A Crew Sails on its Stomach
A Crew Sails on its Stomach
We ate very well. As soon as we sailed, we started a schedule of six meals a day, every four hours around the clock, every day we were at sea. A large traditional breakfast was served at 7:00 a.m. The oncoming watchstanders ate at the first seating, and food was still available for the offgoing watchstanders who got there around 7:30. This pattern held for every watch change, every four hours. The noon meal was a traditional lunch, and "soupdown," consisting of soup and sandwiches, was held from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. The evening meal was the largest and most formal meal of the day, and soupdown was available from 11:00 to 12:00 p.m. and from 3:00 to 4:00 a.m. Most of us settled for three or four meals a day, but some ate five, or even all six.
Another attraction of the food service was the amount of baking that was done on board. We did not have room to carry much bread, so we carried flour. Our cooks seemed to take particular pride in their baked goods. In the early morning hours, between soupdowns, they baked stickybuns, which were intended to last through the breakfast. I generally found that if I stood the morning watch the stickybuns were gone before I got off watch at 8:00. So I made a point of eating some pastries before I went on watch.
In theory, we had to support this food service operation following the same governmental rules as all other military. However, there were special provisions made to alleviate our very real problems in feeding our crew. Since we served fewer than 150 people, we were granted extra funds to make up for our inability to order food in economical quantities. Since we did not have sufficient storage space, or freezer space, to carry standard food supplies for a long trip, we were granted extra funds to buy food that fitted a submarine's storage abilities. Since we were operating independently, and could not replenish from a supply ship while at sea, we were granted extra funds to carry some goodies that were not usually permitted through the military food service processes.
Over the years, the submarines had been modified for extra capabilities. What this usually meant was that storage space was converted for electronic or weapons equipment, and that extra sailors were needed to operate and maintain the new equipment. More people, more food, less storage space. We planned ahead, since we could not run down to the supermarket for something we forgot. When we were going out for months at a time, we started out extremely crowded with food. Many times the canned goods were stowed in the engine rooms, with the diesels roaring two inches away. Sometimes it was so bad we walked on food. The boxes full of canned food were neatly laid on the deck in the passageway through the berthing compartments and in the torpedo rooms. It was as if we were using cartons of canned food as floor tiles. After a few weeks, we would have eaten our way down to the real deck.
We also carried extra food. Whenever we sailed, we had enough food to last us for far longer than we planned to be at sea. The reason given was something about military readiness. This extra food was usually in the form of flour, rice, and dried beans. We rarely had to dip into it. When we did have to use it, such as when our schedule in the Mediterranean was disrupted by an Arab-Israeli crisis, our standard of living dropped significantly.
Of course, when we returned to port, the real world stepped in, in the form of petty bureaucrats. An incident occurred when I was in charge of the food service that is a typical example of this.
When a U.S. Navy ship returned from sea in those days, it was not permitted to request food over the radio. Food had to be ordered in person. Supposedly a system was in place to take care of this, but it did not work when we were based in Charleston, S.C. The Naval Supply Center there required five days notice before they would deliver food to a ship. When we returned from sea, we wanted fresh milk and vegetables, and we wanted them within five days. Five minutes was more like when we wanted them. As usual, when confronted with the bureaucracy, sailors found a loophole.
The Naval Supply Center in that part of the world did not carry avocados. Therefore, we were entitled to go to town and buy avocados from local wholesalers. As soon as we tied up to the pier upon returning to port, the cook ran down to the produce mart to buy hundreds of dollars worth of lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Each time, he signed a receipt for avocados. There was apparently no financial impropriety involved, as the wholesale value was the same, as expressed in dollars.
The first month that I was aboard, I was visited by investigators from Norfolk. They pointed out that my menus never showed any avocados, but my billings showed lots of them. In the end, we were not punished, and the Supply Center was ordered to deliver fresh food to ships returning from sea.
The best food in the world, however, is no good if you are seasick. Why, I remember one meal, off Hatteras, I believe it was, when only four of us showed up for dinner . . . .