ROCK ON, ALGONQUIN
by Peter Magwood
The rock ‘n’ roll issuing from a tinny, little transistor radio in HMCS ALGONQUIN’s crowded, steamy galley took on new meaning one long-ago morning in the Pacific Ocean.
The creaky, old destroyer was making its way north to San Francisco, en route to Esquimalt, B.C., together with CRESCENT and COLUMBIA, when they ran into some weather in the early spring of 1967. ALGONQUIN, with its Second World War hull and 1950s prototype superstructure, was no stranger to heavy seas and the three destroyers shouldered the swells, causing seasoned and green sailors alike to roll with the well-known momentum, known as “sea legs,” that would accompany us ashore days or weeks later.
ALGONQUIN’s cooks were no exception to the heaving decks and they continued to prepare breakfast with animation and dexterity. Lined up outside the galley, we could hear the chief cook and his duty hands struggling with clattering pans, trays, plates and utensils, muttering and cursing behind the shuttered servery. And the little radio continued to serenade us with some “hit of the ‘60s.”
Suddenly, the shutter went up with a zip and bang and we were presented a theatre of cookery that would amaze Danny Kaye: cooks struggled to keep their balance, with one hand on a stack of melmac plates that threatened to leap onto the deck while the other tongued out eggs, bacon and sausage from the steam-table trays. Another, clearly more agile than the rest, had his hands and spatulas full trying to keep dozens of frying eggs, bacon slices and sausages from sliding off the hot, black grill into a huge, untidy omelet on the deck. The chief cook supervised and assisted, bracing himself into a corner of the steam table as the destroyer continued to roll.
It appeared the serving was going to continue without undue difficulty and, soon, it was my turn. I presented myself, complete with appetite and smile, to the server, anxious to dig into the RCN “scran.” I was hungry, just coming off the middle watch, and the steamy smells were mouth-watering.
Suddenly, the ship rolled to starboard (No, it wasn't “hands to breakfast, starboard 30”). In an instant, the stacks of plates toppled to the deck in a welter of broken pastel plastic; the tidy parade state of eggs, bacon and sausage slid quickly off the grill, by divisions, in a smart seamanlike manner; the cooks lurched into the nearest immovable object and we all struggled to regain our footing. Those seated at the cafeteria tables leaned and gripped their plates and cups as the ship rolled back again.
The chief cook, clearly annoyed, sprang into action.
“Zip, bang, click.” Down came the servery shutter in a chorus of oaths and maledictions from cooks and crew alike. “Cereal and coffee in the corner; we need some help in here,” yelled the chief cook, as he and his crew knelt down to pick up the mess of broken plates, cutlery and the newly-created omelet on the deck.
Only half of us got a hot breakfast that morning and even today, an innocent bowl of corn flakes reminds me of that funny morning meal in ALGONQUIN’s cafeteria so many years ago. Otherwise, the food was generally very good during the 6,900-nautical-mile journey, from Halifax to Esquimalt, in February - April 1967. (Algonquin’s Last Hurrah describes the voyage in greater detail).