Vitus Bering

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Vitus Jonassen Bering (also, less correctly, Behring) (August 12, 1681 in Horsens, Denmark – 19 December [O.S. 8 December] 1741, Bering Island, Russia) was a Danish navigator in the service of the Russian Navy, a captain-komandor known among the Russian sailors as Ivan Ivanovich. He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaska and its Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait, the Bering Sea, Bering Island, Bering Glacier and the Bering Land Bridge bear the explorer's name.


Biography and voyages

After a voyage to the East, he joined the fleet of the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant in 1703, serving in the Baltic Fleet during the Great Northern War. In 1710–1712 he served in the Azov Sea Fleet in Taganrog and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. He became engaged to a Russian woman, and in 1715 he made a brief visit to his hometown, never to see it again.

In January 1725 Peter I of Russia asked Bering to command the first Kamchatka expedition. The goal of this expedition was to determine how far the Siberian mainland would go, since much of the world was uncharted and it was unknown whether Asia and North America were connected or whether they were separate land masses.

On 14 July 1728, Bering began his first exploration aboard the ship Gabriel and sailed northward from the Kamchatka Peninsula and through the strait that now bears his name. On 14 August he rounded the East Cape, and since the Asiatic coast trended westward and no land appeared to the north, Bering believed he had fulfilled his first exploration mission and sailed back to the Kamchatka Peninsula so he would not spend the winter on a desolate and unknown shore. While spending the winter in Kamchatka, he noticed numerous signs indicating land to the east. He tried to send his ships out that way to explore this land, but bad weather during the following summer caused him to give up the search and decided to return to St. Petersburg in March of 1730. During the long trip through Siberia along the whole Asian continent, he became very ill.

In 1731, Bering was ennobled and received a reward for his discoveries. He soon proposed a second expedition, much more ambitious than the first. Bering was commissioned to the expedition, which involved 600 people from the outset and several hundred added along the way.[2] Bering was back in Okhotsk in 1735. He had the local craftsmen Makar Rogachev and Andrey Kozmin build two vessels, Sviatoi Piotr (St. Peter) and Sviatoi Pavel (St. Paul), in which he sailed off and in 1740 established the settlement of Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. From there, he led an expedition towards North America in 1741. This expedition was to map the Russia-Siberia coast, the western part of North America and even parts of Mexico. While doing so, the expedition spotted the volcano Mount Saint Elias, and sailed pass Kodiak Island. A storm separated the ships, but Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaska, and a landing was made at Kayak Island or in the vicinity. Under the command of Aleksei Chirikov, the second ship discovered the shores of the northwestern America (Aleksander Archipelago of present-day Alaska). These voyages of Bering and Chirikov were a major part of the Russian exploration efforts in the North Pacific known today as the Great Northern Expedition.

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