Up and Down the Booze Belt
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
Is rum-running a business or adventure? To what extent do Canadians, off the Atlantic coast, participate, and why? These are merely two of the questions answered by Mr. Raine, who has just returned from spending a few days with the rum-runners.
A SALT-BITTEN French tramp ship plunged her bluff snout deep into a summer sea and rose, hawse pipes creaming, to the lift of the long blue rollers.
To starboard stretched the purple haze of the Canadian coast; overhead, an azure sky, speckled with drifting cloud. The officer on the bridge, lazily sweeping the scene with his binoculars, focussed for a moment on a fold in the distant shore line, and a fastsailing schooner heeled across the circle of the lens, followed close astern by another.
Others showed, to nor’ard.
“Fishermen,” the officer noted casually and, lowering his glasses, lit a cigarette. Life at sea was good in such vreather.
Shortly after, the schooners were close aboard, and some of the French crew lined the bulwarks, admiring the beauty of their spars and the sweep of their windfilled sails. Suddenly came a roar of excited French and broken English from the steamer’s bridge. “Hi!
Prenez garde! . . . you runnin’ us down!” The schooners, crammed with silent men, surged down upon the anchored tramp.
A moment of panic, and the Frenchman’s deck swarmed with tall, oilskinned figures, heavily armed. In a few minutes the raiders, in full possession, made their craft fast alongside. Filibustering?
A tale of the war? No—a true story of hi-jacking or modern day piracy.
The sequel is told in a press cable from Brest,
France, which appeared in most of the prominent Canadian newspapers shortly after.
Max Jerome Phaff, German-American, charged with piracy on the high seas in connection with the looting of the French steamer Mulhouse of 36,000 cases of liquor off the Canadian coast, was subjected to several hours grilling, Saturday, by Captain Fournier of the French navy, who is acting as prosecutor against Phaff before the Marine Tribunal. Phaff, who repudiated the accusation of piracy, promised to reveal some interesting details concerning smuggling of liquor from Europe and Canada into the United States. His arrest took plaee during a trip to Europe for the purpose, it is alleged, of investing $375,000 in British whisky.
That is one story of the rum traffic. Another occurrence, equally enlightening as to the type of men engaged in the trade, concerned the auxiliary schooner Tomoka, operated by the Ocean Trading Company of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Formerly known as the yacht Arethusa, at which time she was owned by William F. McCoy, an American citizen known along Rum Row as King of the Rum Runners, the Tomoka. ran liquor from Canadian ports, St. Pierre and the West Indies, to a rendezvous off the New Jersey coast. McCoy, who had incurred,the enmity of the United States Revenue forces because of his frequently and openly expressed contempt for them, was signed on as a member of the crew, in addition to being financially interested in the vessel’s cargo.
“We Want McCoy”
THE Tomoka was well-known to the Revenue men, but always took care to conduct her activities outside the territorial limit. One day, however, when lying a halfmile outside United States territorial waters she was sighted by the American revenue cutter Seneca, who fired a shot to bring the Canadian schooner to. The Tomoka obeyed, and the cutter boarded her.
“We want McCoy. Where is he?” the revenue officer said bluntly.
“What do you mean by boarding us outside territorial limits?” the Canadian skipper demanded in turn. The revenue man lost no time temporizing.
“Let me see your ship’s papers,” he ordered.
The papers were produced, and on the articles appeared McCoy’s name. McCoy, who had been in hiding, then appeared, and defied the revenue men to remove him from a British vessel on the high seas. While this discussion was taking place the Tomoka quietly was edging out to sea. The American was firm.
“Its no use, McCoy,” he said, at last. “We don’t want violence, but you’re coming along with me.”
The Canadian skipper then cut in.
“Maybe he is, but you’re going for a joy ride first, my lad!” he said, with a laugh, and the Tomoka swung a point and heeled to the push of the breeze. -
Then followed the unique spectacle of an American revenue officer and his men kidnapped and carried out to sea on a Canadian-manned ship, with the Seneca in hot pursuit. The superior speed of the government vessel enabled her to gain, however, and she soon drew abeam and sent a shot across the Canadian’s bows. The Tomoka boomed along with a fine bone in her teeth. A second shot, closer this time, and the Seneca closed in. The revenue captain bellowed through his megaphone.
“Reduce sail or I’ll sink you!” he warned.
