SAILING 4650 KILOMETERS IN TAIMUNS
In 1936, ten courageous Turkmen fishermen covered 4650 kilometers of waterways in three months from Krasnovodsk (now the city of Turkmenbashi) to Moscow in fishing boats called Taimun.
Taimun is a single-seat boat made of blackwood (elm), which is 4.5 meters long and 45-50 centimeters wide. It is light (weighing about 30 kilograms) and fast, and it can overcome any shallow water, if need be. Such boats have long been used in the Caspian Sea for fishing. The skill to steer Taimun on the sea wave, to row quickly and for long, to use a fishing sail was considered a great art, and it always distinguished real Caspian fishermen who learned to master Taimun from their childhood. Rowing Taimun required one short oar, most often on one's knees or sitting on the heels, but a skilled Taimun sailor could row even while standing.
The travel by boat was unique for the fact that no one had ever attempted such long journeys either in Taimuns or any other dugout boats that implied crossing the sea and rivers. There are probably no such examples even nowadays.
Looking at the mockup of this little boat displayed at the museum's exposition, it is hard to imagine how one can fish in it, and it's hard to believe that someone dared to cross the sea and several rivers in it. Yet, this is a fact of history and one of the greatest evidence of patriotism and courage of Turkmens.
The 30s of the last century were marked by a surge of labor feats in the sky, in the sea, at the machine tools... The year 1935 alone is remembered for an unprecedented marathon Ashgabat - Moscow across the country by the best horsemen of Turkmenistan on the famous Akhal-Teke horses.
It is important that the crossing of the sea and rivers was the initiative of fishermen of the coastal regions of Turkmenistan. Seven fishing farmer associations contested the right to send their front-rank workers to Moscow. Only best of the best had to be chosen. First of all, the candidates were assessed in terms of their labor achievements, then their physical training and, most importantly, their skills to steer single-seat Taimun.
Representatives of the best performing farmer associations that exceeded their fishing quotas for several years in a row were sent on a travel by boat. The participants of the bold and truly heroic crossing of the sea and rivers included Annak Geldiev, the foreman of the team; Khudaiberdy Bayramov, Karadervish Ilamanov, Oraz Taganov, Berdykuli Ashirov, Kurbanniyaz Kavusov, Baidzhan Ataev, Sary Orazov, Hadzhituvak Annaev, Makhtumkuli Yazguliev.
It was impossible to make this crossing on sheer enthusiasm. Sound preparation was required. All the participants of the travel by boat received thorough medical examination, and the experienced fisherman, 51-year-old Annak Geldiev was put in charge of the Taimun team. Despite his age, he proved to be one of the most tireless rowers. The youngest participant in the travel was 21 years old.
The team was accompanied by "Pervoe maya" barge that Taimun rowers used for rest. The barge crew included the commander of the crossing, Mered Kuliev, who at that time was deputy chairman of the sports committee at the Council of People's Commissars of Turkmenistan; political instructor Kurban Ali Durdyev; and doctor Alexandra Yemelyanova.
It is the crossing commander Mered Kuliev who should be credited for covering the events happening during the travel, collection and archiving of information. The commander kept a diary, carefully recording all events that occurred during the crossing, and after many years, working as a senior researcher at the Central State Archive of Turkmenistan, he did his best to engrave this evidence of heroism of the Turkmen people in the annals of the country's history. The commander's daughter, People's Artist of Turkmenistan Gulnabat Ashirova, still keeps her father's old bag with articles, clippings from newspapers and magazines with notes made by her father, photographs and other materials that she kindly provided as reference materials to "Turkmenistan" international magazine.
According to the surviving records and newspaper articles, we have been able to restore the details of the crossing.
The participants faced a difficult and dangerous path. They had to cover, mainly by rowing, more than 4650 kilometers in less than 100 days, fighting the waves of the capricious Caspian Sea and the powerful currents of the Volga (there were no dams at that time), the Oka and the Moskva Rivers.
The group left Krasnovodsk at 6:00 p.m. on July 5, 1936. The weather was favorable. A farewell meeting was organized at the seaport (postal pier) that brought together almost the entire population of the city. They wished the brave souls a happy journey and offered valuable instructions. "This travel should demonstrate the best qualities of the Turkmen sailor, such as endurance, tenacity, stamina. All of Turkmenistan will closely follow this crossing. Let the horse marathon Ashgabat - Moscow serve as an example for you!" These parting words sounded all over the sea. And the fishermen, in turn, said that they would fulfill the task with honor. The shutters of photo cameras clicked, thus preserving this grand start in old photographs to our days, while cameramen hurried to shoot the event for history.
