Smuggling Booze Under Sail and Via Skiff: “The Real McCoy”

It wasn’t the picture of the Colt-Browning machine gun on the deck of Arethusa, a Prohibition-era smuggling vessel that ran between Nassau and Rum Row, a floating dept off the U.S. coast, that piqued my interest.  It was the history of Bill McCoy and his dangerous work under sail and in high-powered skiffs.  Charles J. Doan writes for Sail Feed about McCoy–whose teetotalling ways and insistence on being an “honorable” smuggler gave rise to the phrase “The Real McCoy.”

Bill McCoy, the “honorable smuggler.” photo from The Mariners’ Museum

Sloan’s article is focused on a newly republished book, The Real McCoy by Frederic F. Van de Water, which “recounts the career of a rather personable and flamboyant Rum Row pioneer.”

Here’s an excerpt: “Only seamen could have brought them out through the weather they often encountered. Wind and waves never stopped them. In storms there were always two men aboard them, one to steer, the other to pump and keep her afloat. Any other breed but these Jersey lads would have added a third to holler for help, but they were reckless and seamen to the backbone. They always came out full speed ahead, and you could hear the old wagons smacking along over the waves a mile away. Their exhausts were under water, and when running slowly, no one could hear them.”