The Canadian captain grinned and, with a wave of his hand, indicated his impotent passengers, clustered in the waist. Another shell screamed close aboard and sent a jet of water to the main truck, and the Tomoka came into the wind.
She was escorted into port, seized and declared forfeit by a district court of New York, and her crew were imprisoned. Refusing to give evidence,, on the ground that they were British subjects, unlawfully taken on the high seas, they were arraigned for contempt of court, but were admitted to bail—furnished, it is said, by McCoy. The Member of Parliament for Lunenburg, several of whose feliow-townsmen were of the crew, threatened to make an international case of it because of the unwarranted seizure outside United States waters, and kicked up such a row through the British Embassy that the men finally were released, and McCoy, working through an agent, again resumed control of the Tomoka.
Enormous fortunes no longer are made by running liquor from Canada to the Atlantic coast rendezvous of the United States, except in those instances when the
biggest men in the game invest capital of several hundred thousands of dollars. Many reasons are advanced for the decline in profits, but it is possible to point with certainty to the two main causes. One is the tremendous and increasing number of persons engaged, who have created an oversupply and consequent drop in case quotations delivered on Rum Row; the other is the expense necessary to maintain the elaborate and ramified system of getting thestuff ashore and marketing it there. Theday of the little operator is done.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a profit off $25 to $40 a case was the usual thing on the Row. The liquor runner of today does well if he clears aí dollar a case.
Whisky costs $14 a case in St. Pierre, Miquelon, to-day, and sells at $17 on Rum Row, but of that $3 gross profit on each case, $2 must be deducted) for overhead. For example a three-masted Canadianschooner loading 12,000 cases at St. Pierre pays $168,000 at delivery on board; add to this the charter cost of the vessel, $3,500 per month for three months — the average length of a voyage to the Row and discharge off cargo-—and shore expenses of $1,000 per month, making a total outlay of $181,— 500. The sale value of the cargo on Rum Row is $204,000, leaving a net profit of $22,500 — not much for three month’s work, when one considers the number of men interested in the vessel who each must share in the proceeds, as well as the additional outlay necessary to “fix” officials upon whose elastic morals the successful landing of the
It is openly asserted by the rum runners that Canadian, banks finance or help to carry, by eredit and other methods, some of the larger deals put over in the trade. Most individuals chartering Canadian vessels for the business are United States citizens, with offices in Montreal, Halifax and New York, but a surprisingly large tally of Canadian business men financially are interested.
A feature, comparatively recent, and which decreases chances of attack at sea, is that money seldom changes hands upon the vessel, except, perhaps, the comparatively
small charter price of which one month’s charge is paid in advance before the vessel sails. In the old days, when a small boat appeared alongside the carrier on the Row, thepurchaser’s agent in charge of the small boat paid the captain in currency when the required number of cases had been lowered into his craft. In this way, when theschooner was ready to leave the Row on the run home she carried $150,000 to $400,000 in money—a tempting prize for the enterprising bandits around New York and Boston,
Nowadays, all financial transactions of magnitude take place through Montreal, Nova Scotia or United States coast-city banks, or in the offices of the liquor baronsWhen a vessel is about to sail for the Row from a Canadian port the purchaser’s agent appears, and, in the presence of the captain, a deck of cards is torn in halves. One half is retained by the skipper, and the other by the agent, who mails it to his New York office. When the small boats come off to claim their consignment from the vessel on the Row the man in charge of the shore craft alone is allowed on board. He must hold, as guarantee of his identity, one-half a playing card, the corresponding piece of which should be in the captain’s half of the deck. If the serrated edges of the torn card fit, delivery is made. So far, this system has proven crook-proof,
Headquarters at Lunenburg
T UNENBURG, Nova Scotia, famous the world over A-z among sea-faring men for the speed and sailing qualities of the schooners built there, and the seamanship of her fishermen sons, is headquarters for most of the.
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Up and Down the Booze Belt
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vessels engaged in rum carrying from this country. This charming little port, set like a gem in rural and marine scenery second to none on the continent, has been the scene of some of the largest shipments in the history of the trade. The business has assumed such proportions that it now challenges the supremacy of fishing as the chief industry of the port. If it succeeds, a serious blow will have been dealt at one of the most vital of Canada’s resources. Even to-day, with fish abundant on the Georges and Grand Banks, and notwithstanding the lowering of profits on Rum Row, a number of fishing vessels are forsaking their old vocation for the new, and more than one-half the ships clearing from the port have a cargo of liquor below hatches.
