R/V Altair's Voyage to Estonia and Russia 1993

Extracts from the diary, by Per Åkesson

This is a personal diary, not an official report. There is also a separate article on Yenisey. Click on small framed photos to see enlargements.

Captain: Bengt Grisell, Royal Institute of Technology. Other crew from Stockholm: Lorelei Randall-Grisell, diver Staffan von Arbin, diver Per Åkesson, Bertil Stjernstedt, Leif Nylén, and captain's daughter Dunja Grisell with friend Jane Svensson. Finally we have the ship dog Gillis.

This expedition was made in cooperation with underwater archaeologists in Estonia, Latvia, and Russia. The purpose of the expedition was partly to search for and document wrecks, and partly to exchange knowledge on documenting a find without destroying it. Our plan was first to work in Estonia, then, if we'd have time, to work in Latvia, and finally to participate in the opening of a new exhibition in St Petersburg, Russia, "The Heritage of the Baltic sea".

Saturday 1993-06-12 Departure from Stockholm

We cross the Baltic Sea in calm weather. Navigation is easy thanks to GPS, sea charts and compass.

Sunday 1993-06-13 Estonia, and "wreck 1"

Begt Grisell reading the side scan sonarIn the morning we are close to the Estonian coast, where we are met by the ex fishing boat Mare from Meremuuseum (Estonian national maritime museum). It is now a research ship under command by Vello Mäss, with the divers: Kaido Peremees, Avo Jüris, Andrus Pint, Margus Tooming, the mechanic Jüri-Kant Soobin and the sailor Andres Eero. We are on the site for the previously located but unidentified "wreck 1". We take sonogram "pictures" with our side scan sonar (photo 1), then a couple of Estonians go down and look. They pick up a small bronze cannon, probably a signal cannon.

Then we continue to the located wreck site of Yenisey, laying on 47 m depth. Yenisey was a 90 m long Russian mine ship that was torpedoed by the German submarine U26 on June 4, 1915. Yenisey sank with 297 men. We find the wreck site with our GPS and take pictures with side scan sonar.

Mon 1993-06-14 Tallinn

Altair, Mare, and LembitIn the morning we go to Pirita harbour outside Tallinn, where we moor by the side of the Estonian museum submarine Lembit from 1936 (photo 2). In the afternoon we make a short visit to the Estonian capitol's old town. I see that Estonia's economy has developed very rapidly since independence in August 1991. The evening ends with a very nice party with the Estonian divers inside in the beautifully polished Lembit. Mr Koppelmann, Lembit's "Commanding Officer" and military historian, has prepared sandwiches and the good Estonian beer Saku.

Tue 1993-06-15

We are visited by Vladimir Dubovik from the diving club in Narva. He shows photos from the find of a crashed Russian plane from WW2 in Narva river.

Fri 1993-06-18 Divers on visit

In the evening we are visited by Finnish and Estonian divers who show us some well made video films from different wrecks. They are from Hiiumaa (Dagö), Norway and the Finnish coast. The oldest wreck was from 17th century, the youngest was Königin Luise (sunk 1939) and a US built Liberty ship (sunk 1948). The evening ends with dinner including a salad with wonderful garlic dressing.

Sun 1993-06-20

Curt Östman arrives, diver from Stockholm. Then Maik Springmann comes. Maik is diver and marine historian from Rostock in Germany.

Mon 1993-06-21 Paldiski

At 1045 hours at last we are on our way towards Yenisey. Unfortunately the sea is rough. We go in shelter from the wind outside the old Soviet navy base Paldiski. The weather does not improve so we stay anchored over night. We meet the two Swedish divers Lars Gustafsson and Jaan Joandi that have joined Mare's crew. In the afternoon we make a practice dive down along the anchor chain to the bottom on 18 m depth and check our equipment.

YenisejTue 1993-06-22 Yenisey

Now we need to be at Yenisey early before the wind increases. We get up at 5 and are on our way at ten to six. In the morning Curt got three flounders in his net, but we don't dare to keep them. Who knows what the Russian military has thrown in the water outside Paldiski? We arrive at Yenisey (photo 3) and the two Swedes on Mare go down at once.

