Lost at Sea

The Saturday after Thanksgiving ( here stateside) marks the anniversary of the sinking of the sidewheel steamer Portland during the Gale of 1898. This year, we observed the 125th. Some 198 passengers and crew lost their lives when a gale with winds of up to a hundred miles an hour overwhelmed the Portland. It’s sometimes called New England’s Titanic.

On Sunday, I read an article about the sinking. Tears came to my eyes even though no one in my family was aboard. I am, however, the son, nephew, and descendant on both sides of my family, for unknown generations, of seaman. As a seaman and sailor, I’ve seen gales, hurricanes, and foul weather. I’ve listened to my father tell about how he survived the torpedo sinking of a tanker. And in my library is a little book issued to merchant seamen titled How To Abandon Ship. I take lives lost at sea personally and seriously.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on the sea:

“People are always comparing the sea to a woman. That’s a mistake. Even a woman you’ve cheated on and abandoned is more forgiving than high seas and a bad storm.” -Petty Officer John O’Toole, USN.

“Whenever your preparations for the sea are poor, the sea worms its way in and find the problems.” ~ Francis Stokes

“He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.” ~ George Herbert.

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A Halloween Cruise

I- In the beginning

October has always been an iffy time of year for me—relationships blowing up, the deaths of friends, and some genuinely awful road trips. It was an odd collection of things: off-ramps to places that didn’t appear on the map, getting rides with people from weird sects who wanted to convert me to Baphomet worship, and such. But, my friend’s idea for a Haunted Halloween cruise took me unprepared.

My best friend came up with the cockamamie idea. He’d fit out the ugly Bayliner he’d taken for mechanic’s leans as a floating party boat and invite only “reliable” friends and associates. During the cruise, sound and lighting effects would add a seasonal vibe. The DJ had holiday-appropriate music and party games with a Halloween twist.

When the Bayliner (rechristened the Minnow for this cruise) crossed from Massachusetts waters into New Hampshire waters, there would be an elaborate but phony line-crossing ceremony. Line Crossing ceremonies are one thing in the tropics; going from being a slimy Pollywog to becoming a Trusty Shellback is an ancient and honorable right of passage to mark a newbie’s first equator crossing. But I thought that a non-Shellback holding a phony line-crossing ceremony was more than a bit blasphemous. My friend and his wife would dress like Neptunas Rex and his Queen; his brother would portray the Royal baby, and it was decided that I’d dress as Davy Jones and be the master of ceremonies.

II- Trouble off to Port

Everything was OK during cocktails, the buffet, and the stand-up comic my friend had hired. The DJ knew his business, and we were all having a good time when it became clear that everything was not OK. A giant tentacle swept over the starboard rail and clamped the Minnow tightly. The initial reaction was laughter. The guests assumed it was some inflatable Halloween toy for a unique effect. The dolphins swimming with real mermaids and the real Neptune should have alerted the guests that they were no longer in Kansas. However, everyone was having too good a time, was a bit drunk, and still thought it was an elaborate maritime-themed holiday joke.

As a member of the Order of the Spanish Maine, I was the only potentate present who could address the Royal court gathering to port. There was Her Majesty Amphrite, Neptunas Rex, and Davy Jones. They were cruising in a run-down dragger that saw better days in the 1930’s. The crew was the dregs of every sailor’s stew on six continents. The reek that reached us caused more than one of the guests to head for the rail and “chum the fishes.”

“Our court is now gathered to officiate in the passage of slimy Minnows to honorable Denizens of the Deep. Who is worthy to present them?” As the only qualified individual around that was me, “As a Potentate of the Right Honorable Order of the Spanish Main, I present them to your majesties. May the court find them worthy.”

What followed a typical line-crossing ceremony. There was the washing, scrubbing, and dunking of the candidates. The kissing of the royal baby’s anointed nether regions and other secret rites and rituals. Davy’s crew helped the process go smoothly by broaching a barrel of Kill Devil rum – “Good for what ails ye, matey!” By the time the ceremony ended, certificates attesting to their good standing in the Order of the Denizens of the Deep passed out; everyone was friends.

III – Not Your Typical Cruise

After the party, the Royal court departed, but Day’s crew stayed to carouse until we were off Portsmouth. At that point, Davy fired a pistol and demanded payment for all the rum. A Court of Marque and Reprisal was convened, and the Minnow was condemned as a legitimate prize. We were ordered into the lifeboat and rafts, given half a keg of rum, and started rowing towards the lights of Portsmouth.

