This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the January 1959 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Ray Pushie, gimlet-eyed purser of Q.T.E.V. Queen of Bermuda, faces passengers from behind the inadequate shelter of a counter amidships on C deck where he sells postage stamps, cashes travellers’ cheques, and absorbs complaints and questions with almost unfailing good humor, even under the most trying circumstances.
The questions usually involve the possibility of changing to a “better” stateroom, while the complaints centre around shrill demands that Ray immediately find one or more articles of “lost” luggage. On my recent voyage, when I had boarded the Queen at Hamilton for a cruise to Nassau, one spectacularly brittle blonde insisted that both she and her equally blonde companion had with their own eyes seen her suitcase come aboard at New York. Their clamour did not subside until a radio-phone call by Pushie revealed that the bag was still reposing where the girls had left it – at the bus terminal where they had arrived from Washington, D. C. “It’s sure lucky for you you found it,” the lady murmured darkly. “After all, I’m not a Senator’s girl-friend for nothing!”
When he seeks brief respite from such attacks, Purser Pushie steps a few feet aft into a banklike enclosure called the “Back Office,” where he and eight assistants make up crew payrolls, track down perfume smugglers, and operate adding machines that click off the fabulous totals of the Queen’s household expenditures. Pushie (a born newfoundlander who now lives in gang-fearful Chicago) would not tell me how much cash the Queen carries in her handbag. “After all,” he said, “we wouldn’t want her held up, would we?” – as if even the ingenious Somerset bank robbers themselves could “heist” a ship in the open Atlantic. But he and Chief Steward Jim Cook did give me an impressive rundown of the articles the Queen buys, and the sums she pays for them.
In her sideboards, she keeps always at hand some 5,000 knives and forks, 2,500 teaspoons, 1,000 soup spoons. Not to mention 7,000 breakfast cups, 4,000 breakfast saucers (the mortality-rate runs higher on cups with handles), 3,500 cereal dishes, 5,000 soup plates, 8,500 dinner plates. Tea service alone requires 2,500 individual teapots, 2,500 (each) teacups and saucers, 1,500 cream jugs, and 1,000 hot water jugs. All are of Royal Doulton china, in the “Exotic Bird” pattern, except the hors d’oeuvres dishes, which are Spode. All utensils must be constantly replaced, since they frequently are pinched by confirmed souvenir hunters or accidentally dumped over the side. (A leading Bermuda skindiver told me that anyone who cared to search the bottom of Hamilton Harbour could quickly surface with a complete set of seagoing china and silver, in as many table-settings as he cared to bring up.)
Figures for the Queen’s towels and linens are equally impressive. As befits her royal station, she carries 36,000 face towels, 10,000 sheets, 26,000 napkins. Her laundry equipment (aft) is automatic and efficient – a housewife’s dream come true. By the hundreds, used linens are fed into whirling drums and speeding mangles. Swiftly, they are washed, dried, ironed, and stored to the strains of Calypso singing by the laundry-crew, a jovial bunch of Bermudians who enjoy through their open ports the closest and best view of the sea anywhere aboard the ship. But they have little time to soak up the scenery; in one gloomy cavern of a storeroom just below the chain-lockers, I copied a typical sign: “Bin Number Seven, Top – Capacity, 11,653 napkins (Reverse Supply).”
In The New York markets alone, the Queen lays out close to a million dollars a year for food. With no visible damage to her health, she smokes 5,000,000 cigarettes annually, and uses 80,000 bottles of mineral to wash down more liquor than the water she displaces. With never a trace of a stagger or hiccough, she gaily swigs 10,000 fifths of whisky, 2,500 of gin, 5,000 champagnes and wines, 500 liqueurs, and 300,000 cans of beer. (In fairness to her convivial passengers, it must be pointed out that in the crew’s cosy recreation room, forward on F-deck near Number One hold, 11,000 beers, the only beverage sold in this floating “Pig n’ Whistle,” trickle down 400 parched, hard-working throats each voyage.)
The crew eat at different hours from the passengers, and their dining saloon (aft on D deck) is in continuous operation, starting at 7.20 A.M. Since she carries 731 passengers when completely sold out, the Queen’s insatiable appetite is understandable. Unworried about overweight, she swallows more than half a million eggs a year, 50,000 pounds of sugar, 250,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,000,000 homemade, or rather, shipmade buns, rolls, and bread-loaves, 10,000 pies, 10,000 cakes. Besides the main galley, there are 13 small service kitchens aboard, whence tempting delicacies are offered to you gratis from morn to midnight, as any Queen voyager, disembarking as I did at least 10 pounds heavier, will cheerfully attest.
All the goodies, from the fresh Onion Soup au Gratin regularly prepared for breakfast (and recommended without qualification as a perfect hangover cure) to the nighttime Cote de Veau aux Champignons, are prepared under the direction of Chief Steward Jim Cook and his chef, John Rosenthal. Together they boss a staff of close to 300 cooks, pantrymen, stewards (i.e., waiters as well as room stewards), busboys, “Commis” boys (although it’s pronounced Commie, these lads are not Reds, but bright British youths who have put to sea as apprentices), “Buffy” (buffet) boys, dishwashers, bartenders, stewardesses, bellboys and, of all things aboard a ship, elevator operators.
