Photo: Toll from another time

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fr. Simeon Johnson, the newly appointed pastor for the 116-year-old St Nicholas Orthodox Church, rings the bell on July 15. The belfry currently sits in the yard, awaiting restoration.

Brian Wallace / For The Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / For The Juneau Empire

Juneau was invited to join with historians and bell ringers in Sitka, Moscow and Fort Ross, Calif., in ringing church bells to commemorate the voyage of Aleksei Chirikov, who reached the Alaska coast on July 15, 1741. He then sailed north along the coast, and at one point put a boat ashore to get fresh water, probably at Yakobi Island. When the first boat and crew failed to return, he sent another, and that also never returned. Tlingits paddled out within hailing distance of his ship, possibly wanting to trade, but Chirikov had no more boats and could not sail closer to shore. He sailed back to Russia. The fate of his men remains one of the great mysteries of Alaska history. They may have been killed, absorbed into the Tlingit population, or, as recent research suggests, capsized and drowned in the treacherous waters near Surge Bay.

Sailing from Kamchatka on two ships on a Russian voyage of discovery, Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov were separated in bad weather in June 1741 and never regrouped. Bering sighted and named Mt. St Elias and landed briefly on Kayak Island in July. After being shipwrecked in the Commander Islands on the voyage home, Bering and many crewmen died. Others, following the direction of scientist Georg Steller, survived by eating indigenous plants and animals. They rebuilt their ship and sailed home the following spring.

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