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Steamboat Bill



It Didn’t Happen On My Watch. George E. Murphy. GEM Publishing (408 martin Place, New Milford NJ 07646), 1995. 360pp. $19.95 + $2 p/h (NJ Residents add $1.20 tax).

Even ten years after the disappearance of United States Lines, it is hard to imagine that there will never again be a red, white, and blue-stacked vessel calling soon at a port near you. At one time, their ships seemed everywhere. The company seemed indestructible.

George Murphy started with U.S. Lines following his graduation from the Massachusetts maritime Academy in 1943. He retired in 1986. His perspective is a bit different, because he was an engineer. The natural conflict between the deck and engineering departments surfaces frequently throughout the volume.

There are three major areas to this work. The first is largely autobiographical and deals with the author’s academy days and his experiences during World War II, including service at Normandy Beach. These pages nicely depict the uncertainties, difficulties, and dangers of wartime merchant marine maritime service. His story about a perilous return to New York from England aboard a damaged Liberty ship is particularly well done. It also provides a lesson in "sleeve oil."

The second area is a number of bubbly chapters on various topics. Sample chapter headings include: "Captains," "Chief Engineers," Cargoes," and "Uniforms." Some of the stories are his, while others retell incidents involving other U.S. Lines ships and their crews. The tone is jovial and his writing style holds the reader’s attention.

The third and final area begins with the longest chapter of the volume. It relates to the United States Coast guard. It and the ensuing chapters are not so jovial. Murphy is highly critical of the practices and personnel of the USCG’s Marine Inspection Office. His concerns include an overall lack of expertise and insufficient practical experience by the inspectors. He links a U.S. Lines decision to eliminate direct vessel calls at Boston to the actions of the inspectors at that port.

The other bittersweet chapter concerns the way in which Malcolm McLean ran U.S. Lines into oblivion. The decisions to build the 12 "econo-class" container ships and their deployment in the round-the-world schedule produce more critical comments.

The book is a good read. The author has produced a fine volume, one that is extremely entertaining. If Murphy has some more stories up his oily sleeve, perhaps he could tell us what did happen on his watch.

Paul Tully

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Copyright 1995 George E. Murphy
Last modified: 10/17/05