Back on shore, after being picked up by the Coast Guard, all the guests agreed it had been one hell of a blowout Halloween.

My friend tries to convince me to help him do it again yearly. But I quote, “He who lets the sea lull him into a sense of security is in grave danger.” Thinking that the sea will ever be twice what it once was a fool, and worse, if he trusts Davy Jones.

Talk Like a Pirate Day – Davy Jones Salvage

Today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of it, I’ve decided to break a fifty-year silence. This is no fairy tale or folly; I was there when it happened. So listen up!

In the hurricane that whipped up the coast in early October, the schooner Periwinkle had gotten caught threading the eye of the Needles, the narrow passage between the reefs called the Widows. When the tidal surge went out, she’d grounded; when it returned, she’d swamped and gone down. The Periwinkle was not the first to attempt threading the Needles, only the most recent to fail. Threading the eye of the Needles was a puzzle best left to the experienced, and the skipper of the Periwinkle had refused the advice that might have saved his boat: stay clear.

Insurance declared a total loss, and no one appeared interested in salvaging the boat. But she had been well-built by a famous Boothbay builder, and her fittings had been the finest money could provide.

My father-in-law, the Cap’n, had grown up in these waters and knew every tidal nook and cranny. He knew precisely where the Periwinkle went down and how deep she rested. He estimated which spring tide the hull should be awash at. To be there at the right time with pumps, one might get Periwinkle afloat and, on the tides, out through the needles. Once salvaged, the Cap’n’s boat-building friends could help him turn a profit off the hull and fittings.

The Cap’n could handle seamanship, and I could handle the brawn. Lyman, his brother, could bring his lobster boat to help, but where would he get the engineering skill needed to pull the stunt off? So that evening after dinner, I found myself calling New York and trying to persuade my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, to contribute his talents to the effort. But, let me say this: my father and the Cap’n did not see eye to eye on almost anything except that Bridge and Engine room would agree to disagree. But my father surprised me. He needed a vacation from my mother’s honey-do list. The opportunity to get out on the water for several days was bait enough to get him to agree, even if the bridge and engine room would have to cooperate.

On the night of the spring tide, we took Psyche, the Cap’ns ketch, and Lyman’s lobster boat and slipped unnoticed from the cove. We made the Widows just before dawn and prepared our equipment. To pull this off, the ketch and the lobster boat stood off in deeper water while we readied the gear. If we refloated Periwinkle, the ketch, under power, and the lobster boat would pull her free. 

As Periwinkle emerged from the tide, my father and I arranged the pumps, started the engines, and prayed that the hull had not been pierced.

Luck was with us, and the plan succeeded; by the turn of the tide, we were ready to maneuver Periwinkle through the eye of the Needles. 

Up to this point, everything had gone as planned. I was brewing a pot of coffee below, but I heard the Cap’n tell my father, “Nick, this could be trouble.” My father used a single two-syllable Spanish obscenity in reply. I left the coffee and ran on deck to see a wreck of an old trawler heaving towards us through the swell. A red-bearded giant wearing fisherman’s half-boots stood in the bow with belaying pins stuck in the tops. Behind him stood the foulest assortment of dreck-ridden seaman that graced the worst harborside stew we had ever seen. No, they were worse. I’d have been surprised if there was a single intact tooth in the bunch. But the big red-bearded lout had a mouth full that a shark would have been proud of.

As they came alongside, Red thundered, ” Jones salvage here. Thanks be, and Ye’ll be releasin’ the tow now. Appreciate your help and such, but ‘yer best be on about gettin’ home.”

My Dad and the Cap’n were taking in Red and his crew. There were assorted belaying pins and old cutlasses for weapons. This beat out our meager collection of rigging knives and a signal gun.

The big guy with the shark teeth had to be Davy Jones himself. As he saw the expressions on our faces, his grin grew even wider. “Now, hand her over, and there’ll be no trouble. We’ll even throw over a demi-john of “Kill Devil Rum” to ease the pain.” His crew spat tobacco juice and swilled something from open bottles. Having read up recently on the lore of Davy for a paper on sea lore, I hollered, “We demand a trial by the Prize Court of Neptunas Rex!” Silence ruled on the decks of boat boats. But Davy, looking even fiercer than before, laughed loudly and shouted back, “Agreed!” At about that point, Lyman, the Cap’n, and my father looked at me in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done, you ninny?” the Cap’n asked? “if we lose, our boats and possessions will go to Davy.” Before more could be said, Davy asked which venue I preferred for the trial. I responded that the closest Blue Anchor Tavern franchise would do. So we were off to Portland’s Old Port.

