Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cruise Moscow in Stalinist Style

Looking at the veteran riverboat Maxim Gorky, docked modestly among the abandoned old tubs rusting in the most remote corner of Moscow’s northern port, one can hardly imagine it ever setting sail. But once every two days this summer, loaded with a handful of businessmen or a rollicking wedding party, the 66-year-old vessel casts off for the picturesque pine forests to the north of the city.

Arguably the oldest operating pleasure cruiser in Russia, the Maxim Gorky is just one among an impressive fleet the Moscow River Navigation Company will keep afloat for the few remaining weeks of fine weather.

Partially renovated earlier this year, the Gorky has gone through a rebirth, and, after years of idle rusting, rents out at the rate of 4,000 rubles per hour and has the potential of cruising at the speed of 33 kilometers per hour.

"Of course we do not go that fast, bearing in mind how old we are, but the fact that both engines still function, is amazing," said Boris Ivlyushkin, the Maxim Gorky’s captain for the past three years.

With a capacity to carry 120 passengers, the 68-meter-long boat boasts 2,400 horsepower, which is more than some newer and more spacious vessels.

Originally, the boat was designed for one high-ranking guest, presumably Josef Stalin, with a bedroom, study, library and restaurant on the upper deck and for a team of guards on the lower desk. Legend has it that the mustachioed dictator was the one to suggest the construction of a "governmental boat," although there is no evidence that he personally ever sailed on the Gorky.

"I used to know several men working at the port who recalled having seen Stalin on board several times, but who knows, whether it’s true or not," Ivlyushkin said.

The boat was built in Nizhny Novgorod from 1933 to 1934 under the surveillance of the NKVD, the secret police in Stalin’s era.

The boat conforms to Stalin’s taste in architecture and interior design. All the walls are paneled with dark wood. Somewhat shabby massive furniture and bad lighting gives the interior a gloomy look.

The Gorky was used for government receptions for decades, until it was abandoned 15 years ago, when a new boat, the Rossiya — a favorite with former-President Boris Yeltsin — was built.

After a profitable first season this year for the reintroduced Maxim Gorky, Ivlyushkin said the future for the ship remains uncertain and one of the reasons for that is high fuel costs. Besides the Gorky and a dozen hydrofoils, the company also owns six gigantic cruise ships, like the Karl Marx and the Felix Dzerzhinsky, which will all be available for rent through most of September.

"Whoever owns the boat, will constantly have to invest into its maintenance," Ivlyushkin added, saying that with proper handling, the Maxim Gorky could be used for decades.

Another lucky veteran of the Moscow River fleet is the Unikum, a 1937 former fekalovoz, or vessel used to collect the human waste left by all the ships drifting along the river, that was recently remodeled for leisure trips.

Ivlyushkin who used to work on the Unikum, which retains no hint of its past life, said pop diva Alla Pugachyova hired the boat a few times. With a capacity to carry up to 15 people, the Unikum rents out for only 500 rubles per hour and boasts small palm trees, a restaurant and sauna on board.

Ivlyushkin said the rented boats can follow only two or three routes around Khvoiny Bor and Khimkinskoye reservoir, because docking at many moors to the north of Moscow has become impossible.

"All popular recreation zones have become private, so we can dock at all those places, but people cannot get off the boat — there are fences right on the bank," Ivlyushkin said.