MIKE WAGONER

MIKE WAGONER

We’re approaching the 100-year anniversary of a monumental event in Carteret County – when the “Booze Yacht Run Ashore” at Cape Lookout on a dark and stormy night in 1920, the first year of the Prohibition Era.

Surely, the local fishermen who take their boats to Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks are planning a memorial observance with a toast of vintage whiskey...while handing over their boat keys to designated drivers.

Shall we pay homage to the gentlemen from Harkers Island who wrote about the miraculous delivery of the jugs of nectar from the gods? Here’s to storyteller David Yeomans and songwriters and performers Ralph Sanders and Ivey Scott.

Contemporary historian David Cecelski deserves equal billing. He popularized the work of storyteller David Yeomans in 2002 by including the “booze yacht” tale in his “Listening to History” series, a project sponsored by the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Yet, some skeptics remained a tad dubious of the authenticity of the “booze yacht” yarn...until David Cecelski revealed “indisputable evidence” to validate that a “booze yacht” did indeed run ashore in 1920.

He has uncovered writings that clearly document two honorable watermen, operating independently from “the crowd at Harkers Island,” found a bunch of liquor bottles, too.

Capt. William E. Young and Capt. Charles W. Willis said they were in the right place at the right time to scoop up 20 boxes of hooch from the shallows off Cape Lookout, whiskey that had been thrown overboard from the Adventure when she ran aground and had to lighten her load.

Each captain has sobering credentials of integrity. Capt. Young was a world-class shark hunter from California who traveled the world and  a book author. For a time, both men were associated with the Ocean Leather Company’s shark factory in Morehead City.

This business was based in Newark, N.J. for the purpose of tanning sharks and other sea creatures to manufacture leather consumer products. The company opened a plant in Morehead City in 1920, where there was an “unlimited supply of raw materials.” Analysts said the “quantity of shark stock here was immense.”

Dr. José I. Castro of the National Marine Fisheries Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, “Shark hide is similar to that from cattle, but much tougher and less prone to scuffing.”

David Cecelski said most of the shark factory’s fishermen, if not all, came from the Promise Land neighborhood in Morehead City. They were led by Promise Lander Capt. “Charlie” Willis.

Capt. Charlie preferred spending time at sea as the personal skipper and boating companion of Dr. Russell J. Coles of Danville, Va., a wealthy leaf tobacco agent. Dr. Coles was a marine scientist who studied ichthyology (the branch of zoology dealing with fishes).

Additionally, Dr. Coles was the world’s foremost authority on the sport of harpooning devilfish – giant manta rays.

He and Capt. Charlie invited former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to join them on an expedition in 1917...and he accepted. This was viewed as an entirely new adventure for “The Colonel.”

(After leaving the White House in 1909, Roosevelt chose to refer to himself as Colonel, having attained that Army rank as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War.)

Could a new “fish house liar’s story” be brewing here?

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