This was in the days before they cleaned up the Old Port and tarted it up with bistros, fancy bars, and such. It was rough, dirty, and dangerous. The Blue Anchor had a certain “reputation”. I had done a good bit of “fieldwork” there and knew the lay of the land. So I hollered across to Davy. “midnight till dawn, Kaile, hornpipe, and Greek line dances. Four bells of the morning watch winner will take all: belaying pins, cutlasses, the kill devil rum, your trawler, and whatever you wear. The curses from the other boat were fierce.

Davy knew the briny deep, but I knew the Saturday night Kaile, hornpipe, and line dance competition at the Blue Anchor. As we walked in all I had to do was mention “fresh fish” to Harry, the barkeep, and watch the flashing smile.

The Blue Anchor was built on the site of a famous massacre in Portland, and good report had it that the dead rose on the spring tide to dance with the living. Well, that night, we’d find out.

The crowd quickly discovered it was an early Halloween when Davy and his crowd filtered in. Cocked hats, worn and soiled velvet knee breeches, and slashed sleeve coats hadn’t been seen in these parts for centuries. As midnight approached, both teams lined up on opposite sides of the dance floor. About a dozen of my sometimes drinking buddies lined up with me, my father, and the Cap’n. Davy’s team had not laid off the kill devil rum and looked to be in bad shape to start. But they probably weren’t what we usually call living, so it didn’t matter.

At midnight precisely, the house band started playing wild, upbeat kaile music. The ancient building seemed to rock on its foundations with the dance steps, twirls, and eager movements. There was a palpable shift to hornpipe music at four bells of the Middle watch ( two AM). Dust began falling from the old rafters as twenty-four dancers sang and danced the hornpipe as energetically as possible. But soon, there seemed to be additional dancers in early 19th-century attire; Davy’s crew cried foul; we’d recruited spirits from the land to dance with us.

At the eighth bell of the middle, the pace again picked up as we whirled and stepped into Greek dances. It was now the beginning of the morning watch, and we only had a few hours to go. Cries of Opa! were coming from our team as they made complex steps that the drunken sailors of Davy’s band could not complete. Near the very end of the dance, Davy and his band wound up in a collapsed pile, with a fight breaking out as individual pirates struggled out of the pile.

Harry blew a bosun’s whistle at four bells of the watch and declared us winners. It came not a moment too soon for my Dad and the Cap’n, who promptly collapsed. Davy’s men disagreeably dragged themselves from the sizeable unsorted pile they had fallen into. The last call came, and after that parting glass, we all piled out to divide the spoils.

The take was enough to fund my next two years of tuition, repair the Cap’ns ketch, get Lyman a new lobster boat, and pay the considerable tab due to the Blue Anchor. In exchange for a promise not to revenge himself on us, we allowed Davy and the crew to depart in their skivys and take the trawler. We sold the clothes to a California movie props house. You probably have seen most of the stuff in Pirates of the Caribbean and other Pirate movies. 

The Periwinkle, you know the reason we went through all this happy huhah, was declared a total loss. We lost money on her salvage.

A day after our great escapade, the Blue Anchor shuddered and collapsed. We all thought it was due to the strain on its ancient structure caused by all that dancing. The new one they built in the tarted-up new Old Port is too sanitized for me. But on the back wall is a photo I am told was taken the night of the great Kaile, Hornpipe, and Greek dancing contest. It’s hard to tell who is who except for the antique clothing on some.

So today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, and this is my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. ARRR!!!

Awake for the Midwatch

Daily writing prompt
What time do you go to bed and wake up currently?

So I bet you have never heard of Mr. Wakey Wakey, have you? It was a Naval boogyman; a story told you young sailors on their first deployment. 
You were in a vast, cavernous ship built during the Second World War. Just full of dark or half-lit corners, the usual hazing was going on with the newbies, “Get me a left-handed wind-shifter” or other impossible gear from the farthest compartment in the ship.

