FLYING FISH INCIDENT
--by Bill Minor--
It was like a chapter out of THE CAINE MUTINY. One crystal clear morning during Art McDearmid's four to eight watch, diminutive Captain Leonidas Pancoast sleepily walked out on the bridge just as a flight of flying fish made a wrong turn and landed on the main deck right under the starboard wing of the bridge.
As the glistening silver and green little fish were going flippety flop on the deck, Art called the captain over on the side of the bridge and said "look, Captain at the flying fish that landed on deck."
The garrulous little Greek, always to be counted on to have some little anecdote or story to fit any situation, quickly responded: "you know, Mac, there's nothing better than fried flying fish for breakfast.
"Send them to the wardroom, and as soon as I can get down for breakfast, I'm going to have a batch of them."
About an hour later, the captain showed up in the wardroom and announced to Steward's Mate "Texas Joe" Adair that he was ready to devour his flying fish repast. "I'm sorry, Captain, we don't have your flying fish," Adair declared.
"Why the h--- don't you?" the captain bellowed.
"The cook (officer's cook) didn't fix them," says Adair, without giving any further explanation.
"I'm going back up on the bridge, and we're going to have a captain's mast right now. Go get the cook and get him up there."
Meantime, word got to Exec Jim Vellis that the cook, an humble black man, had not cleaned and cooked the flying fish because he became very ill whenever he tried to clean fish. So Lt. Rural Meadors was appointed to represent the cook, and everyone concerned moved up to the wing of the bridge where Captain Pancoast would preside a judge and jury.
Court began, with the poor black cook, with head bowed, standing before his accuser, with Meadors at his side. When the captain asked the defense to state its case, Meadors explained why his flying fish had not been prepared by the cook.
On hearing what the real stop was, Pancoast slammed his cap to the desk, and blurted: "Not guilty. But why didn't Adair tell me that in the first place?”
"However, I still want those flying fish...get somebody else to clean and fix them, and I'll be down in a little while to eat them."
So the fish were duly prepared, the captain devoured them, and so ended the flying fish crisis.
More stories during the reign of the lovable Leonidas:
Underhill tells of the seemingly calm day when the "fiddle boards" on the officers' mess table had not been installed to stop dishes from sliding in rough weather nor had the stanchions to which chairs at the table could be fastened.
As Underhill tells it, Captain Pancoast came down from the bridge and took his seat as usual at the head of the table. "In the middle of the meal, the ship took a sudden lurch, the deck slanted toward the Captain's end of the table," Undy remembers, "and Captain Pancoast went over backward, landing on the deck with food and dishes on top of him.
"We helped him to his feet and wiped the food off him." But Undy adds: "he was furious! He immediately sent orders to the bridge that he should be told anytime we were about to cross another ship's wake if it was going to cause our ship to suddenly roll." Once cleaned up, he was back in his usual good humor and laughed about the incident.
Art McDearmid weighs in with another Pancoast story:
Art, the First Lieutenant, was of course the guy responsible for overseeing the operation when we weighed anchor to get underway, keeping the Captain informed when the anchor had broken ground, and then was close aboard before making any headway.
"We had barely broken ground and started retrieving the anchor before the Captain decided to crank on one‑third speed," McDearmid remembers, "and suddenly, we are moving ahead with the anchor flapping against the bow of the ship, making a heckuva racket, before we could get the Captain to slow down."