Chef Rosenthal, a short, stocky individual who hails from Liverpool grew up in sweetmeat shop, learned his trade with Cunard and the Royal Navy, and has been aboard the Queen four years, thinks nothing of roasting 36 joints of lamb or 100 capons at a clip. No food is wasted; 100 apples are baked at once, and all of them get eaten. When a meal is finished, no trace remains of the 80 gallons of chicken gumbo soup and the 120 gallons of fresh lima beans which, only moments previously, were freshly cooked in four soup-boilers, each big enough to accommodate in comfort the plumpest missionary at a cannibal feast. John Rosenthal is smart, as well as a master chef. He told me that he never, never cooks at home in Liverpool. “After all,” he asks, “what’s a chap got a wife for?” And it was he who finally dismissed in a phrase the mysterious lady I had been seeking ever since I saw “Jelly Miss Helyett” on the menu. “Her? Some old girl who made preserves.”
Stewards with empty trays enter the main galley from the passenger dining saloon on a dead run, and make a surefooted, counter-clockwise sprint around a rectangle of counters, broilers, ovens and steam-tables whence 30 cooks dispose their creations, each dishing up the item he has prepared himself. This accounts for the speed with which passengers, sometimes 380 at once, can be served at both sittings. But mass production aboard the Queen has not stamped out the individual touch. Chef Rosenthal will whip you up an authoritative Kosher meal, a Moslem menu, or a Bermuda breakfast (boiled codfish and bananas) at your request. He makes the best old-style Bermuda fish chowder (from a St. David’s Island recipe) my bride and I have ever sampled.
During “dirty weather,” the stewardesses (my favorite is red-haired, blue-eyed Mrs. Catherine Power) fan out all over the ship carrying carrots and milk, Bonamine, the aforementioned onion soup, and other healing potions. My own seasickness preventive consists of getting into the ship’s swimming pool, where the water stays gently level no matter how violently the vessel rolls and pitches. But when heavy seas are running, an order goes from the bridge to the Chief Engineer to empty the pool, lest it slop over. Then your best bet is the delightful “Captain’s Cure” which he recommends for others although he never requires it himself – a heady brew of 2/3 “thundering good port (Dow’s or Harvey’s), 1/3 rare old brandy, and just a twist of lemon or lime.”
On the unforgettable day when I was invited up to the bridge ( the first “unauthorized” person Captain Musson has permitted to set foot thereon since he assumed command of the Queen), the sea was a vast expanse of gentle rollers, and no seasick remedies were required by even the queasiest passenger. There is, I am convinced, no sensation comparable to that of stepping for the first time upon the bridge – the brain, the nerve centre, the seat of command – of a modern ocean liner which you have known only from passenger stateroom and lounges.
On the topmost boat deck, you are far above everything – above your blanket-wrapped fellow voyagers in their steamer chairs, above the crew painting the ship’s metal work or toiling in the holds. Nothing is above you but the slanted stacks (only two of them give forth smoke and steam; the third, built for decorative purposes, is a storage area) and, above them, the masts, the flags, the crow’s nest and the blue, blue sky.
The deck here is warm and open, walled in by 14 lifeboats, seven to a side, slung in their davits, fuelled, watered and provisioned. Aft, a puppy barks. You learn that the ship’s kennels are tucked away back there, and that your travelling pet, attended faithfully by one of the Queen’s butchers, is enjoying priceless accommodations unavailable to you. (If you want to ship a horse to or from Bermuda, stables are installed forward. Cows frequently come aboard, destined for Bermuda farmers, and often produce “stowaway” calves during the voyage, so that the buyer gets two animals for the passage-money of one. In these cases, Bosun Ted Shea acts as midwife. He also keeps a fatherly eye on other unusual passengers, notably turtles going to New York aquariums and animals coming down for Colony circuses.)
Just behind the navigation bridge, to starboard, are the Captain’s quarters; to port, those of the Staff Captain, who is ready to take command should the Captain for any reason become incapacitated.
As you step out upon the starboard bridge nacelle, which projects over the water, you sense as never before the sturdy power of the Queen. Momentarily, you are completely alone – as the ship’s master is alone at all times – alone in the immensity of sea and sky, a solitary figure in a solitary ship. You are 14 miles off stormy Cape Hatteras; on the port bow you make out the lighthouse at Diamond Shoal. Chief Officer Robert Hughes, 34, from the north of Ireland, and Senior Second Officer Peter Blenkinsop, 28, from Leeds, are on watch. An 18-year-old cadet, in khaki jeans and T-shirt, who has perhaps the finest job in the world of any lad who loves the sea, is polishing brass and running errands.
On the enclosed navigation area of the bridge, motionless as a statue, the prototype of every sturdy Briton who ever scoured the seven seas in sail and steam, stands the man at the wheel – Quartermaster Donald Mackay from the Island of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. (You may have seen him yourself as he lends a helpful hand at the gangway to passengers coming aboard, or heaves the lead as the Queen noses toward her anchorage off Nassau.) At 60, he stands sturdy as a rock, gnarled hands on the wheel, eyes fixed on the gyro compass.