Then there were the stories you got told by senior enlisted that meant as cautionary tales. Onboard my ship; there was one that stood out. A particularly sadistic bosun’s mate had been given Jonah’s Lift one night ( tossed overboard). His ghost came back looking for revenge. He walks the ship just before the mid-watch ( midnight till four AM), waking people from sleep. He lays his corpse cold hands on you and says, “Wakey Wakey, beautiful dreamer, you have the mid-watch!” The time is always exactly the time he was jettisoned overboard. So you ask, what the hell’s so scary about that? Well, you get told with a straight face; some of those he lays his hand on don’t wake, ever. They’re found in their bunks with horrible looks on their faces. The people going around waking watchstanders for the mid-watch find them that way. Of course, being worldly and wise, sophisticated 18 and nineteen-year-olds, you believe none of this.

Then that night, some sadistic jerk starts walking around with a bucket of ice water. He gets to a newbie’s bunk, makes sure his hands are cold and wet, grabs the newb by some bare part of the body, and whispers, “Wakey Wakey, beautiful dreamer. You have the midwatch!” The new shipmate had been laughing at the story just two hours before, and now he was screaming in terror.
Then one night, some kid from New York, barely free of the umbilical cord to his family, woke up, grabbed a bosun mate by the neck, and pounded him into the deck. The investigation by the Masters at Arms found that the bosun had assaulted the kid, and the kid waking from a deep sleep, merely defended himself. The bosun had gotten his own medicine back in a bad way; he spent months in sickbay recovering. After that, the Wakey Wakey tale was told, but the ice buckets and cold wet hands were forbidden.

Well, you see now that waking and sleeping are a bit sensitive issue for me. My wife never touches me on the neck or arm, always from the foot of the bed, and never says, “Wakey Wakey.” As to what time I get up. Anytime I please, but never for the mid-watch.

A Humble Sea Story

OK. What is it with me and all the damned sailing ships I carve? Well, this is no shit (TINS), and you can ask any of my family; they were there!
Well, it goes back a long way. To my earliest memories. Branded into memory is a vision of me as a babe lying on a cushion, having my bottle as I gazed upwards. What was I gazing at? A painting of a full-rigged ship sailing full on the wind racing towards me.
Day after day for, I don’t know how long, but certainly as long as we lived in that apartment.
Then later came the stories from my father of the Merchant Marine and of the Navy from my uncle. That was why I was sent to punishment drill often while in Boot Camp; I wore my Gob hat like a four-year veteran rather than the squared-away recruit they wanted.
Then there was my grandfather; his lousy heart kept him for the sea, but he carved and modeled a flotilla, everything ranging from a Great White Fleet Battle Cruiser to a cabin cruiser. The child’s tug boat he carved for his sons is still proudly displayed in my home.
If all the above was not enough, there was the folk family story that we were a line of seamen going back generations. I documented this genealogically with the added flavoring that my mother’s family were also Merchant seamen for several generations.

So that’s it. Me and all the damned sailing ships I carve.
If you want to make an issue of it, meet me at the local Blue Anchor and challenge me to a sea story Talkathon and I’ll BS your ears off. Davy Jones and Neptunas Rex will judge, and I’ll leave you to pay for the house’s booze that night.

The Right Way, the Wrong Way and…

I had two bosses in an operating room I worked in. Sophia had a poster on her office wall of a turtle reminding you that the turtle only made progress when it stuck its neck out. On the other hand, Betty had a little cubby hole office with a poster of two vultures sitting on a tree in the desert. One bird looks at the other and states, ” Wait for something to die? Hell, I’m going to go kill something!”

The posters neatly summed up the two supervisors’ attitudes and offered hints about managing complaints, issues, and problems within the department. Even the chief of anesthesia walked carefully around Betty, preferring to deal, if possible, with Sophia. I, of course, mostly worked with Betty.

Betty was a coastal brat from Maine and knew I could tell the difference between literal and littoral, being another coastal brat from a Merchant Marine family. She was also a former Navy nurse, and being I was former Navy, we worked OK as a pair. I put on my best petty officer routine for her, did things the “Navy Way,” and life was easy.

Now, please understand no recruiter would ever seek me out to re-up. I was not the regular Navy type. But I could play-act it during work hours to get through the day. Just as long as I wasn’t going home in uniform, eating on the mess decks, or deploying for six months. I was OK.

A few other folks in the OR got querulous of me and accused me of sucking up. I just offered to show them how to run a buffer, properly swab with a mop, wear dress blues with panache, and act serious while receiving a series of ludicrous commands from a snotty ensign. Now, mind you, it was the last that got me in trouble while enlisted. I had difficulty keeping a straight face.

