John—who already had the distinction of spotting the weather station during our Light Ground Traverse— once told me a story of his crazy experience several years earlier while sailing on a Russian cargo ship. As part of the collaboration between the countries operating in Antarctica, the Russians would arrive at McMurdo Station at the end of the austral summer to resupply cargo and persons to Vostok. In return, the US would support the Russians by flying between McMurdo and Vostok. When the Russian ship arrived McMurdo, the crew members would setup tables to sell everything they could to the Americans before heading out. I personally purchased a set of cold weather clothing, former Soviet trinkets, and vodka. On one occasion, one of the Russians tried to sell me and my Kiwi friend the lifeboat off their ship. Can you believe that? We declined but were tempted since my Kiwi friend could have easily arranged it to be flown back to New Zealand.
As part of this collaboration, the Russians would invite two or three Americans to sail from McMurdo Station back to Christchurch, New Zealand as a friendly payback—John was selected. Prior to leaving McMurdo, a couple of Americans who had previously sailed on the same ship, strongly suggested he pack all of his meals from McMurdo food supply since the Russian ship’s food was unpredictable. Not taking their warnings seriously, John only packed a couple of boxes of granola bars.
The first few days of sailing was smooth and uneventful and John would often step out of his cabin onto the outside deck, lean on the guard rail and enjoy a cigarette and the view. One night after he showed up for dinner he began to get concerned about the food—while he was eating a bowl of soup, he spooned a large chuck of cow hide with hairs out of it. That was it, he stopped eating in their galley for most meals. To make matters worse, the ship encountered two typhoons while heading to Christchurch. During the typhoons, John would stay inside since the outside conditions were too dangerous and unsettling. After the second typhoon passed, John decided to step outside on the deck to have his first smoke in days. As he passed through the bulkhead to the outside deck, he immediately noticed the section of guard rail he had been leaning against for the past week or so was missing. It had fallen off and went overboard during the last typhoon.
As the Russian ship arrived in Port Lyttleton, New Zealand, they were denied docking due to a lack of funds to pay the port fees and the ship was forced to anchor in the port until further notice. After a day at anchor, a small vessel arrived to take to the three Americans to shore while the Russians all stayed behind at anchor. John said the Russians were stuck at anchor for several more days before being allowed to come ashore. He felt pretty bad sailing off and leaving them behind considering they all just went through two typhoons together.