Some of you may have been following the tribulations of a derelict Russian ship that has been bouncing around the Maritimes this last week. Stories are here and here and here. However, I bet most you didn’t know there was a link to both British Columbia and to me.
I first came to British Columbia in the late fall of 1978 as part of a British crew to work on “Bear Island” starring Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave and a number of other Hollywood stars. It was the most expensive movie ever made in Canada to that time. We picked up a lot of Vancouver crew — mostly “Beachcomber” vets — and headed for Stewart, BC.
We stayed in Stewart — shooting mostly up in Tide Lake, which has one of the highest average snowfalls in the world, and requiring an hour-long trip in the dark up a narrow mountain road — from October until the beginning of February.
We then had to shoot aboard a ship in icy waters and to accomplish this we leased the Russian cruise ship, Lyubova Orlova. I remember being told the ship had previously been on a cruise route between Russia and Hawaii. One day, we boarded the ship, sailed down the Portland Canal, and headed for Glacier Bay, Alaska.
When we crossed into American waters near Ketchikan, we were boarded by American pilots and immigration officers. We were also joined by two officers dressed in full-on hazmat suits. Remember this was 1979 and they looked like spacemen. A lot of the crew thought they were looking for dope but, in fact, the Americans were checking this Russian boat for radiation!
We spent several weeks filming around Glacier Bay. The accommodations were tight — we all shared rooms — and the “entertainment” on this cruise ship was interesting to say the least. Every week we docked at Juneau for a day’s R & R. Great times at the Crystal Ballroom and other joints!
This was just before the Moscow Olympics and I remember the ship was keen to sell us pins for the Games. I still have a full set of transportation pins I bought at that time.
This is a picture of Lloyd Bridges, Christopher Lee and Commercial Drive’s own Barbara Parkins on the ship.
Those were great days and it is a terrible shame to see the ship reduced to its current state. I will always remember it with pleasure.