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Russians to sail into Bodega Bay, again

Friday, March 30th, 2012 | Posted by

Before gold rewrote California’s history, Sonoma County had been forever changed by folks known for a time as the Reds. Russians weren’t the first to visit, but they were the first visitors to set down roots.

The Spanish stumbled into Bodega Bay one night when Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra anchored, never even seeing the harbor’s entrance. But when Ivan Kuskov sailed the Chirikov into Bodega Bay in March 1812 and named it Port Rumiantsev, he was here to stay, and he brought very big cannons to make sure.

From there the Russians scouted out a good place to put the cannons while they tried to grow crops for the starving Alaskan colonies and hunted otters right out of existence.

They settled on some sea bluffs in the north next to a major Kashaya Pomo settlement and by August 13 raised a flag over their fort, naming it Ross (Russia). They built the first windmills in California, and were the first to build a ship here.

The outgunned Spanish eventually decided not to fight over Sonoma County, but to party and trade instead.

Now with the 200th anniversary there will be more partying and trading, starting this week in Bodega Bay. Here’s some of what’s planned so far.

Expect to greet a duplicate of the type of ship Kuskov sailed to Bodega Bay. On Tuesday, the Lady Washington will sail into the harbor and tie up at Spud point, accompanied by the Hawaiian Chieftain. The ships will be open to the public on Wednesday and for five days will offer tours and rides. On Saturday and Sunday, the tallships will hold mock battles between 2 and 5 p.m., when they will sail into the outer bay and fire cannons at each other. That should make for good viewing from Bodega Head.

On Thursday, a VIP luncheon will be held to welcome delegates from Russian towns that include Kuskov’s birthplace and Bodega Bay’s sister city Tot’ma. There will be an exchange of official greetings and gifts.

The Russians buried bronze plaques at their colonies. Bodega Bay’s has not been found, but one was dug up in Alaska, and Bodega Bay has made a copy of it to present to the dignitaries.

A Vodka and Caviar Tasting event is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the­Bodega Harbour Yacht Club. It’s a fundraiser for the Fisherman’s Festival, with tickets selling for $50. Buy them by calling 875-3513, ext. 27.

On Saturday there will be two lectures and an exhibit at the Tides Wharf. At 1 p.m., Prof. Ken Owens will talk about Timofei Tarakanov, who was captured by Native Americans after a shipwreck. At 2 p.m., John Middleton, foreign member of the Russian Academy of Science, will discuss why the Russians came here and stayed.

At the same time, an exhibit of Russian charts, maps and navigational equipment will be on display, along with historic boats and sailors in period costume to answer questions. This will continue through Sunday, April 8.

The 2012 Fisherman’s Festival, April 28 and 29, will celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the Russians.

Throughout April, you can order nesting dolls with images of Miwok, Russian and the town for $20. Just 500 have been made in Russia for the event. You can also mail a letter and get a special commemorative bicentennial hand stamp at the Bodega Bay Post Office.

A display of Kashaya Pomo portraits will be on display through May 27 at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, along with a show of the Romanovs’ decorative arts from 200 years ago called The Tsar’s Cabinet.

A Fort Ross Conference will be held the week of April 23-27 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa that will include an all-day trip to Fort Ross and a performance at the Fort Ross Winery. Go to fortross.org/events for tickets and information.

In May, retired Parks Ranger Dan Murley will give a series of lectures on the natural history of Fort Ross. He will be at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco 7-8 p.m. May 17, at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa 6-8 p.m. May 18, and at Fort Ross 1:30-3:30 p.m. May 19.

On June 2, the Sonoma County Historical Society will sponsor a 25-mile walk to Fort Ross.

On July 28 and 29 the tallships accompanied by kayaks and long boats will anchor off Fort Ross, and there will be a two-day celebration in period costume as volunteers show off Russian settlement life and skills. Expect some cannons to roar.

Because of the difference in the old Russian calendar and our modern ones, August 13 has become August 25. So on that day Fort Ross will commemorate the original raising of the flag and dedication of the fort. The U.S. and Russia will hold joint services at the chapel to honor those who lived and died there, and a memorial bench will be dedicated in the fort’s cemetery.

All in all, it will be a bustling spring, and you can expect to learn a lot more about the Russians who made Sonoma County their home.

Adri Boudewyn shows off a replica of a Russian Possession Plaque that is buried somewhere on Bodega Head to mark the fact the Russians settled the land. The Russians buried 20 of these along the Alaskan and Pacific coasts to formally mark Russia's claim to the land. (Jeff Kan Lee / Press Democrat)

  • http://bodegabaygrange.org joan g. poulos

    There would be no tallships in port had Bodega Bay Grange, and the historical society and chamber of commerce not paid the docking fee to the county. NO WHERE have you mentioned that the Grange is having a celebration, featuring the Russian Collection (dancing, singing, storytelling–all in Russian costume) Saturday night, april 7 at 7 p.m. Tickets at gourmet au bay, business services, canday & kites.

    • Andrea Granahan

      The Russian Collection was right next to the article in the calendar listings.

  • Lawrence Alberti

    “Russians weren’t the first to visit, but they were the first to set down roots.”
    “They settled on some sea bluffs in the north next to a major Kashaya Pomo settlement…”

    I’m confused. The Kashaya Pomo don’t count? And what about the Coast Miwok?

    • lcastrone

      Russians weren’t the first to visit, but they were the first visitors to set down roots. Unless you consider the Pomo and Miwok residents also to be visitors?

      • Andrea Granahan

        I was comparing imperial powers – Spanish vs. Russians. Of course, the First Nation people came here eons before, but they were not imperial and not colonials.

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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