Russian hospitality! A tale of three (?) vodka's!

Philthechill
13th July 2007, 11:22
"Makrana" about 1963.We were alongside Walkers Quay loading coconut oil, rubber and char and, on the opposite side of the jetty was a Russian tanker discharging oil (I think). Stan McGuigan, S3E, and I had just knocked-off and were having a yarn on the rail. We both started to wonder if we'd be able to go aboard the "Russkie" and have a look round their engine-room (remember this was at the height of The Cold War). We wandered over to their gangway and spoke to the guy on the bottom, who spoke reasonable English, identified ourselves as Engineers "from that British ship", indicating "Makrana", and asked if it were possible to come aboard to have a look-see. He asked us to wait, went down aft and spoke to some blokes who were having some nosh, came back and said it was ok.
We then went down aft to the "tea-party", who were all dressed alike, in singlets and jeans, and spoke to a bloke, with a mouthful of stainless-steel teeth, who then indicated another chap who then took us round a very agricultural-looking engine-room, showing us the various bits-and-bobs, which made their ship go, without being able to speak a word of English!! Eventually our tour was over and we made our way back on deck. We were heading for the gangway when a bloke came running down the walk-way from the centre castle shouting, "Kapitan wants to speak to you!" Stan and I thought, "Uh-oh we're in deep s**t and we're going to be arrested and finish-up in Siberia!!" The guy who'd stopped us then escorted us up to see "The Kapitan". Lo and behold there was, much to our relief, our stainless-steel toothed friend from down aft! Bidding us sit down he asked, "You like vodka?" Both Stan and I were much too polite to decline the offer of free grog so said that we did, indeed, love vodka!
Our new-found friend then produced three bottles of ice-cold vodka from his 'fridge and bid us "Drink vodka the way we in Russia drink it!", filled his half-pint glass and then proceeded to neck it in one!!
Not to be outdone Stan and I did exactly the same nearly gagging as the neat spirit went straight down!!
"The Kapitan" slowed his intake down then to necking the bloody stuff in three goes rather than one.
Stan and I kept pace!
Needless to say Stan and I were soon absolutely legless swearing that Russia was the best country in the world and other idiotic statements which conclusively proved that the old saying "Ale in, wits out!" was alive and well.
Now I'm not saying that "The Kapitan" was just drinking water, to us drinking vodka, but he stayed remarkably sober as we got more and more scattered.
After about an hour of this hospitality Stan and I said we had to go back to our ship! Any more of the same and I reckon we would have been incapable of ANY movement whatsoever!!!
We were escorted off the Russian vessel and wove our way back the four hundred miles (or so it seemed at the time) to "Makrana".
Does this remembrance of Russian hospitality stir any similar memories amongst people? Salaams (or should that be "Dos Vadanya"?) Phil (Stolichnaya) Roe

R58484956
13th July 2007, 11:32
Phil at least you lived to tell the story. Thanks.

Chouan
13th July 2007, 12:43
We had some Rusdsians come onboard to swap films. (City of Wellington, in Bombay, I think, 1975?) they said not to bother with theirs cause they were not very good, or words to that effect. When they returned them they gave us a dozen of Russian champagne. Pink, and a trifle sweet, but very nice. I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. They were really genuinely friendly and confirmed my lifelong belief that people are the same everywhere, that most people are good, whoever they are and wherever they are from.

K urgess
13th July 2007, 14:04
Working for SAIT at Barking during shoreside tech training I got called out to Tilbury to service and tune the MLS100 lifeboat transceiver on the "Belorussija/UUDP". A passenger/cruise ship built in Finland and quite an eye opener. I'd only swallowed the anchor a couple of month before.

I appear to have spent a total twelve and a half hours on board in October 1977.
The Chief Sparks came from Odessa and had a degree in electronics. His wife was a doctor and they lived in a villa on the outskirts of the city with their two children. He drove the latest Lada model and so did his wife. He could take his wife with him and he could take his children with him. The only thing he couldn't do was take them all away with him at the same time. His cabin was a lot better than quite a few of the ones I'd had.

The 2nd Sparks was from Moscow and a keen ham operator. He was going ashore and up to London to buy a Yagi array for his outfit back in Moscow. He didn't have a good word to say for the "regime" and kept warning me about the commissars on the gangway. Quite a character who got a few dark looks from his chief.

The Chief Sparks insisted on us having some Georgian Brandy before lunch. "The same brandy that Churchill used to drink". A celebration of "Entente Cordiale".

