Engine-room cooking 12/4 style.

Ali Bain
14th February 2007, 13:03
First ever thread so here goes.
The name of the ship shall have to remain nameless but she was one of the four conventional cargo liners I voyaged on when sailing with the Benline back in the early seventies. These liners usually carried up to twelve passengers, any more and the ship had to have a fully qualified doctor onboard.
Now as you can imagine passengers at sea are very well catered for especially on these cargo liners. This includes the very best of food, which leads me to the following true story.

As described in my letter to " Benjidog" in reply to his request for information as to "what engineers do at sea on steam ships" one of the many logs which we had to fill in each watch was the fridge log. Obviously we were dining in the company of the passengers from time to time and we could not help but see the quality of the food they were getting.
Now I am NOT complaining about our food which was normally very good, but the passenger's food was definately top of the range compared to ours.

On the very odd occasion wnen we had a few minutes to ourselves on the midnight to four we decided that we would have a look INSIDE the fridges some night, meat, fish and veg as I recall each kept at different temperatures and looked after by the second engineer. The actual keys for these fridges were kept by the Chief Steward and were more closely guarded than were those for Fort Knox. So we had a challenge, make a set of skeleton keys without anyone finding out. After a period of time this was accomplished and the contents of the fridges were duly inspected. Now the fun started, but it was inevitable what the outcome would be

To start with we only looked, the very best of everything, fillet steaks, prawns, fancy cheeses, you name it and it was there. Then we started taking just three pieces of fruit, one for each engineer and one for the Chinese donkeyman who thought this was hillarious and was duly sworn to secrecy. It was a really good feeling at two or three in the morning chomping into the forbidden fruit and with an engine-room temperature of about 140 deg. F. We were all smiles.

One night the junior went in and found a basket of Tiger prawns. Now these prawns were huge, and I mean huge, as an ex fisherman I know what a big prawn looks like and these were huge. We were on the Far East coast at the time. The next problem was what to do with them. We searched around for a while and found a big enough steel tray which was then scrupulously cleaned, put about half an inch of water in the bottom of it and heated this up with the oxy acetylene torch until it was steaming, put the prawns in for thirty seconds or so with a lid on the tray and hey presto "steamed prawns a la twelve to four" Gordon Ramsey eat your heart out. A few night later we managed to fry up some fillet steaks, maybe this was a good job after all...!!

Then we started thinking big,or the junior did anyway. Down he comes with a frozen duck and a quizzical look on both their faces, one of course was frozen on. So we decided to put Duck a la orange on the menu that morning, so the duck went behind the boilers to where we normally blow tubes,to be defrosted, and the junior went back up to the fridges to get an orange and some silver foil which we had previously obtained.
Duck was duly defrosted and stuffed with the peeled orange, cooking oil was poured over it and then it was wrapped in tinfoil. This was then placed on the steel tray previously used for cooking prawns and the lot was placed on top of the main superheated steam stop valve on top of the Port boiler. We reckoned this would be the hottest and therefore the best "oven" in the engine-room for our bird.
It was one in the morning and life was great. Hey, who is this Gordon Ramsey fellow anyway?

Suddenly, five minutes later our world fell apart, or at least one of the turbine blades on our turbo generator did. There was a horrible noise, the turbo generator stopped and all the lights went out. Now this is not a position you want to be in, full away at sea to a complete black out at one in the morning. Hit the panic alarm to get the chief and everyone down to the engine-room to help and 'phoned the bridge to let the second mate know what had happened. The next thirty or so minutes were just a blur, stopping the main turbines before they got damaged by lack of oil, starting up diesel generators and generally getting the whole engine-room up and running again. Will not go into further detail suffice to say we got everything up and running and resumed steaming again.

Now that the panic was over there was a lot of relief, and the other engineers trooped away back to their beds with the exception of the Chief. What's that funny smell third he asked? what's burning? The junior and I looked at one another in horror and the Donkeyman suddenly became very interested in cleaning his burners. We tried to bluster our way out but the Chief was adamant something in HIS engine-room was burning. Yes, the duck was crispy to say the least, it had been knocked into the lagging during the panic and was now well and truely burned to a crisp. There was no way out for us so we had to admit to the Chief what we had done and to produce the evidence. We were very lucky to get away with just a severe bollocking and matters were not taken further. That was the end of the cooking adventures on that particular vessel.
Ali. Bain.