They are down about one hour with their SSBA AGA (a.k.a. Interspiro) mask system with air and phone from the surface (photo 4). They also carry 300 bar tanks on their backs as a backup system. The divers come up with a compass from the steering house roof and report good visibility, about 10-15 m. It is totally dark and you need a good lamp. The wreck is laying with a 35-40 degrees list on starboard side, phonebecause of its deep V keel. It is partially covered with old fishing trawls laying on deck or hanging between sticking up parts. In the cabins, floors are covered by a 40 cm layer of silt, that has accumulated during the decades.

Two Estonians go down and fasten a mooring rope on the wreck for Mare. They tell us about clocks and instruments on the inside walls of the steering house, which they have more felt than seen in the bad visibility of the stirred up dirt. Thereafter the weather unfortunately gets worse. Both we and Mare anchor 3 seamless south of Yenisey in a bay at the coast, in relative shelter. There we stay during the afternoon and night. Divers from Mare show us the compass from Yenisey, and report good visibility (about 15 m) and a very well preserved wreck. Meanwhile, 5 people on Altair become more or less seasick in the bad weather.

Wed 1993-06-23 Estonian Midsummer's eve

ship's clockcompass house We sleep until 10 AM. The wind is calmer and by 11 we leave together with Mare towards Yenisey. Two divers go down and fasten another rope to the wreck, and now we also moor to the wreck.

The divers report rather good visibility on the wreck, about 6 m. Estonian divers bring up the binnacle, i.e. housing (photo 5) of the earlier recovered compass and a few other small things. The most interesting find is a clock (photo 6) where rust stains from the hands still point at 20 past 10. According to the German log, she was sunk at 08:27. But that was German time, and Russian time was 10:27. Thus we can assume that this clock shows the time of the sinking. Some machine gun ammo is taken up, still intact in its fabric bands. Altogether we only take up a few objects for the maritime museum. All objects are placed in water buckets or kept wrapped in wet blankets until we return to the conservation department in Tallinn.

The Mare divers use air hose and AGA full mask with surface air and telephone to one of the Swedish divers, who thus can be down longer time. Unfortunately one diver breaks an eardrum and cannot dive more for this time. Bengt and Curt are about to go down to video film, then water leaks into the video casing and destroys the video camera. Bad luck! When Bengt and Curt go down again to the cannon on the wreck's fore deck visibility is bad, about 2 m. The weather is calm and for the first time we stay on the wreck over night.

Thu 1993-06-24

We sleep till 9 AM on a wind still sea. On Mare the divers are already in action. Divers from Mare go directly and bring up some loose items from the wreck. They tell us that for the first time visibility is so good that they can see the wreck without lamp. We consider starting by sucking out the silt and mud layers with the airlift. Then placing out powerful lamps, and finally documenting the wreck.

VelloWe get quick results from Mare's divers, including an entire, slightly rusty Maxim machine gun from the port bridge wing, that was laying loose by the door to the steering house. Then comes a steering wheel console with rudder indicator from stern deck, unfortunately with broken steering wheel, maybe by fishing trawl or net. Bengt and Curt install a fixed "metal gas" lamp in the steering house. That lamp is powered from the surface and uses 400 watt power but leaves light corresponding a 2000 watt light bulb. We prepare our airlift by assembling long tube segments. Maik goes down alone with air hose and telephone from Mare. Staffan goes on the wreck with Bengt and Curt, and reports 10 m visibility in the light of the fixed lamp. I wonder if I will get an opportunity to dive – when, and where. But the security requirements decide, and I'm less experienced than other divers.

Fri 1993-06-25 Swedish midsummer's eve

Too rough weather. We disconnect our ships from the wreck in the morning and anchor close to the coast. We stay the whole day waiting for better weather. In the afternoon the Swedish divers have to go home. The planned use of the airlift must wait till another time. In the evening we all eat a fantastic midsummer dinner.

Sun 1993-06-27

Maik goes out with Mare for a few days' diving on "wreck 1".