My colleagues in the OR were not amused.

I guess everything could have gone on as they were, but the day came when things started changing. It was a long case, and my back ached. Now stretching to arch your back while holding retractors in a patient’s abdomen must be done carefully, but Betty gave me a soft massage to help with the tension. After the case, she came over and helped me remove my gown, and I could have sworn that her hands lingered a bit on my neck.

Walking into the lounge, I noticed snickers, grins, and laughter hidden behind hands. My friend Marilyn asked with a grin if Betty’s backrub had been up to Navy standards. A few people cracked up at this. Later over a few beers, my friends told me that there had been a betting pool to see when Betty made her move. She’d mentioned to Sophia that I was “cute and respectful.” Being cute and respectful might make it for Betty, but I was not interested in snap inspections or early lights out with a former Navy Luitenant Commander as a girlfriend. 

Over the next couple of weeks, it became clear my friends had the right of it. Betty had me in mind for the position of Mr. Betty. There was no circumspect way to get around it. When frustrated, she had a volcanic temperament, and I had set up the entire situation by giving her what she wanted the way she wanted it. Betty was talented, brilliant, beautiful, and totally willful. The first three traits were very tempting in a mate, but the last was scary. My over-active imagination could envision the sorts of Navy-style “non-judicial punishment” she might dish out if I incurred her wrath. I wasn’t that type of guy.

Ultimately, I handled it like a true sailor; I jumped ship. I found another job, gave my notice quietly to Sophia, and slipped my moorings one afternoon.

From a distance, I kept tabs on Betty. She married another former Navy guy, a retired chief petty officer who worked in hospital administration. She had kids, moved to the Tidewater area of Virginia near a Naval base, and seemed to live a happily Regular Navy-style life ever after.

To those who might think I missed out on the love of my life, I’d like to share a bit of Naval wisdom with you. Regarding life in the Navy, we used to say there was “The right way, the wrong way, and then there was the Navy Way.”

I’ve said my piece.

Wild, maybe improbable

One could refer to parts of my life as hapless excursions into absurdity:

  • I lived in an apartment on Boston’s Beacon Hill with a group of Boston College dropouts for whom weird and inexplicable comedy acts were standard; 
  • I wandered about as a road bum in the 1960s, gathering experiences and tales;
  • I lived with a psychotic cat who liked chili, hot peppers, and filet mignon;
  • Then there was my time sailing with a retired master mariner whose opinion of the Caine Mutiny, or the Mutiny on the Bounty, was that they destroyed the careers of honorable captains. Crew members should be docile, obedient, and prompt in obeying all commands.

Eventually, stories became the medium that I used to tell this history to friends, family, and anyone interested in listening. That was because several English professors persuaded me that stories were how we made sense of the otherwise unexplainable. It didn’t matter that it was a personal tragedy, an amusing anecdote, or the story of the gods. I realized I needed to make sense of much inexplicable and absurd in my life, and telling these things to others in the form of a story was how I could do it.

Being a sailor, the son of a sailor, and the descendant of long lines of sailors stretching into the vanishing horizon at sea, it was natural that I use the sea story medium.

What’s a sea story? Well, for the uninitiated, let’s explain it this way. You know how a fairy tale starts with “once upon a time?” And then ends with some folderol about living happily ever after? Right! Now a sea story advises you that ” this is no shit.” You then get led on a wild tale that stretches your credibility and belief in reality but is amusing and credible enough that it might have happened ( in another universe). The teller then assures you that he heard it from a buddy who either saw it himself or got it from someone who was there. The sea story avoids lying to you about how it all ends happily ever after. Sea stories acknowledge the perversity of the universe by hinting at things going on behind the scenes that we don’t understand and can’t control. But in a sea story, a canny sailor can and does take advantage of the twists of fate to come out ahead.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. See you at the Blue Anchor later on.

Once upon a time in the Navy

Daily writing prompt
What makes you nervous?

Fights always make me nervous, scare me and make me almost ill. I was taught and trained to avoid them, and if not able to avoid them, end them.

Being graceful in your interactions with oafs shows that you have character. This advice was from my mother.
Various ministers also lectured on turning the other cheek and the many virtues of peace.
Later on, my senseis in martial arts reinforced this; dignity and respect for others were the marks of a real martial artist. Courtesy and kindness deflected many conflicts. Students of their dojo were not to swagger about and provoke conflict.
Then there was my father, the former Marine and Merchant Mariner engineer, ” Louis, don’t start a fight. Just be prepared to finish one if you must.”