14th February 2007, 14:49

An excellent yarn and a worthy "first thread". (Applause)

Others will undoubtedly add to your story - I'm sure we have all tasted the "forbidden fruit" at some point on board ship! (==D)

14th February 2007, 15:41
There was very few padlocks that a ground down bit of hacksaw blade couldn't get into!! I always ate well on the 12-4 also!!

Derek Roger
14th February 2007, 17:15
On Maipura we could get into the Bond when in port without opening the padlocks or breaking the customs seal . This was't used for pilferinng the bond ; just a means to get into it when customs were not co-operative so we could get our "Ciggies " Scotch / Gin and beer.

How did we do it ??????????????? Derek

Derek Roger
14th February 2007, 17:17
Correction. Actually the ship was Brocklebanks MN Mahout not Maipura.

14th February 2007, 18:08
I recall a Norwegian cargo ship built around 1950 that used big brass skeleton keys for every room and cabin on board. It was discovered that any key could be filed down in two areas and it would open the food lockers. Once a case or two of beer was "liberated", the altered key would be tossed out the porthole. After two years there wasn't a single crewman who could lock up his cabin.

Tony Crompton
14th February 2007, 20:02
On "Makrana" in Aden we were discharging stores for the R.A.F. and a few cases of Heinz tins were damaged. We apprentices hid some of the tins of Beans and Sausages on the beams in the locker in No. 1 hatch saving them for nights in Calcutta but the mate found them and "Was not amused"

On McAndrews "Pinto" we had a key filed down to fit the pantry. After nights ashore we would make a sandwich or two, never very much and probably the Chief Steward knew anyway. Then one night the Third Engeneer came back and raided the pantry, found the eggs that were there for breakfast and tried to make himself a 17 egg omlette. The Chief steward went bananas and a padlock was added. Always somebody will spoil a "Good Thing"
Tony C

Alistair Spence
14th February 2007, 20:40
Was it the Bencruachan, homeward bound with only two passengers to be catered for ? I recall a breakdown on the 12-4 when a day east of Socotra, but don't recall a carbon duck.

Ali Bain
15th February 2007, 10:30
Alistair, Unfortunately never made it on to the 'cruachan, think Hughie Clark was the professional third on there. No I was on the much older Ben's including the 'lomond, vrackie,'attow,'albanach,'vannoch and then two of the all singing all dancing box boats the 'alder and 'avon UGH..!!!
Regards-Ali. Bain.

4th March 2008, 01:04
Ah, the hot press,what a great invention,it not only kept food warm.But on the higher settings you could cook egg,bacon & chips if you had some fat.kenny[=P] (Frogger) Frogs legs for anyone.

4th March 2008, 11:29
Very good story about the duck. We only baked potatoes on the boilers and fried up jigged mackerel in the engineroom. Very tame.
I have Never had mackeral so good, must have been the sprinkling of asbestos dust!!

4th March 2008, 14:08
On a Union Castle cargo ship I had to take the temperature in the frig room,one night on the east Africa coast I noticed barracuda strung up in there. Mentioned it to the 2nd say nothing he said and see what comes up on a later menu. Some time after some similiar type of fish comes up with a well known name. Some time later after a few beers I went round to CS cabin and said to him "that fish we had the other night looked to me like barracuda" I thought he was going to have a heart attack, beer began to flow freely and I left his cabin with a 24 box of beer with another to follow later. I had unwittingly uncovered his fiddle he bought barracuda and charged the company with some type of expensive fish.

4th March 2008, 16:28
On returning to the Cape Hudson from vacation I could not sleep so I went down to the engine control room since we were at anchor the 12 to 4 was on a eight hour watch. Not seeing the watch engineer in the control room I found the space behind the switchboard has been take over by cooking gear and supplies but I did not go around the corner of the switch gear. I put on a pot of coffee and started to walk around the engine room while the coffee was brewing.

When I returned to the control room the watch engineer was now present I asked him if he had a nice nap which he claimed he was not sleeping on watch, but the diamond plate pattern from the rubber mating behind the switch board gear on his face proved other wise. I told the young third to wash his face and come back for some coffee. About this time the first came down for morning coffee and the first told me that the third cooked his own food since he was a veggie. On the third's return he promised not to sleep in the control room any more.

