POLTAVA a 4th rate 54-gun sailing ship of  the line (1712)

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The history of a country is inseparable from the history of its fleet. Having better and stronger naval and merchant ships allowed the country to grow faster, both economically and geographically. We must remember this and contribute to preserving the memory of achievements accomplished by Russian sailors and shipbuilders.

Once built, every ship becomes an engineering masterpiece. The Russians have always valued and preserved the memory of their ancestors’heroic feats of navigation and naval victories. However, children will learn about their country’s history much better and be more patriotic if they can directly touch the history, feel the real scale of a sailing warship of the early 17th century and see how she actually looked like. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this in today’s Russia. The country has not kept any sailing man-of-war. Meanwhile, the Dutch shipyard Batavia has recently built a ship of the same name dating back to the Golden Age of the Netherlands: the legendary Batavia, and the 80-gun sailing ship of the line The Seven Provinces, the flagship of the Dutch fleet that gained the upper hand in the fierce Second Anglo-Dutch War. The French have lovingly restored their ancient shipyard Royal Arsenal in Rochefort and built the 36-gun replica frigate Hermione (1779) tocommemorate the heroic story of Marquis de La Fayette who departed for America aboard the original Hermione to rejoin the American colonies in their fight for freedom. For almost 200 years, the U.S. has been carefully preserving and keeping afloat –and even sailing – its oldest sailing ship: the legendary Constitution, launched in 1797 and praised in poems even by her contemporaries (Old Ironsides). Each of those ships is not just a permanently moored replica, but an officially registered ship capable of long-distance sea voyages.
 

The Poltava was the first ship of the line in the regular Russian Baltic Fleet, laid down and launched by the Admiralty of Saint Petersburg, the then nascent Russian capital. While the Poltava embodied the glorious victories of Peter the Great’s times, it was also a masterpieceof naval architecture.

In the summer of 2012, a historic decision was made in Saint Petersburg to build a full-scale replica of the Poltava. The ship will become another gem in the city’s crown and one of itsfinest sightseeings.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The capture of Swedish fortresses Noteburg and Nyenskans on the Neva River gave Russia access to the Baltic Sea. To protect the conquered territories, the Russians built fortresses Saint Petersburg (on the Zayachiy Island in the mouth of the Neva Estuary) and Kronschlot (on the Kotlin Island) betweenspring and autumn 1703 and started building sailing and rowing vessels (frigates, snows, galleys, etc.) that were to join the nascent Baltic Fleet. The construction of Russian ships of the line in the Baltic Sea was not launched until August 1708 – January 1709 when four 50-gun ships of the line were laid down at the Novoladozhskaya and Olonetskaya Shipyards. Three of them were named Riga, Vyborg, and Pernov, while the fourth ship remained untitled.

Still, these ships could not be considered as full-scale ships of the line as they were shallow-draught flat-bottomed vessels, which greatly reduced their seaworthiness.

HOW POLTAVA WAS BUILT

On 5 (16) December 1709, Peter the Great himself laid the keel of the Poltava at the shipyard of the Saint Petersburg Admiralty. The Tsar charged Fedosey Sklyayev with building the warship, but as usually retained the functions of the master builder and supervisor. He often visitedthe Admiralty’s shipyard and advised Fedosey Sklyayev on the ship’s structure and shipbuilding techniques and demanded reports on the construction progress.

A. Zubov. Admiralty

The Poltava was launched on 15 (26) June 1712. The ship launching ceremony was attended by Peter the Great, ‘Princesses Yekaterina and Natalya and allthe royal family’. The Poltava was lifted onto camels on 23 August (3 September) 1712 and taken under the guidance of Fedosey Sklyayev from Saint Petersburg to sea during the night of 24-25 August 1712.

When passing over the Neva bar, the ship could ground due to her deep draught. So, to take the ship to sea, Sklyayev had to lift her bow with specially designed beak-like bowed boats: this helped reducing the Poltava’s stern draught and successfully getting the ship through the Neva’s estuary.

At sea (opposite to Peterhof), once past the shoals and with 18 feet of water under the keel, the lifting camels were taken off. In the afternoon of 25 August 1712, the ship successfully reached Kronschlot where her construction was completed and she was finally fully rigged.

OVERALL PARAMETERS

The principal dimensions of the Poltava were in line with the fourth-rate’s dimensions under the British 1706 Establishment: length(between perpendiculars), 34.6 m; gundeck length, 130 English feet and 8 inches (39.82 metres); beam (as moulded), 38 feet 4 ½ inches (11.69 metres), and depth of hold, 15 feet 2 ½ inches (4.6 metres). Overhangs, superstructures, and hull planking were not included in the hull dimensions. As such, the ship actually looked much bigger. The exact displacement of the Poltava is unknown, but is estimated at 1,100 – 1,200 tonnes.

