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In 1851, Lubeck, Germany, a new three masted bark christened the Kad'yak slid down the ways at the Hans Jacob Albrecht Meyer shipyard. Built for the Russian-American Company, the ship was destined to sail around Cape Horn and spend its career in the north Pacific. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the Russian American Company established settlements in Alaska, initially to trap furbearing animals. Later, these settlements became largely self sufficient by taking advantage of Alaska's tremendous natural resources. Russian-American Company ships sailed half way around the world to provide luxury items not available locally and brought news from home. These "round the world" ships arrived in Alaska about once a year. The Kad'yak traveled that route on her maiden voyage and served in Alaska for nine years before sinking near Kodiak Island in 1860.

One of the Kad'yak's anchors.
One of the Kad'yak's anchors. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program)

Alaska has a tremendous coast line stretching 44,000 miles that includes many bays, harbors and islands. The Russians who colonized the region established a maritime economy based on moving supplies and trade goods by water instead of over land. They harvested many marine resources including fish, whales, seals, and otters. This concentration on marine travel and resource extraction required a dependence on many different kinds of water craft. The Russians used small kayaks and biadarkas and also sailing ships and coastal steamers. The Kad'yak was part of their fleet of larger vessels.

Kad'yak was built as a bark-rigged sailing vessel. In the era of sail, vessels were classified by how many masts they carried and how the sails were set. Some of the common types were schooners, brigs, ships, snows, sloops, and barks. Kad'yak carried three masts and measured roughly 130 feet long by 30 feet wide with a 20 foot depth of hold. Her lower hull was sheathed in copper to prevent the growth of barnacles and other marine organism that would cause drag and slow her down while sailing. These thin copper sheets are still present on the shipwreck site buried under the ship's hull.

Diver with the Kad'yak's wheel hub.
Diver with the Kad'yak's wheel hub. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program)

Kad'yak sailed in the Russian American Company fleet in the final years before the United States purchase of Alaska in 1867. Based at company headquarters in Novo-Archangelsk (Sitka), Kad'yak carried trade goods between Russian settlements in Alaska and made trading voyages to the Hawaiian Islands. The usual complement of the ship consisted of employees of the Russian-American Company including Native Americans.

On her final voyage, the Kad'yak was transporting a cargo of ice to San Francisco, where the Russian American Company enjoyed a profitable trade with gold-seekers. The Kad'yak left Sitka for the final time on February 27, 1860, to pick up a cargo of 356 tons of ice at Kodiak. On putting to sea from Kodiak harbor on March 30, the vessel hit an uncharted submerged rock and immediately filled with water. The captain, a Creole named Illarion Arkhimandritov, the officers, and crew took to the ship's boats. The Kad'yak, kept afloat for three days by her cargo of ice, drifted towards Spruce Island and sank in Icon Bay on April 2, 1860. The mast of the ship protruded above the water with a single yard forming the shape of a cross, visible from the shrine of Father Herman (later St. Herman) on the shore of Spruce Island, giving religious significance to the story of the vessel's misfortune. According to legend, the Kad'yak's captain failed to fulfill his promise to venerate relics of this famous monk in Kodiak Cathedral prior to his departure from the island. The circumstances of the Kad'yak's wrecking made her an object of religious importance, and thus she entered the local lore and legend of the island. Several months later, Captain Arkhimandritov was commissioned to chart the coast of Spruce Island. His notes with the compass bearings for the protruding mast of the Kad'yak allowed Dr. Bradley Stevens, of the NOAA Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, to lead an expedition that discovered the site of the Kad'yak wreck in July 2003.

During the summer of 2004 a group of researchers led by nautical archaeologist Frank Cantelas from the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University completed a pre-disturbance survey of the Kad'yak shipwreck site. The expedition included a fairly large number of participants. Dr. Timothy Runyan along with students Evguenia Anichtchenko and Jason Rogers from the Maritime Studies Program, ECU's dive safety officer Steve Sellers, Dr. Bradley Stevens from the NOAA Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, Dave McMahan, Alaska's State Archaeologist, and archaeologist Tane Casserley from NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program. The National Science Foundation provided a grant to complement funding from the Office of Ocean Exploration.

One of the several cannons discovered.
One of the several cannons discovered. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program)

Today the Kad'yak lies in 80 feet of water on a sandy and rocky bottom between two submerged ridges. The site was mapped along with considerable video and photographic documentation. Father Herman's chapel is just a short boat ride away. Due to wood eating marine organisms and stormy seas, the vessel has been considerably reduced from its original form. A portion of the wooden hull remains only because it was buried under the sand. It includes floors, ceiling planking and hull planking sheathed in Muntz metal. The orientation of the hull remains along with the location of the anchors and windlass reveal the orientation of the ship. Historical documents say Kad'yak carried four to six cannon during her voyages. Two small muzzle loading cannon were found in the sand on the port and starboard sides. Numerous small artifacts are concreted in the ballast pile overlying the hull timbers. One artifact, discovered on the third day of the project, identified the ship. This wooden barrel-shaped object has a brass cap with the name Kad'yak imprinted in Cyrillic.

Alaska State Archaeologist Dave McMahan with Spruce Island in the background.
Alaska State Archaeologist Dave McMahan with Spruce Island in the background. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program)

As usually happens near the end of projects a new section of the vessel was discovered. Several bronze gudgeons and pintles marked the new area along with concreted chain and large metal concretions. No wooden remains were found but the assembly appears to be the remains of the stern including the rudder and steering gear. This new area, several hundred meters from the main site, was mapped and documented on the last field day.

John Adams and Balika Haakansen, two Kodiak school teachers, are preparing educational materials for the public and students in the Kodiak public schools that will tell the story of the Kad'yak. This public outreach component of the project along with web sites is integral to presenting this underwater research to a public audience, especially in Alaska.

The research team completed a map of the site along with photo and video documentation that will be used in site management.

Cannon, anchors, a windlass, portions of the rudder and other iron and bronze artifacts lay scatted on the bottom where they fell as the ship deteriorated.

Additional Resources and Links

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Program in Maritime Studies
NOAA's Ocean Explorer
National Science Foundation

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