Working offshore sheds an interesting light on the ‘Me Too’ reality for countless women in this country and around the world and from the beginning of time. And it highlights some extraordinary DNA in women who take the reins and work outside the box. I am one of those women who held a couple of Amazon woman jobs in my life, one was becoming a United States Coast Guard Licensed Merchant Marine and I have my Z-card to prove it. The only thing this has to do with DNA is my doing a job which is not commonly thought of as a woman’s job, not 40 years ago. So I must have Amazon DNA which I am delighted with, if you are looking for an in-depth DNA story, sorry not this blog, wait for the next, this one is working as a steward/cook offshore in the oil fields. Its in the genes DNA and I have the mariner ancestors to prove it. lol
I was never harmed or sexually molested while working off shore. I had more trouble with bosses and customers grabbing crotch or bum or other parts working as a waitress and/or cook and/or F&B manager in restaurants and hotels from the Bible Belt and all around the world.
Offshore, I certainly did have a feud with a Mississippi captain who drank too much and it might have subdued his belligerent abuse of everyone on the ship if he had gotten laid by anybody, but I would not count that as any harassment of me, he bellowed at everybody, and did not dare even imply sex, more threatened with, don’t you dare offer me a bribe for you to slack off on work.
The point to off shore was the money was really good, the work was 24 hours a day for everybody, so there was little time on most ships (this does NOT apply anything to the off shore rigs, I can’t speak for what they were like) for anything but work. But it was busy work and the time would fly, not over worked, but there was little idle time (depending on the assignment). There has to be food available all the time, 4 meals and snacks and don’t throw them store baked goods unless you want grumbling.
The (at the time) Arco, Aleutian Key Oil Rig in the background, two pictures one showing the deck and the Key off and the other with me and the ship is tied to the rig and shows the rig underbelly close up. On board the Ocean Bonita – this was the Ordinary from Biloxi, Mississippi – the finest Ordinary in the fleet and one of my best friends on board or off, E Webb. And the ship, The Ocean Marine Services, ocean going tug The Ocean Bonita.
The ship I accidentally went to work on was The Ocean Bonita, because I happened to be there when the regular cook quit. Well he, Jero, (Jero was American, was over 65 then, which was 40 years ago, brought a gallon jar of Quaaludes [I did not do pills] which he took daily and shared for a price; had a home in Mexico that was more his small village than a home and when his pills ran out he left) insisted on going home – on time – and even though the replacement was late to report to the ship, leaving post was a no no until there was a cook on board. He also could quit because he knew I was there with my friend and we visited the ship in dock, in Venice, Louisiana and it was obvious I could do the job even if the replacement did not show up. The replacement did not show – I got the job.
I knew safety depended on the crew and this ship’s regular hands were all serious sailors and so my introduction and almost entire year of work was with super nice and professional folks, with the one exception. Several crew were former, and retired Navy, and Coast Guard and you didn’t find nicer people. You do your job and they backed you up one hundred percent.
Many of the crews were former Navy and Coast Guard. Some from fishing families and some from port towns and some I had no clue about. But I was safer than when I had been home. The guy who was from fishing families of Massachusetts, the former Navy can’t remember his name, Leonard former Coast Guard, Tom the son of a Navy man and Joe from the Florida Gulf and fishing and seas families.
I never was off the job a day on ship while I was working until I was hazed by the ocean. I had made it almost through 9 months and not a day of sea sickness and then it hit me. I will never forget 1st Mate Leonard (retired Coast Guard) looking at me and saying your being broken in – something to that effect. What was that other fellas name – he said after I emerged out of the bed about two days later, “you now have your sea legs”. They had covered every meal for me. Sea sickness had hit me square in the face and I died a thousand deaths – there was nothing worse. But when the sickness was over I never got sick again or missed a day of work while I was on the ships – nobody missed a meal or went hungry, 24 hours a day for 40 days on and 20 days off..
The rule was you don’t piss off the cook. I knew other women stewards out there and the way to describe the sisterhood was, they would spit in your eye and kick your sorry ass in the balls – after they shot you. Well this would be the stories that went around and being that no one ever knew if you were a spy from the Houston home office or not, the bitch on wheels persona had been good advice from one of the sisters I met early on.
I had a Christmas off shore and it was an amazing trip. A couple of the other ships’ cooks had walked – it was Christmas but with my life at that time, one of the reasons I was off shore to begin with was a bit of running away from home and so the work paying time and a half was fine with me and so I sorted out Christmas dinner for theirs, theirs and ours, giving me about 40 people to feed with the holiday skeleton crews. It was set to be easy with everyone in the docks over the holiday, I made arrangements with one of the grocery stores in Venice to pick up their Christmas tree when they closed about 5PM on Christmas eve and the decorations were a surprise for all.
