Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Drifter Finds Adventure In a Land of Resignation




One day last month, we opened the Jack Daniels that Boris Bainov brought back from South Korea and got to wondering where he was. My girlfriend and I were having dinner with his wife, Raisa Moroz, and we chatted in the edgy, optimistic way you discuss someone who has been at sea for two months in a sailboat without radar and hasn't called home.


He was probably watching the sunset in the tropics, we agreed. No doubt glad to be away from the Primorye winter.


Boris was sailing alone from Pusan, South Korea, to Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. Mellowed by Tennessee whiskey, we gazed at the apartment -- half of it yellowed wallpaper and old fixtures, half tiles and archways renovated by Boris. I suggested that Raisa have a workman complete the job, as a surprise for Boris.


"Boris told me if I had someone else do the work, it would be worse than adultery," Raisa said.


"Well, shoot, you'd better leave it for Boris," I said.


In a region where resignation can be overwhelming, Boris' adventures have always suggested a free man who wouldn't give in to the despair of life in the Russian provinces. He went to Greece in the 1980s and island-hopped across the Mediterranean on a windsurfer while towing a rubber raft. When he hit the doldrums, a freighter tried to rescue him. He refused the lift, but asked if they could spare some food and water.


He eventually landed in Egypt, where border guards shot wildly at him in the dark. "Was it worth going so far to get killed by a Kalashnikov?" he wondered. Luckily, the guards were not marksmen. They robbed him of all his cash and threw him in jail.


In December, Boris set off from Pusan, where he had docked his boat after nearly sinking it there in 1996. Raisa, who works at a private school, was left to wait for his call. It must be a conflicted life, helping support her man's adventures yet agonizing over his safety while he is away. Nevertheless, she doesn't cope the way some spouses would, sniping at him in public, trying to recruit people to her side. She laughs at the way gangsters befriended him in a Cairo jail.


But after so many months, the strain was showing. Sometimes Raisa had guests over just to fill the void left by Boris. She served out most of his beloved whiskey, as if the sight of a man drinking Jack Daniels brought him nearer.


The other evening, Raisa's phone rang. Boris had landed in Saipan. Raisa is on her way there to meet him. Last I heard, Boris' cash was down to $75, but he put $50 aside so he could get a car to the airport and meet his wife. Maybe he will have enough money left over to take her out to dinner.


Russell Working is editor of the Vladivostok News.