Captains gave their lives to their expeditions, devoting themselves and basing their reputations on their duties and explorations. Often, they also suffered from illness contracted while at sea, or, like Magellan, Cook, Clerke, La Perouse, and Bering, they died before they could return home.
By the autumn of 1742 on the Second Kamchatka expedition, Vitus Bering had, like most of his crew, developed a serious case of scurvy. The condition of the crew of the Sv. Petr was so poor that they could not sail the ship, and had all but given up hope of surviving when they ran aground on an island on November 5. It had a stream with fresh water, but no wood for constructing shelter. The sandy hills of the island formed cave-like depressions, and it was decided that those still able to move would remove the sick crewmembers from the ship to try to return them to health. Many died during or soon after being moved onto land. Captain Bering, now in his 60s, suffered greatly and was carefully carried to his own sand-shelter, where the ship’s doctor tried to assist him. Bering died on December 8, 1742, under sand and snow on the northern Pacific island. It is said that the sand rolled in to slowly bury him as he died, but that he refused to let anyone clear it away for the little warmth it provided.
In 1991, archaeologists travelled to the site of that terrible winter, on what was named Bering Island in the captain’s honour. They excavated Bering’s remains, and a forensic scientist in Moscow reconstructed the captain’s face based on his skeleton.