Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Journey by Sea Takes Awkward Turn in Russia

MOSCOW — It is hard to imagine who was more stunned: the team of adventurers who succeeded in crossing more than 50 miles of the Bering Strait’s frigid, treacherous swells to Russia from Alaska last week, or the Russian border patrol agents in an armored tank who watched them appear on shore, seemingly out of nowhere.

On Wednesday, the team of six men — shadowed by a Russian military helicopter — did an about-face and returned to the Alaskan coast after spending four days in detention in Lavrentiya, a remote village in the Chukotka region.

The six, led by Steven Moll, 41, of Folsom, Calif., had hoped that after reaching Chukotka in the Russian Far East, they could continue south for 5,000 more miles to Taiwan.

Each of the six rode a 2008 GTX, 215-horsepower Sea-Doo made by the Canadian company Bombardier that carried enough gasoline for a 250-mile trip. They had planned to buy more fuel at stops along Russia’s vast eastern coast.

But what seemed like a well-scripted stunt hit a snag when the headlights from the watercraft sent Russian border agents into high alert. Much of the Russian coastal region is designated as a prohibited military zone.
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Chukotka has proved a formidable obstacle to would-be world travelers before. In 2006 Karl Bushby, a Briton trying to circumnavigate the globe on foot, walked across the frozen Bering Strait into the region and was arrested for failing to register with the Russian authorities after coming ashore. On Wednesday, after their release from custody but expulsion from Russia, the team made a six-hour cannonball run back across the Strait, whose waves can reach a height of 20 feet or more.

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