Rough grub, rougher wa­ters

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Terry Bursey

It was De­cem­ber of 2016 and I was en­gaged to a won­der­ful woman, soon to be a step­fa­ther to an amaz­ing lit­tle boy, and in need of money to start our life.

I was a fresh, would-be ap­pren­tice un­der a rep­utable chef, but I was told far too late that Jan­uary would be a month without work.

I was forced to find tem­po­rary work as a cook on a small fish­ing ves­sel that would pay me more than enough to fill the Jan­uary void.

I kissed my then-fi­ancée and lit­tle boy good­bye on a very cold and snowy day shortly af­ter Christ­mas and (teary-eyed) boarded the ves­sel, in­vig­o­rated with hope and thoughts of ad­ven­ture at sea.

The cap­tain was a friendly man and I im­me­di­ately liked him. I met the rest of the crew and found that while most seemed un­friendly, the younger crewmem­bers wel­comed me.

The first day, I took the pre­vi­ous cook’s ad­vice and tried to stick to the ba­sics to win over the more tra­di­tional and prag­matic older men. It was some­thing the old cook had quaintly re­ferred to as “rough grub.”

I made the fol­low­ing recipe for my beef stew, which I’ve scaled down to house­hold pro­por­tions and have since al­ways re­ferred to as...

This meal went over very well with the crew, both young and old, and I was con­fi­dent I had made a great first im­pres­sion. I re­ceived a few warm com­pli­ments and felt good go­ing to my cabin to have a well-de­served rest on calm wa­ters.

The wa­ters would not re­main calm for long.

As we reached the fer­tile fish­ing ground, the wa­ters grew more tur­bu­lent. I had to use twine to tie lids down onto pots and deep fry­ers, which made cook­ing any­thing dan­ger­ous and time­con­sum­ing.

At times the G-Forces were so ex­treme, I would find my­self stand­ing on the walls of the gal­ley as of­ten as I was on the floor. I was ex­pected to catch sleep in small naps as I was to cook and pre­pare two break­fasts, two lunches and two sup­pers for each shift of the crew of over 20 men.

Over time I ac­cu­mu­lated sev­eral burns, scalds and knife wounds as I strug­gled to han­dle tools prop­erly.

Sea sick­ness was fre­quent, which slowed me down even more.

Sup­plies were lim­ited and so the “rough grub” was be­com­ing in­fre­quent, but more var­ied food items were in high sup­ply, or­dered by the cook I was fill­ing in for.

I made Chi­nese food, mac­a­roni and cheese, and less-tra­di­tional meals. This did not go over well with some older crew mem­bers.

Some spit at my feet as they raged and ranted about how their stom­achs couldn’t han­dle the food.

As the bread ran shy from the 30 sand­wiches I had to make daily, as well as the toast for break­fast, I was ex­pected to bake more re­gard­less of my yeast al­lergy. Many of the crew de­manded I make bread, claim­ing a per­son could not be al­ler­gic to ac­ti­vat­ing yeast.

I’m sad to say a small phys­i­cal scuf­fle oc­curred over this.

On New Year’s night I made a large choco­late cake to gain some re­spect from the eas­ily of­fended and abu­sive crew, but this didn’t work at all.

One of the crew mem­bers took the left­over cake and threw it on the floor in a rage, caus­ing a huge mess in the gal­ley.

When I ex­pressed my ou­trage, I was told by a com­pany of­fi­cial that (loosely quoted) my abuses were as a re­sult of my own short­com­ings, and that more “rough grub” would en­sure the crew would be less abu­sive.

I was un­der­stand­ably livid and in dis­be­lief. When I took th­ese con­cerns to the boat’s cap­tain, he sighed and hung his head. He told me the same is­sues had oc­curred with the pre­vi­ous cook and he would ad­dress the prob­lem with the crew im­me­di­ately.

Things did not im­prove, though, and when the first mate needed to seek im­me­di­ate med­i­cal at­ten­tion on shore, the cap­tain — know­ing my strug­gle with the crew — asked me if I would like to go ashore as well.

It was per­haps the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion of my life. I thought of my new fam­ily back home and their ex­pec­ta­tions of me. I thought about my ca­reer and how much of a blow it would be if I went home a lit­tle more than half­way through the voy­age.

In the end I in­formed the cap­tain it was best if I go home as well ... but not be­fore leav­ing a hand-writ­ten note for the re­place­ment cook warn­ing him or her about what might be ex­pected from them as well.

I write this now be­cause what I went through was un­ac­cept­able for any cook and, ap­pallingly, my ac­count is not wholly unique.

I write this be­cause a great woman once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thought­ful, com­mit­ted cit­i­zens can change the world; in­deed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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