2017 Laulima O Ka Moana

A Day in the Life of the Chief Steward

Chief Steward, Mike Sapien, hard at work, making sure the crew of 49 aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is well fed.

Chief Steward, Mike Sapien, hard at work, making sure the crew of 49 aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is well fed. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana. Download larger version (11.4 MB).

July 19, 2017

Michael A. Sapien
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

It’s 5 AM, and I literally rolled out of bed this morning, reaching for the snooze button. It’s a little choppy outside, but we will dive today for sure. That means there will be plenty of hungry bodies ready to get off to an early start this morning. We have just the thing to arouse their senses: a full sheet pan of applewood smoked bacon. Ahhh... the aroma seems to slowly crawl up each deck, gently lifting its passerby into a fully outstretched breath of “oooh yeah!”

Back down on the main deck, it’s now 5:30 AM and I swing my door open. I prepare to step across three feet of hallway, my long commute, and – zoom – there goes the Chief Cook, Ray Capati, passing by. He’s moving really fast and he will probably forget rhyme or reason once he comes to a halt. But I’m sure he will find someone to talk too—if not himself—even at this time of the morning.

After the long-delayed commute, I step into the galley and bump into Will Johnson, my Second Cook. This kid came aboard nearly two years ago, stick skinny. Now we have to do the Buddha dance to pass each other in the galley. I guess I can say we have grown a lot closer over the short time we have worked together in the Steward’s Department.

Chief Steward, Mike Sapien; Second Cook, Will Johnson; and Chief Cook, Ray Capati in the galley aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

Chief Steward, Mike Sapien; Second Cook, Will Johnson; and Chief Cook, Ray Capati in the galley aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Click image for credit and larger view.

Now it’s 5:40, the boys and I pow-wow in the galley, going over the day’s menu and reminding each other of our responsibilities for each meal. We break and get to work. I make the breakouts (provisions necessary to fulfill the day’s meal items, dry goods, defrosted meat, semi-prepared vegetables, and starches) for the Chief Cook. I then restock the mess (a.k.a., the dining area) of any depleted supplies. I do a little cleaning here and there. It’s now 7 AM and breakfast is served.

Break time – I grab a plate and a flour tortilla, filling it with chorizo con huevos. I sit and chat with the Chief Engineer. At 7:40 AM the P.A. system announces the morning safety meeting will begin in five minutes. All officers and department heads meet on the bridge to go over any safety issues. It’s a short but necessary function so all crew members are aware of any possible hazards aboard the ship each day.

I head back down to galley to help the guys with breakfast clean up. 8:30 AM rolls around and I do the lunch breakouts. I help the Chief Cook with preparing some vegetables. I check the guys’ work and give a few suggestions or compliments when necessary. It’s lunch time – 11 AM. I grab a plate of grub and go into my state room. I check my emails, text my loved ones, and get caught up on my paperwork. At 12:30 PM, we break down food line. We finish cleanup by 1:30 PM.

Break time is from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. It’s the perfect time for a little nap or some PlayStation.

When 2:30 PM hits, it is time to make dinner breakouts. I help the Chief Cook with his prep work. Sometimes I will make dessert for the meal, but I now have a second cook who really, really likes desserts. Most of the time he does the heavy lifting himself (usually he uses a big spoon). I usually inspect all of the steward’s spaces during the evening to see if proper handling of food and sanitation procedures are being executed in accordance with safety guidelines. At that time, I’m not in as much of a rush because most of the meal prep work has been completed already and the Chief Cook is an ace at bringing it all home in time for supper.

I have a chance to kick up my heels a little in my office, send a few texts, and catch up on the never-ending paperwork. I’m even starting to put together my next provisions list for our upcoming inport on August 2nd.

5:00 PM is dinner time. I grab a another quick bite and head back to my desk and check over our menus – I always look ahead, three to four days out. Usually, I have to breakout frozen meats at least two days ahead of time in order for them to defrost properly. I go into the mess and check on the buffet line – all is good. I head back into the galley to help with cleanup.

At 6:00 PM, I clear the buffet line. Most of the crew has eaten, but we put some plates aside for people who are off watch and sleeping. The ship runs 24/7, so there is always someone who misses a meal.

At 7:00 PM, we are done! I give my fellow stewards a pat on the back and tell them I’ll see them soon... because we will do it all over again tomorrow!

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