The Mess Crank

“One of the many things that every old diesel submarine sailor remembers is the time that was spent in the After Battery crews mess on ‘Mess Cook’ duty!”

Typically within a three to six month period of time after a new ‘Non-Qual’ reported aboard Sailfish they would be assigned to the mess deck as a ‘Mess Cook’ or ‘Mess Crank’ as they were commonly referred to.  I have no idea as to how the job title of ‘Mess Cook’ evolved into the term ‘Mess Crank’ (or simply stated… ‘Crank’) but if I had to guess, it probably began as a somewhat derogatory moniker that some submarine qualified cook or baker may have given to their newly assigned FNG in order to remove the ‘Cook’ designation from their galley duty title……

On Sailfish, there were usually two mess cooks assigned to mess duty at the same time with assignments staggered so that the ‘New Crank’ would be trained by the crank with a little more time on the mess deck – that person was referred to as the ‘Head Crank’….  Russ ‘Bogie” Bogar and I cranked together before being assigned to the Engine Rooms as Oilers.

Meals on Sailfish (other than breakfast) were served ‘Family Style’.  Some of the duties assigned to the ‘Cranks’ consisted of keeping the galley clean; cleaning off tables; filling the serving bowls and dishes; cleaning the coffee pot and making fresh coffee; washing and storing dishes; operating the GDU; dumping trash over the side (when surfaced); filling the ‘cow’; mixing and filling up the ‘Bug Juice’ dispenser; assisting with meal preparation (pealing potatoes and carrots); and doing what ever any qualified crew member said to do when they were in the crews mess.

Crankin’ for breakfast was a bit different than cranking for any other meal on Sailfish.  This was the one time when ‘Cranks’ assumed the duties of ‘Waitress’ and collected breakfast order chits that they took to the morning cook and then personally delivered the breakfast plates to each crew member.

Since Sailfish was always on a three section four hour duty schedule, meals were served in the galley every four hours when the ‘watch’ changed.  Morning Meal between 0730 and 0830 hours; Noon Meal between 1130 to 1230 hours; Afternoon Rats between 1530 and 1630 hours; Evening meal between 1930 and 2030 hours; Mid Rats between 2330 and 0130 hours; Early Morning Rats between 0330 and 0430 hours.  Mess Cranks typically swapped schedules around a bit with each other so that they would always be available at the same time for the noon and evening meals, but would often take turns cranking for morning meal.

Being a ‘Crank’ really wasn’t difficult duty at all – actually most everyone sort of enjoyed doing it at one point or another.  The one thing that was certain for anyone serving as a mess crank on Sailfish was that…….

  1. You quickly develop a ‘thick skin’ that begins to easily absorb the verbal pinging  and harassment dished out by the ‘Qualified’ members of the crew
  2. You really get to learn well the personalities of the other crew members
  3. You have a little more time to focus on learning the boats systems and getting those elusive ‘Qualifications Sigs
  4. You never get hungry
  5. You always get to wash your hands when washing the dishes
  6. You got to get to know almost everything that was going on throughout the entire boat (scuttlebutt)

I suppose the one most important thing in life that I learned from ‘Mess Cranking’ on Sailfish wasn’t actually realized until after I got married and all of my kids left home to start their own lives…….  The only difference is that now I’m not referred to as ‘Crank’….. as in “Hey Crank, clean up these dishes…”….  Instead, now I’m affectionally referred to as…… ‘Damn-It Bill’………. as in……..Damn It Bill, why can’t you learn to pick up your own dirty dishes!”

I guess I still got a pretty ‘Thick Skin’…………

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Author: Lanny

Known as the 'King of Run-on Sentences", Bill "Lanny" Lanahan served aboard the Sailfish as an Engineman from November 1971 until June, 1975. After 7 years in the Navy, Lanny spent 15 years as a Caterpillar Marine Analyst before accepting a position with the Department of the Interior working for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Lanny retired in 2012 and currently resides at his "Mini-Wildlife Refuge" located in Middle Georgia with his wife Connie and his dog Griffin.

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