In normal times a seaman’s wage on a three-masted cargo schooner is $40 to $50 per month. In the hey-day of the liquor trade the rum carriers paid $80, but the scale has dropped to $65 and the men do not share in the slightest degree in the profits of the voyage, although the master and mate are paid above the rate prevailing in the freight carriers, and, in rare cases, the skipper is given a bonus for a good passage.
What draws them, then, to this trade, monotonous in summer, with a three or four month spell at anchor, highly dangerous in winter when the grey wolves of the Western Ocean batter the anchored vessels, with week on week of cold and icy dampness until life on board becomes misery beyond description? A survey of these long-limbed sea-faring sons of Nova Scotia in their yellow oilskins and sea boots, and crinkled sou’-westers jammed down over their weather-sharpened eyes leads one to the idea that they would follow the will-o’-the-wisp of adventure into the bowels of hell. They are young men, mostly, with the craving of youth for excitement, and although the normal risk of liquor carrying is almost nil, there is a certain zest consequent upon acting against constituted authority—even that of a foreign land. The great majority, however, regard the trade simply as legitimate employment, without the continual racking labor of fishing on the Banks.
Life aboard the rum carriers is monotonous in the extreme, but to men of the stamp of these Nova Scotia fishermen it is more than that—it is demoralizing. Accustomed to hard work, winter and summer, from earliest dawn when they take to their dories, to, sometimes, near midnight, in salting and stowing the days catch, they find hard, at first, then fall victims to, those weeks of indolence on Rum Row, with nothing to occupy their time but guard mount, or the comparatively easy task of handling case goods at irregular spells. They live as well as when fishing, and with greater comfort, for a fishing schooner carries twenty-five hands, whereas a liquor runner ships only eight or ten, and the thought of returning to the damp, crowded fo’castles of the fishing fleet, and the incessant labor of the Grand Banks grows more distasteful with each lazy month.
It is only when a gale of wind or protracted spell of dirty weather causes the vessel to beat out to sea that their old time forcefulness and inherent zest for hardship return and they think of “goin’ back'on a fishin’ wessel, yet.” But they don’t do it. They just talk about it—and the Canadian fishing fleet of the future will« show the result. In the old days Lunenburg was known as the Gloucester of Canada. In more recent years the term was reversed, and the Massachusetts port dropped astern of Lunenburg as the principal fishing center of the Atlantic seaboard. Last year it was necessary to import Newfoundlanders to man Nova Scotia fishermen. That speaks for itself.
Lure of the Elusive Dollar
TN DEALING with this phase of the A liquor traffic as affecting Canadians, however, it must be borne in mind that, in the beginning, it was economic pressure, rather than inclination, which put Lunenburg fishermen aboard vessels of the rum fleet. In the severe shipping depression immediately following the war, and which lasted for some time after, Lunenburg cargo vessels found it impossible to compete against the number of steamers who cut in on coast-wise trade. For months they lay idle alongside empty sheds, or at an-
chor in the stream, unable to get cargoes. Fishing was poor, and no employment offered there, and the vessels which did sail for the Banks barely made the cost of outfitting. Fishermen were ashore in large numbers without work, and those who had the money migrated to the United States, so that an economic situation of peculiar menace developed in what, in pre-war days, was one of the most prosperous and self-contained communities in the Dominion.
When things became fairly desperate and those who had stuck to their birthplace—for Lunenburgers are intensely and staunchly Canadian—were swamped in debt and depression, Americans appeared, anxious to charter vessels suited to the liquor carrying trade. Several vessel-owners and skippers, not liking the business, refused to accede, but one after another was converted until to-day, in the harbor of Lunenburg, there is hardly one idle sail. The shipyards have more orders for new vessels than they can handle, and in place of the shadow of debt and idleness it is one ofthe busiest spots on the Atlantic coast.
Canadians inclined to blame their compatriots for aiding in the infraction of the laws of a friendly neighbor must take into account the fact that there is no Canadian law which forbids the export of liquor under bond, provided export duty has been paid. _ This paves the way for a second consideration—that many Canadian ship-owners regard the carrying of alcoholic beverages precisely as they do coal, railway sleepers, pulpwood or any other conveyable merchandise which will keep their ships in operation. At least, so they say.
