M/V Vostok

Our mission control vessel, VOSTOK, was acquired in November 2012. For a long time, CS had been seeking a suitable mission control vessel to assist the mobile launch platform (MLP) SPUTNIK.

Full steam ahead heading for Spaceport Nexø for the Sapphire launch campaign June 2013

Full steam ahead heading for Spaceport Nexø for the Sapphire launch campaign June 2013

What we needed was a fairly powerful and pretty fast ship with good sea-keeping qualities, which could be used both as a platform for the launch control team, for recovery operations and even for towing, should the need arise.
Considering the extremely open layout of our launch platform, SPUTNIK, we also wanted to have at least some accommodation facilities on board our new ship.

Many ships of various constructions were considered. Some fast, others slow but in return very seaworthy. Swedish, Finnish and even Polish naval patrol boats were candidates at various times. A former Danish naval cutter was under very serious consideration but was sold right under our noses. Finally, however, we settled for a former German rescue cruiser which we found moored in a small fjord in southern Norway.

This was the former Search and Rescue cruiser “Günther Kuchenbecker”, built in 1969 for the German NGO, the Maritime Search and Rescue Society (DGzRS).

The ship’s history
The “Günther Kuchenbecker” was built to the so-called “19 meter class” cutter at the German inland shipyard Abeking & Rasmussen in Lemwerder near Bremen. Carrying the shipyards building number 6314, she belongs to a class of four ships, two of which were built at another inland shipyard, the Schweers-Werft in Bardenfleth.

The three other units of the 19 meter class are “H.J.Kratschke”, “Otto Schülke” and “Hans Lüken” of which the first mentioned is now a museum ship at Bremerhaven. All four names were bestowed on the ships in honour of crew members washed overboard during a rescue operation from the 26 meter cutter “Adolph Bermpohl”. This happened in a hurricane near Helgoland in February 1967 during which more than 80 sailors lost their lives in the North Sea. The “Adolph Bermpohl” herself (also built by Abeking & Rasmussen) was later found afloat and in perfect working order with her engines running idle, and she was shortly afterwards returned to service.

Speaking of seaworthiness, ships of the DGzRS routinely have been subjected to the most extreme kind of testing. With their mast and antennae removed they are pulled sideways all the way around by means of wires to find themselves lying turtled (meaning upside down) in the water. This is done to see whether the ship is completely watertight and – more importantly – to find out whether she is able to righten herself again. We do not know whether the Kuchenbecker itself has ever been subjected to such a test, but we do know that some of her sister ships have.

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“Günther Kuchenbecker” just off Maasholm in July 1982. The „daughter-boat” is visible on the quarterdeck

The ship’s data
Vostok was originally built as a “Seenotrettungskreuzer” (Search and Rescue cruiser) “Günther Kuchenbecker” at the German inland shipyard Abeking & Rasmussen, Lemwerder. Her building number at the shipyard is 6314. She was launched into the water in 1969 and delivered to the DGzRS in September of the same year. Her internal designation with the DGzRS was KRS 05.

She belongs to the so called 19 meter class of SAR ships having been built for the DGzRS, some larger, some smaller,
Her dimensions and data are as follows:

Originally Vostok carried a small “Tochterboot” (daughter boat) named Marcus and designated KRT 05. With her draught of only about 0.5 meters this boat was meant to operate in very shallow waters near the coastline.

The boat could be launched and retrieved via a ramp on the quarterdeck. To allow for this maneuver, part of the stern of the mother ship can be hydraulically lowered into a position well below the waterline. Today this feature may be useful for retrieval of either a small rocket, a space craft or a larger RIB boat, even in pretty rough weather.

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Günther Kuchenbecker here seen plowing the waves, carrying her “Tochterboot” aft and only one older radar type as well as a large “parrot ring”-type radio direction finding antenna.

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Vostok, here seen as the Sigurvin in her Icelandic SAR coating moored in Reykjavik

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VOSTOK seen here in the port of Reykjavik in June 2009 as the “Sigurvin” but no longer in service with the Icelandic SAR Authorities. She still has some of her Icelandic “SAR – coast guard” coat of paint left. Note however the poor mooring and the apparently absent fending. In Icelandic service two KODEN radars were mounted with PPI’s terminals in the wheelhouse and on the fly-bridge.

Taking VOSTOK home – Our first voyage with her from Norway to Copenhagen
Our first voyage with VOSTOK took place in November 2012. We were five people turning up on November 8th in the small Höysand Fjord just south of Sarpsborg in southern Norway.

Already a few days earlier Niels Johansen had arrived in Sarpsborg with a truck carrying all kinds of equipment in order to conclude the deal and make the ship ready for sea.

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This is how we found our new ship moored in Höysand, a remote fjord about 6 nautical miles south of Sarpsborg and some 350 miles north of Copenhagen. At that time her name was SOLÖY-I

The rest of the day went with stowing all kinds of stores and equipment.

The guided tour around the ship, conducted by Niels Johansen, showed us that she had been treated rather carelessly. I.a. her pantry had been pulled down so there were no cooking facilities.

