An engineer on the Oceanus once said the galley is the heart of the ship. It’s true; any room that centers on food will naturally be the place of warmth and community in a home, including a ship.
The messdeck is not only a place to eat, it is a place to get to know your shipmates, hear the daily gossip, pick up the now well-worn and out-dated newspaper that never seems to get too old to read, play Texas Hold ‘em or Scrabble, or even watch the Alvin dive on the closed-circuit TV. The messdeck is the room you cruise through to see who’s hanging out, what’s cooking for the next meal, and if the pot of coffee is new or needs to be refilled (and grumble about it, while you’re at it).
The galley can be the ship’s eyes and ears, too.
From my position behind the dish window in the scullery, a room attached to the main cooking area, I see everyone on board, some of them multiple times a day. Calculate the number of smiles I must give, with three meals per day for 56 people, plus snacks and other clean up, and how often do I smile? Suffice to say I wear a smile a lot—even when I don’t particularly feel like it (I learned long ago that honey goes MUCH further than vinegar, and my days are tedious enough as it is without the added drama of a snubbed shipmate).
As I lean over a particularly greasy pan, scrubbing at burnt food and trying not to splash myself, I see the ordinary seaman making faces behind a goofy scientist while he waits to deposit his dishes. I see the Bos’n (deck boss) reprimand a seaman for not stowing a tool away correctly. I see two scientists who seem to have hit it off, sharing a moment they think is private (but then they have forgotten they are on a ship—there are no secrets here!). I see shipmates who’ve just woken up, eyes all puffy and hair askew; I see the Captain absent-mindedly drop his dishes in the wash bucket, his mind off in some bureaucratic plane, reminding himself to double-check the arrangements with the agent for the next port stop.
I also hear things, too. In the morning as the Chief Mate pours his coffee, he plants little seeds of rumors, telling me “Did you hear we might get in [to port] a day early?” I hear Alvinites (the guys who maintain and drive the sub) grumbling to each other about how the dive went yesterday, or which Alvinite forgot to charge a battery. I listen (though I may not understand), as a group of scientists talk excitedly about some theory they are applying to their latest experiment.
Often as a rumor spreads, a shipmate caught in the throes of channel fever will stick her head in the dish window wanting to know if I’ve heard any news, who I’ve heard it from, and if I’ve bothered to confirm this story with anyone else of a good-standing reputation (ie: not the mid-to-six oiler!). Most of the time I have no news of substance, only whisperings, and this sorry shipmate will eventually wander off, muttering to herself just exactly how many days are left on this trip until she can go home (eight and a wakeup! six and a wake-up! ONE and a wake-up! We’re going in today!)
If you do not know what channel fever is, let me explain. It is a terrible malady, an illness for which there is no cure but to come alongside the dock as soon as possible and find the nearest beer. This is an illness whereby a person can not WAIT to go ashore, and results from spending too much time on a ship at sea. It’s a common affliction at WHOI, especially for those in jobs where there is no one to relieve them, requiring them to stay on board for seemingly endless months at a time without going home. There are a few of my fellow shipmates suffering from this affliction at this very moment.
So it is with a certain sense of responsibility that I wash the ship’s dishes, listen to the ship’s rumors and do my best to assuage my shipmates’ channel fever.