Submitted By LTJG John (“Jake”) Doering, U.S. Navy HC-4 Squadron Detachment, NAS Lakehurst (Arctic East 1967 and Deep Freeze 1968)
No matter how you slice it, a life at sea is a life of deprivation. (cruise ships excepted, of course) The Southwind was like any other vessel of her period and not a whole lot better than those of centuries before in some respects. We had refrigeration but when a naval architect is drawing plans for an icebreaker and every square inch will have to be constructed of steel, cut, burned and welded, he dedicates little space for amenities, and cold storage of food is no exception. So when it comes to provisioning for extended periods at sea, foods of choice require no refrigeration. It may not surprise you then, that after two or three weeks at sea, our creative cooks would be including beans and cabbage in all three meals; and then only when food preparation was an option, which it frequently was NOT in the Roaring Forties, that oceanic insanity betwixt South America and Antarctica.
Now sailors are probably thinking, get off it Jake, you were in the wardroom while we suffered on the mess deck. Not so fast, Matey!!! A well-kept secret is that the Officer‘s Mess was a private affair with an elected Mess Treasurer, a despised position to be avoided at all cost. That means, as any military man could tell you, that only the most junior of junior officers need apply, since you were going to get stuck with the job anyhow. The Mess Treasurer had to plan the menu and supervise the purchase of the food when in port, skill sets upon which four years of college had little bearing! Another secret was that officers had to pay for their food, even while at sea. Yeah, that‘s right, we got an allowance for it … $47.50 a month; worth more back then, but not enough to translate into steak every night by any means. So don‘t tell me that officers ate high on the hog.
And yes, I did my time as mess treasurer. I may have been the most successful mess treasurer in Southwind history. I even declared a dividend at the end of one month, instead of the usual mess bill. I did it through legal extortion and shameless cumshaw (a skill I acquired from my Coast Guard brethren). But that‘s a whole ‗nother story!
So as I say, it was a life of deprivations, food quality being only one of many. There was the issue of no showers, 10 year old ―B‖ rated movies, two month old mail, periodicals from a different period, drinking water heavily flavored with fuel oil and salt, and, of course, prolonged lack of female companionship. (This being the stone age when lack of progressive thinking consigned all females to shore billets!) It‘s no wonder, then, that seaports are unique places having the near impossible task to
catch up‖ a ship load of sailors in the few short days allotted before lines were cast off and we were
out to sea again! Now I‘m not going to titillate my readers with the details of how seaports get the job done. Watch prime time TV if you‘re looking for that kind of fix. What I am going to tell you about is a homey little tavern in a little seaport at the bottom of the world.
Let‘s start with Punta Arenas (Sandy Point for you Gringos). It‘s on the Straits of Magellan in some of the most God forsaken but beautiful geography in all the world. Punta Arenas saw its seaport heyday during a narrow niche in seafaring history beginning with steam ships sailing from east to west coasts and ending with the Panama Canal. The niche was defined by the need for these coal fired vessels to refill their coal bunkers prior to heading north again along the South American coast line. Punta Arenas was a coaling station, a need long gone. So to call this port ―sleepy‖ is to bless it; and the weather at that end of the world did little to buff up the reputation. Even the gales had gales. Perhaps its most outstanding feature was an old clipper ship, still carrying its mast and spars, anchored in the harbor and reputedly serving as the town lock-up. But Punta Arenas had not