The Russians are coming

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. A Russian rear admiral will soon be in town. He once commanded a nuclear missile submarine.

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Here is his complete resume.

His name is Constantine Antonovich Shopotov. He was born in 1931, and graduated in 1955 from the Frunze Naval Academy. From 1955 to 1976 he served in the Pacific Fleet advancing from chief of a naval navigation group, to captain of a nuclear missile submarine and then to commander of a group of atomic submarines.

From 1976 to 1989 he was head of the Navigation Faculty at the Frunze Naval Academy at St. Petersburg, Russia. On his retirement from active service, he became president and founder of the Baltic Memorial society which is involved in undersea archeology. Over the past 15 years, the group has discovered 23 historical shipwrecks. Shopotov is an accomplished diver.

In 1991, he worked on Bering Island, where Vitus Bering is buried, to recover four cannons from the St. Peter. They were discovered in a lagoon under 12 feet of mud. Bering's remains were taken to Moscow, where forensic scientists reconstructed the actual image of his face. My son, Allan, has a friend in Moscow who is inquiring about getting a copy of the bust for our museum.

Shopotov has written a history of the first voyage of discovery to Alaska in 174l by Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. The title is "The Great Russian explorer, Aleksei Chirikov."

Allan met the admiral in St. Petersburg and invited him to visit Alaska. He'll be here on Aug. 3. They plan to fly out to Pelican and explore the outer coast of Chichagof and Yakobi Island. It is Shopotov's lifelong dream to view the area as seen by the Russians in 1741.

Allan has published an account of the missing 15 men from the St. Paul, which disappeared while reconnoitering the coastline in 1741. His tale is called, "Yakobi Island, the Lost Tlingit Village of Apolosovo and the Fate of the Chirikov Expedition."

Tlingit scholars Nora and Richard Dauenhauer are also going to make the trip. They all hope to visit Surge Bay on Yakobi Island, where 200 years ago there was a Tlingit village of at least 100 male adults, as reported in an early Russian census. Then the village disappeared, sometime in the early 1800s, and the site has lain unknown for two centuries.

The purpose of the trip is to view and photograph the many petroglyphs carved into the rock on the tidal shore, including one of a sailing ship with two masts, perhaps the St. Paul itself.

What a historical remembrance that would be!

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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