Author tells how he found a sunken Russian ice ship at Saturday event


Back in the 1800s, Kodiak had a booming industry exporting ice to San Francisco. Ships would sail north to Kodiak, load up with ice cut from local lakes and ponds, and return to the much warmer waters of San Francisco Bay. All to bring ice to Californians before modern refrigeration.

One of those ice ships was the three-masted Russian wooden bark named the Kad’yak (Kad-y-ak) which sank off Spruce Island in the 1860.

Its sinking has an interesting story that sounds like something out of the paranormal.

The story passed down through the years has it that the ship’s skipper was supposed to hold a service for Russian Orthodox saint, Father Herman who was buried on Spruce Island. The skipper failed to do that and his ship ended up hitting a rock off Kodiak. And because it was full of ice, which floats well, it drifted for days until it sank right off shore from Fr. Herman’s grave.

The story fascinated former Kodiak biologist and diver turned author, Brad Stevens.


“There’s a real interesting story there and when I first heard it I thought, well that sounds very nice and mythological, but it can’t possibly be true. But it intrigued me.”


Intrigue eventually lead to Stevens finding the Kad’yak and learning that yes, it did sink right off St. Herman’s burial site. He will share his story of the finding, diving for and the surveying of the vessel Saturday night in a presentation at Kodiak College.

The key to finding the long lost ship was a map. But, not just any map. Stevens had already hunted up and studied plenty of maps of the area.

Location names and other information left by the skipper of the ill-fated ship didn’t match up. Until renowned Kodiak researcher Lydia Black showed Stevens what he calls a “Rosetta Stone,” that was vital to interpreting the skipper’s notes.


“Names that we currently use were not always used in those locations. Particularly, Miller Point and Spruce Cape. He located them at one place, but we know them as a different place. So that [Black’s map] was really the Rosetta Stone that helped us figure out where the ship was.”


That helped him to clarify that the body of water that was called Icon Bay back when the ship sank is now known as Monk’s Lagoon.

Finding the Kad’yak was only the beginning. As often is the case with sunken ships, next came a long period of determining who owned the vessel. That greatly delayed researching the ship.


“It was ugly and it was not fun. But the stated finally prevailed and is the real owner of the wreck site. And that allowed us to bring in an archeology team and do a complete archeological survey of it in 2004. Which was the first underwater archeological survey done in Alaska.”


Stevens’ presentation titled “The Ship, the Saint, and the Sailor: The Long Search for the Legendary Kad’yak” begins at 6 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) in the Benny Benson Building at the college. It is free and open to the public.


Sources of more information on the Kad’yak:

On the NOAA website  (Brad Stevens was a NOAA biologist here in Kodiak.)

Archaeology Institute of America website

Purchase the book at Amazon using this link.  (This is not an affiliate link.)



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