Come down to my cabin,” the Englishman offered to the four newly arrived guests aboard the schooner. “We shall celebrate your arrival and purchase of the remaining cargo over a stiff swig of the good stuff.” The four men followed him down the narrow passageway and into the cabin. “I was hoping,” he continued, “that you would arrive today. To be honest,” he paused as he placed five glasses down on the small table, “I am looking forward to heading home.” The men offered little to the conversation short of a few guttural grunts. The Englishman turned and opened the cabinet to grab a bottle of Scotch. “I hope you gentlemen enjoy Dewar’s,” he continued as he turned back to the men. The business ends of four revolvers were trained on him. The Englishman gripped the bottle tightly in his hand. One of the men slowly pulled out a piece of manila line from the pocket of his trench coat. “Go ahead and pour those drinks,” one of the men coldly ordered to him as he motioned with the barrel of his revolver toward the glasses, “but only four of them.” The other men quietly laughed at the quip as the Englishman nervously poured three fingers into each of the glasses. “That will do,” the man with the line in his free hand continued, “now, turn around.” The Englishman had no choice. He placed the bottle of Dewar’s down on the table and turned toward the bulkhead. In seconds, his hands were bound tightly with the line. The protest would end with a gunshot. He took a deep breath to try and relax. Suddenly, a silk scarf was placed over his eyes. With the deftly tying of a knot, the Englishman was now blinded by his surroundings. Manhandled out of his cabin, he traced his steps through the schooner as he was pushed by two of the men. The hatch to the number two hold was opened and the Englishman was thrown violently to the deck. As the heard the hatch secured, he heard one of the men say, “now how about that drink?” As he lay on the cold deck of the hold, he heard the other men offer a laugh in reply. This was not what Captain J.T. Tweedie had signed on for in Bermuda. As he eased himself up to a sitting position, he quipped to himself, “good thing I didn’t break out a bottle of Champagne.”
Weeks earlier, Captain J.T. Tweedie sat at a waterfront bar. A few glasses of whisky down the gullet, he struck up a conversation with another salt sitting aside him. The sailor was the skipper aboard the English flagged schooner Veronica. It was bound, the skipper continued, to Melilla, Morocco. “What’s the cargo?” inquired Captain Tweedie. “Booze,” the skipper replied as he placed down his rocks glass on the wooden top of the bar, “and lots of it.” Captain Tweedie was looking for a berth and took a sip of his libation. “Need any hands aboard for the trip?” he inquired. “I could use a first mate,” the skipper replied as he motioned to the bartender to top off his glass. Captain Tweedie, despite the pleasant conditions of Bermuda, longed to get underway. “Count me in,” he replied. The two men shook hands. Three days out of Bermuda, Captain Tweedie was informed that their next port of call would not be Morocco but instead Madeira – an archipelago off of the coast of Africa. To Captain Tweedie, it was odd but not unheard of to receive new sailing orders. Soon after though, the schooner was bound for a new destination – Montauk, New York. The $700,000.00 cargo of whisky and Champagne was bound for the dry shores of the United States. Captain Tweedie had unofficially joined the ranks of rum-running.
In a few days, the Veronica arrived twenty-five miles south of Montauk Point, New York. Tweedie, serving as the first mate, was growing weary of the hired crew. The contemptuous lot, he alerted the master, were showing signs of rebellious activity. With the bounty of booze, a financial windfall for all aboard, Tweedie knew that the crew could easily turn against him and the master. Tweedie’s prediction came true a few days later when the crew demanded a raise for their services. Tweedie, serving as an intermediary, negotiated a fifty-percent pay raise for each of the crew. With the mutiny averted, Tweedie and the master awaited the arrival of the buyers. Later that evening, several speedboats were spotted on the horizon. The first batch of buyers had finally arrived. Tweedie put the crew to work. In a matter of hours, forty-five hundred cases had been transferred to the speed boats lashed alongside the schooner. As the speed boats raced toward terra firma, Tweedie, the schooner’s master, and the crew awaited the arrival of the cargo’s agent.
Several days later, a London representative came aboard and met with the master in his cabin. Word was quickly passed that a schooner would be sent out to take off the remaining cargo. The end of the vagabond voyage, Tweedie thought as he poured himself a glass of whisky, was within his reach. Three days later, Tweedie spotted two launches approaching Veronica. The men stated, as they came alongside and tossed lines to the crew, that they were there to solidify the purchase. Welcomed aboard the schooner, the four men clearly had other plans and motives. Tweedie replayed the voyage in his mind as he lay on the deck of the hold for two days. Without food or water, he had resigned himself that his voyage on the Veronica might be his last.
Suddenly the hatch to the number two hold was opened. Tweedie’s body tensed as he heard footsteps on the deck. “Here’s the deal mac,” one of the pirates began. “You play ball with us and you can eat and more importantly, live.” Tweedie offered no reply. “But if you get to thinking of another plan,” the pirate continued, “we will make sure you meet Davy Jones” he paused, “personally.” Tweedie finally nodded in agreement. The silk scarf was pulled from his head. Tweedie winced at the sudden flash of light. The man pulled Tweedie up from the deck and turned him around. The manila line was untied. “Now you are gonna do what you was paid to do. You will navigate and take soundings and ensure that no one gets any ideas. You got me mac?” “Understood,” Tweedie replied.