Tue 1993-06-29 Small Rågö (Väike Pakri)

In the morning we take a few fine images of Yenisey with side scan sonar. Then Mare returns from "wreck 1", and they tell us that it is probably the lightship Hiiumadal (Neckmannsgrund), and not the cargo ship Lisa, as we first thought. Both were torpedoed in 1940. We dive again on Yenisey. In the afternoon the wind increases so we leave for the night towards Paldiski together with Mare. We don't dare to dive there since the Soviet navy has thrown a lot of explosives there. We go ashore on the previously Swedish island Small Rågö, close to Paldiski. Of the Swedish houses only the foundations remain. But of the church the tower is still standing. On the churchyard all graves are dug up, maybe by Soviet soldiers looking for gold.

Wed 1993-06-30 Shooting range

battered wreckIn the morning we go to Large Rågö (Suur Pakri) and search with side scan sonar for the wreck of the Russian battleship Vsevolod. In 1808, Sweden and Britain was at war against Russia. In August, the 74 gun Vsevolod, was run aground by the British navy ships Implacable and Centaur. The Russians surrendered, and Vsevolod was burned and sunk. Fishermen have told us that the wreck on 15 m depth sometimes is visible from the surface. But we find nothing.

MIG jetWe anchor and go ashore on the island where there used to be a Soviet exercise shooting range. At the shore we find wrecked target ships, full of holes. On land, among large bomb craters, we see hundreds of bombs (or dummies?) not yet exploded. As targets we see old trucks and an old Mig jet fighter. We don't step on the bombs, and survive our little walk. Then we follow Mare back to Tallinn.

Fri 1993-07-02 Narva

In Tallinn Curt rents a car. The girls, Staffan and I are invited to follow on a day trip to Narva. The city is partly a disappointment. The fine 17th century city was bombed during the war and the rest demolished by the Soviet authorities to build "modern" apartment blocks. Only the city hall and the fort remain, but they are well restored. On the other side of the river, in Russia, we see the mighty enemy fort Ivangorod. We return towards Tallinn. On the way we visit Rakvere with its fine castle ruin from 13th to 16th centuries.

Sun 1993-07-04

Today we receive two new divers from Stockholm: Sten Ahlberg and Johan Östman, the son of Curt.

Mon 1993-07-05

Bad weather. Today we should have departed with Mare for Latvia. Unfortunately the wind is too hard, 16-18 m/s from the west. We are stuck in the harbour during the day.

Tue 1993-07-06

Again we are stuck in the harbour of Pirita.

Wed 1993-07-07

At last weather is better. We leave Pirita with Mare and start searching with side scan sonar in the bay outside Tallinn. We search for a cargo ship loaded with copper and sunk by the winter ice around the turn of the century. We can't find it and continue. Then we search for another wreck on 60 metres depth without success. However we get some nice sonograms of the bottom where we can even see traces of fishing trawls.

Thu 1993-07-08 Odensholm (Osmusaar)

KazanetsThis afternoon we are planning to meet Mare at Yenisey and dive. In the morning we go out to search with sonar for the Russian destroyer Kazanets that sunk near Odensholm. Unfortunately the weather is too hard so we anchor in shelter at the south part of Odensholm. Thus we have an unexpected chance to visit one of the most famous of the old Swedish settlements in Estonia. The Swedes were forced away by the Soviet army in 1940 and since then the island has been a Soviet military area until just recently. We go ashore and take a walk. We arrive to a deserted radio station. There are several high antennas and different buildings. Technical equipment and some furniture are gone but the rest is untouched. The soldiers have even left some books by Lenin for us. Then I go to the lighthouse, where I meet the lighthouse keeper and his family. They are Russians and the only ones living on the island right now. Finally I visit the church ruin. A few Swedes have already been there and recently placed new gravestones on the churchyard.

Fri 1993-07-09 Kazanets

search patternFinally nice weather! Mare comes to us in the morning. We start searching together for the small Russian destroyer Kazanets. It sank with 45 men on October 28, 1916 when it hit a mine laid by the German sub UC27.

We use our side scan sonar, simultaneously we use our video plotter connected to a GPS navigator. Thus we know where we have been and try to follow a nice search pattern (drawing). Eventually we find an appr 25 metres long object on 50 m depth. In a wide sector south of the object hundreds of small objects are lying up to one km away. Probably the ship exploded — perhaps by the mine, perhaps when the boiler was filled with ice-cold water. Apparently only a section is remaining of the ship. We judge that there is not enough left to see for a dive down to 50 m in the dark Finnish bay. We anchor for the night by Odensholm. steering wheelThe evening is ended with a lovely dinner together with Mare's crew.

