Cooking at Sea Horror Stories


“Pink” was hardly a chef. . . How he stayed on as long as he did on the String boats is beyond me, but they had some pretty questionable cooks in that particular company. It as a Union company, however they supposedly had a strict anti alcohol policy. The stunt with the bottles breaking when the bag was dropped ultimately cost him his job on the ATB. One particular time, I remember that we were on our way to Ecuador with a load of veg oil. On both sides of the Canal, we were catching dolphin like crazy. Good sized ones, too. It pissed him off because he didn’t want to cook it. Okay with us, we didn’t eat what he cooked and ate dolphin instead. . . .


I think this was a cook I sailed one 28 day hitch. It was a winter heating oil run up the east coast. I crew changed on regular rotation and he had to work over a week. I heard he went through DTs shortly after.

Fast forward a year or so…We came into a lay berth waiting on a load. I decided to change out 4 scheduled mini packs a trip early. I was up about 20 hours. After a couple of hours sleep, I was woke up to hear that a company lawyer was coming to take me for a deposition for a lawsuit from the cook on the tug we were on a year before. I was in a fog the whole time.

After being sworn in and various lawyers milling around, I’m still in a daze. It comes up that the cook got out of the bunk, was putting his pants on, the boat rolled and he fell into the heating radiator, hurting his back. His lawyer says the cook claimed the tug was not seaworthy and asked my opinion. I’m still in a glaze and said “I didn’t realize he (the cook) was a naval architect”. The lawyer went on to ask “How do you put on your pants at sea when you get out of your bunk?” Still in a glaze, I asked “Am I on Candid Camera?” The judge says “this is a serious matter”. I said I put them on the same way on the beach, one leg at a time. I was driven back to the tug, filed 3 hours OT.

2 years later, I asked the VP how it finalized. He said he had no idea as the legal dept handled it. And we wonder why insurance is so high…


It was on a Bouchard Tug in New York Harbor, 2001. Captain was a fluffy fella, trying to bring the swell in his belly down by binge / purge. Deckhands had to clean up the head a few times a day, because his aim was horrible. In the middle of the night, he’d have second thoughts about it obviously, because he’d come down in his skivvies, scratching himself furiously. He would waddle to the reach-in cooler, grab a pack of sliced ham, rifle through it as if looking for a record…and then eat. After sating himself, he’d walk back up to bed.


Years before I started cooking, I worked with a cook who said he talked to bees on his off time. After one piss poor lunch when he was microwaving the tuna melts, I asked him what was for dinner. He said, “jesus hasn’t told me yet”.


I went in to the galley one day in mid-afternoon to change a light bulb in the oven. The “cook” has a pot simmering on oven and when I look in I see what still resembled peas. I asked if he was making pea soup. Nope, just peas was his reply. I was pretty sure that with three hours till dinner they were going to be soup by dinner time but instead of just serving pea soup he served some sort of green mush without any identifiable individual peas as “peas”.


Back in the mid 70’s I caught a Delta Lines ship to West Africa. What was suppose to be a 60 day trip ended up being nearly 4 months. Three days out the “fresh” milk started going bad. A couple of weeks after that the UHT canned milk that was put out started curdling shortly after opening. I can’t remember the dates on the cans but they were way past their “best used by” dates. We ate a lot of rice, beans, canned vegetables and tough mystery meat. A few days out of New Orleans on the way back the captain found 5 or 6 cases of milk frozen in the meat box. The Steward said he wanted to surprise everyone just before we hit the States.

What made things worse was a nightly poker game in the crew lounge with the Steward being the big winner and several of the crew losing nearly all they had made for the trip.


Your peas story reminds me of when I had a cook who was making steaks at 0930. Somewhat horrified I asked if she was making those for lunch. No she replied. The steaks are for dinner.