Despite the scarcity of sources, ‘the architecture and overall setup of the ships of that era were so traditional and regulated, that we may quite confidently restore the hull and rigging using the existing regulations and guidelines. Decorations are less certain.

The Poltava was a Russian 4th rate fifty-four-gun sailing ship of the line launched on 15 (26) June 1712 by the shipyard of the Saint Petersburg Admiralty. Tsar Peter the Great personally took part in the construction of the ship. She got her name afteran important victory of the Russian army over the Swedes at Poltava and became the first ship of the line that was laid down and built by the Saint Petersburg Admiralty. During her service, from 1712 to 1732, the Poltava was a part of the Baltic Fleet and participated in six naval campaigns (from 1713 to 1717, and in 1721) before the end of the Great Northern War. She was later used to train crews of the Kronstadt squadron in the Baltic Sea. During her naval service as a ship of the line, Peter the Great twice made her his flagship.

The Poltava’s lines were somewhat sharper than those of her predecessors (Riga, Vyborg, Pernov, etc.) built on the Olonetskaya, Novoladozhskaya and Syasskaya Shipyards, but still had a rather round shape. She had a steep tumblehome to make boarding more difficult.

The hull planking was about 5 inches (12.7 centimetres) thick.

The Poltava was likely to be rigged in the Dutch fashion typical for early ships of Peter the Great. Dutch-style rigging implied the ‘use of beak-shaped caps, huge eccentrically hanging lower yard halyard blocks, a triangle lateen mizzen sail, and low lifts, which resulted inlower yards noticeably sagging.’

Unlike early Russian ships of that era, the Poltava carried topgallants (the third tier of sails) typically rigged on the fore and main masts of frigate-rigged ships.

ARMAMENT

The standard armament of the ship consisted of fifty-four guns. The Poltava carried 18-pounders on her lower deck, 12-pounders on the upper deck, and 3-pounders on the quarterdeck. Apart from the fifty-four broadside guns, the ship was also equipped with a couple of spare stern guns. The ship’s design did not provide for bow guns.

Since the original design drawings of the ship have not been found so far, we cannot be 100% sure about restore the ship’s armament. Nonetheless, we know that in 1715 the Poltava was armed with twenty-two 18-pounders, twenty 12-pounders, and twelve 6-pounders, while, according to a record made a month earlier in the same year, all five 50-gun ships of the Baltic Fleet were to be armed with twenty-two 18-pounders, twenty-two 8-pounders, and eight 3- or 4-pounders.

No information was left about the Poltava’s anchors. We only know that in June 1712 the Poltava was to be fitted with 4 or 5 anchors weighing about 1.5 tonnes each.

DECORATION

Picart’s engraving of the Poltava clearly shows the decoration only on the ship’s transom stern, but neither on the stern sides, nor on the bow.

On the other hand, Picart’s drawing of the decoration is quite reliable as evidenced by the two mirror-symmetrical equestrian sculptures of Saint George that are kept in the archives of the Russian Central Naval Museum and have been reliably identified as parts of the Poltava’s stern decorations.

The allegoric decorations of the ship were meant to glorifythe victory by the Russian army over the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava. The transom stern had a rather rounded shape, unlike the thenold- fashioned pyramid-shape Dutch sterns.The empty triangle spaces above the quarter galleries were covered with decorative panels: quarter-pieces. Unlike other ships of the era, the Poltava had no walking gallery across the stern that was common at the time. Instead, the ship had a small protruding balconywith a half-dome roof. She also had two rows of small-pane windows running across the stern. Almost the entire surface of the stern was covered with high relief woodcarvings.

MODELS

The Poltava was made famous by an engraving made byan artist named Picart. The image can be viewed as an artistic perception of the ship by the engraver as it hasmany inaccuracies. However, it is the only picture of the Poltava by her contemporaries.

In 2008, ship modeller Igor Kapinos led the construction of a new model of the Poltava with significant changes in her design.

Another model of the Poltava, completed by Postykin’s ship-modelling team in 2011, also encompassed all the latest research updates.Over the last ten years, ship modellers made several high quality models of the Poltava, with various depth of detail.

Modelling the Poltava requires extremely sophisticated skills; as such, highly detailed models of the ship can only be made by a very limited number of modellers.V. P. Dubenskiy was one of the first to build a highly detailed 1:50 model of the Poltava based on the lines drawing by S. L. Balakin.

From October 2007 to 2009, another 1:36 model was built under a programme launched by the Ship Modelling Guild of Saint Petersburg. A. A. Dobrenko, doyen of the Ship Modelling Guild of Saint Petersburg, was the author of the project, while A. Baranov was involved as a technical advisor.

A SHIPBUILDING PROJECT BASED ON ARCHIVAL RESEARCH

The principal historical and technical data about the ship available today have been collected as a result of multiyear efforts by Galina Grebenshchikova, (Doctor of Sciences in History), Pavel Krotov, and renowned ship modeller Aleksandr Dobrenko. They used drawings and historical materialsfound by them in the Library of the Academy of Sciences, Russian State Archive of the Navy, Central Naval Library, Central Naval Museum, and Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts.

