Russian Belyanas, huge wooden lumber hauling river craft from the past
August 5, 2013 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Russian Belyanas (meaning "made of white wood") were amongst the worlds largest wooden ships, but more impressively, these huge lumber hauling ships would get dis-assembled at the end of their voyage down the Volga river, and almost every part would be sold and turned into something new. Even the crews' cabins and the captain's cabin were sold as pre-built houses at the end of their trip. After being steered down the river towards Astrakhan by huge iron bobs, the immense cargo of lumber would be off-loaded, and the vessel taken apart and repurposed. The last Belyana sailed down the Volga in 1934, and the only record of them are old photographs, and some very small modern model.
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Via Dark Roasted Blend.

Also: here's The Caspian Sea Encyclopedia as a preview on Google Books, if you wanted to browse through other random bits of history from the region.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on August 5, 2013

It makes sense that they should be used that way. A ship without internal power couldn't reasonably be taken back up-river, after all.

It's kind of like the rafts on the Mississippi river in the 19th century.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:08 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

But scaled up to RUSSIAN SIZE. Compare (source) and contrast.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like a lumber aircraft carrier. I expect to see swarms of Wright flyers on her deck.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 1:17 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like ships were also built to transport lumber from North America to England in the early 1800s. However, the spur in that case was partly an import tax on wood and the ships were a way of "disguising" the cargo as the carrier. The Baron of Renfrew is the most well-known such ship.
posted by Thing at 1:22 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

"But the most interesting about belyanas was their cargo – “white timber” i.e. white-yellow logs with removed bark."

Having been a sailor, what I find most interesting about a belyana is that its steering gear is forward and its main anchors aft. It looks backwards.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:26 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm still working on a board game set in Astrakhan, but in a time period probably before this started. Do we know when this shipping practice began?
posted by Jpfed at 1:28 PM on August 5, 2013

Thing, that's news to me. Fascinating! They were known as disposable ships, also called raft ship, timber ship, or timber drogher.

ogooglebar, I am not seaworthy, and the "disposable" ships are new to me. The boat design forum has a discussion on the design of the boat, but I didn't know enough to summarize that thread.

Jpfed, I think there is more history on them in Russian, but my attempts to translate terms to Russian to search for more online articles failed.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2013

ogooglebar, I think it's even weirder than that; from a certain point of view, they're sailing backwards. Since they're not powered, and dragging weights to keep them centered (according to the boat building forum, anyhow), the water is actually flowing past them from upstream, so it'd be like taking a normal ship, pointing it upstream, and letting it drift backwards. From a sailing perspective, it's completely weird, but it makes a lot of sense if you're just drifting.
posted by Runcible! at 1:51 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Runcible!, you're right. Actually seeing one underway would be wierdest of all. If happened to see a belyana drift by, with no knowledge of its origin or purpose, I'd assume it was a derelict.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a series of photos of life on the Volga around the turn of the century, including a larger photo of one of these boats.

It looks like the same small handful of photos show up on every Russian page that mentions belyanas. I'd guess they all come from the same old book on Volga river craft.
posted by Nomyte at 2:04 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

These look like Noah's Ark! Where are all the animals!?!?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:34 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interesting that they are made of -lumber- not -timbers- which was my first thought. A totally different approach than floating timber downstream to a processing plant. Which suggests that maybe this practice originated long, long before steampower.

Supposedly the oldest known sawmill (Roman, water-powered) dates to the 200s CE. So these lumber-boats may go back -at least- that far. Some may even have transported very heavy stone monoliths.
posted by Twang at 3:18 PM on August 5, 2013

Good post as usual filthy light thief. The source for one of those pictures has some interesting Saratov memories [google translate]:
Back in the 60s near the house his great-grandfather kept two existing stables.
Gogol Street (Staroostrozhnaya) was paved with granite cobblestones in the street hanging lantern-plate.
The house had two ovens - Dutch and Russian. Patio with pergola and palennitsey, Kozlov for cutting and chopping wood for the deck,
several sheds, outside shower (shared), all sorts of tools. Kalitochka was in a nearby yard.
Fruit trees. The yard was on three families. Enter someone else's yard could never!
Good neighbors. No conflict in my life.
Family "French": Benjamin Aaronovitch, Ahami Veniaminovna, Bella and dog Jack. Because our dog yard called "Valetkin."
Another family even more fun - blind Bath Anna and son Ivan Guk (who was imprisoned three times for murder.) Ivan ate only wheat vodka!
Once it for my grandmother will fall off the handle welded to the iron.
Each time, smoothing underwear, Grandma used to say: "What a nice man, Ivan!"
Slop all splashed onto the street, trying to spill as much as possible, for better evaporation.
One of the latest, this tradition is still alive in the center of Saratov!
At night, the dogs barked, and somewhere far bawl songs every drunk.
posted by unliteral at 5:01 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about ships, but this sentence, from the first link, is amazing, hilarious, and sounds a lot like a made-up language:

In this method of measuring bowsprit including jibboom and out-board part of spanker boom if any have both no effect on the ship's length.
posted by elmer benson at 5:48 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is a made-up language. A made up language for describing ships.

In a certain sense, most language is made up language.

Nice FPP here for the blue, filthy light thief.
posted by yohko at 10:23 PM on August 5, 2013

Even the crews' cabins and the captain's cabin were sold as pre-built houses at the end of their trip.

Wouldn't there perhaps be at least one of these houses still standing?
posted by vacapinta at 5:35 AM on August 6, 2013

Possibly, but how would you know that a certain rustic wooden house was originally crafted as crew quarters or the captain's cabin on a ship? To me, they look like fairly standard little houses. Maybe folks in town would remember, or have stories of how that house came to be. While there is the Russian cultural heritage register (the Russian website), there are still a number of "unsolved problems" such as general disregard for historic properties.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on August 6, 2013

Wow, these were impressive. Thanks, filthy light thief.
posted by homunculus at 4:44 PM on August 6, 2013

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