Canada, too, has its Rum Row—not on so large a scale as those of New York, Boston and the coast of New Jersey, of course, but one of sufficient size and activity to engage considerable of the time of Canadian Customs officials. The latter •have more than they can do to keep down the illicit landing of spirits on the coast of Nova Scotia, and their job is made doubly arduous by the irregularity of the coastline, with its innumerable creeks and coves, which admit passage only to vessels of light draft, and prevent pursuit by the revenue men with their unsuitable type of craft.
The Canadian government maintains several chasers and a regular coast patrol, but the resources given the officers are inadequate, and their efforts are defeated as much by poor and insufficient equipment as by the trickiness of the men engaged in the trade. One of the most recent arrivals on the Atlantic coast, for use in pursuing the rum runners, is a submarine chaser, built for the United States during the war. This craft was sold to an American, who used it to run liquor across the Niagara river. It was captured by the Canadian Customs, and, despite the former owner’s widely broadcast threat that he would destroy it before it left the Great Lakes, it is now lying in the harbor of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, waiting to be put into commission.
Hi-jacking, or boarding a rum-carrier and forcibly removing the cargo, is not so popular now as a year ago, although there are spasmodic outbreaks. This form of entertainment is remarkably scarce as against the magnitude of the trade and the numbers of vessels which make trip after trip unmolested, and Canadians, in no wise loath to meet the underworld gentry on the high seas who fancy themselves with firearms, have themselves to thank for making attacks as infrequent as they are. What attraction is there for a rum pirate in boarding a Lunenburg schooner, say, when, in order to get the case stuff he and his men have to give battle to a husky half score of born fighters—men who, from childhood, have beaten the most formidable of man’s enemies, the sea? It is a proposition that even the murderous gunmen and gangsters of New York’s tenderloin well might hesitate to tackle. Add to that the labor of trans-shipping the cargo, and the risk of getting it ashore, and it is evident the game hardly is worth while.
TN ADDITION, the big liquor operators A in the United States and Canada, clannish as a Scottish conventicle and with colossal resources, have combined against hi-jackers, double-crossers, small
crooks and stick-up men of all description, and, as they do not hesitate to employ sudden death as a dissuader, they have brought about a degree of comparative order and observance of individual rights that the federal officials could not hope to obtain. As an added precaution, however, the cabins of most of the rum carriers contain an efficient stand of arms, from shotguns to magazine rifles and automatic pistols, and the crew would not be backward about using them.
The value of square dealing in big business long has been recognized in legitimate industry, and it is essential in any venture where trust in one’s associates lays a major role. The liquor traffic, aving, by its magnitude, attracted some of the biggest businessmen on the continent, gradually has come to acknowledge that success may be attained only by applying the same principle to its transactions. The trade has passed into the hands of a few powerful cliques, and in order to buy into the most influential of these the applicant must have behind him a clean business record. The slightest hint of shady dealings with associates in the past is sufficient to condemn him, and he then cannot hope to break into the big-money ring, unless he has capital sufficient to finance himself and to establish his own expensive shore marketing system. Then he is likely to have against him the powerful and malignant opposition of the established operators.
What is Rum Row like? What do you do there? These are questions frequently asked of men in the trade. Rum Row is a collection of the cargo vessels of all nations, laden with spirituous beverages ranging from the finest of French wines to cheap German beer. They are anchored in a straggling line off certain points of the United States, and adjacent to large cities. Each of them, so long as it remains outside the territorial waters of the United States, is protected by international law. The fleet consists of schooners, tugs, trawlers, tramp ships and an occasional square-rigged ship, A vessel is popularly known as a rum carrier or rum runner, no matter what kind of liquor she has on board. The use of steamers on the Row is decreasing, however, due to high operating costs and heavy depreciation over a period of months of inaction. Steamers are met, now, by Canadian schooners, and the cargo is trans-shipped, the schooners proceeding to the Row, while the steamer returns home for another load. A vessel recently leaving Lunenburg was to discharge her cargo off Boston, then sail to meet a French steamer with a consignment of wines and champagne.