And finally, the red starter flag comes down. The orchestra thundered, and the loud "Hurray!" resounded over the pier. Taimun rowers were accompanied by sportsmen in boats, escorting them far into the sea. So, this is how the hardest part of the route began, almost 1330 km by sea. It lasted 17 days.
Two days later, the team arrived in Kara-Bogaz-Goal. They covered 221 kilometers in thirty running hours. From the very beginning, the foreman held training sessions to prepare the group for any emergencies. At his command, all Taimun rowers would rush from the boats into the sea, and then come aboard at once. These rather difficult exercises, requiring skill, came in handy after four days, when the sea became rough. The tender sea turned into a raging abyss with lightning speed and rocked Taimuns like slivers. On an alarm signal, the rowers gathered on the barge, but even there they could not feel easy from the raging elements.
The sea tested the group by stormy winds three times. Once, the storm reached seven-point strength and lasted exactly half a day. Rowers had to move to the barge and take shelter in one of the bays.
With a three-point tailwind, rowers would set sails on their Taimuns. In the calm sea, the fishermen rowed for 10-11 hours a day. Despite the hardships, they sailed at an average speed of 6 kilometers per hour per day.
The brave conquerors of the water element were not alone in the sea. Every now and then, they met sailboats and barges of Turkmen, Kazakh, Russian and Tatar fishermen.
The 300-kilometer sail across the Caspian Sea directly to Astrakhan was the most difficult. They were lucky to have good weather, and the Taimun flotilla reached the Astrakhan coast ahead of schedule on July 22.
They were warmly received on the Russian soil. Turkmen fishermen were greeted by kayaking athletes already in the sea, while hundreds of Astrakhan residents gathered on the pier to welcome them. Music was played and a sea of flowers awaited them on the shore. And then, the fishermen enjoyed similarly warm reception along their entire route.
Turkmen fellows were welcomed like full brothers by residents of Russian coastal villages and cities of Stalingrad (now the city of Volgograd), Kasimov, Ryazan, Kazan, Saratov, Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod). Rallies, receptions, meetings with the collectives of factories, farms and military units were held in their honor.
Following Astrakhan, brave Turkmen fishermen had to cover 3325 kilometers through three Russian rivers. Given that none of them ever sailed on rivers, Taimun rowers were slightly scared of sailing on the Volga, because they did not know what speed they would have to pick up to row against the counter-flow. The very first day dispelled their doubts, as the average speed was more than 4.5 kilometers per hour. It even increased a bit at some stages of sailing. The fishermen set small sails when the wind was fair. Sometimes, they managed to cover up to 93 kilometers a day with a fair wind.
Near the present-day city of Volgograd, the Taimun rowers were greeted by a barge with an orchestra onboard and by more people on the pier. Turkmen fishermen were taken on a viewing tour of the pride of the city - a tractor factory and the building of the Palace of Pioneers.
On August 3, they set course for Saratov, where they arrived in a week. Fishermen viewed the shipyards and visited an oil refinery and the combine manufacturing plants. In Kuibyshev, the present-day city of Samara, they attended an aviation festival.
As they got used to rowing in rivers, Taimun sailors moved faster and faster. Tens of kilometers of water were covered along the Volga and Oka Rivers.
On September 12, they reached Gorky. The Gorky Automobile Plant greatly impressed the brave Turkmen fishermen. The head of the group had the chance to drive the brand-new famous M-1 car around the entire territory of the huge plant. "In this travel, I learned more than I would in my entire life," he said in an interview with reporters. And this, indeed, was true, because none of the Turkmen fishermen had ever been anywhere outside the Caspian part of Turkmenistan. They were simply struck by what they saw in Russia.
In the river stretch of their journey, they had to part with the Caspian Sea barge that could not go further due to its deep draft. It was replaced with the steamer "Energetik".