Sat 1993-07-10 Photography of Yenisey

In the morning we go with Mare to Yenisey. On the spot, according to GPS, Mare first throws in a buoy with 60 m rope. Then Avo and Kaido go down with a new mooring rope to the wreck. Then Bengt, Curt, Sten and Kaido go down twice during the afternoon and take photos. They get some very nice photos from inside the steering house (photos). This will certainly be an exciting project for the next ten years. Then I get my first dive on Yenisey together with Maik. It is a new and interesting experience for me. Finally Avo goes down and disconnect the rope and we say goodbye to Yenisey for this time. We go with Mare to Small Rågö and anchor for the night. Last of all we enjoy a great grill dinner together with Mare's crew.

Sun 1993-07-11 Vsevolod

machine telegraph Then we move to another part of the island to search again for Vsevolod, that sank in 1808. First Mare tows divers on an underwater sledge, but visibility is only 5 metres, so it's difficult to use. However, Kaido sees a big anchor, maybe from the wreck. Then we make a few dives from Altair. We are anchored, the sea is calm and the depth is only 15 m.

Bengt connects Staffan's CD player to Altair's under water loudspeaker and we have Small Rågö's only under water disco! We hear the music fine under water. So, during our diving we connect our underwater loudspeaker to a CD player, and we do this easy dive to the tunes of disco music! We seek at random near Kaido's find. After a while, Staffan and Johan find another anchor and a large iron cannon, about 2½ m long. But where's the wreck? On the flat rock bottom we see several small rusty iron fragments, but no wood from the hull. We conclude that the hull has been totally broken to pieces by the movement of sea and ice, since the depth is only 15 metres. If we dive more, we may find some wood. But it is our last diving day and we don't have time to look more. Not even to take photos of the anchors and cannon. Maybe next year... We go to Tallinn for the night.

Mon 1993-07-12

Bengt and Lorelei go to the Russian embassy to get our entry visas. But it is impossible to pass the long queue of Russians seeking visa to Russia! So we have to try in Petersburg.

Tue 1993-07-13 To Russia

It is time also for Bertil and Leif to sign off. In the morning a tank truck comes with fresh water for us. Then we leave for Petersburg.

Wed 1993-07-14 St Petersburg

In the morning we reach Petersburg's pilot buoy. We must wait here for the compulsory pilot. The pilot should have been noticed by our agent about our arrival. But the pilot says he has heard nothing about us. And when calling our agent nobody is in. So we cannot be cleared to enter the city. We anchor on 20 m depth and prepare to return to Stockholm in worst case! But after 8 hours the pilot comes to us and we may continue. We pass the Kronstadt naval base and enter the city. We get a good place at the Red Fleet embankment on the Neva, one kilometre from the Hermitage. On our deck we have our electrical US made mini sub, that we never used during this summer. Maybe our little toy sub is the first American submarine in St Petersburg...

the exhibitionThu 1993-07-15 The Exhibition

On the quay we are guarded by Russian border soldiers. We go ashore and onboard without problems. But to receive Russian visitors we must hope for the guards' goodwill. Officially visitors are not allowed to visit our ship's "foreign territory". Bengt and Lorelei participate in the opening of the marine archaeological exhibition "The Heritage of the Baltic sea", which will tour the Baltic countries for several years. It is a good exhibition that tells about the unique conditions of the Baltic sea and the latest technique to find and explore wrecks without destroying them. Next place for the exhibition is Rostock.

On the opening are among others: Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, archaeologist professor Vadim Masson, director Per-Inge Lindqvist and Hans Lineskär from Marinmuseum in Karlskrona, Björn-Axel Johansson (producer of the exhibition), Alexander Prokhorenko and Igor Plushin from the Russian academy of sciences, and captain Vitaly Dotsenko, teacher at the Russian navy. Unfortunately Anders Franzén from Sweden can't come as planned.