On my second visit they were serving a special lunch because they were launching a new ice breaker at Leningrad or somewhere. That meant that the cabbage soup was less watery than usual and the borscht (?) had sour cream in it in celebration. I did notice that there was very little alcohol about in the mess at lunchtime. Seemed to be a nation of cabin drinkers.

After being shown the ship and being presented with a book about Odessa and various bits and bobs I had to get my paper work signed off by the Captain and explain how his degenerate western democratic lifeboat radio gear was now working again courtesy of the capitalist American Motorola company. Sealed with a toast to cement east west relations of course.

There were some rather strange rooms full of electronic kit on that ship.

When I got on deck to go ashore I found that we were in the middle of the bloody river.(EEK)
They'd neglected to tell me while plying me with Armenian/Georgian brandy that they were sailing. So clutching my loot and my toolkit I had to disembark rather unsteadily onto a launch with the agent who was Russian and quite used to this sort of behaviour. For a moment I'd had visions of ending up in Siberia and was wracking my brains trying to think of what I'd said or seen that could have them accuse me of spying.

My only previous experience of the Russian Empire had been when I took a weekend trip by train from my ship in Hamburg to Berlin through East Germany and the Iron Curtain via the Wall. Stayed in the Kempinski (James Bond stayed there) off the Kurfurstendam and nearly walked through checkpoint Charlie by mistake in the dark.

On the way back I'd been taking a few pictures of the East German countryside and my camera was on the compartment table when the Vopos (Volks Polizei) arrived to check passports. Strange what runs through your mind when this uniformed bloke (not really changed since 1939) with a submachinegun says "Ach So! You haf been taking fotografs of our glorious democratic countryside, nein!" in the sort of voice that really says "Ve haf vays off making you talk!"[=P]

Geoff Garrett
13th July 2007, 23:31
Some years ago, in Newcastle NSW, a Russian ship was "working" cargo in the desultory style common to those shores, which frustrated the Captain who made the mistake, after a few drinks, of going out onto the deck and abusing the wharfie workers.

In high dudgeon the labour promptly walked off the ship. This was unprecedented in Australian wharf history. They would walk off a British ship at the drop of a hat, but never ever a Russian. Even through strikes, all ships would be deserted except Russian ones.

This was of course hot news, the Press high-tailed it down to the ship and put it to the Captain, "what will Moscow say Captain, when they learn of this. Will they sent you to Siberia?"

The Captain now well into his cups, retorted with "vhat the hell do you mean, I komm from Siberia!".

RGascoyne
13th July 2007, 23:56
The last of the four trips I made on Reina Del Mar in July 1967, was the best and very unusual. We sailed for Hamburg, Copenhagen, Leningrad and finally Bergen. Till then no adult passenger ship had been allowed to visit the Soviet Union or Russia. One year before, the British India ship "ss Uganda" had visited Leningrad but the passengers were almost entirely British school children on an organized educational cruise. That had gone well and so the Russians decided to let us be the first adult ship in 1967. We had just the one cruise there and on that depended their attitude to future stops by other western cruise ships.

We eventually approached the Gulf of Finland and then cruised past the islands and area that led up to Leningrad. This was even more interesting as we passed the berths and pens used by the Soviet submarine fleet at Kronshtadt, crowded with subs of all ages, sizes and shapes. We advised people not to photograph them but there was little way to enforce that. The same was requested for the docks area in Leningrad and on the roads into the City where we were asked not to take pictures of the women in the road repair gangs. In the docks there were many fishing vessels of all sizes and all of them bristled with hardware high on their masts and superstructure, looking like radar and satellite communications equipment that was mainly used to monitor and spy on western fleets and countries all over the world. Very few of the ships in port seemed to be normal and unenhanced.

We docked at about midnight and had to clear the ship with the authorities. Everyone had been warned to have a current passport and for crew to have their seaman's cards with their photograph or there was a risk they would not clear the entire ship. We had to gather and tag all these documents and have them in drawers for them to check and stamp. We would also have to go through the same routine for hours before they would let us leave. This would be made harder as everybody going ashore had to be given their document to carry and then hand them back in on their return to the ship. After the check they found that the Purser, of all people, had no acceptable document. After some confusion and a few drinks all round, they decided to accept his British driving license, even though in those days there was no photograph included. So much for their rules and our planning.