The Sklyayev’s Folder (Library of the Academy of Sciences, Manuscript Section) has been the main source of information about the Poltava.It contains a total of 71 sheets with drawings and decorations of early 17th century ships, including the midship frame of the Poltava.The drawing is not signed, but it serves as the cornerstone for reconstructing the entire ship…Figures 130.8 and 39 are marked next to the drawing in a led pencil. The drawing and the data from the list of Admiral F. F. Veselago perfectly match each other, which evidences that it is the drawing of the Poltava’s midship frame.

The drawing from the Sklyayev’s Folder indicates that the Poltava was 130 feet long, and 39 feet wide, while the book of Admiral Veselago published in 1886, The List of Russian Naval Ships from 1696 to 1886, shows the length as 130.8 and width as 38.4 (dimensions taken after the ship was built). No other ship of the same rate had such dimensions. So, there is ample reason to believe that the ‘unnamed’ midship frame from the Sklyayev’s Folder is actually the midship frame of the Poltava. We then can use the midship frame dimensions and the method of Admiral Cornelius Cruys to restore all lines of the ship. The Sklyayev’s Folder also contains a drawing of the Poltava’s stern and her stern gallery.

Our assumption that the drawing represents the Poltava’s stern relies on a number of facts:

a) dimensionsperfectly matching each other;
b) the form of the stern (sidewise and end-on); 

c) decorations.

The key document to help designers and builders is The Establishment for a 54-gun Ship (a list of materials for building a 54-gun ship), Russian State Archive of the Navy, Section 146, Inventory 1, Case No. 67.

The research findings have been compiled into a book and published.

Research on the armament of the ship is run by experts of the Weapon Section of the Central Naval Museum and experts from the Section of Artillery, Russian Weaponry and Artillery Ammunition materials of the Military History Museum of Artillery, Army Engineers and Army Signals under the guidance of Colonel V. M. Krylov.

Based on their research, the experts will produce drawings for casting iron cannon and making gun carriages. The materials about personal weapons of sailors and boarding weapons will be included as a separate chapter in the second edition of the book about the reconstruction of the Poltava.

The project for restoration of the Poltava’s decorations is being implemented by the Art Studio led by renowned sculptor V. E.  Gorevoy of the Academy of Arts of Saint Petersburg, while O. I. Jeniya and I. A. Jeniya will design the ship’s decorations and work on how to fit them properly intothe ship’s structure. The resulting carving and decoration designswill be implemented in the new Poltava project. 

PRELIMINARY DESIGN FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE 1712 WARSHIP POLTAVA

Developed by Design Group Ricochet Ltd., a design company certificated and recognized by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping and Russian River Register. The company operates in the shipbuilding design market and can boast considerable experience in designing large wooden vessels.

DESIGN STAGE I

Examining the historical research materials and drafting rough designs for key hull elements and the Preliminary Design for the project overall.

Materials used for developing preliminary designs:

an engraving with the portrait of Senior Surveyor Golovin;
book Restoration Warship;
book Poltava 1712. Structure, History, Construction;
Archive Case No. 67 (Russian State Archive of the Navy);

comments to the list of ship timbers based on the book Restoration Warship.

DESIGN STAGE II

Developing design documentation for the construction of a museum ship in the form of a historical replica of the 54-gun ship of the line Poltava built in 1712

Design purposes

The Preliminary Designwill be used to draft Contract Specifications for the shipyard to build the Museum Ship Poltava, a historical replica the ship of the line Poltava built in 1712.

A Shipping Register will be selected at the Preliminary Design Stage depending on how close to the original design the reconstruction can be under the Register’s Rules.

At the Preliminary Designstage, we will also define the engineering design of the Museum Ship, and requirements to the hull, interior equipment, facilities and systems of the Museum Ship. A rationale for the ship’s operation plan, which is to be agreed with the Customer, will also need to be provided.

In May 2013, a team of shipbuilders, who took part in the construction of the frigate Shtandart, started assembling the midship frame of the Poltava in the Hercules Yacht Port of the Saint Petersburg Yacht Club.

CONTACT

197229, Russia, Saint-Petersbourg, Lakhta, Beregovaya st. 19А

Tel.: +7 (812) 244-98-33

E-mail: poltavaship@gmail.com

The Historic dockyard Poltava

 

CREW

The overall complement of the ship ranged from 300 men for defensive action of the fleet to 460 men for offensive operations. However, due to frequent crew shortages, the maximum complement was rarely reached: the Poltava’s crew counted 351 men in June 1714, 338 (including 149 sailors and 189 marines) on 17 (28) July 1714, 446 men in July 1716, and 292 men in March 1721.