebbing and flowing according to irregular donations of money and materials to the project.

The original Shtandart occupies an honored place in Russia's naval history. Launched in 1703 with the tsar himself as the first captain, the ship played an important role in defending the new city of St. Petersburg from the persistent Swedish threat. Peter is said to have remarked that the Shtandart should never die, and after his own death, his widow Catherine I declared that a new Shtandart should be built. Until now, that order has never been fulfilled.

In fact, there is precious little information left from the original Shtandart, which was taken out of service in 1719 and declared beyond repair 11 years later. The only known surviving illustration of the ship is a Dutch engraving showing the frigate above the words `The First Ship of the Baltic Fleet.' Using that illustration as a guide, historian Viktor Krainyukov designed a scale model of the Shtandart, which was constructed between 1988-1991 and is now displayed at the Menshikov Museum. Martus, who holds a degree from the St. Petersburg Shipbuilding Institute, recalls a sudden, powerful reaction on first seeing the model in 1992: "When I saw how beautiful and well-made the Shtandart was, I decided I had to build it."

Easier said than done, perhaps, but from the beginning Martus showed himself willing to sacrifice to achieve his dream. In 1994, he sold the first ship he had built, a schooner called the St. Peter, for $50,000 in seed money to begin the Shtandart project.

On the site of an old tarring wharf on the banks of the Neva, Martus and a small group of workers and volunteers laid the keel and began constructing the ship's frame in November 1994. Since then, more than 50 people have worked at one time or another on the ship, including around 20 women, a number of local children and teenagers, and several volunteers from abroad.

American Perry Munson first read about plans for the Shtandart in Wooden Boat magazine. His interest in the project, combined with a long-time desire to visit Russia, resulted in his coming to St. Petersburg for two months in the summer of 1996 to work on the ship. Munson, a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, made his home in a tent pitched next to the Shtandart and spent the summer laboring alongside Russian volunteers. …

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