Brian Leaf
4th March 2008, 18:55
When I was in the Nowshera we had a reputation for 12/4 culinary delights. I remember the port boiler was the best cooking range. We even had our own menu printed up. At the bottom of the menu we wrote with or with out asbestos

5th March 2008, 00:36
Gentlemen, an opportunity awaits. Maybe twenty years ago a cookbook was published for "car cooking", placing various packages of food on an engine block and how much driving time it would take to cook it. Imagine a maritime version.
Or a cable television show. Who most resembles Martha Stewart?

double acting
22nd October 2008, 11:28
I read about your 12/4 cooking escapades with a bit of amazement. I just can not imagine not being served from the same menu as the passengers. Union Castle may have had it's faults, but all engineers and mates dined in the 1st class saloon and got exactly the same as the passengers.

The company had a policy of having one table in tourist class at which a ship's officer sat. When the Chief tapped you on the shoulder and said that it was your turn to sit at the engineers table in the tourist class you smiled , groaned inwardly, and made your way to the tourist saloon.

Fussy ? You bet! I remember once on the Stirling Castle I was sitting next to the Chief Electrician Alex McIntyre who came from Dumbarton. We both ordered the lobster salad for our lunch. When they arrived he took one look at his then told the steward to take his back, "Sorry , not your fault, but that's crayfish, not lobster" I was amazed I couldn't tell them apart, but apparently lobster is pure white and crayfish is slightly "creamier" in colour. I said that if he had been on a cargo boat he would have been only too happy to eat crayfish, anything was an improvemnt on the dreaded "beatroot and onion salad"

"That's not the point, the menu says lobster and I want lobster, if you let them get away with things like that you will end up dining in the duty mess every day" was his reply.

Was he complaining about nothing, or was he quite correct ?

22nd October 2008, 17:13
As J3/E on Brock's "Makrana" I was fridge engineer and, because of this lofty pursuit, I had a set of fridge keys (Meat Room, Fish Room and Veg Room) so's I could check on the state of the brine-pipes (allegedly).

I was doing 12-4 with a Tiddley-wink as my junior.

Around 03.00 I would go up into the Fish Room and Veg Room and liberate whatever my watch-mate told me I needed for the feast we would be having. Bit of fish (didn't matter what it was) a cabbage, some egg-plant, couple of carrots, whatever.

He (the Tiddley-wink) would go up top at one bell, to put the 4/8 on a shake and start "warming-through" his little spirit-stove so, by the time I'd handed-over, had a shower, got my Brocklebank kilt on and went down to the fitters accommodation he would have prepared a fabulous nosh out of next to f*** all!

This midnight feast ('cept it was 04.30-ish!) went on for quite some time and I was getting a bit panicky as I thought the Chief-of-all-the-Stewards would have noticed his stock was going down but, of course, neither he, or his 2 I/C, would lower themselves (figuratively, not literally!!!) into going into the fridge rooms so it would be up to the Chief Cook to report any shortfalls and I reckon HE was probably liberating stuff for HIS feasts, down aft, so, as far as I was concerned, "Sub karna bot atcha" (All food was very good).

Going to bed at around 05.30 full of grub, and several tinctures, what more could you ask? Memories! Ah memories! Salaams, Phil(Hippy)

kewl dude
23rd October 2008, 06:22
"On Maipura we could get into the Bond when in port without opening the padlocks or breaking the customs seal. How did we do it ??????????????? Derek"

I cannot speak for the padlocks but ships I sailed before arrival a light coat of vegetable oil was applied to those areas where the seal likely would be placed. Then when we wanted access we just slid the seal away, opened up and accessed what we wanted. Sliding the seal back in place when we were done.

Greg Hayden

marco nista
23rd October 2008, 08:32
I was on a Sugar boat back in the 1960s when the Chief Steward found the galley boy inside the padlocked bond store one morning.

He had been lowered into the store in the dumb waiter by his mates on a beer-raiding expedition.

Sadly the ropes broke when they tried to haul him & his booty back up & he became marooned.



David W
23rd October 2008, 09:36
Thank you Gentlemen, most enlightening, as a very young galley boy I was accused of stealing from the stores fridges and threatend with being DR'd, until the 2nd steward found the evidence to save me, in the 3rd engineers cabin, he and the electrician were responsible for the maintenance of the fridges. They also had the smallest bond bill on the ship until they were found out.