How can any thread about cooking horror stories not include an anecdote about Lykes Lines. . . I recall sailing on the LESLIE LYKES, back in 79, I think. My second Lykes ship, the first one being one of the former States Lines ROROs. No real horror stories from that one, just a huge drop in the quality of the food between the companies. On the LESLIE, there was a pantry off of the Officer’s Saloon where the messman would prepare the meals. A steam table in there, with a dumb waiter down to the galley. My back was to the pantry, so I could not see the horrors of how the meals were being put together in there. All I know that it was bad enough to where engineer who sat facing me at the table wanted to swap seats, since watching the meals being prepared was killing his appetite. I never asked for details. . . I just choked down what was served. . . .


Back in the day it was said Lykes would get rid of the Captain before they got rid of the Steward. Probably not true but it certainly cemented the reputation of some of those NMU Stewards.

Whenever Lykes would lay up a ship they would off load all their refrigerated stores to be placed aboard another ship. Nothing like seeing all that stuff sitting on the dock in the New Orleans sun.


From 1960-62 I sailed with Wilh. Wilhelmsen Line, know under the slogan;
“Black, white and blue, nothing to eat, but plenty to do”.

Everything served in the crew’s mess was rationed to; “To til manns” (Two each only)
Sunday breakfast of eggs and bacon was different. That was “two eggs only, or one egg and two stripps of bacon”.

It was rumored that a Wilhelmsen Chief Steward was the inventor of the hole in the donut.


The Chinese cook on a Maersk box ship refused to leave out midnight rats no matter how much we begged. He always answered that he didn’t have enough food to do that. The captain who loved this cook and brought him on board refused to interfere.
A few nights later I was awakened by noise outside my room. It was the cook dumping boxes full of food over the side. I reported it to the captain but all I got for my troubles was the cook giving me the stink eye every time I entered the mess.


That’s the quick and easy way to do inventory, throw everything over the side and report you’re completely out of food.


During my first hour of my first day aboard a northeast ATB I quickly figured out the whole crew despised everyone on the opposite rotation. We worked a 21/21 day schedule & both crews hated the other. After dinner on day 20 I noticed the cook/dayman carrying food out of the pantry to the area where the staterooms were located. I asked my assistant what was going on & he informed me both crews emptied the pantries into the crews lockers in the staterooms before crew change, each crew had its own food. Of course I was shocked & jokingly asked what they did with the food in the cooler & freezer & he matter-of-factly told me most of it will be thrown overboard. Two 8 man crews for a total of 16 professional mariners & at least 12 of us were batshit crazy, scary.


Man, that is scary. Don’t believe that I ever ran across that. With Crowley, there was no real dedicated crew for any boat. Sometimes there would be certain captains and engineers that sailed together with a couple of mates for a few rotations. Don’t think that I ever sailed with the same entire crew more than any one trip or two. Rotations were three trips on and two off (supposedly, I never go the full two trips off, and did sail four straight a couple of times). On the ATB, it seemed that everyone had a different rotation, so there was never an entire crew changed from top to bottom. With Belcher, the DID change the entire crew at one time, but both got along. I ended up working with my opposite crew a couple times when they couldn’t find a relief for me. Bad thing was, even though I sailed an extra week or so, I did NOT get the full time off and had to return with “my” crew. . . geez, I hated working there. . . .


This was with old Ksea & Local 333. We had it in the contract for even time. The company like to keep everyone assigned permanently to one boat/crew & let the captains line up the crew changes because it meant zero work for the guys in the office. Out of sight, out of mind management style. The other boats I worked were normal with the opposite rotations working professionaly with one another. I worked with the dysfunction boat for 3.5 years & it was super weird. On crew change day it would be all smiles, handshakes & slaps on the back. As soon as cc was over, it was all S.O.B this & lazy mother fucker that. Some of those guys relieved each other for 10+ years & it never changed while I was there. They were happy being miserable.

One time the other crew left some yogurts in the cooler that were going to expire during our 21 days. I sat down at the galley table to eat one for snack & the cook/dayman asked me what I was doing. I told him the yogurts were going to expire if we didn’t eat them & we would have to throw them away anyways. He said he wasn’t going to eat any & that we should throw them overboard because he was concerned someone on the other rotation might have done something to the the yogurts. Things were so bad with those guys thought their reliefs were capable of poisoning them.