David Yeomans: When the Booze Yacht Ran Ashore
by David Cecelski. "Listening to History," News & Observer. Published 7/14/2002. Copyrighted.
Reprinted with permission.
I visited David Yeomans at his fishing camp at Cape Lookout, on the far southern end of the Outer Banks. A native of Harkers Island, on the other side of the sound from the Cape, he is one of the last seasonal residents of a historic fishing community that once flourished in the shadow of the Cape Lookout lighthouse. Today he is the keeper of the island's old ways and old stories.
While we sat in the shade of weeping willows in his front yard, Yeomans told me a story about a whiskey boat named Adventure that ran aground there in the middle of the Prohibition era. Before I left, he also crooned an inspired rendition of a popular local song that recalls that providential day. "The Booze Yacht" was written at Yeomans' home by two local musicians in the 1920s. I've heard it called Carteret County's "national anthem."
In David Yeoman's words:
Oh, it was a bad, terrible night. It was September of 1920 and it was a tempest it was blowing so hard. A mullet blow, we call it. The Adventure came on down the beach and ran ashore right there. There was no inlet here then, just a place where water trickled through what they called the Drain, and that's where she come aground. She was a sleek boat, a first-class boat, 75 or 80 feet long. And she was loaded with whiskey. Joe Kennedy had got hold of some of the best whiskey ever and he was sending it up to Martha's Vineyard to his friends. Well, it was illegal and the captain didn't want to alert this Coast Guard station up here, so he decided the best thing to do was put some of that whiskey overboard. He figured the boat would lighten up and they could get off and leave. Finally the boat floated and she went on up to Martha's Vineyard. That particular night the fishermen met at Mr. Cleveland Davis' store over on Harkers Island. Cleveland Davis' store was where everybody met and told all the stories -- the beehive, they called it. That's where everything went on, good and bad, mostly bad. And one old fellow said, now boys, if you will listen to what I tell you, we might be able to catch some of those mullet. We can't get out of Beaufort Inlet in this wind, he said, but if we take some of our rowboats we'll head to that Drain. The tide'll be high, and we can get through there and save some of the mullet fishing. So they said all right, that's what we'll do. So they came on and rowed there to the Drain. Well, the tide started coming up and got high. They helped each other pull the boats across the Drain. They'd get one out pretty good, then go back and get another one. They stopped there, and said what in the world is that? There was that whiskey right in front of them! One fellow reached down and got a burlap bag. He lifted it up and he heard the glass jangle. So he took his knife and cut it open. Pints and half-pints! All ready for drinking! He reached his hand in there and got a pint -- it had a king lock stopper, like a fruit jar you know. He popped that off and he tasted it -- glug, glug -- and he ran the whole pint in him. He said, boys, it's the best you have ever tasted! I don't know where it come from, but I've never drunk anything this good! Oh, it put the fishing on the bum, just like the song says. They threw the boats down and grabbed up the whiskey and hid it in the hills. They'd go up there and dig holes and bury it, then they come back. 'Course, there was plenty of families that lived out here back then. They called it Cape Lookout village. So the villagers said, what in the world are them boys doing? Well, when the fishermen went back down one time, they said, let's go see. They went down, and they dug up a bag and opened it. They saw what it was and they'd carry it and bury it somewhere else! Everybody was stealing everybody's whiskey! A rounder -- that's a person that knew everything going on and was in everything -- he came to Mr. Cleveland Davis' store and told them that a booze yacht had come ashore on the Cape. Every fellow that could went out there! They said they came through Core Sound from all the way down Atlantic, Davis and all around that way. Just like in the song -- "Some folks lost their religion, they back-slid by the score." It was a time in the land! And like the song says, "Things have changed since those times, and some folks are up in G's" --that means they've got some money, you know -- "while others, they are down and out. But they all feel just like me: some would part with all they got and some a little bit more, to see another time like that, when the booze yacht run ashore."
The Booze Yacht
(sung to the tune of "The Sidewalks of New York")
Down around the bee hive
Harkers Island retreat
Every night and morning,
That's where the fishermen would meet
One day there came a rounder,
A rushing by the door,
He said, boys, let's go to Cape Lookout
There's a booze yacht run ashore!
This way, that way, to the Cape they run
Now the coming of the Adventure
put the fishing on the bum.
Some folks lost their religion
They back-slid by the score,
The king lock stopper still stood ace high
When the booze yacht run ashore.
That's when lots of rounders, for miles
And miles around, kept their gas boats
busy, cruising thru Core Sound.
And some of them were happy, and some
of them were sore, But King Lock
Stopper stood ace high, when the
Booze Yacht run ashore.
Things have changed since those times.
Some are up in G's, while others
They are down and out, but they
all feel just like me,
Some would part with all they got
And some a little bit more
To see another time like that
When the booze yacht run ashore.
-- by Ivey Scott and Ralph Sanders
14 July 2002 | Cecelski, David S.