23rd October 2008, 13:01
During the seaman's strike in the sixties as 3rd engineer ended up with the keys of bound store. The engineers standing by thought this was great as we were in charge of the blood bank. For the life of me we never worked out why but it was very enjoyable time and the selection was great till the bar chit arrived.



6th November 2009, 15:47
I had the pleasure of sailing with an ex CPS Chief who was able to supply endless stories of the 'Empress' ships.
From the Trophy, for the first to make out with a female passenger, after departure from the Liverpool Landing Stage, and I was told this had been achieved before arrival at the Bar Lightvessel.
Another story was that a 3rd Eng had served in one ship for a number of years and all though sociable he had always been able to maintain a low bar bill. This individual had the misfortune to fall ill and was so relieved.
His replacement while stowing his own gear happened upon a removable panel in the wardrobe behind which was a seemingly well-used tap. Further investigation revealed that the tap was plumbed into supply pipework from the beer storage tanks to the bars. and our friendly 3rd had been availing himself as the need presented.
However it was not explained how,or why, this extra outlet had not been discovered while the 3rd was on leave. Or perhaps both parties were involved. And why did the new relief open his mouth. ?

6th November 2009, 20:08
A great story Ali Bain, brings back those "foodie' memories when we took the freezer and cool room temperatures on the 12 to 4.
I particularly remember a big leg of ham on the bone being thickly sliced off for myself and my motorman's mid watch feast then bragging about it to the second mate when we had our after watch beer.
End result was that I had to slip along to the galley for another two slicess and the next night saw the second send down his watchman to collect their slices.
By this time the ham was starting to show severe signs of weight reduction so we had to cut the habit .


6th November 2009, 20:36
Hi Abbeywood.

Have just ready your tale of what could be called a Wardrobe Drinking 3rd Engineer. I sailed on Cunard and CPS passenger ships and was always regailed with this tale as being particular to "this" vessel, although the person was no longer in thew company now, look as hard as I could I never did find the offending beer supply, I deduced it came under the catagory "Yeaaaaah"(Jester) (Jester) (Jester)


7th November 2009, 18:09
Taties on the turbo chargers, for the 2/O and the 3/E, with a knob of butter and a little salt, never tasted jacket taties like that since. Memories !!!!!

7th November 2009, 22:59
"On Maipura we could get into the Bond when in port without opening the padlocks or breaking the customs seal. How did we do it ??????????????? Derek"

I cannot speak for the padlocks but ships I sailed before arrival a light coat of vegetable oil was applied to those areas where the seal likely would be placed. Then when we wanted access we just slid the seal away, opened up and accessed what we wanted. Sliding the seal back in place when we were done.

Greg Hayden


On a couple of ships I was on we used to knock the pins out of the hinges and open the door and so not disturbing the pad lock or the seals. We did a great job disguising the fact that the hinge pins could be removed.


David Whitter

Burned Toast
8th November 2009, 18:50
Ah, the hot press,what a great invention,it not only kept food warm.But on the higher settings you could cook egg,bacon & chips if you had some fat.kenny[=P] (Frogger) Frogs legs for anyone.

Now Kenny I thought I had forgot to order the bacon(Jester) But it seems it was used on the 12~4 watch(Thumb) good lad

8th November 2009, 22:35
Did the getting into sealed stores when we were in USSR during the darker days when every store room was sealed.
Used to punch out the pins on the hinges and carefully lift the door out.

9th November 2009, 14:02
last Voyage on The Hospital Ship USNS COMFORT, oh it was a dilly, do nothing Capt, & upper echelon decived themselves into the crews kitchen was serving excellent food, even when we eroniously invaded the domestic fridges that held our food, mold everywhere, rotten fruit & vegs all over, cook reluctant to put out much food, acted like it was his money, would not provising from shoreside, but relied on supply train form Navy or other mcs ships. Raided frozen goods as well, pilferd much, steaks, chops & all kinds of Shell fish, Till got into some vacume wrapped steaks, defrosted them and about to put on bbq at 4am, they were grey!! Comented to those around & the rest went on eating from that kitchen, Told The Chief about what I saw , was not reprimanded, but duly noted about condition of Fridges, wound up inting in the dining room on the ship the militrary uses on there, surprisingly food was better , they never ran out of food to serve & were never reluctant to fetch more out of the fridge, fruit & veggies . Our Kitchen , Ha, if the earlier arrivals there ate up everything , then too bad for you who came 5-10 miniutes after getting there.

