Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sea Stores

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

I was always bemused when I heard someone speaking about a drinking problem and say of their time in the Navy that, “I was okay while we were at sea because there was no booze on the ship.” That dude served in a different Navy than I did, because there certainly was never any shortage of booze on my ship. In fact, the main reason for going on liberty when in port was to replenish one’s onboard stash of the good stuff, known in our vernacular as "sea stores."

The Executive Officer occasionally got a bee in his bonnet and went on a mission to seek out all of the “illicit alcoholic beverage” on board, usually shortly after leaving port, which caused us a good bit of amusement. One thing was his use of the pedantic term “alcoholic beverage,” which was a bit out of character for him, not to mention that any “alcoholic beverage” he found was by definition “illicit,” since all of it was smuggled aboard illegally.

Mainly the amusement was that he never found much because we were highly skilled at moving it from places he had not yet searched to places he had searched, and it never occurred to him to search any place twice. We were also pretty good at hiding it in places he wouldn’t think to look, like the crankcase of a main engine that was out of service.

There was also the “water round torpedo” tank, which took in water to compensate for the weight of a torpedo when it was fired. That could create problems if we were firing a lot of torpedoes, but we always knew in advance if that was going to be happening, so we could deal with that.

I won’t go into all of the rest, but sailors are nothing if not ingenious, not to mention devious. In any case, it was unusual for our sea stores to run out no matter how long we were at sea, even for cruises up to three months or so.

If our sea stores ever did run low, and sometimes just because it was good fun, we would hit the supply of torpedo fuel, which was pure grain alcohol. There are stories told about torpedoes being fired and going straight to the bottom upon leaving the tube because the crew drank all of the fuel, but I’m pretty sure those stories are bogus.

Pretty sure. Can’t guarantee it. If the men who served on those diesel boats were not insane when they came aboard, they went batshit crazy in pretty short order, so one cannot rule out any story told about those days.

What we hit was the reserve fuel supply. The Navy put formaldehyde in it, which is a deadly poison of course, to keep us from drinking it, and pink coloring to let us know that it contained formaldehyde. Not that the coloring was really needed; if the smell didn’t tell you it was there, the taste of it certainly would.

We developed several different methods of filtering, which took out the pink color but, unfortunately, did not remove the formaldehyde. Someone however, (it may have been me) knew that alcohol and formaldehyde boil at different temperatures, and so we built a distillery to distill the formaldehyde out.

Happily, the XO never found our still and we never blew up the ship by burning torpedo fuel to distill torpedo fuel, so we never had to worry about our sea stores running out.

1 comment:

  1. bruce9:31 AM

    this brings to mind many questions.
    1) grain alcohol?
    2) the XO? no one else? (more later)
    3) formaldehyde burns in fuel? (ditto)
    4) I had a professor from Russia, who was a former red army officer and they would drink alcohol from military stocks (fuel, cleaner, rocket propellant, something).

    more later...