deWolf became the proud owner of the vessel Ermak, built by Kuskov in Yakutat, after selling the Juno to the Russian American Company (RAC). The Russian American Company purchased Juno so that they could take the schooner to California to establish trade relations with the Spaniards at the San Francisco Presidio. The governor of Russian America Alexander Baranov paid a hefty price to secure deWolf’s vessel, offering $54,638 and 572 sea otter pelts worth $13,062 for the American’s ship. The deal to secure the Juno also included the Ermak, small cutter vessel, which deWolf claimed was a 40-ton ship when completely rigged with two suits of sail, four carriage guns, thirty muskets, and provisions for thirty days. As part of the deal Baranov also promised the American captain from Bristol, Rhode Island, safe passage across Russia to St. Petersburg.
But when time came to sail, deWolf and his crew were offered instead another small cutter, the Rostislav, also built by Kuskov in Yakatan, as the Ermak could not sail on time. While the Rostislav was an 85 ton vessel, deWolf in his memoirs mistakenly referred to the ship as “Russisloff,” placing it at only 25 tons. The Ermak, at 100 tons, was in fact much larger that the 40-ton estimate the American predicted the ship to be. (See: The Fleet of the Russian-American Company, by Evguenia Anichtchenko, Alaska Journal of Anthropology vol. 11, 2013.) Why my focus on tonnage? Well, with this encounter, size definitely mattered!
The vessel was sailing the waters between Kamchatka and the Siberian coast when deWolf and his crew made direct contact with a whale. Here is how Langsdorff described the encounter in the seventeenth chapter his book Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World: During the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807, first printed in 1814, five years before Herman Melville was born.