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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anchors Aweigh in Pacific Ocean Odyssey




A Russian man and woman set out across the Pacific Ocean last spring in a homemade sailboat without a motor, life jackets or proper navigational equipment.


Somehow, 1,100 nautical miles later, after losing their anchor and getting tossed about by the waves, Boris Bainov and Renata Pavlenko beached their rusty eight-meter boat in Auckland, New Zealand.


They said they had come to watch the America's Cup races, but since they had no money and no visas, the authorities were not amused.


Police immediately took the Vladivostok couple into custody and their adventure looked like it was coming to an end.


But their amazing story quickly turned them into local celebrities, and last Friday, just an hour before Bainov and Pavlenko were to be put on a plane and deported to Russia, a local woman stepped forward and offered to be their sponsor.


The woman, Katie McFadyen, arranged for them to get visas and invited them to stay at her home for a month.


"I didn't mind going back to Russia but it would really gall me if I had to leave my boat here," Bainov said Monday in a telephone interview from Auckland.


Their adventure started in April when Bainov, 47, invited Pavlenko, 24, most recently a furniture dealer in Vladivostok, to spend a vacation with him in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, which is near Guam.


He had left his boat in Saipan a year before and was hoping she'd like it well enough to join him on a sailing trip.


Bainov said traveling has always been his passion. While living in Greece in the early 1990s he had attempted to reach Italy by raft but failed. In another attempt, he managed to reach Egypt but was taken for a spy by the local police and spent a month in jail.


But he said his life-long dream was to set out in a boat built by his own hands. He returned to Vladivostok and spent two years restoring a discarded lifeboat, setting sail for the first time in 1996.


He landed in Pusan, South Korea, where he spent several months before returning home by plane. Eight months later, he returned to Pusan and set off on a longer journey - this time he reached Saipan.


Leaving the boat there, he flew back to Vladivostok. When he returned to Saipan it was with Pavlenko.


"We agreed that if she liked the boat we would go, and if she did not we'd just spend a vacation is Saipan," Bainov recalled.


Pavlenko, who once worked as an exotic dancer in a night club outside Tokyo, evidently liked the boat.


After using the last of their money to pay harbor fees for the boat, which had been docked in Saipan for 12 months, and to buy food for the journey, they set sail in April for the nearby island of Rota.


"We had parties with the locals every day. They are so friendly there," Pavlenko said. She said they exchanged fishhooks for fruit and meat.


After a month on Rota, they headed southeast. Along the way to New Zealand, they stopped at Nukumanu Island near Papua New Guinea and at Espiritu Santo.


Bainov said he saw no need to take life jackets or any other flotation device in case the boat capsized or sank.


"On the open seas it does not help you anyway, just like a motor, which makes the journey impossible as there is no place on board to store fuel," he said. "In fact, if we had had a motor we would not have lasted long."


He also had no flares and, what New Zealanders found most shocking of all, no anchor.


"We lost it near Espiritu Santo. When it was jammed among huge stones, we just had to cut it off," Pavlenko said.


Their only navigational device was a global positioning system, or GPS - so they knew where their boat was but not where it was going.


"There were three entire days of storming weather once," Pavlenko recalled. "I said goodbye to my life at least 10 times."


"My navigation skills are very poor," Bainov said, recalling how their rusted, damaged boat finally landed in Auckland's Manukau harbor after hours of being thrown across the rocks and buffeted by the waves.


"Later we learned that no boat had ever beached there before," Bainov said.


After the couple's story hit the news, several people offered to pay for the boat to be repaired and someone sent them money and a new GPS, Bainov said.


"New Zealanders are gold, but their police are disgusting," Pavlenko said.


Bainov plans to sail back to Vladivostok, but he's not sure when he'll make it home.


"You can spend two weeks on the same spot when the ocean is calm," he said.


Pavlenko has not talked to her family since she left home in April and thinks they might be worried about her by now.


"I wrote home from every island we visited, even though I was not sure the post was functioning there," Pavlenko said.


Bainov's mother, reached by telephone in Vladivostok, said she is used to not hearing from her elder son for many months.


"If there is nothing from him, that means he is OK," Mira Bainova said.