Fri 1993-07-16

Per-Inge, Björn-Axel, Hans, Maik and I go to see "our" exhibition. It is open to the public for the first day. It was a hard job setting up because of delays in the Petersburg harbour. Now we check that it is OK. We take photos and video film the exhibition.

Sat 1993-07-17 SubmarineD2

I visit the navy museum in the morning. There I see a fine model of the mine ship Amur, sister ship of our project Yenisey. Then I follow a group invited to visit the Soviet submarine D2 from 1931, now a museum. It is very interesting to see this big and relatively advanced sub from the inside. Finally I visit the zoological museum, artillery museum and the cruiser Aurora. In the evening we are visited by Natascha Fonekova, archaeologist from the Hermitage.

Sun 1993-07-18

Scythian deer's head in the beak of a griffin, Pazyryk.Maik is invited to visit marine archaeologists in Viborg during the day. They dive on the wrecks from the Swedish-Russian sea battle in 1790. Unfortunately visibility is said to be less than one metre in the polluted water, so work is difficult.

I go to Kunstkammer, the curiosity museum that Peter the great founded in the 18th century. Bengt, Lorelei and Hans bring the girls and Johan to our exhibition. In the afternoon I go to the Hermitage and admire the 2500 year old Scythian wood carvings (photo). They are from a grave mound that was excavated 1929-49 in the Pazyryk valley in the Altai mountain area. There were also clothes, silk, a wooden carriage, and even food, in a preserved condition.

Mon 1993-07-19

Bengt, Lorelei and the children go to Kunstkammer. Maik and I visit the impressive Isaac cathedral with its gilded roof and nice view from the sightseeing terrace.

Tue 1993-07-20 To Sweden

We are invited for breakfast onboard the luxury yacht Michaela Rose. The ship is owned by a gentleman from Dallas, Texas. He and his wife give us a great breakfast and interesting talk, he is interested in underwater archaeology. In the afternoon Lorelei and I make a last visit to the Hermitage guided by Natasha. In the evening we are invited to a cocktail party with our new friends on the Michaela Rose. Unfortunately our pilot is already booked and can't be changed. At 1730 hours we leave for Sweden. We are not in a hurry, so despite the calm weather we anchor for the night outside Seskar island.

wreck at Sommer's lighthouseWed 1993-07-21

Outside Sommer's lighthouse we see a fine wreck: A cargo ship has been thrown to the rock and split in two. The big bronze propeller is still there so the wreck can't be old. In the rear we can barely see the name Kura from Odessa. Later, two sea miles away, we are met by a cruiser and a destroyer going to Petersburg — probably to celebrate the Russian navy day.

Thu 1993-07-22 Stockholm

We continue to Stockholm and arrive shortly after midnight. That is the end of the journey. I go home, Johan is driven home, and the rest sleep onboard.

Fri 1993-07-23 Goodbye!

In the morning Hans goes by plane home to Karlskrona. I join Maik to the railway station and he gets a ticket on the afternoon train. We all say goodbye to each other onboard. I particularly wish to thank Bengt and Lorelei for all friendship and good food.


In 1997 the investigation of Yenisey, and other older wrecks, has not been continued. There is little money for underwater archaeology in Estonia. In a way this is typical for all underwater archaeology. Each project carries costs, not only during an expedition, but also for a long time ahead, for e.g. conservation and storage of objects. Thus Yenisey will rest in peace again for some time.

In Estonia, wrecks have been located, that are older and probably more interesting than Yenisey. But money is needed for diving and making preliminary inspections. Sponsors are welcome!

Side scan sonar

Our side scan sonar was a model 260 with a paper plotter, from EG&G Marine Instruments, USA. This model is dual-frequency, so we scanned at 100 and 500 KHz. Our normal working range was set to 100 or 200 metres. We constantly traced our course and position using our video plotter, connected to a GPS satellite navigator. Read more about side scan sonar.

Related links

The Baltic Operations 1914-1916  

©  Per Åkesson, 1993

web published 1996, last revision 1999

My photos were made with Nikon FE-2 and FM-2,  using various lenses, e.g. Tokina 28-85/4 and Nikkor 50/1.4. Curt Östman's underwater photos were made with Nikonos 5 and 28 mm lens.  The archive photo of Yenisey is from the Estonian maritime museum.

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