The High Endurance Life: Restaurant at Sea

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst

Seaman Josiah Voegtly, a messcook aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, rolls out a table mat to prepare for the crew’s breakfast while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Seaman Josiah Voegtly, a messcook aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, rolls out a table mat to prepare for the crew’s breakfast while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

It’s far from the most envied job on a Coast Guard cutter. There’s no glory. The only sign of appreciation comes in the form of a polite comment from the crew. It means being constantly elbow-deep in grease, dirty dining ware and dish soap. The day starts before dawn and ends after sunset. Such is the plight of the Coast Guard messcook.“Messcooks are members of the crew that support the galley,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Leffew, a food service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau. “They help by cleaning and stocking. The galley personnel are so few that we can’t take care of everything.”

Underneath the grime and tired eyes are the cogs the keep the cutter running smoothly, by way of three important things no crew can carry on long without: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Fireman Raymond Keaulana, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau engineering department, carries lunch to the Chief’s Mess, a dining area for the cutter’s chief petty officers, while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Fireman Raymond Keaulana, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau engineering department, carries lunch to the Chief’s Mess, a dining area for the cutter’s chief petty officers, while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

“We get up at about 5:45,” said Seaman Garet Brooks, a member of the Morgenthau deck department, and one of six messcooks for the month of April. “By the time we are done cleaning up from breakfast, it’s time to get ready for lunch.”Their only respite in the 13-hour day is a couple hours between lunch and dinner.

Compared to the cramped passageways of the Morgenthau, the messdeck, or dining area, is relatively sprawling. Well before the first hungry crewmember comes walking in for the morning meal, the messcooks are making coffee, getting out cereals and condiments and preparing the nine tables for their shipmates.

Seaman Garet Brooks, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, refills napkin holders on the cutter’s messdeck while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Seaman Garet Brooks, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, refills napkin holders on the cutter’s messdeck while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The milk dispenser needs refilling. The salad bar needs fresh ice. Dishes from the night before need cleaning. The day has hardly started.Even as the messdeck begins to crowd with the influx of the still bleary-eyed crew, there is no break for the messcooks. Coffee disappears as quickly as they can make it. Need more syrup? They’ve got you covered. And the cleaning? Well, it never stops.

“During mealtimes we are pretty much going non-stop,” said Seaman Jose Iracheta, a member of the deck department.

“Typically we’re having to wash dishes to keep up with people using them,” added Seaman Travis Baggett, also of the deck department.

Like any job, messcooking is less about the work itself and more about the way it affects the crew, as well as the pride that comes with surviving a month of the unsavory labor.

“I try to teach responsibility and let them supervise each other,” said Leffew. “That way they go back to their departments they take something. They didn’t just do dishes the whole time. They learned to be more aware of what needs done and think for themselves.”

As April comes to an end, a new set of messcooks will report in to the galley to take up the constant battle to keep the dining areas of the cutter clean. Another month worth of work stashed away, only to be drawn out when the saltiest of seas stories are being told.

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