12th November 2009, 07:03
I have told this story before but it is appropriate to the engine room 2am feasting

I was a fridge engineer on the Rangitane and the arrangement was for a meal to be left in the engineer’s pantry fridge for each night watch keeper. This consisted of a couple of rashers of bacon, two eggs and two thick slices of bread for toasting all laid out on a dinner plate and the routine was for the greaser to go up into the main galley to cook it for me around 2 am.
My watch keeping mate was a young Londoner, a Tony Curtis look a-like and suave with it, a nice lad but he was no cook and I was always complaining about hard fried eggs, cindered bacon or burnt toast.
A day or two after we left Panama for Wellington he went up stairs to cook the breakfast but instead of being missing for half an hour almost an hour had elapsed before he came back to surprise me with a meal cooked to perfection. I asked him who cooked it and he insisted that he had and claimed that he had decided to try a little harder.

This went on for a week, great piping hot meals, until one morning he arrived back after more than an hour with a plateful of twisted and charred remains of what was once good food. I challenged him to come clean otherwise I would go up and cook my own breakfast in future so he finally admitted to the fact that the Second Baker, a mate of his who was on duty at that hour, was cooking my bacon and eggs while the greaser was having a rendezvous with a young female passenger in a secluded spot just aft of the funnel but on the night in question when the food reverted to a normal mess the baker had been too busy so the greaser had had to do a hurried char up himself.

He explained that he had made eyes at the lady during the Atlantic leg while bronzing himself on the fore deck and after an exchange of notes via a steward messenger he arranged to meet her ashore during the scheduled overnight stop at Balboa. It turned out to be a week or more in that port after we had collided with another ship in the Miraflores Lakes so the passion had been allowed to really develop.
Cooking my breakfast provided the perfect foil for his trysts while his baker mate helped him out by keeping me happily fed.
I had to read the riot act to him, curbed my envy and all that, and I allowed him one more night of ecstasy and indiscretion to tell the lady that she would have to wait until we arrived in Wellington for more amour which was only a week away.

This recall sees the envy creeping back even today as I think of him getting the crackling while I made do with the rasher rind


david freeman
12th November 2009, 07:58
All that hard work, Strange how one finds out things. Thro' the lecky we became aware that the CO2 Bottle room key (Used in Drydock) also fitted the galley stores; Hence delight and a quick bite.

12th November 2009, 19:50
Tale of long ago:
MAIHAR - 1917 vintage Broclebank ship. The year 1943 - location out in the east.
The apprentices cabin door was opposite the engineers' messroom where, in the evening the Indian steward would place a big plate of sandwiches in the "safe". The ship had no refrigeration so a "safe" was a cabinet on legs with insulated sides and top and a door with fine metal mesh over it.
Mysteriously, when the engineer came off watch at midnight there were no sandwiches so suspicion fell on the apprentices. The C/E and others gave us all a good talking to and threatened us with dire consequences if we scoffed the sandwiches. Of course we had nothing to do with their diapprearance.
After several unpleasant confrontations, the penny dropped. The cabinet was lifted out on deck and smashed to pieces with a fire axe. The insulated gap was thick with "Bombay Tigers" - great big cockroaches about 2 inches in length. They were scoffing a platefull of sandwiches between about 8pm and midnight !
Brocklebank ships were lousy with these roaches and during the war we would remove the bulb from the deckhead light so that the door could be left open for air ( no such thing as air conditioning in those days). When you came off watch, say at 4am you would grope your way into the shared cabin and wipe away any roaches which were in your bunk.
Happy days though!

27th December 2009, 22:11
On the ACT2 we were too honest. Purchased a good selection of meat at the supermarket in Port Chalmers and stored in the brine room. 15 minutes, wrapped in tinfoil, on the main stop and then deposited in the hot press on the way to the shower. 5 minutes later met the 2nd mate in the bar for a deliciously cold beer and a steak (or similar) which had just cooled enough to eat!! Mind you the night the greaser decided to snack on a trout and the 4=8 couldn't fathom out the aroma was priceless!!!