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Sea Stories: The Best Detail Ever. Not.


Gunboat1
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Sea Stories:  The Best Detail Ever!  Not.

One of the lesser-known “benefits” of sea service in the late 20th Century was the rarely-seen “Having a Beer At Sea.”  USN ships are dry – no alcohol is allowed on board except in two narrowly-defined cases.  One: an international representational event, like a wardroom dinner party for foreign guests and officers whose services do habitually drink wine.  Then, by express special permission for that one occasion, wine may be served.  Two:  If a ship has been at sea for over 90 consecutive days without a port visit, the command may hold a barbecue topside, also sometimes known as “steel beach.”  The sailors who wish to may queue up and receive two, exactly two, cans of beer.  This beer must be opened and consumed right then and there, topside.  There is no saving back one for later, and no transferring custody of your beer to another shipmate.  None.  This is carefully overseen by officers and Chief Petty Officers to ensure that the rules are strictly followed.

Flash forward a couple of years.  My ship is preparing for deployment, and the supply officer realizes that he has a storeroom full of two-year old cheap beer.  It has been languishing below decks all that time, unrefrigerated, and is undoubtedly no longer fit for human consumption.  It must be gotten rid of, to make room for a new stock of beer to be issued if needed during the upcoming deployment.  But we are talking about a thousand or more cans of beer! 

I am assigned as Officer in Charge of a working party detailed to this purpose.  Sailors are fighting each other for the chance to volunteer for what they think is going to be a prime opportunity to steal or drink copious quantities of free beer, on duty.  The Supply Officer explains that for liability reason, we can’t just dump the cases of beer off somewhere; someone might discover it, drink it, get sick from spoiled beer, and perhaps even die.  No, the beer most be POURED OUT, to flow away or evaporate.  No, we can’t pour it into the harbor; this would be illegal marine pollution.  Finally, we hit upon a plan. 

We load the beer onto a big truck and drive it and the picked detail of about six sailors and me over to a beachside base recreation area at NAB Coronado.  That picnic area has two large dumpsters sitting there, beautifully empty.  And the sailors, solemnly briefed that no beer is to be consumed at all, begin opening cans of beer and pouring them into the dumpsters, then tossing in the empty cans. 

The problem is, there are over a thousand cans of beer.  Pouring each one out takes time.  We are going to be there all day and all tomorrow at this rate.  Finally, a young seaman has an idea. Palm a can of beer, smash it onto an angle iron or other edge of the dumpster, tearing a big gash in the can, then dump quickly and toss in the can.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat……pretty much ad infinitum.

After several hours of work in the hot San Diego sun, we return to the ship, mission complete, and with six sober sailors pretty much soaked and reeking of stale, spoiled beer.

Their shipmates were extremely envious of them, having been selected for what they assumed was the best working party detail ever.  I understand it was some time before any of the "lucky" men wanted to drink a beer again. 

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