Nikolai Litau is a yachtsman, Honored Master of Sports of Russia, Member of the Order of Courage, organizer of several extremely difficult round-the-world voyages. Litau is the captain of the ocean vessel “Apostle Andrew”, the first sailing yacht that performed a through voyage along the Northern Sea Route. In 1996, “Apostle” made its first trip around the world.
Kazakhstan. A small village called Sovetskoye. Nikolai Andreevich, your homeland is famous not for salty sea air and calls of seagulls. Do you remember when you first had thoughts about the sea?
Thoughts of the sea appeared simultaneously with thoughts of Dzhungarsky Alatau, infinitely beautiful ice, the Equator and about travel in general. Like most of my peers, I was eager to travel around the world since childhood. As an adult, I made my first step towards the current profession – I left the factory and went to the geological prospecting expedition as a route worker.Well, 20 years later I finally decided to “cut the ropes” that connected me with the daily routine to drop anchor somewhere in the opposite part of the world.
First emotions are often the strongest and the most unforgettable. Can you describe yours?
Perhaps, I won’t be original if I tell you about the emotions of the expeditions. Yes, I remember the turning point when a hobby has become the meaning of life. In 1992 I was the captain-instructor on the English yacht “Wild Goose” — the first foreign ship that came from the White to the Black sea along the inland waterways of Russia. It was almost not real at the time. These waters remained closed to foreign seafarers. I often remember my first round-the-world voyage. The crew of our yacht “Apostle Andrew ” was in ice captivity for 5 weeks. Huge blocks of ice surrounded us in the area of Cape Schmidt. And the rest of the journeys were also difficult, dangerous and exciting. During the third round-the-world trip we set another world record. The yacht rounded the Antarctica within the southern 60 parallel. And in one area we penetrated 70 degrees South latitude. No vessel sailing, including those navigated by the great captains and famous explorers of the Antarctic waters, such as James Cook, Thaddeus Bellingshausen and Jules Dumont d’Urville were so close to the sixth continent. All these are truly unforgettable emotions. And in every new voyage something happens for the first time.
It is known that travellers are big fans of taking risks and going to a place where somebody once did not come back from. You definitely have had such an experience, haven’t you?
Yes, of course, there are numbers of such expeditions. For example, the sailing of 2011 to the land of Franz Josef. This is one of the most famous places in the Central part of the Arctic ocean, where a lot of tragic episodes of exploration and conquest of the Arctic took place. The purpose of the voyage was the island of Hohenlohe associated with the tragedy of George Sedov and the fate of his expedition on the schooner “Holy Martyr Foca”. It is believed that Sedov was buried on Rudolf island, but no one has found the place of burial. There is also another point of view. Numerous archival studies suggest that Sedov’s grave is located on Hohenlohe itself. Then the “Apostle Andrew” approached the island from the south-west side. At a distance of 2-3 kilometers we conducted a panoramic photography of the contours of the shore. Such expeditions are not just a sporting interest or a desire to put your lives in danger. First of all, they have historical, cultural, scientific and research goals.
Having taken up professional sailing in adulthood you managed to sweep 4 oceans, set 5 world records. Is there still a feeling of “hunger”? Or is it possible to calm down on this?
The record, as a rule, is not an end in itself. It happens when you are guided by the spirit of the idea, the plan of its implementation. You, along with the entire crew, burn with it, move forward, inspire each other, drag your comrades on your own shoulders, if necessary. The main motor is interest and inspiration. We have this inexhaustible source. New records. Why not? The history will show.
You built the yacht “Apostle Andrew ” on your own. You took the first round-the-world in it. Does the knowledge of the process of creating a yacht from within add confidence? Or, on the contrary, you think – “I haven’t tightened it up, I still have to screw it up, but it’s time to leave, and let the forces of nature be favorable to us”?
When it comes to fear of death, it’s not there. Sometimes there is another fear – before the ocean itself, its boundlessness and storms. And even then, it only comes when the nature is raging. Perhaps it can be compared with children’s emotions from stories about the grim invincible villain. Our yacht was lucky many times. We came without a steering wheel in Australia. It is better not to remember about numerous breakdowns during the first expedition: problems with rigging and deck equipment, loss of a screw on the way to the Canary Islands, loss of a steering wheel in the middle of a route in the center of the Indian ocean and other unimaginable adventures. Often, the nerves are on edge. Imagine a ship turning sideways to a wave during a storm. Waters can engulf it at any time. I don’t know how, but we did manage to cope with the traps of nature and come out of the water every time, though not always with the whole skin. I hope that luck will not leave my glorious team in the future.
Speaking about “getting off with a whole skin”. How about outfitting? Where do you get yacht equipment?
Our crew have been going on expeditions in the national yacht clothes for a long time. From 1996 to 2006 we were dressed by specialists of the “BASK” company known in Russia and even abroad. However, this manufacturer has ceased to produce yacht equipment. Now we use “Red Fox” clothes. These are really reliable and convenient things. In the outfit from “Red Fox” we have been not in the most comfortable corners of the world, and still give this company preference.
How specific are the requirements for clothing intended for yachtsmen? Is it very different from the equipment necessary, for example, to polar explorers or climbers?
Any sport invariably makes its demands. Needless to say about extreme expeditions. The main thing is that the equipment should protect from moisture, cover from water flows and be comfortable for performing various types of work. There are special requirements for clothing. For example, a special tailoring of sleeves. They should be convenient when working with sails. These are quite specific conditions that are easy to understand only by a specialist.
Was yacht clothing produced in Soviet times?
There was nothing similar! Yachtsmen were wearing whatever they could. Some used fishing oilskins. To some extent it protected from moisture. But during a storm water flows from all sides, and raincoats are not designed for this. Besides, imagine how you feel in such oilcloth if you sweat. Of course, many currently applied technologies, for example, membrane tissues, were not known at the time. But, in any case, we began to produce good equipment only in the post-Soviet era. And these were not large factories, but small private companies.
Undoubtedly, the best way to evaluate the quality of clothing is to test its strength in the expedition. Is there any special test in your arsenal?
As you know, we’ve passed several circumnavigations. During each trip we went to high latitudes, experienced serious storms. The main test is the whole expedition from its beginning to the end. We lived and worked in all sorts of conditions on earth and in the ocean, but clothing has always remained our staunch ally. By the way, “BASK ” and “Red Fox” supplied us not only with outerwear, but also thermal underwear, sleeping bags and other necessary items of equipment.
Surely, you had to use imported equipment. What can you tell us about it?
Of course, we have the experience in the use of yachting clothing from well-known foreign manufacturers. I can’t say anything bad about them. What is more important is that “Red Fox” now manufactures products that share the championship with the best foreign analogues. Moreover, it is much cheaper. There are, of course, some elements of especially advanced equipment, which we do not yet produce. But this is understandable. This sport is specific, expensive and not so popular in Russia. And clothing for it is needed expensive as well. There are few yachtsmen in Russia, and they either have a limited budget, or they are equipped abroad, where they keep their yachts. And many thanks to specialists of “Red Fox” company for supplying us with high-quality clothes in which frost, heat or storm are no threat to us.
Nikolai Andreevich, what would you wish people who dream of distant shores, endless expanses of seas and oceans, adventures and romance, just like you?
If you dream sitting at home, then you will never get to know romance. You need to act. It’s never too late to start doing something you love. At any age a person is able to reach such heights, depths and latitudes, which he never suspected. The main thing is not to set the boundaries of your goals, and always leave some space for something greater in your plans.