So there I was, standing in the Blue Anchor with my arm around this heavenly young woman I’d been dancing with. Four fast dances left us elated and slightly out of breath. Then in walks the boyfriend. Sweet Jody, the young woman, runs over to him, kisses him, and clutches him possessively. Seeing how things are developing, I try very hard to make myself small, inconspicuous, and unnoticeable. Walking slowly back to the table where my buddies are waiting, I hope the boyfriend is not an oaf and interested in starting a fight. I have my apologies ready for the ordeal.

Sure enough, he comes sauntering up to me as I approach the table and makes the error of grabbing my shoulder. I turn, brushing the hand off. I told him I had not known the young lady had a boyfriend. From the look on his face, I see that he really didn’t care; he just wanted to have a bit of fun with me. Past him, over his shoulder, I see Jody with an expectant look on her face. I should head for the exit, except that never happens because Oaf-boy has already started to swing a roundhouse punch at my face. Never use one of those theatrical roundhouses on a martial artist. I grabbed him in a wrist lock, twisted his arm so the elbow pointed upward, and levered him to the ground. His arm was mine to snap if I so wished. I now shifted my grip so I could twist his pinky finger. The pain from this is sublime. I whispered that one form of this hold allowed me to dislocate his shoulder and snap his neck. But if he apologized nicely, I’d let him lick my boot. He groaned.
Several of his friends had entered the bar at that point, but seeing the four Marines I had been drinking with, decided that oaf-boy was on his own. My Marine buddies were howling with laughter; docs aren’t generally known for fighting skills.
I pushed Oaf-boy away and went to my table. The bouncer was already on his way over, so my friends were preparing to leave. None of us wanted to be taken in by the Shore Patrol.

On the way out, I saw Jody throwing me a kiss; I looked away. I pitied her boyfriend.


Twilight is not just a simple fading of the light. If you’re a sailor, there is civil twilight and nautical twilight. Then some sit, gin and tonic in hand, waiting to see the green flash as the rapid tropical sunset fades into the short tropical twilight. All these, except for that elusive green flash, can be gauged and timed. But, so far as I know, no attempt has succeeded in predicting the green flash.

The flash is debated. After exhausting that topic, a few more Pusser rums are consumed. Then the group discusses other maritime mysteries, like how the ship’s cooks can ruin perfectly good chow. Interestingly, the vessel size seems immaterial; everything from a thirty-four-foot ketch to a colossal tanker suffers the same fate.

After this, things settle down, and as the evening rolls on, other mysteries are divulged, discussed, and interpreted– the best bars in ports they’ve visited, the worst storms, women, and how much they miss the Loran-C navigational system. This last start a debate among the master mariners in the group about who can still use a sextant for a noon sight.

When midnight comes, and the Mid-watch is about to commence, the topic turns to nautical versus civil sunrise.
It’s terrific being a sailor…there is always something to bull shit about.

bad coffee

What do you complain about the most?

Griping about things is part of being a sailor. I discovered this from my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, and had it confirmed while in the Navy. Griping as an art form was re-affirmed to me while working in the marine trades as a carver and catch as can boatyard worker.
Griping is not necessarily pejorative of other people. We don’t just complain about the bosun, the carpenter, the skipper, or the boat owner. We complain about the food, weather, and workloads. But, of course, a cherished area of complaint is coffee. We can complain about coffee until the third pot of the day is downed, and the thought of another cup will make us bilious.

OK, I’ll say it – take any random sampling of castaway sailors on a desert island with nothing to eat but coconuts, and their biggest complaint will be the lack of coffee. When they get tired of griping about no coffee, they’ll move on to the lousy coffee they’ve had. After exhausting that, they’ll move on to bad chow, the rotten bunks they had to sleep in, the worst liberty ports they visited, and then the miseries of being at sea in heavy weather.
Regardless of political orientation, they’ll rage on all evening about this stuff until they are exhausted and sleep. Then, the lack of coffee will start the day rolling in the morning.

I hate to side with the officer class, having worked for a living myself, but the continual griping is why it’s crucial to keep sailors of any sort busy. Let them sit around and get bored, and the complaints start.
Maybe that is the reason for all the rotten coffee? Give the apes something to gripe about that’s safe.
Rats! I make my own coffee. It’s unfair that I can only complain to myself.

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