Over the course of the next three days, the remaining cargo was transferred to a flurry of speedboats all bound for the strands of New York. The pirates had completed their job. With Veronica lightened of the bulk of her liquid libations, Tweedie was ordered to unfurl her sails and steer on a specific course. The pirates would have their machine guns trained on the schooner from their boats. As the pirates slipped away, Tweedie, not wanting to swim with the fishes, followed the captor’s demands. As he went to check his compass, he quickly realized that the equipment, including the compass magnets and the schooner’s chronometer, had been damaged. As the pirates spirited away into the distance, Veronica was left to the whims of the seas.
Several weeks passed as the Veronica languished in the unforgiving waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Though the pirates had liquidated the cargo, Tweedie and the remaining crew had food stores and some mercifully left alcohol at their disposal. As twilight marked the end of another day, one of Tweedie’s crew knocked on his cabin door. “A ship on the horizon,” the voice boomed in the passageway. Tweedie sprung from his rack and placed his glass on the small table. “Send up the rockets,” he ordered as he grabbed his cap and opened the hatch. Tweedie and the crewman raced to the main deck. Within moments red rockets soared into the twilight sky.
The door of the bridge swung open. “Sir,” the lookout reported, “rockets off the port beam.” “Very good,” the watch officer acknowledged without showing the slightest bit of anxiety. He grabbed his binoculars and peered toward the port. “Alert Captain Grening,” he continued as he focused the binoculars’ lenses on the horizon. “Indicate to the captain that I am suggesting we alter course,” he paused as the rocket’s glare came into view, “to investigate.” “Aye-aye sir,” the lookout replied as he closed the door and scurried to get the master of the S.S. President Harding. Within minutes, the steamship, bound for New York from Hamburg, Germany, had altered her course to investigate the rocketed signal for assistance. A mariner’s duty required swift action at the sign of any vessel’s distress.
With the faint whispers of twilight slipping below the horizon, the beaming searchlights of the steamship cascaded their light on the schooner’s darkened silhouette. Captain Grening, bedecked in his bridge coat, watched diligently from the bridge and quickly passed orders for two of the ship’s boats to be lowered to render assistance and learn of the vessel’s predicament. As the boats neared the schooner, Captain Grening walked over to the navigator’s table. The steamer was roughly one hundred miles east of Nantucket. “Mark the position,” he ordered, “and make sure it is logged accordingly.” Captain Grening then returned to the bridge wing and paced the deck awaiting word from his men regarding the schooner’s plight. In short order, Captain Grening was briefed by his men after their quick return from the schooner. Despite their damaged equipment, the men were fine and asked only that their owners be notified that they were in request of a tow to the nearest safe haven. Captain Grening acknowledged the request and quickly ordered that word to be passed via the steamer’s wireless equipment. As the officers of the rescue party from the S.S. President Harding finished their report to their commanding officer, one laughed as he offered one last additional detail of their conversation with the stranded sailors. “One of the blokes even offered us a case of the good stuff for stopping by to check on them.” Captain Grening smirked and replied, “They couldn’t have been in that bad of a situation in the grand scheme.”
The S.S. President Harding had done her maritime duty and word had been passed via wireless to the ship’s owners. With her duty complete, Captain Grening ordered the helmsman to make the best possible speed back to her original course so that she could arrive, as close to schedule, to her port of destination, New York. The flurry of curious passengers who had lined the rails for the steamer’s investigation trailed off to either late meals, to their respective cabins, or the various saloons for an evening’s nightcap or smoke. The initial excitement of the wayward schooner had offered only a cursory break from the unceremonious ocean crossing. Within hours, a tug had set out to locate and rendezvous with the schooner. In short order, Veronica was subsequently towed into port and her first mate, Captain Tweedie, recounted his and his crew’s peculiar plight with the revolver and machine gun-toting pirates.
While the villainous and vagabond voyage of the Veronica had provided an indirect notice of warning to the rum runners of the perilous and dangerous of life on rum row, little warning was heeded by fellow mariners that engaged in the illicit activity. Despite the efforts of the United States Coast Guard and the United States Government, the Volstead Act and the efforts to dry the lips of the majority of Americans from the quench of alcohol proved a bust. The concept of supply and demand coupled with the brainchild of the colonies – capitalism – dictated that where there is a will there is a way. Despite the ever-ardent efforts of the Prohibitionists, there were those that wanted to ensure that the United States remained ever-tanked in an ocean of alcohol-fused euphoria. Though the voyage of the Veronica had set out to sea with the alleged best of intentions, she found herself languishing twenty-five miles south of Montauk Point, New York, her holds stocked with whisky and Champagne, waiting for the rum runners to finish the supply chain process to support and quench the liquor thirsty hordes ashore. Though her Fall voyage of 1924 was marked by the unexpected arrival of revolver-toting pirates that took advantage of the situation, it was clear that supporting the wets with a cargo of whisky and Champagne, along the shoreline of New York, sometimes had its drawbacks in our waters.
United States. Captain Tweedie had unofficially joined the ranks of rum-running.