Holidays and Steel Beach Cookouts
By Garland Davis
I read in many of the ship and Navy groups where I lurk that one of the highlights of holidays and holiday routine were the special meals served and the steel beach cookouts. I will admit that I wasn’t that crazy about the steel beach cookouts. You know I was a cook. One or two during a ninety day Indian Ocean cruise wasn’t bad but doing a steel beach every Sunday or other holidays or stand down day was overkill.
I was in one ship where the XO was convinced the key to good crew morale was the number of Steel Beach cookouts we did. After the first couple, he noticed that everyone would go through the line and then return to the mess decks, the CPO Mess, or the Wardroom to eat. He became really upset when he overheard the BMC say to me, “We have a Galley with modern, perfectly good equipment. Why the fuck do you haul the shit up to the Hangar Deck and build a fire to cook every other fucking day.” After that and other bitches from the crew regarding the frequency of the cookouts the XO stopped insisting on cookouts.
We had departed Yokosuka for Subic and on to Pattaya and then into the IO. Sometime after Subic, the Supply Officer told me the XO’s plan for the weekly cookouts. My first reaction was, “Is he out of his rabbit-assed mind?” My second reaction was, “Why didn’t he let us know before we left Yoko or Subic. I don’t have that much charcoal aboard.”
The Supply Officer explained to the XO about the charcoal. His reply was, “Surely you can buy charcoal briquettes in Thailand.” So, we loaded a shit load of charcoal in Pattaya at three times the cost. The ship’s chandler and victualler in Pattaya routinely overcharged the Navy by two or three hundred percent for anything purchased. But we didn’t receive briquettes. It was big chunks of wood. It came aboard from the boats in large paper bags. Those of you who pulled liberty in that port remember the wading out to a boat which took you to deeper water where you transferred to another boat and then on to the ship. The charcoal and other stores came aboard the same way. The workers carried the bags to the long tail boat which took them to the larger boat and then to the ship.
I was ashore receiving the items and making sure they reached the boats. My LPO was supervising the working party and storage aboard. I had moved food items out of a small storeroom aft to use as charcoal storage. By the time I was back aboard, everything was stowed
Once we stopped the frequent cookouts, the storeroom wasn’t opened very often. It had been about three weeks since a cookout when the Sounding and Security watch came to me and said, “Chief, I think I smell smoke when I walk past your storeroom aft could we look in there.” I carried a master key to all my storerooms. We went aft to the storeroom. When I reached for the lock, it was hot. I touched the door. It was extremely hot. I told HT3, “We’ve got a fire in here. Call the bridge and have them pass the word for fire.” He left in a rush while I went to the nearest fire station and ran a hose to the scene and removed the lock from the door.
When the fire party arrived, I backed off as the OBA men opened the door. The charcoal had been smoldering up to that point but flamed as the extra oxygen entered the room. Water was used to quickly quench the fire. Over a half day was spent carrying buckets of sodden charcoal topside to dump overboard and clean the storeroom.
The Captain, the XO, the Cheng, the Suppo, the HTC and I were in the wardroom to determine why the fire started. I suggested spontaneous combustion of the charcoal and bags. I explained about spontaneous combustion in wet coal in coal yards and colliers in the days of coal fired ships. I told them because of the method of transporting the bags of charcoal from the beach to the ship I was sure it had gotten wet or at least damp. There was no way to determine how long it had burned. I have read stories of coal laden vessels sailing around the Horn with pockets of fire in the cargo burning for weeks..
There was really no other answer as to the cause of the fire
The XO had the BMC throw the charcoal grilles overboard and there was never another Steel Beach mentioned the rest of my tour in that ship!
I was told years later by a Chief who served in a ship where my old XO was the CO that they didn’t do steel beach cookouts and charcoal wasn’t permitted aboard.