Cooking at Sea Horror Stories


For some reason that reminded me of when I was stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital. They always had steaks on Friday (hard on the Catholics…). One week there was a holiday of some sort and we had steak for it – but they didn’t give us extra, just moved the Friday steaks to Wednesday.


In the 39 years I sailed, I have several cooking horror stories. The absolute worst has to be in 75, I was in Aracaju Brazil. Several of our vessels responded to a distress call from the EL CABALLO GRANDE. It was a Tidex tug running light boat from Africa to Brazil. One AB woke up and was not called out for watch. He reported to the bridge and found no one there and running on autopilot. The capt and mate were nowhere to be found. The engineer was asleep and the cook was locked in his stateroom. The U.S. Navy was in the area and put personnel on board. That had to be the most horrible wait time for the ABs and engineer until the cook was subdued.


My first third cook job … there was a rack between the two hot plates. The cook had been cleaning with Ez-Off and the can rolled against the heat. It shot right at me like an RPG. Missed though and the cook skimmed all his uncovered food so all was good.


3 months old milk - even after taking on stores in multiple locations and having dozens of crates of shelf stable milk onboard; mini salmonella outbreak; food left out overnight to literally rot (leftovers), are these morons never taught about food danger zone at SIU?.., cucarachas crawling around galley, food being dropped on the deck then put back on plate to serve… fuck, I could go on but there is no point. SIU need to step up tgeir game. Oh, also guys out of Gulf always seem to be the worst. Now you’re not only stupid but also lazy


I sailed 15 years non-union and 24 with the SIU. The quality of the cooks were about the same. I’ve seen the good and bad with both.

I posted before about a cook that I pointed out that the salad tray was turning into compost. He was cutting up chicken as I told him. He then wiped the butcher knife and cutting board with his dirty apron. Pulled out a head of lettuce and started chopping it up. He was relieved at the next port.


I don’t know about US requirements, but in the rest of the world all Catering staff has to have attended a “Food Handling and Hygiene” course and hold a certificate to prove it.
It is being strictly enforced by quality flag state authorities.

This is an IMO and MLC requirement, which is also covered by standard vessel inspection formulas, such as IMCA’s CMID, OCIMF’s OVID and SIRE etc.


This is a requirement in the US as well. Servsafe certificate is the standard from what I’ve seen


Those are newer requirements. It wasn’t always that way. The UN didn’t even call it the IMO until 1982. I’m sure you have a good horror story you could tell us from before higher standards were enforced. P.S. A horror story doesn’t need to be about cleanliness or food handling. Just because the standards are in place to keep you from getting sick, it doesn’t guarantee the food won’t be horrible.


Back in the 80’s I was CE on a Canaler up in NY Harbor. She was built in the 50’s and had a Diesel Stove in the Galley. The Cook had to refill the day tank every couple of hours or the stove would go out.

The Cook we had was pretty good but had a little problem with booze and the Captain had told him he had one more chance then he was gone!

I got up around 1530-1600 and found the Galley Stove all but cold. I got it started back up and woke the Cook up and He was still half in the bag! I told him about the Stove and he says damn, I have a Roast Beef to Cook!

Those old Diesel Stoves had a Carburetor on them that you could pump to prime them. You could also use it to get that stove Cherry Red, which is what that cook did.

I sat there watching him pump that carb until that stove was HOT. When he tossed that Roast in there still half frozen all I could think was, “well so much for this cook”.

To this day, that was the best piece of Roast Beef that I’ve ever had and I eat a lot of it! Even the Captain praised the Cook for the fine job he did. LOL

That Cook must have sweated out about 10 pounds standing in from that Glowing Red Stove!


:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: Oh how I wish deep sea standards would come to the mud boats.


I am pretty sure that the British Board of Trade rations for feeding seamen came into existence after other regulations for feeding slaves. There was some law against feeding slaves lobster more than three times a week in Boston I seem to remember.
British ships constructed in the fifties and sixties had bars welded over the gallery ports and the doors to the storerooms and gallery were similar to those on a Strongroom. Food left out for the night watches was the absolute minimum and on a long voyage the days were marked off until a well known “greasy spoon” ashore could be visited.
One well known shipping company was known as “Slow starvation and Agony” . It was said that if the office saw a seagull following the ship they sacked the chief Steward.
Another was known as “two of fat and one of lean”.
I sailed with a few cooks who could turn good food into shit faster than my dog.


Still the standard with all the SIU cooks I’ve sailed with recently. It’s like they think covering it with cellophane magically stops bacteria from growing.


I am continually explaining to our new cooks think a day ahead. Part of it is lack of space. Part of it is laziness.


That’s what I’m saying, they must be taught this at Piney Point… that’s why I keep calling out SIU, this madness needs to stop!


Holy shit! There’s a standard?!? Why wasn’t I informed?

But as for food being left out, yes this is very much a common occurrence from my experience. Nothing like oxtail jardineare, 8 hours cold, with congealed fat to say ‘mid-rats are kinda ratty tonight’.


Did you ever sail with the Pink Panther? He made the rounds on tugs, both SIU and non union. . . . I don’t have to go into horror stories if you have. . . .


Never sailed with him but sounds familiar.


Dont leave the rest of us hanging!


Not one specific story, but a total experience. He earned the nickname because he genuinely looked like the Pink Panther. One pot meal kind of guy. I think the alcoholism gave him is pastel pallor. . . . I recall one day, he went out and got the groceries. . . we were bucking them all down to the galley (no mean trick on an ATB), and he dropped a sack. Just happened to be full of “cooking” wine. . . yeah. I sailed with the guy with two different companies at various times and don’t think that I ever had a meal where he used wine. . . .well, in the food, anyway. . . . Since I am not, nor don’t recall his real name, I don’t feel that I am casting aspersions. . . but those who sailed with him will certainly know who I am speaking of.


A somewhat similar experience from the other side of the pond.
In 1962, I was AB in a Wilhelmsen ship in the NWE - USEC and GoM run, when I had to sign off in Oslo since there was not enough time for another round trip before I was due to start 1st year at the Maritime School in Aalesund.

I took a job on a small ship trading from Norway to Spain, Portugal and Morocco to fill in time.
She was carrying mostly marine equipment and empty wine barrel from Norway and full ones back.

At the time there was a policy that seamen that had been blacklisted for whatever reason and reformed alcoholics were only allowed to join ships in European trade and this ship had it’s fair share.

Among them was the Cook, a former Head Chef from the Continental Hotel in Oslo who had lost his job from drinking, but had been reformed. He lasted until we got the holds full of wine barrels on the return trip.
It was common practise to drill a small hole in a barrel every day to tap a couple of liters of wine for dinner every night, which became too much of a temptation for the Cook.

When we sailed up the Oslo Fjord we stopped to buy some fresh small herring from a fishing boat and the Captain invited the staff from the Owner’s office on board for lunch when we docked.
The Cook put on his Chef’s hat and clean apron to impress, but the performance pressure got too much for him, so he fortified himself a little as well.

Come lunch time he proudly carried a nicely decorated tray of fried herring to the Saloon to applause from the guests and good words from the Captain, until he realized that the Cook had forgotten to fry them on one side.

Next trip we had a new Cook.