The Pilot sets sail:
The history of the world’s first icebreaker
The Pilot sets sail:
The history of the world’s first icebreaker
The Pilot sets sail: 
The history o the world’s first icebreaker

Russia now has the largest and  most powerful icebreaker fleet, and it operates the world’s only nuclear icebreakers, too.

How did all this begin?

The icebreaker ship Pilot
The small ship Pilot, owned by merchant Mikhail Britnev from St. Petersburg, was the forerunner of the current Russian icebreaker fleet. In the mid-19th century, it was possible to reach Kronstadt only by sea, that is, aboard steamships in summer and in sleds via the thick sea-ice formations in winter. Although the traffic system was perfect, it did not function very effectively in autumn and spring, when the ice was not sturdy enough to support sleds but proved too dangerous for steamships. These situations persisted for weeks, with the good people of Kronstadt facing food shortages and delays in  mail service and other deliveries.

Consequently, Britnev decided to build a steamship that would crush the ice under its own weight.

In 1862, he converted his steam tug Pilot into an icebreaker and fitted its bow with a slanted stem, inclined at a 20-degree angle. The ship’s bow was therefore located below the waterline, relative to the keel. The icebreaker resembled the ice-resistant Pomor boats that crushed hummocks under their own weight, and it had a rather modest 60 h. p. steam engine.
From 1864 on, the Pilot’s crew worked hard to facilitate stable navigation even complicated ice conditions and made it possible to deliver freight and passengers.

Regrettably, not a single authentic image of the Pilot or its technical drawings survive to this day. A stamp commemorating the first icebreaker was issued in 1976, but, according to experts, it depicts a standard steamship of that period. 
Boi, Buoy and Ledokol
The steamship Boi, the Pilot’s sister ship, was laid down at Britnev’s plant in September 1874 and featured several improvements.

The ship’s iron hull had 9.5-mm plating below the waterline, and 19-mm sheets covered the bow and the waterline. Just like with the Pilot, the hull’s frames were located 60 centimeters apart, and the main and intermediate frames were interspaced between the bow and the stern.

Engineers tested the new steamship’s mechanisms in late March 1875. The ship sailed on its first commercial run from Kronstadt to Oranienbaum on April 24, cutting a path through the ice as it went. 
The iron steamship Ledokol (Icebreaker), built at Britnev’s plant a year later, operated on the Svir River and the Onega Canal. Although we know nothing about its specifications and performance, the telltale name stuck.
In the spring of 1889, Britnev completed the steamship Buoy, the third Pilot-class icebreaker. This combined tug, rescue ship and icebreaker featured water pumps and diving equipment, as well as a passenger cabin astern.
Many of Britnev’s engineering solutions were used to build large icebreakers that helped develop the Arctic.

In his book The Ice-Bound Yermak, Admiral Stepan Makarov wrote: “This small ship [Pilot] accomplished a seemingly impossible task: it prolonged the fall and winter navigation season by a few weeks.”

Text: Ekaterina Sytina

Design: Elena Lebedeva, Vladimir Naskidaev