I had gotten all the crew the Christmas stockings that have candy and prizes and mini toys. The ones made of a red netting material that you can see through. I got the cigarette smokers a pack of theirs and I got the other smokers a matchbox, I got the cigar smokers a cigar pack and I got the others gum and mints. I went around after lights out with the ABs on duty and we got the stockings and gifts hung on all the crew’s doors so everyone found them in the morning. I used to have photos of the guys racing their mini cars down the hall, most of the photos are long gone but there are a few. The retired Navy guy said it was his best Christmas at sea.
The work was hard and there was concern over human predators like any jobs and co-workers but it never happened, the danger was the job. This ship was an anchor handler, a 220′ ocean going tug. WWII refurbished ships and the entire back end was a flat deck for the anchor crews to work to pull up the multiple anchors and their piggy back anchors and their massive chains that held Oil Rigs and Oil Drilling Ships in place on the ocean.
For rig/ship moves there would be 4 and more ships like mine, a half a dozen power tugs like the standard looking tub anyone would think of and there would be the smaller crew ships that would all be hanging and pulling and holding.
It was amazing work. Ships of one kind or another at all corners and all sides and captains coordinating the holding of the rig or ship steady while a ship and boats crews maneuvered the anchors loose from the ocean floor and pulled the anchors and their chain up and onto the deck. The ships and tugs engines straining and dipping below water to force the gear to the surface and on the deck. One chain link could weigh as much as 100 pounds, if memory serves.
One drill ship move of the Glomar Java Sea was the hardest. A freak winter storm had the ocean churning with up to 11 foot seas and I was watching with my own eyes as one of the ships behind us pulling chain, took a dip into the water and the anchor boss went down with the ship’s rear under the water and everything that was not tied down did not come back up with the ship. I still see the moment. The man’s shape and then poof all is gone.
This man’s death was the dead of night and yet they had enough lights from all angles hanging on everything on every assisting ship and the drill ship to light up the decks and chains and people like it was mid day in places and with cut into shadows of pitch black terror all around the wider area and weaving through.
The trips meld together in memory now, a drill ship move out from Sabine Pass, Texas; tie up rig duty (there had to be an escape ship that could take all the rig employees off in an emergency. There were regularly assigned crew boats for this but a couple times my ship stood while the regular ship went in for service) Assignments varied but the work remained amazing. Even fishing, bigger than you have ever seen and fresh is not the word for it, nurse shark and snapper and it spoiled me forever to eat another bite not as fresh as those.
So, women off shore? Me off shore.- I certainly did see after the Mississippi captain threatened chain lockers and fish bait burials unless he had fresh homemade doughnuts on Sunday mornings that it would be a matter of time before being off shore with no friends and not such nice people would happen. So my adventures did not last long I quit while I was ahead and unscathed. Why? It just turned up for work when I needed work and after having years of my step father’s restaurant and later a couple years at the largest delicatessen in the region I could do the job. Not many people, men or women can feed that many people for 40 days straight.
There were so many adventures, some tales yet to be told, the shrimp boat hitting the tanker and sinking, 3 of 4 hands lost; the not-piano in Sabine Pass; the chemical stench of the drive from New Orleans to Venice and the local stories. the engineers and surveyors from Houston talking oil, thinking cooks do not have ears; M-T the fuel and garbage dumping; the loss of the Glomar Java Sea in the South China Sea with all hands; driving through hurricane conditions to leave, it was time to go.
But all in all I was safer from mashers off shore than I had been in my husband’s home.
Are there omissions? Darn tootin’.
The bonus: And… it got me my third paid writing job! Phil Bangsberg, owner of the, then, Mercury News of Hong Kong hired me as his number two (of two). He wrote from the Knight-Ritter wires the Shipping News for The South China Morning Post and he turned that over to me and from about April or May 1984 I filled the Shipping pages of the newspaper.
The New York Times covered the story when the ship sank in 1983
Amazon DNA – I am not sure if it is defined, but I am certain I have some of it.
My ancestors who were mariners have given me so much joy to find. Anyone can imagine that after this adventure. I still search for the Lee and Thompson y-DNA and other genetic matches but so far no one definitive – except for the autosomal but we will find the candidates to test one day.
Rootschat.com is a wonderful resource for genealogy and all free – they have topics the world over and may already have people talking about and posting about your family. I found the page with a poster named Julian asking about my ancestor ship owner Henry Lee (possibly Henry Havelock Lee, named once as Henry H Lee) son of James lee and his wife Ann Havelock. Henry married Annie Lee daughter of Enoch Donkerley Thompson and his wife Mary Ann Logan.
Their adventures are documented over 32 pages (32 so far) of posts on rootchat.com
I first personally tested my DNA in 2005. Ancestral lines have been proven and disproved using DNA for genealogy. All of it wonderful and in the process so may people have touched my life. Sharing research.
Supporting local business, like supporting local history is a large part of my life. I got my first computer in 1983 and the internet and global shopping began a few short five years later. But we must not be limited and sacrifice quality just to buy local and this is why we need information about who to buy from. If you know good places and people I will share them. But we do not share or write negative personal or business reviews about the failures, we just turn away from those.
View all posts by cherielynnsherstory