Home away from home: Thanksgiving on the water

By Masha Rumer, MSC Public Affairs

Life at sea means sometimes spending important holidays away from home. Such is the case with many civil service mariners who work for Military Sealift Command. Even when a ship is in port, crew must be aboard for security and routine maintenance. They still celebrate – and here is a sneak peak at the holiday menus aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4) and USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12)

Thanksgiving aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4). (Photo by Capt. Lee Apsley, civil service master, USNS Richard E Byrd)

For readers fretting about serving a table of 10, consider Byrd, with a holiday crew of 80. Byrd is moored at Naval Magazine Indian Island in Washington State.

The meal will require five whole roasted turkeys, ham steak, butterfly shrimp, cornbread dressing, baked and sweet potatoes, three types of pies and also cakes: German, apple, carrot and chocolate fudge. Add to that a special request of the ship’s master, Capt. Lee Apsley: New England clam chowder.

“Under Chief Steward Carlos Mora’s leadership, the cuisine on Byrd is consistently top notch,” Apsley said. It takes a team: one chief cook will prepare turkeys according to his secret recipe; another is in charge of desserts and breads.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year and I am looking forward

Chief Cook Joseph Baiza carves the turkeys for Thanksgiving aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4). (Photo by Capt. Lee Apsley, civil service master, USNS Richard E Byrd)

to spending it with my sea buddies and shipboard family,” said Apsley.

In his 20-year career, Apsley has celebrated three out of every four Thanksgivings on MSC ships.

His most unusual holiday meal away from home? A turkey barbecued in a pit on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.Fortunately, the advent of e-mail has eased the tension of mail calls and long telephone lines, often waking up the loved ones. 

“I like working for MSC. It’s a choice that our family made,” Apsley said. “If I give up Thanksgiving, I’ll generally make it home for Christmas.” 

Byrd’s Second Mate and navigator John Kapsner agreed. “I’m one of those ex-Navy types: I did 10 years in the Navy and this is my 17th year at MSC. I’m long since used to being away from home for the holidays.”

When weather permits, the crew might also throw ice cream socials,

2nd Cook Vernise Green checks on Thanksgiving dessert aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4). (Photo by Capt. Lee Apsley, civil service master, USNS Richard E Byrd)

karaoke or barbecues on the flight deck.

Meanwhile, McLean is preparing a turkey spread while in Sunny Point, N.C. Up to 70 crewmembers will be aboard for Thanksgiving.

A few highlights: Fried and roasted turkeys, puree of beetroot soup, mushroom and onion dressing gravy, grilled halibut steak, and slow roast piglet with Carolina rub. “We’ll let him slow roast about four to five hours,” explained Chief Steward Crandall Omega Powell. Also, shrimp cocktail, mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, candied yams, fruit, and three types of desserts. The meal will be prepared by six people, from scratch. “On top of that, we’ll have some eggnog to wash it down with,” Powell added.

In his 14 years of service with MSC, Capt. Jim Morrissey, McLean’s master, has spent many holidays underway; in Souda Bay, Greece, in Bahrain and in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

“You’d rather be home, but usually you’ll make the most out of it,” Morrissey said.

This year, he is heading home for Thanksgiving after being relieved by McLean’s permanent master. “I am looking forward to spending time with my family, and my family is looking forward to spending time with me.”

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