The ship also had to be cleared for customs and other matters and this meant a detailed inspection of the bars and shops as well as the paperwork we had prepared. As all this took place cartons of cigarettes and further unopened bottles of spirits were piled up in every corner of the room we were using to meet the officials. They were invited to help themselves and when a comment was made about some nice cameras in the shop, they were quickly produced and added to the collection, most of which quietly disappeared overnight. I never saw any hint that the officials were initially looking for such gifts, that we had been pre-warned or that they were needed before we would be cleared. It seemed more to me that the Purser and maybe some other senior officers had determined that this should just be offered to smooth our entry. Either way I thought at the time that the officials must have been horrified by the bribes but took them so as not to offend and to avail themselves of a golden opportunity in a country with many shortages. It also worried me that this would make them think this was normal practice in the west and maybe come to expect it of all other western contacts in future. I was appalled even if no-one else was. This scene was then repeated the next evening as we sought to get ourselves released from the port. Whilst there in Leningrad, they stationed armed guards on the gangway but, as we later realized, these were not to keep us on the ship, but locals away from us.

Bearsie
14th July 2007, 01:01
I visited on many an East Block ship, they were usually rather friendly.
Especially if I took a case of beer along ( they supplied the Vodka).
Only drawback was that their crews were usually not allowed to visit us.
Presumably their management thought we "bad" westerners might "kidnap" them ?
However, paranoia works both ways. After I came back from visiting with the engine crew on a Russian vessel my, very western, captain called me and berated me at length for my transgression against cold war etiquette! LOL
Fraternising with the enemy! Gads!

jock paul
14th July 2007, 10:48
In the early '70's I was hospitalised on the island of Las Palmas with a couple of ribs stove in after being mugged. Semi private ward. In the other bed was an engineer from a Polish trawler with multiple fractures from a shipboard accident. My Polish was zero and his English not much better, but you know how it is, somehow we conversed. He wanted to defect to the West. I was being visited by crew mates practically every day, his only visitor was their ship's political officer. We had concocted a scheme to smuggle him onto our ship when I was released from hospital. Came the day, my fellow officers (but not gentlemen!) arranged for a taxi to take us both back to the ship, he still swathed in plaster of paris. We booked out of the hospital and who was waiting outside? Political Officer with a couple of cronies armed to the teeth. They bundled him into an other taxi and were gone. God knows what happened to the poor man, I often wonder. Regards, Jock

JoK
14th July 2007, 11:45
We used to go into Ventspils several times a winter to load Naptha for Canada. It was a shocker for a young Canuck like me, to see an armed guard at the gangway. They collected passports and gave us shore passes. Then they had "Custom Control" at the gate, a pimply guy in a black leather trench coat. Myself and the 3rd took a walk ashore. There were a lot of fancy trawlers in the harbour bristing with attenaes. We stopped into the grocery store, that was pretty sobering. There were a lot of empty shelfs, not at all what I was used to.
One trip we were there, I came out of the engineroom, to find some stranger sorting through my undergarments. Who the hell are you? Turned out it was Customs looking for pornography-that was all they were interested in that trip.
We were finished loading and the Chief Officer and Russian cargo master were going over numbers in the middle of the night in the cargo office. (I gather there were some disagreement on what we had actually loaded.) I stuck my head in and told the Mate I had just put a fresh pot of coffee on. The Mate turns to the Russian and asks if he would like a coffee. The Russian agreed very quickly and we went to the galley down the alleyway. The Mate gave the Russian 2 bags of coffee and 2 bags of sugar totake with him. All dispute over cargo loaded ended immediately. I've often wondered what the going worth of 10 lbs of sugar and 10 of coffee was in Russia in 1988.

I just remembered that the sample bottles were stoppered glass bottles with a wax seal. I don't remember bunkering there so it must have been cargo samples.

Tony Crompton
14th July 2007, 15:22
I have piloted many Russian Ships from the small "Baltiskys", through the Gas Tankers and GP Tankers up to 100,000 ton plus tankers and bulkers.
Regardless of the size of ship as soon as you appeared on the bridge a tray was produced with a tin of Russian instant coffee, a flask of hot water, milk and sugar. Also 4 small pieces of bread, 2 with salami on,and two with a very strong cheese. It never varied!!
Usually we had the excuse of going to another ship to avoid the "Vodka Sessions" that were often offered.
-----------------------------------------
Tony C

JoK
14th July 2007, 22:21
I'm such a dork...I just realized I posted in a topic of a line I never sailed for. And probably slightly off topic as well
Sorry (POP)

