By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister
I was an MM2 and the LPO of the after engine room aboard this DLG that was once again drilling holes in the sea on PIRAZ station off the coast of North Vietnam when an idea engaged my alcohol deprived brain. I was going to make some wine.
I had been known to dabble as a vintner with a decent reputation and recipe which was well known for its clarity and alcohol content. My past ventures on other ships had been small, confined to a gallon or so here and there on the sly. However, since espying that 20 gal poly bottle in the shaft alley, used for lube oil storage for the spring bearings, my mind had been going full tilt. Containers and the hiding of same had always presented a problem to the makers of shipboard Hooch; I had that problem under advisement.
As I stepped onto the upper-level deck plates and commenced my walk around prior to relieving the 2000-2400 watch for the mid this night, my eye was caught and held by the canvas bag covered chain falls swinging in rhythm with the rolls of the ship above the LP turbine; perfect for the clandestine concealment of a winery operation. Ingredients in the quantity required for the volume I had in mind would be an added concern. What with mess cooks supplied to the mess deck Master at Arms, this rarely was a problem for small quantities; however, I was going to have to collaborate on some level to pull this off.
Next morning, I approached my shipmate, the LPO of the after fire room. A Texan and no new comer in the finer points of tipping a jug, BT2 was very receptive to my notion and plan for pulling it off. Between our combined efforts and the sticky-fingered behaviors of our mess cooks (one of which was assigned to the Jack of the Dust), the ingredients were soon materializing. Grape juice by the case, sugar by the bag and yeast were finding their way into the after engine house with remarkable regularity.
An operation of this magnitude would require the efforts of all hands, so I solicited and won the support of the MM2 and MM3 that I had placed in charge of the upper and lower levels respectfully. Soon we had the entire after engine room on board with the idea and all hands sworn to secrecy upon pain of death or worse.
Next step was to abduct the 20-gallon poly bottle of lube oil from the shaft alley. Since it was my space that presented a problem; should the Senior Chief note that it was missing, I would have some explaining to do. Luckily, the other shaft ally belonging to the forward engine room had a similar bottle. Easy, I just sent some of my torpedoes to steal it. This served a dual purpose, in addition to filling our purposes the missing bottle diverted attention away from us in the after engine room, noted for our past misdeeds, and threw attention upon the so-called stellar performer in charge of Main Control – brilliant.
Once we had liberated the oil from the bottle and turned to with a steam hose upon the inside it was ready for the mixture. Since my recipe has a current patient pending, I will not divulge it; let it suffice to say that grape juice, sugar, and yeast in appropriate proportions were combined. Next, one of the chain falls above the LP turbine was lowered, stowed and the poly bottle hoisted in its place and covered with the protective canvas bag – perfect concealment. I stood there watching as the bottle swayed in unison with the other chain falls as the ship rolled from side to side; knowing that the heat in the overhead above the turbine would accelerate the fermentation process. I estimated 10 days until sampling. This was going to go down in Hooch maker’s history. As I turned to leave and in passing I mentioned to upper-level MM2, “You did make sure that bottle cap was loose, right?” “Oh yeah, right!” was his reply
With each passing day, each watch kept an ever mindful eye on the LP turbine and the treasure stowed in the overhead above it. All was well as it swayed to and fro up there cooking away, all the while the forward engine room LPO searched frantically for his missing bottle under the ever securitizing surveillance of the Senior Chief. I was enjoying this on many levels; in fact, I volunteered to provide help with the investigation but was told to mind my own fucking business, which I did with an enthusiasm only I could understand.
In my rack one night, I was awakened quite abruptly by the messenger of the watch saying “Mac you better come down to the engine room.” Knowing that something was amiss, I jumped out of my tree and into my dungarees. As I slid down the ladder, I was greeted by upper-level MM2. If there is such a thing, a sheepish look of pallid horror was upon his face as he led me over to the purplest LP turbine I had ever seen. Additionally, the overhead and steam piping above it were purple. The most intelligent thing I could say was “What the fuck?” Seems the cap on the bottle was not as loose as we had thought and the well-accelerated fermentation process had exceeded the capacity of it to contain its contents. Now wine is a lot like lube oil, once on the loose a little can look like a lot. Lucky for us, we had been doing some painting the day before and had kept some unauthorized paint in the hole. All hands were assembled on the deck plates that night and as they painted out the overhead, piping and LP turbine, upper-level MM2 and I lowered the culprit bottle. Finding it still ¾ full, we removed the cap to be on the safe side and returned it to its place of honor. Turning the steam hose on the canvas bag and installing it inside out put the sneak back on the operation. By the time the aroma of morning chow started wafting down through the ventilation dissipating the stench of rioting grape juice, all was well with our world. With the entire after engine room crew horsing down morning chow at the same table, Senior Chief on his way to the log room from the CPO mess stopped, scowled at us and said “What? Are you guys all queer now?”
In the end, the wine finished up nicely and was enjoyed by the entire after engine house, the two mess cooks, BT2 and myself. Main Controls LPO never fully recovered and remained perplexed from the loss of his poly bottle, and what’s more, its sudden reappearance. Although he could never prove anything, the Senior Chief remained convinced that the entire after engine room crew was a bunch of criminals – probably all queer.
David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24-year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.