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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peter the Great's Ship to Sail Again




ST. PETERSBURG -- Back in 1987, hydrological engineer Vladimir Martous was struck by a dream: To build an exact replica of Peter the Great's first Baltic Fleet ship.


Ten years and countless setbacks later, Martous is still only one-third of the way to completing the 37-meter, 200-ton Shtandart -- Russian for standard -- at a St. Petersburg dockyard.


But with interest growing in the project and money from sponsors starting to trickle in, the engineer is confident the Shtandart will make its maiden voyage to England and the Netherlands, retracing the steps of Peter the Great, by this autumn.


The original Shtandart was constructed near Lake Lagoda. Though the ship was intended to be a warship and defended St. Petersburg against a Swedish attack during the Great Northern War in 1705, she was also used for social purposes.


"She was the first born of Russia's navy and Peter the Great's favorite ship," Martous said. "He enjoyed sailing her and ordered that she be preserved forever as an example of fine shipbuilding."


The inspiration to reconstruct the vessel came to Martous when he chanced across a replica of the Shtandart at St. Petersburg's Menshikov Museum. "The moment I saw it, I fell in love," he said last year. "My whole life has been built along this path."


While no original plans for the ship existed, Martous said the model was so precise and detailed that he was able to produce building plans by working with a researcher at the Hermitage Museum.


The project got off the ground in 1992, when Martous was joined by Greg Palmer, a University of London historian and avid sailor, who was so taken when he heard of the Shtandart that he came straight to St. Petersburg, with his wife Ann in tow.


Work began shortly thereafter with a few volunteers supplying the labor and the sale of a replica vessel Martous had built earlier -- the St. Peter -- provided the start-up capital of about $50,000.


But the difficulties were only just beginning. Constant problems with financing -- about $60,000 has already been spent and the same amount again is needed to complete the project -- often slowed progress on the ship to a crawl.


The shipwrights had other problems too. Last winter, workers dealt with temperatures that at one point dropped to minus 25 degrees Celsius. "There are a couple of rules," said Michael Plekhanov, the Shtandart's technical service manager. "You put on a lot of sweaters and you move fast."


According to Nikolai Devetkian, deputy marketing director, the hired laborers receive a minimal salary of about 400 rubles (about $65) per month -- not exactly enough to drive a carpenter into the January cold to rebuild an old ship. "It is a labor of love for all of them," Devetkian said.


Had he known it would be so much trouble to build a full-sized replica of the 300-year-old warship, Martous now says he would never have started. "It was better not to know," Martous said. "If I had known it would cost $1 million and had said so, everyone would have thought I was crazy."


Now, though, the project is starting to take off. From the handful of enthusiasts who began building in 1992, the Shtandart staff has grown to 10 full-time shipbuilders, 40 volunteers, a host of wealthy benefactors and a pep squad of journalists. Last month, the ship got its largest dose of official attention to date when Prince Andrew, Duke of York, joined St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to officially name the Shtandart and raise the mast flag.


Martous is now confident the vessel will make its maiden voyage before autumn, in time to join this year's 300th anniversary of Peter's tour to England and the Netherlands, where he originally learned the shipbuilding trade.