It was a “stop the presses” moment – almost 100 years ago – in the autumn of 1920.
“Oh, it was a bad, terrible night – a tempest...it was blowing so hard,” said David Yeomans, a beloved Harkers Island storyteller.
‘Twas the night the “booze yacht run ashore” in Carteret County near Cape Lookout.
This was early in the Prohibition era in the United States (1920-33). There was a nationwide, constitutional ban on the “manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors,” but it wasn’t illegal to drink alcohol.
“The Adventure was a sleek, first-class boat, 75 or 80 feet long...and loaded with whiskey,” David Yeomans said. “She came on down the beach and ran ashore right there,” he said, pointing toward ‘the Drain,’ a pseudo inlet between Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks. At low tide, it was barely a trickle.
“The captain didn’t want to alert this Coast Guard of his mishap, so he decided the best thing to do was put some of that whiskey overboard, so the boat would lighten up and he could get off and escape the clutches of the Coasties,” which he did.
At night, the fishermen always gathered at Cleveland Davis’ store on Harkers Island.
“One old fellow said, ‘Now boys, we might be able to catch some mullet,” for this is the season of the ‘Mullet Blow.’
“We can’t get out of Beaufort Inlet in this wind, but if we take some of our rowboats, we’ll head to the Drain. The tide’ll be high when we get there, and we can get through and do our mullet fishing.”
And so out they went. But the fishin’ was forgot...when the boats approaching shore “bumped into” burlap bags loaded with fine – mighty fine – whiskey.
Yeomans said: “Pints and half-pints; all ready for drinking!” What they didn’t drink on the spot they decided to bury on the shore and come back to retrieve when sobriety prevailed.
There were still a few villagers living at Cape Lookout at the time. Yeomans said: “They asked themselves: ‘What in tar-nation are them boys a-doin’ out there, hoopin’ and hollerin’ and carryin’ on so?’”
When the tipsy fishermen left, rowing a zig-zag course back toward Harkers Island, the village people said, “let’s go see.”
Yeomans said: “They dug up a bag and opened it. They saw what it was, and they dug and dug some more and carried off all the bags they found...and buried ‘em somewhere’s else. Everybody was stealing everybody’s whiskey!”
A song was written right away to help preserve the memory of the Adventure. It was named “The Booze Yacht,” with lyrics by Ralph Sanders, who had moved from New York City to Harkers Island, and performed by Ivey Scott, a Harkers Island boy who played a mean fiddle.
It’s set to the popular melody of “The Sidewalks of New York,” a popular song from 1894. Here’s a snippet of it:
There’s a booze yacht run ashore!
This way, that way, to the Cape they run
...The coming of the Adventure
put the fishing on the bum.
Some folks lost their religion
They back-slid by the score,
When the booze yacht run ashore.
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.
Access the tune by listening to the 1977 album, “Between The Sound & The Sea.” The YouTube version is performed by the late Jule Garrish of Beaufort, who sang with the Ocrafolk Opry.