November, 1994, I flew with the US Air Force down to McMurdo Base in Antarctica. My purpose for going there was to gather ideas for a painting I was to create for the National Archives. It was, to say the least, an amazing trip!
I met with the crew I would be flying with at the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu and took off for a night in Hawaii, then a gas stop in Pango Pango and then on to our base near Christchurch, New Zealand. There were two other civilians on the trip with me. One was a graduate student from Berkeley who was headed down there to winter over (yikes!!) doing reasearch for his doctorate in Astronomy. We were carrying a enormous part of a telescope he was going to be using.
The other civilian was James Cameron who wanted to see Antarctica. Even if you are someone as famous as Jim, Antarctica is a tough place to get to. There are tours that go around the continent, and, stop at a couple of islands, however...getting to the heart of the continent is a different matter. Before any of us flew there, we needed to have our will registered with the Air Force. It is a dangerous place to go, and, the military based there (United States, New Zealand, Italy and a few others) are the policing body for the continent and have had to rescue several people who decided it would be a good idea to land on one side of the continent with a pair of skis and a bag of granola then cross country their way to the other side. Yeah...no...too often they fall into a crevasse or hit by a storm. There are way too many things in Antarctica to kill you, so if the military finds you there, they escort you out of there as fast as they can.
Although it is a dangerous place, we survived with just one harrowing experience, which I will share in another blog post. Jim and I were there for 3 weeks, most of which we spent in New Zealand with the crew, however, weather allowing, we would head back down to the ice. I did the first trip
with the crew and a hundred or so scientists heading down to McMurdo. Jim joined us on the second trip down, and, he had thought to bring some gifts for the crew.
We were sitting on the steps of one of the office buildings near the base in New Zealand, getting ready for a day trip over to Lyttelton and boat ride across the bay, then, horseback riding up in the hills. Jim brought a big bag of hats for the crew and was busy putting them together. They were made to help market his film True Lies which had come out shortly before our trip.
One of the things Jim was working on while we were down there was lining up his dives on the Titanic with a Russian crew that would take him to the wreck.