Your hands itch to hold the wheel, if only for a second. Someone reads your mind. Behind you, a voice of authority suggests: “Why not have a go at it, sir?” The quartermaster steps off his low teakwood platform behind the wheel and stands by, close and watchful, as he surrenders it to you. “Keep her on 18, sir,” he recommends, nodding toward the gyro. Your hands grip the wheel tensely, sweatily at first, then more lightly. Like a good girl, the Queen stays dead on course for a few blissful seconds. “She never does that for me, sir,” murmur the quartermaster admiringly. The Queen overhears his whisper and, like a capricious woman, veers off her course. Behind the “lubber’s mark” which indicates the ship’s head, the figure 18 is replaced by 19, then 20, 21. You spin the wheel, hoping to bring her back on course. “Not that way, sir,” says the calm whisper. “Steer her just as you would an automobile.” And now you learn that only a ship’s helm, never her wheel, is moved in the direction opposite from that in which you wish her to go.
You correct yourself, tentatively. “Give her a bit more, sir. That’s it. Now the other way…” Gingerly, you manage to bring her back on course. The quartermaster’s hands, sure and steady, come back and take the wheel. All is well with the Queen again, and you hope no one has noticed, most of all, the Captain. But whether he has noticed or not, the record of your performance is mechanically and automatically set down for posterity by the Course Recorder, an instrument on the bulkhead behind the wheel which looks like a barometer and whose red-ink needle notes on a black-ruled graph every movement of the ship.
Fortunately, the Captain is not in his bedroom-sitting room suite, which not only spares you a wigging but gives you a chance to look around. The sitting room is actually more like a seagoing office than living quarters. Its most prominent piece of furniture is a businesslike built-in desk amidships, just below the window-like ports which look directly into the wheelhouse. On the desk, in addition to the usual blotter, pen set, and chronometer, I noted a radio, several telephones, a barometer, two calendars, and a pair of binoculars. I counted 18 locked drawers in which the ship’s master keeps the countless papers, log books, “bills of particular,” store and company rolls, maps, charts, and other documents which he must always have ready to hand.
In the adjoining stateroom, glimpsed through a curtained doorway, the bed was still unmade at midday – evidence that the master of the Queen sleeps in irregular catnaps, snatched when he can get them, which is not often when hurricanes are blowing up. Otherwise, the suite is comfortable and homelike – a faded dusty rose carpet with blue and yellow figures covers the deck, two overstuffed chairs and a sofa are scattered about, there are flowers and ashtrays on coffee tables, and cloth-of-gold pillows contrast gaily with the severely panelled walls. I was admiring one of the pictures, a lovely watercolour labelled “Flotilla of Bermuda Sloops,” when the Captain stepped silently into the cabin.
At first glance, even in his white uniform with its rows of ribbons on the left breast, Magnus Edgar Musson does not look like a the typical skipper of your imagination.He is lean rather than portly, clean-shaven rather than bearded, and walks determinedly forwardd rather than with a rolling gait. Just 40 years old on November 25, 1958, he looks even younger, reminding some shipboard observers of the handsome Royal Consort, the Duke of Edinburgh. He is the possessor of a truly magnificent nose, to which he ruefully called attention on the night of the ship’s party when carboard “Gay Nineties” moustaches were handed out to all the celebrants. “I couldn’t possibly fit it in under this great beak of mine,” he muttered, and laid the disguise regretfully aside.
At first, too, his conversation was distinctly un-nautical. Following my glance toward the watercolour on the panelling, he confided that he had painted it himself. Painting is one of his hobbies, shared with two other pastimes, handling in Bermuda waters sailboats he designs and builds himself, and picnicking informally with his wife, the former Roreen Frances Almond of Brooklyn, N. Y., and their lively, attractive youngsters, John, seven, and Deborah, four. Captain Musson is a member of Bermuda’s Society of Arts, and his work has not only been exhibited at the Bermuda Galleries, but has sold for fancy prices. He specializes understandably in maritime scenes, and the watercolours he showed me included every sort of vessel from old-time square-riggers to Zanzibar dhows, North China junks, and modern liners.
Captain Musson had tremendous regard and respect for his well-known predecessor, the late Captain Leslie Frederick Banayrd, O.B.E., and he still reveres his memory. Capt. Banyard died of a heart attack in Bermuda on April 28 of last year. My respect for Captain Musson changed to admiration when he told me that if any picture of the master of the Queen were used to illustrate these articles, the picture should be of Capt. Banyard. In spite of his own feelings, the fact is that today Captain M. E. Musson has become every inch the skipper of the Queen in his own right. He stepped into one of the most unenviable situations any ship’s commander could face, the obligation to fill the shoes of a master who during his ten years as Captain of the Queen had become a living tradition, idolized by the officers and men under him (many of whom still keep his photograph pasted above their bunks), worshipped by his passengers, treated deferentially by his employers.
The manner in which Captain Musson not only met this challenge, but overcame it within a few short months, is a tribute to his strength of character as a man as well as a sailor.