Grigory Shelekhov and Alexander Baranov claimed Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in the name of Empress Catherine II and oversaw their formal annexation to Imperial Russia. In 1798 the Russian-American Company was founded as a result of the activities of Shelekhov's merchant enterprise.
The first Russian circumnavigational expedition was a consequence of the interests of the Russian-American Company. Planned by Catherine the Great, the voyage was interrupted by the Russian-Swedish War, in which the leader of the planned expedition, Commodore Grigory Mulovsky, was killed. Ivan Kruzenstern, a young officer who had served with Mulovsky, proposed to dispatch ships from Kronstadt to the coast of Russian America. Kruzenstern's idea was supported by the directors of the Russian American Company, and it was agreed that the merchants would pay half the expenses of the expedition. Alexander I also agreed to the expedition and placed Lieutenant-Commander Kruzenstern in command of the sloop Nadezhda. Lieutenant-Commander Yury Lisyansky became commander of the expedition's second vessel, the sloop Neva. Shelekhov's son-in-law, Nikolay Rezanov, chamberlain of the Imperial Court at St. Petersburg, was aboard the Nadezhda and, as one of the owners of the Russian American Company, was interested in establishing trade relations with Japan.
In late summer of 1803 both sloops left Kronstadt and followed the same route to the Pacific, sailing around Cape Horn. After passing the Marquesas and Hawaiian Islands, the courses of the Neva and Nadezhda diverged. The Neva headed for Russian America and the Nadezhda for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Lisyansky made a detailed geographical description of the Aleutian Islands, and Kruzenstern explored and mapped the eastern and northern coasts of Sakhalin. Kruzenstern and Rezanov visited Nagasaki; however, they found the Ja-panese unwilling to negotiate trade agreements with Russia. Lisyansky sailed on to Macao with a load of furs, and there the two sloops rejoined.
From Macao the Nadezhda and Neva sailed to Canton and then headed for the Cape of Good Hope. After three years the seamen returned home to Russia where their recorded commentaries served to inspire future seafarers.
Lieutenant-Commander Vasily Golovnin's sloop Diana became the first Russian-built warship to sail the Pacific. The voyage was long and agonizing. For two years his ship was under the surveillance of a British squadron off the Cape of Good Hope, and for an additional two years the commander and six of his crew were held captive by the Japanese. In 1814 Golovnin returned to St. Petersburg via Siberia. Undiscouraged by the rigours of his first long voyage, Commander Golovnin circumnavigated the globe aboard the sloop Kamchatka between 1817 and 1819.
Circumnavigational voyages became more frequent in the first half of the nineteenth century. From 1813 to 1816 Lieutenant Mikhail Lazarev successfully circumnavigated the world, and, aboard the Suvorov in 1815-1818, Lieutenant Otto Kotsebu completed a circumnavigational voyage in the Ruyrik. The expeditions of 1819 to the North and South Poles were also historical voyages. The first, under Lieutenant-Commander Mikhail Vasilyev, searched for a route from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean via the Bering Strait. He failed to find the passage he had hoped for, but, after reaching latitude 76 degrees 6 minutes North in the sloop Otkrytie [Discovery], Vasilyev and Lieutenant-Commander Gleb Shishmarev, compiled the first descriptions and charts of the northern coastline of the North American continent. More successful was the expedition to the South Pole led by Commander Faddey Bellinsgauzen. On 16 January 1820, Bellinsgauzen's ship Vostok [East] and Captain Lazarev's Mirny [Peaceful] reached the coast of Antarctica, and within a year the region that they named the Emperor Alexander I Coast became the first large area of the continent to be charted.
From 1822 to 1825 Lazarev, who had been promoted to Commander, made his third voyage around the world. For the first time in circumnavigational history a large warship, the 36-gun frigate Kreyser [Cruiser] sailed much of the distance around the globe, then remaining behind to guard the coast of Russian America. The sailing of warships in the Far East ceased following the Conventions of 1824 and 1825, when Russia, the United States and Britain began to address the question of territorial boundaries in the Pacific. Between 1803 and 1855, Russian seamen sailed in all 41 times from Kronstadt to the coasts of Kamchatka and Alaska. The records of their voyages provided future generations with invaluable information and inspiration, while their daring journeys have been preserved in many place names on the maps of the world.