In the summer of 2019, Vladivostok explorer Maksim Kharchenko successfully implemented the SUPboard expedition in the footsteps of Admiral Nevelskoy. Maksim started at the Cape Olympiada in Primorsky Krai and finished at the Cape Pogibi on the island of Sakhalin.
The purpose of the expedition was to attract wide public attention to the personality of the outstanding Russian naval officer Gennady Ivanovich Nevelskoy (1813-1876), to his merits in joining the vast territory of the Far East to Russia in the XIX century and to the dramatic events that accompanied his research on the shores of the Tatar Strait. All of the expedition goals were achieved within 72 days - the route of 1000 km along the wild, mostly uninhabited coast of the Tatar Strait was conquered. The route included Cape Syurkum - the most dangerous cape of the Tatar Strait, Cape Nevelskoy, Cape Catherine, Nevelskoy Bay and Nevelskoy Strait - the narrowest place between the mainland and Sakhalin Island.
Many kilometers of impregnable rock bastions leading to De Kastri settlement were passed, and for the first time ever the passage by SUPboard from the mainland to the island of Sakhalin through the Nevelskoy Strait was carried out.
There were high risks with this expedition - most of the route goes along the wild shore of the Khabarovsk territory with complete absence of any kind of communication. To increase chances of survival, I used only the most reliable and high-tech equipment, and this applies to everything from the SUPboard to tent racks, and is why I chose to partner with Kokatat for this expedition.
Kokatat provided a durable Gore-Tex waterproof breathable Front Entry dry suit and life vest, which allowed me to paddle for hours in the harsh conditions of the Tatar Strait, where the water is more like “liquid” ice.
It took me half a year to prepare myself mentally for this expedition. At first it was even scary to look at the Google maps and how far the destination was from Vladivostok. My very good friend compared it with the flight to Mars when I showed him my presentation of the project.
The degree of risk was higher comparing this to my previous projects. Extremely wild places, fewer people, absolute lack of communication, etc. When I returned, my friends greeted me with the phrase: “Thank you, that you are alive.” This project really made them worry about me.
For me, this expedition was a way to realize my own athletic ambitions – to make something new, to do what nobody else has done before and make it in a professional and beautiful way.
In my understanding, the concept of “beautiful” means more than just a visual image. In my humble opinion it means to pass almost “on the edge” and as close to the “point of no return”. SUP is the honest game – just you, your SUPboard and paddle. To increase the chances of winning this “survival” game, I used only the most reliable, top-end equipment and outfit; and this applies to every part of my life!
The whole stage was psychologically difficult. Wherever I went ashore, everywhere there was a mass of bear tracks. I had to put the tent directly on the bear trails. On the advice of a friend, I scattered red pepper around the tent, which was supposed to scare bears. Locals shook their heads and said: “You do not understand what kind of risk you are exposing yourself to.”
At night, from the tent, I heard a bear walking along shallow water near me in search of the dead fish that remains on the shore after low tide. Hearing the approaching steps, I made several loud claps, usually it was enough to scare them, and the bear ran away splashing in shallow water. One day a bear came around so close that when I was lying in the tent, I felt with my back the blows of his paws on the ground when he escaped after my claps.
Physically, the most difficult was the site before the village of DeKastri. It was a ten-kilometer rock wall, abruptly breaking off into the sea, over a hundred meters high. The wall was composed of unstable volcanic rocks. Everywhere, there were traces of landslides, and a new collapse could occur at any time. I did something I had never done before - I went to storm this rock bastion against the headwind, reassuring myself that if something goes wrong, I can always turn back. As always, everything went not according to plan. Having worked fairly hard, having crossed half the wall, the wind increased and changed. That meant that the easy way to retreat was cut off. I had to move forward to the end. I tried to go as close to the wall as waves allowed. Hiding from the wind behind insignificant ledges saved me some energy. In the struggle for every centimeter of the path, my power quickly melted, and the wall did not end.
I had already begun to look at minor protrusions on the wall where in the extreme case I would be able to sit out the night; resigned to the fact that then I would have to sacrifice my SUPboard because it was impossible to hide it from the waves. By this time, from the depths of the Tatar Strait came a massive wave, bloated by a southern wind. Waves with a long roar broke against the wall, and it was not difficult to imagine what could happen if I stopped paddling and resisting the wind. Actually these waves saved me; I realized that when I sank between them on my SUP, the pressure of the wind eased and it was enough to advance a meter or two ahead. Inspired by this discovery, I felt an incredible burst of energy and it was just in time, as the intercostal muscles started to cramp from overload.
The major obstacle now is the oncoming, clamping or squeezing wind. It dictated and determined how difficult it would be today. As before, I have never encountered such cold water as in the North of the Tatar Strait. It is as viscous as molten lead, I called it “liquid ice”.
Every evening, closing my tent pitched on a bear trail, and wrapping up in a sleeping bag, I felt an indefinable feeling that now my life does not depend on me, that I practically do not control the situation, everything is left to chance. According to the words of experienced hunters, the bear is not a predictable animal and this makes it the most dangerous.
The expedition takes place under the flag of the Russian Geographical Society. In the near future I will address the members of the society with a report on the Amur stage. The Amur stage has a massive historical meaning, as it completely repeats the famous boat route of Gennady Ivanovich Nevelskoy, who in 1849 opened the strait between the mainland and Sakhalin and proved that Sakhalin is an island.