Helping to filter out any strawberry-obsessed Captain Queegs
(Explanation: Captain Queeg was Politzer Prize winning author Herman Wouk’s fictional US Navy officer whose erratic mental instability as commander of the destroyer-minesweeper USS Caine culminated in his paranoid belief that one of his officers was stealing spoonfuls of his personal supply of preserved strawberries. This best seller book, The Caine Mutiny, also became several Broadway plays, and in 1954 appeared as an excellent film with Humphrey Bogart in the title role).
An international team of six researchers in Russia are spending 520 days (that’s one whole year and five months) locked into artificial spaceship quarters as an isolated company to mimic the expected psychological effects during proposed interplanetary travels to Mars and back.
Having experienced two uninterrupted small ship voyages lasting 180 days (six months) in duration myself, plus many other months-long trips on other ships, all added to my 1,500 or more or less sustained days and nights in charge of a small vessel manned only by myself and a crew of twenty Iraqis plying the waters of the Persian Gulf, all probably totalling the equal of one return trip to Mars, perhaps gives me provenance to make comment.
Here is one little drama I observed while sailing in lonely northern waters.
After a few weeks, as our chartered sealer lay at anchor off the northwest uninhabited coast of Hudson Bay, it was plain to me that Vic Goodwill, our chief of party, was annoyed by something occurring daily in the vessel’s small dining room. As the hydrographers mess table and the Theron officers table were separated by half-a-dozen feet I knew there was no friction there. At meals, Vic and I faced each other at the head of the long table. Vic, somewhat pudgy and rather a landlubber, was a meticulous engineer seemingly somewhat out of place in a working vessel. His passions were: strawberry-flavoured (oh-oh!) ice-cream; his strawberry-coloured Studebaker sports car; and his constantly meticulous diary keeping — which I would be very interested in reading these sixty years later on. He was an exceedingly keen and knowledgeable bird watcher (which rubbed off on me and for which I must thank him) in connection with which hobby he recorded hundreds of feet of 16 mm movie film . He was also a teetotaller.
Mindful of Vic’s edginess at the dining table, one day when I was in Vic’s office-cabin, I asked him if he would like me to shift further along the mess table. Oh, no! he replied. Not at all. It was the fellow next to me he couldn’t stand. His face reddened a little. Not that there was anything wrong with him in general, he said. Vic’s face reddened a little more, became almost strawberry tinted. It was just that the chap next to me insisted on spreading butter over his bread again and again and again and again even when it had already been thoroughly and evenly spread the first time, the second time, the third, the fourth, the umpteenth time. By now Vic’s face was almost livid. Why did he do it, Vic asked. Again and again and again—right through the length of the meal. Kept spreading it like this and this, Vic’s hearing aid dropped from his ear and dangled by its cord as his hands went through repeated precise and decisive butter-spreading motions, again and again. Then Vic shook his head, regained his composure, put his hearing aid back in and muttered something about it all being a joke.
I went and confided to my trusty sidekick, Barrie Macdonald. Between us we engineered some excuse to move the butter spreader to the far end of the table on Vic’s side so he was unseen by our party chief.
From then on all went well.
Vic’s other passion apart from wild bird life was Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce which he would sprinkle liberally on his several pieces of buttered bread at every meal time. He would also remark, three times a day, week after week, that he rather liked the taste of that particular sauce. Though facing him across the narrow mess table this long-lasting savoury obsession of his and his oft repeated daily, weekly, monthly, soliloquy regarding it’s desirability left me quite unaffected. Happily, I use it very often even to this day. Honest.
Luckily, NASA take note, the MV Theron carried a goodly supply of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
As well as butter.
It was unfortunate, or maybe fortunate, that as an arctic-bound vessel the MV Theron was classified by the customs office as a foreign going vessel and therefore allowed duty-free alcoholic supplies. Though such privileges did not come into legal effect until the ship had reached Cape Chidley at the northern extremity of Labrador. Yet we were often stuck half way up the coast by heavy ice formations for weeks on end. So whether that particular legal stipulation was strictly adhered to by all our ship’s officers I’m not quite sure. But it certainly applied to we six law-abiding hydrographers, even ones like me who happened to be friendly with the chief engineer whose cabin was right next to mine. Well, at least mostly. I’m pretty sure about that.
As far as I can remember...