Saturday, December 17, 2016



     It was always a wonder, not only to me, but the rest of the crew.  We would leave port, be at sea for a couple of days, and all of a sudden, a disturbance would take place on ship; usually a fight between two who were obviously drunk.  It would end up with the Master at Arms putting them in the brig, followed by a Captains Mast finding them Drunk and Disorderly with a sentence of so many days in the pokey on piss and punk (Bread and Water).  Not only that, but it was always the same people, just a handful of course, but you could count on it sure as all get out.  The question always was the same:  Where did the booze come from?  When asked by the Captain, they would naturally say nothing.  So from time to time, unknown as to when it would happen, a surprise inspection would take place.  But first, let me give you a little history.

     Naturally, drinking liquor on board ship was against Naval Regulations.  That is not to say we didn't have beer aboard.  A supply ship would send over what the Jamestown would be entitled to, and we would have a working party bring it on board and stored in the storage area.  Say we were entitled to 400 cases.  An officer with a tally sheet would take inventory as it left the supply ship and put on a barge for transport alongside the Jamestown, then again, the inventory count would take place as it came aboard, each case taken by one of the working party, and transported to the storage area when again an officer with a tally sheet would count the cases and store them.  But it wasn't uncommon, and it happened more than once, that the last case would come on board, but when it arrived at the storage area, the tally sheet of the inventory was never 400 cases.  There was always be a shortage of one or two cases. The officer on the barge couldn't explain it, nor could the officer at the end of the trail in the storage area. Naturally, the Captain was pissed off to say the least.  But no one would own up.  Well the two drunkards would never admit to the heist of the beer, but it would explain why they were drunk.  However it was a mystery never solved. 

     We would from time to time be allowed to go ashore for rest and recreation and a ration of three cans of beer were allotted for each crew member.  Those of the crew who didn't drink, and there weren't many, were still entitled to their three cans.   That opened up the opportunity to barter the three cans for cigarettes perhaps, or to outright sell them for cash. But it did make it possible for someone to consume more than his allotted three cans.  That being the case, the recreation party always came back to the ship with someone who was obviously under the weather as it were.  But his being drunk could be explained.  Consuming more than three cans was not looked upon kindly and they tried to control it, but someone always came back drunk.  Always the same people were involved.  You have to realize, the crew was made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life and I am sure we had people on board who were heavy drinkers long before they arrived on the Jamestown.  I have seen some guys who actually drank Shaving Lotion for its alcohol content.  I am sure it wasn't a problem that only the Jamestown had to put up with.

     Coming back to the ship drunk after a recreation party beer bust was understood by the command.  But being at sea for a few days, and all of a sudden we have a drunken brawl was disconcerting to the Captain to say the least.  What to do?  The answer: A Surprise Inspection!

     He would start at the bow of the ship and work his way aft.  Looking at every nook and corner for the stash he knew was on board someplace.  And he wasn't looking for beer, he knew there was a still brewing away somewhere on his ship and he was going to find it. 

     What the captain didn't know was, sure enough, there was a still brewing away.  Don't forget, we were a Motor Torpedo Boat Tender with torpedoes that we supplied the torpedo boats with.  They were driven by a propulsion system that used 140 proof alcohol, but it was under tight control, so he didn't suspect it came from that source.  But what he didn't know was the resourcefulness of the guys who did have a still brewing away.  As an example, we would from time to time have apricots or prunes which was printed on the menu of the meals the commissary steward was required to publish on a weekly basis.  You have no idea how much these guys were willing pay for your ration of prunes.  Get enough prunes together and under proper care you can come up with some real Kickapoo Juice.  Just about any fruit will ferment into alcohol if you know what you are doing.  And these guys were good, so the still was on board alright, but where?  The Captain would scour the ship from stem to stern, and he did this on more than one occasion.  But he NEVER found the still.  The question always on my mind, and I'm sure it drove the Captain crazy as well was, how did they maneuver the still around him as he performed his Surprise Inspection of the ship?  No one would ever admit to having the still, and the Captain NEVER found it.  Another mystery at sea never solved.  

I was on the USS Jamestown over 4 years, and it never failed that after leaving port and being at sea for a few days, someone would show up drunk.  Don't ask me where the still was, I didn't drink then, and drink very little now, but those drunkards on ship made life interesting from time to time. 


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