The fishermen followed a strict schedule. They would wake up at five in the morning and have breakfast and start sailing at six. They would make short stops for eating. At eight in the evening, they would have dinner and rest. In the evenings, life was back to the old ways in the escort vessel. The Turkmen fishermen studied spoken Russian and everyone managed to speak it fairly good by the end of the crossing. They read newspapers, discussed news. When they stood at cape Melovoy, they engaged in the Turkmen belt wrestling. One of the Taimun rowers, Baidzhan Ataev demonstrated his poetic and singing gift. In the evenings, all the participants of the crossing would gather around him. The bakhshi (singer-songwriter) sang them his songs about what they all saw in the past day.
In big cities, the team enjoyed visiting cinemas, which at that time were a special entertainment. They watched movies with Charlie Chaplin. In Kazan, a concert of Tatar folk music was broadcast on the radio specifically for them.
On their way, they regularly underwent medical examinations, the last of which was in Ryazan. According to the doctors, the fishermen were in good health condition, they even put on some weight. Yet, it has not been without cost. The 27-year-old Taimun rower, Makhtumkuli Yazguliev caught a cold. Despite the high temperature, he did not want to drop out. On August 16, he was admitted to a hospital in the city of Volsk, but it was already too late. Doctors did their best to save him but failed.
And nature continued to test the brave Turkmen sailors. Long rains began already on the approaches to Moscow, followed by wet snow. Then, it suddenly got very cold. However, the Taimun rowers did not give up and plied their oars with even greater energy. All telegrams from "Energetika" now ended with the phrase "(so many)... kilometers are left to get to Moscow."
On October 6, at 5.10 p.m., the brave Turkmen fishermen were cheered in a gala ceremony at the festively decorated water station of the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure. They completed the unmatched crossing of the sea and rivers in Taimuns from Krasnovodsk to Moscow, where they arrived eight days ahead of schedule.
On this occasion, the Taimun rowers put on festive Turkmen clothes, such as striped Dons (robes) and Papakhas (tall hats). They approached the pier beautifully and with ease under white sails, forming a straight line and keeping equidistant from each other. They were accompanied by an honorary escort of rowing sport boats and sailboats.
Despite bad weather, more than 10 thousand Muscovites gathered to greet the Turkmen heroes. To the sounds of orchestras and applause of the public, nine Taimun sailors came ashore and walked to the podium past the guard of honor of athletes who lined up with oars in their hands. The team commander reported the successful completion of the crossing ahead of time by eight days. Following the welcoming ceremony, the participants of the crossing went to the Red Square. It was perhaps one of the unforgettable impressions of their stay in Moscow.
This is how an unprecedented three-month travel by boats ended. The Turkmen fishermen covered 4,650 kilometers by sea and rivers. The central newspapers featured the pictures of Turkmen fishermen. The heroes of the country greeted and congratulated them on the successful completion of the crossing.
"We salute the conquerors of the water element. With fearlessness and courage they made a difficult crossing of the sea and three rivers in boats. Glory to the Turkmen fishermen! Your courage and great self-control make us happy," the newspapers wrote. The first heroes of the Soviet Union, pilots participating in the Chelyuskin steamship rescue expedition, such as Mavrikiy Slepnev, Nikolai Kamanin, Anatoly Lyapidevsky sent their congratulations to the brave Turkmen fishermen.
"It amazed us when we learned that nine ordinary fishermen made such a grand crossing. Their brilliant victory inspires us - the pilots," pilot-hero Vladimir Kokkinaki wrote to the newspaper. Heroes of the country, including Valery Chkalov, Georgy Baidukov, Alexander Belyakov, conveyed their warm greetings to the brave fishermen of sunny Turkmenistan, noting that in this crossing they demonstrated inexhaustible energy, enthusiasm and perseverance. For their courage and fearlessness all the participants of the crossing were awarded the Order "Badge of Honor".
Nowadays, information about this remarkable page in the history of the Turkmen people is carefully preserved at the State Museum of the Natural Cultural Center of Turkmenistan and the Museum of Local Lore of the city of Turkmenbashi. The heroic crossing has become an example of courage for many generations, and it is of great sporting and patriotic significance. That is why it is no coincidence that photographs about the Turkmen Taimun rowers were included in the large-scale exhibition in 2017 by the State Museum of Turkmenistan on the occasion of the large-scale sports festival in Ashgabat - the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, as an example of the courage and genuine heroism of the Turkmens.