KIWI
14th July 2007, 23:24
The Russian representative put on a dinner for the secretariat of British lines here in Wellington which started in wheelhouse as crew had to finish using saloon for their meal.Liquor supplied was our standard NZ beer plus the usual brands of gin & whiskey.Eventually we reached the saloon & sat down to an excellent meal plus really top line Russian wines.Later on after coffee we reverted to whiskey,gin or Russian brandy.Those who used water with spirits,self included topped up from the water bottles on the table.Unfortunately the water was vodka & next day was pure hell.Noticed the wheel house had heavy steel doors ready to cover the wooden ones & steel shutters for the windows.As has already been remarked stainless steel teeth were quite prominent.Some very attractive stewardesses until they opened their mouths.The Russian rep was quite a humourist.Just after his arrival in NZ was asked from what part of Russia he came from.He replied "Siberia & if I don't fill this ship I will be back there".Another occassion when all the Lines were jockeying for position the Scan rep was being very reluctant to give dates.Getting fed up the Russian told him he had the best excuse of all.His ship was delayed by the Americans mining of Haiphong. Kiwi

Chouan
14th July 2007, 23:44
The thawing of the Cold War was obvious from our (MN) viewpoint. When visting Ventspils on the Solvent Discoverer, 1980, the guards foe and aft, and on the gangway always refused a hot drink. Despite being on duty for 12 hours in the Baltic winter. When I was there on the Geneve in the late 80's, they gratefully accepted a hot drink, and were friendly when spoken to.
Clearly, a change was ocurring.

trotterdotpom
15th July 2007, 05:31
A Humber pilot once told me that he was piloting a Russian ship inwards and a steward appeared with the tray of coffee, etc. He poured himself a coffee and went back to looking out of the bridge window. After a few minutes. he realised that the steward was still standing there and told him he was finished. The steward didn't appear to understand so he told the Master that the steward didn't need to wait. The Master said: "He is a servant of the State and he'll stay there as long as I want him to!" The Workers' Paradise?

John T.

mcgurggle
15th July 2007, 07:31
We were in Limerick (Ma Ryans pub) sometime in the 70s & a small group of Russian seamen were also in the bar in a tight group. I noticed that when someone needed to go to the 'head', he whispered in the ear of one of two young chaps(who turned out to be Ch.Officer & Master from a Russian stone carrier),& one or the other would accompany him to the 'Bog'.
The Ch. Officer kept eyeballing me & it got quite uncomfortable (thought he fancied me).(H) He approached me & asked me if I would sell him the 'Ulster Grand Prix' motorcycle badge I was wearing in my lapel. I insisted that he have it as a presento', for which he insisted on buying me a pint & moved over to chat to me.
After a few crew members had approached him & whispered in his ear & he or the other one had dissapeared in the 'bog' with him for a few minutes, my curiosity got the better of me. So I asked him what the craick' was.
He then 'flashed' a small revolver from under his jacket & explained that Southern Ireland was a great place for 'Comrades' to jump ship & go walkies', so each had to be escorted to the loo or even to the bar to buy a drink, while the other stayed & watched the rest of them. He insisted he WOULD shoot anyone trying to jump ship!
I have often wondered what sort of International furore would have erupted if
this had happened....also, if 'Ma Ryan' had known that someone had a gun in her bar she would have kicked his 'roubles' in...!!!:sweat:
McG(Thumb)

Tony Crompton
15th July 2007, 14:28
A Humber pilot once told me that he was piloting a Russian ship inwards and a steward appeared with the tray of coffee, etc.
John T.

I seem to remember that it was usually a stewardess who brought the tray!!
--------------------------
Tony C

Binnacle
15th July 2007, 21:11
On passage to Archangel, heard on the BBC that 90 odd Soviet spies were being expelled from the UK and our embassy staff in Moscow were concerned what the repercussions would be. To reduce the chances of a spell in the Gulag we removed anything faintly incriminating such as marks on charts showing conspicuous radar masts etc, and I dumped cine film which I had taken of Warsay Pact ships exercising in the Baltic. Fortunately all was normal when we arrived and we had no problems. On sailing day I was locked up in a Soviet mental institution visiting a crew member who we were leaving behind while he recovered from an over dose of the alcoholic vapours. Seeing inside the place, which resembled something out of a Russian novel, I resolved that I would never take strong drink when calling at USSR ports. Fortunately that was my last visit to the USSR. Happy days.

pilot
15th July 2007, 21:23
Tony.

"I seem to remember that it was usually a stewardess who brought the tray!!"

