It may be a whisky lovers dream, but to stand up to your knees in whisky is not really all that fun.
In the late 1960s the United States was engaged in a bloody guerrilla war in South Vietnam. The U.S. had been forced into action allegedly to stop the spread of communism in Asia. Deploying hundreds of thousands of troops in the country who had to be fed and watered caused a considerable logistical problem for the U.S. army.
This was great news for the Scotch whisky distillers who received very large orders to be shipped to the Mekong Delta. After a few ships were sunk by the Viet Cong Lloyds of London withdrew insurance and in future all cargoes were to be shipped to the U.S. Trans shipment base in San Diego California, from where only US navy would take cargoes to Vietnam.
Enter the Pacific ships of Royal Mail and Furness Ship Management which were contacted to load all this whisky in Glasgow and take it to San Diego via the Panama Canal. In these pre container days the Glasgow Dockers thought Christmas had come early. The whiskey was shipped in open cardboard cases on wooden pallets. 12 bottles to the case, 60 cases to the pallet and 2 pallets (120 cases) to a sling. Now enter the author of this blog a young naive junior deck officer who was responsible for counting the cases loaded and for their security? I was no match for the Glasgow Dockers who had years of experience of how to plunder a whisky cargo.
The usual play was for the crane man to “ACCIDENTALLY” catch the bottom outside corner of the lower pallet on the edge of the hatch coaming sending 120 cases crashing 80 feet to the bottom of number three deep tank. The result of this was that during the ensuing commotion the dockers could filtch a few intact bottles for themselves which they always managed to conceal and get off the ship later.
On examining the wreckage I discovered the whisky was 100 Pipers, Ballantines and Seagrams, all 60 proof blended whiskies. A quick sampling revealed even to my young inexperienced taste buds that this stuff was really rough. After a few days of loading so much had been broken we were literally standing up to our knees in it in some places. Our ship the S.S. Pacific Stronghold eventually completed loading over one million pounds worth (at 60s rates) of the stuff and we sailed off to San Diego. Disappointed with the quality it was a great relief when mid Atlantic our adventurous 2nd mate located a few pallets of 20 year old Glen Grant single malt. Ah at last, a decent dram. I often wondered if the U.S. forces would have been more successful in South Vietnam if they had been supplied with a better whisky.
If there is a moral to this story it must be that there is whisky and whisky but it is always worth waiting for a better one. Cheers mine is a Glen Grant!