Distinction must be made between the rum carriers, which bring the stuff to the Row, and the small craft, ranging from motor boats to hydroplanes. The latter are the real rum runners, and to them falls whatever of excitement and risk is in the game. Their owners are a sporty crowd and love nothing better than to trick the too-conscientious revenue man. Most of the rum running is done at night, but a considerable volume is done in daylight. A dozen craft will leave shore together and make for the liquor fleet. The wary chaser, scenting prey, noses after them. The small boats line up alongside the schooners outside territorial limits and receive their consignments, then, on a prearranged signal, three or four will dart away at top speed in different directions. The chaser, selecting a victim, knifes down on her. Nothing aboard. When the decoys have taken the hound off the scene, the remainder slip ashore unmolested. An old, old schoolboy trick, that, but still useful. When the revenue man grows blase, and refuses chase to the decoys, but, instead, pursues the boats which do not run, again he is without result. The stuff has been carried ashore in the decoys.
The fascination of danger is universal in its appeal. One of the most daring and successful of the rum-running crowd is a young American millionaire who, for pure love of risk, runs cargoes down the coast and accompanies his consignments ashore—the most dangerous part of the game. He is not in it for money, but just for the fun of the thing.
Two-masted fishing schooners chartered for the liquor trade cost the charterer $2,500 to $3,000 per month, according to capacity and condition. Threestickers run from $3,000 to $3,500, but they are built specifically for cargo carrying. Out of the charter price the
ship-owner pays for outfitting, crew’s wages, stores, food and other expenses incidental to working ship. The crew are picked men, selected by the skipper for sobriety, steadiness and courage. Lunenburg masters are fortunate in that they know personally and have been lifelong neighbors with most of their hands, who are of a race widely known for honesty and thrift; the shipping agent who charters a Lunenburg schooner can guarantee, with a clear conscience, vessel, master and crew. Abstemiousness on Rum Row is more than a precaution; it is downright necessity, if trouble is to be avoided.
A phrase much used by the rum carriers is the “Booze Belt.” A vessel operating on the Booze Belt loads a cargo of liquor at St. Pierre, Newfoundland, or one of the Maritime Provinces, disposes of it on Rum Row, reloads at Nassau or some other West Indian point, returns to the Row and sells that, then proceeds to her original point of loading, thus maintaining a continual circuit. At present Newfoundland is popular for the buying of case goods, as the export duty is considerably cheaper than at other points, but this is off-set, somewhat, by greater distance from the Row and because, at St. Pierre, a French possession, it is not necessary for the master to declare his port of destination when clearing his vessel through the customs.
This latter point, almost universally observed among maritime nations, formerly was a stumbling-block in the liquor trade. All vessels carrying merchandise must comply with certain international laws. In Canada, Great Britain, the United States and other countries, the master of a vessel, before he is granted clearance must submit a manifest of his cargo, showing what it is, to whom, and where consigned. On arriving in port he enters his ship at the custom house and is given permission to discharge cargo. Any evasion of these regulations entails heavy penalties.
Recent Pacts May Help
VESSELS clearing from British ports got around this obstacle in a simple way. When clearance was granted the ships’ papers were posted to the vessel’s agent at port of destination, instead of being retained by the captain. The agent at the ostensible port of discharge entered the vessel in the regular way and, where necessary, paid import duty on her cargo as shown on the manifest— although at that moment it was probable that the vessel was discharging her cargo of spirits on the Row, many hundreds of miles away. Clearance in ballast then having been granted, the papers were returned to the agents at the vessel’s original sailing port, to await her return.
Recent pacts between Great Britain and the United States whereby readjustments and concessions were formulated with a view to extending the range of board-and-search rights by the United States Customs, have had the effect of of driving Rum Row farther out to sea, but any agreement which the United States makes with Britain, no matter what its scope, is but stopping one hole in the sieve. The three-mile limit still is in force as regards the vessels of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and other maritime nations, and their vessels still do business at the old stand. One effect, not generally noted, however, and which_ is proving seriously detrimental to British shipping generally is that British-ownedand-registered vessels are seeking foreign registry in order to avoid application of any new or proposed agreements to themselves while engaged in the liquor trade. Nor is this a point lightly to be passed over, when one considers the large number of British ships carrying the product of their national distilleries to the coast of the United States.
Everywhere along the Atlantic seaboard of Canada one hears the opinion that the liquor trade from this country to the United States has passed its peak and that, from the present, must develop a steady decline. But this view, whatever its basic or source, is hard to reconcile to the indisputable fact that, despite the recent burst of activity on the part of the American authorities in driving the Row to sea or scattering it along the coast, there are more Canadian vessels in the business than ever before, and that each day shows an increased number sailing for Rum Row and the points of liquor supply from Canadian ports.