Along with slices of sausages, cheese and hard bread. Today the tray's in the wheelhouse when you board and it's a DIY job.
Rgds.

mcgurggle
15th July 2007, 23:19
Life must be tough for the average Pilot these days:sweat: ...LOL ...
McG (Thumb)

Tom Haywood
19th July 2007, 05:54
In the early '70's I was hospitalised on the island of Las Palmas with a couple of ribs stove in after being mugged. Semi private ward. In the other bed was an engineer from a Polish trawler with multiple fractures from a shipboard accident. My Polish was zero and his English not much better, but you know how it is, somehow we conversed. He wanted to defect to the West. I was being visited by crew mates practically every day, his only visitor was their ship's political officer. We had concocted a scheme to smuggle him onto our ship when I was released from hospital. Came the day, my fellow officers (but not gentlemen!) arranged for a taxi to take us both back to the ship, he still swathed in plaster of paris. We booked out of the hospital and who was waiting outside? Political Officer with a couple of cronies armed to the teeth. They bundled him into an other taxi and were gone. God knows what happened to the poor man, I often wonder. Regards, Jock

I had a similar situation but the rolls were reversed as I was the stranded seaman in Aden. It was in 1965 and I was on the NZSCo ship Otaio out bound from the UK to Oz. I had become sick while transiting the Suez Cannal and by the time we reached Aden the ships doctor would not allow me to do the Aden/Fremantle leg of the voyage so I was put ashore as a DBS and into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Kormacia (?)
This was the time that the Yemen were fighting for their independance and had no real love for anything British so I got the poor end of the stick with little attention and even less food.
I ended up in a two bed ward with a Russian radio officer (bless their hearts regardless of their nationality) who spoke fair english and we exchanged medical details, he had been put ashore from a Russian tanker with a heart complaint (as he put it) and that his ship was waiting for the arrival of another ship that had a jnr operator that would transfer over.
Each day his crew mates from the cook to the old man would visit the hospital
bringing all sorts of food, large glass jars of preserved fruits, sauage, cordial and other items which he more than shared with me as the hosptial fare was beyond discription.
For about 4 weeks we lived on what was supplied from his Russian ship mates and what we could scrounge from the ward staff who were all from Djibouti
The sad thing is that considering I spent so much time with this fellow on a one on one basis I cannot remember his name or the ship he came from apart from the fact that he made a enough of a recovery to be repatted home. I too made it home (by air) and caught up with the Otaio and signed on again in Sydney

trotterdotpom
5th August 2007, 16:10
On passage to Archangel, heard on the BBC that 90 odd Soviet spies were being expelled from the UK and our embassy staff in Moscow were concerned what the repercussions would be. To reduce the chances of a spell in the Gulag we removed anything faintly incriminating such as marks on charts showing conspicuous radar masts etc, and I dumped cine film which I had taken of Warsay Pact ships exercising in the Baltic. Fortunately all was normal when we arrived and we had no problems. On sailing day I was locked up in a Soviet mental institution visiting a crew member who we were leaving behind while he recovered from an over dose of the alcoholic vapours. Seeing inside the place, which resembled something out of a Russian novel, I resolved that I would never take strong drink when calling at USSR ports. Fortunately that was my last visit to the USSR. Happy days.

I was alongside in Archangel on "Jobst Oldendorff" during that incident. I heard the news on the BBC World Service and remember vividly that there were 106 Russian Diploamats expelled from Britain and about 50 from Belgium. That evening on the bus to the Interclub, the Chief Engineer from a Turnbull Scott ship, which was ahead of us on the berth, asked the hostess why one of their sailors had lost his shore pass for returning late the previous night. She said: "There's nothing to do after midnight in Archangel so he must have been up to no good." Quick as a flash, the Chief replied: "Well, in retaliation for this, my government has just expelled 106 of your diplomats!"

John T.

Allan James
5th August 2007, 18:58
I as Cadet on the Eumaeus, an NSMO (Dutch Blue Flue) A boat. Somewhere in the Far-East and during the "cold-war" I was dispatched to a Russian merchantman to "swap films". I think I had a Clint Eastwood western and a James bond film (the latter possibly NOT the best one for a swop with our Russian friends) Anyway it took a lot of hours to negotiate the swop, they got the films.... I got p***ed. Ended up with them swopping the films for a huge amount of Mother Russia's finest alcohol.......seemed pretty fair to everyone! I found their ship to be a rather rusty, basic and barely seaworthy heap of cr*p, but what a crew! They REALLY knew how to make a cadet welcome and took the few brain cells I had and pickled them! I refer to Chouans' comment earlier in this thread.......and correct it; it isn't "people" that are basically good, but its SEAFARERS that are!

Regards

Allan