The weather forecast was not very promising. On the contrary, high winds were forecast for the next hours. We held a short council on board and soon decided to avail ourselves of the still rather fair weather. We decided to cast off at 10.15 p.m. and in the pitch dark fjord we headed for the open seas.

The crew consisted of five people: Shipmaster was Steen Lorck, Niels Johansen representing the ship-owners, boatswain André Christensen, co-navigator Steen Andersen and all-round technical genius Claus Nørregaard.

The night went with fairly calm seas which however did not prevent some seasickness among the crew members. Some found the best place to survive the ship’s movements in their sleeping-bags on the fly-bridge.

Around 11 a.m. on the next day, as we were almost off the Swedish town of Gothenburg, Niels noticed that our gear oil was getting pretty hot. He asked Steen to stop the ship for about a quarter of an hour to check the reason. A quick glance on the radar screen told us that we could stop the ship without problems, as there was only little ship traffic in the area. So the engine was stopped. The sea was rather calm, so we seemed to be in no kind of trouble.

But as it turned out we were mistaken!

The problem turned out to be more serious than we had first expected. The reason for the high temperature of our gear oil seemed to be that there was too much of it in the system.

When our stop had lasted about an hour however Niels reported he was ready to start the engine.
He turned the key and pressed the button – but nothing happened! He tried, and tried again, but with the same negative result.

Niels and Claus went back into the engine room while Steen watched the situation around the ship. At a time while Steen was on deck, a call on VHF channel 16 was heard on the radio in the wheelhouse. A radio call was what we could have expected, as we were lying there adrift, dead in water just 2 nautical miles outside Sweden’s largest port. Steen awaited a repetition of the call but it never came.

A short while later something else came our way. A twin engined turboprop aircraft circled overhead a couple of times. Steen recognized the plane as belonging to the Swedish Coast Guard.

Now we were in for trouble, no doubt.

Shortly afterwards a very fast large RIB boat could be observed at some distance, – not very much to our surprise!

After circling our ship the RIB approached us on our port side and the crew of three hailed us, asking for permission to come aboard. Their appearance and behavior did not invite us to decline their wish. The two of them were quickly on deck, young, tall and strongly built, wearing 9mm Glock pistols, handcuffs, VHF radios and other items in their belts.

They were of course eager to know the reason for our presence just off the small island of Vinga and well inside the Gothenburg Vessel Traffic Service zone.

We explained to them our rather awkward situation not being able to restart our main engine. We told them we were heading for Copenhagen with the ship we had taken over just the day before in Sarpsborg, and that she was to be used as a mission control vessel during rocket launches in the Baltic. Miraculously enough they believed us! We had no name on the ship, even if we knew its name was SOLÖY-I. No wonder they were a bit suspicious, and asked for the ship’s papers. Fortunately Niels could take them to the wheelhouse to show them the documents proving part of our story.

Afterwards we were standing on the quarterdeck discussing our rather embarrassing situation, as suddenly silence was broken by the comforting humming sound of our main diesel engine starting. Claus had used magic and just some jump lead to make the engine start. The Swedish coast guard wished us all the best of luck and moments after we were on our way to Copenhagen.

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VOSTOK shortly after her arrival in Copenhagen in November 2012. The stern part of Sputnik is seen right in front of her.

Vostok arrived in Copenhagen at 3.15 a.m. on November 10th 2012, exactly 29 hours after having cast off in Norway.
On arrival in Copenhagen she was actually still the SOLÖY-I. There were some discussions about the naming of our new ship. Finally it was decided to name her in honour of the worlds first spaceship, the Russian VOSTOK, which took kosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin on the Worlds first space flight.

VOSTOK spent the winter of 2012-2013 with a technical overhaul. In spring of 2013 she was used as a training ship for a group of 15 CS members who were acquiring their proficiency in sailing.

A SAR mission at hand?
Around noon on July 25th 2013 we received a rather alarming report from the SPUTNIK. She was at sea at the moment, on her return voyage from Bornholm. Almost halfway between Bornholm and Copenhagen however, both her engines had stopped, one shortly after the other. Apparently the stoppage was due to small dirt particles (silt) in her diesel fuel system.
The sea was calm in her area, so no immediate danger seemed to be at hand.

However, we quickly managed to gather a crew of four people who were ready to leave Copenhagen on board VOSTOK a few hours later in the same afternoon. We calculated that we could be in SPUTNIK’s position after 5-6 hours at full speed, being able to take her on tow before dark.

Luckily it never became necessary to carry out any SAR mission. The proficient crew on board SPUTNIK managed to solve the problem themselves, and got underway on their own power only a few hours later.
But it was good to know that it would have been possible to carry out a search and rescue mission and come to her assistance on short notice.

Standard cruising speed for VOSTOK is 10½ knots, but we have made 14 knots on some occasions. Theoretically she should be able to make as much as 18 knots, but that will probably require some fine tuning of her engine. Besides, we have not yet tried to use the 200 hp cruise engine which is driving the same shaft as the main engine.