Five-pin bowling is a Canadian game invested in 1909 when customers complained that the ten-pin game was too strenuous.
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Did a Fish Ever Fight or Are All Yarns of Battles Pure Fiction? A Tale of the Only Bass That Ever Put Up a Real Struggle.
By Gregory Clark, July 7, 1923.
Fishing is full of fictions.
In fact, after a careful study of the whole subject of fishing over a period of a quarter of a century, I am convinced that fishing is largely fiction.
At times during my intensive study of the subject, I have come very definitely to the conclusion that there is no such thing as fishing, and that fish themselves are only a delusion.
But there is a weakness in human nature which some call gullibility and others call credulousness, which demands for the human spirit some outlet other than that provided by the perusal of cold facts. It manifested itself in olden days in the legend of the griffin and in the unicorn. Fables grew up about these strange beasts.
In modern times this outlet is provided by fish. And mankind lets loose these restless longings for the mystic and unknown and the incredible through the fabulous tales of fishing.
To go thoroughly into the whole matter would require more than a short story. And a short story is what the editor demands.
I shall take, therefore, only one aspect of fishing: the fable of the fighting fish.
You will hear men commonly arguing with great animation as to which fish is the gamest and fights longest.
“Give me the lunge,” says one. “Give me a lunge of ten pounds or over and I am set for life. There is no fish that swims to compare for gameness and furious fighting spirit with the lunge.”
“Inch for inch, and pound for pound,” says another, quoting I know not what authority, “the small mouth bass is the gamest fish that swims.”
“A trout,” says another, “is never beaten. I have fought a one-pound brook trout, with light tackle, fine and far off, for three-quarters of an hour, and when, through utter exhaustion, I was forced to put the net under him, that trout was as fresh and full of fight as the moment I hooked him.”
That’s the way they talk.
“One hour and twenty minutes it took me to land that twenty-two pound lunge,” says the lunger. “A battle royal all the way.”
Here we are in the very core of fiction.
The lunge fisherman usually drags a stout rope behind a rowboat, at the end of which dangles a large metal trolling spoon set with gangs of hooks one inch or more in size. Similar sets of hooks are used by life-savers when they are dragging for drowned humans. When the poor fish seizes the metal bait, the entire crew of the rowboat take hold of the stout rope and yank the lunge in, hand over hand, like a log. With a whoop and a roar, the lunge is slammed into the bottom of the boat and clubbed to death. The whole operation takes from twenty to forty seconds.
But fiction demands a story about the fish. So the fishermen stretch it into a battle of forty minutes.
About ninety per cent. of the lunge caught in this fishermen’s paradise are thus caught on a rope in a few seconds.
The remaining ten per cent., I find, are caught by real sportsmen, who use a rod to troll with. It is a stout steel rod, strong enough to hold a bull. The line is tested to hold twenty pounds, and the biggest lunge that swims weighs, in the water, only three pounds, owing to the laws of specific gravity. So the odds are slightly in the fisherman’s favor.
When a lunge is struck, the first thing they do is look around to see if anybody is in sight. If there is nobody around, the lunge is reeled in, quite as effectively and a little more safely than by the hand-line method. If anybody is within sight, they spread the battle over three or four minutes. The poor fish wonders what has happened. It wiggles and yanks. But in it comes.
That battle took an hour and six minutes, “by the watch.”
Bass fishermen use a hand net, and as soon the bass is hooked, so alarmed is the fishermen for fear it will escape, he drags it alongside and dips it out of the water with the net.
Trout fishermen are the fictionest fishermen of the lot. Never yet have I met a straight out-and-out worm fisherman. Ninety-nine per cent. of trout fishermen are loaded up with fly hooks, leader boxes, light fly rods and little landing nets. Ninety-nine per cent. of them have a can of worms secreted about their person.
When in sight of their friends, they whip the stream with files. But you will notice that trout fishermen always like to get away by themselves.
“You fish up stream and I’ll fish down,” says one, selecting a cast of files with loving care.
And the other promptly agrees.
The minute they are out of sight of each other, off come the flies, and one of those known as a Gardenia or garden hackle goes on. The cast of flies is hung handy in the hat, in case anyone should be met on the stream.
You see a trout fishermen sneaking very softly up a stream. They tell you the reason is that trout are very wary and have to be stalked. Not at all. Another fish legend. They are sneaking so softly not for the trout, but listening for other fishermen, lest they be caught fishing with worms. I have seen a couple of country boys standing in the water under a bridge snaring trout with fine wire. And the trout flittering about their feet. Trout wary? Trout fishermen wary!
The way ninety-eight per cent. of trout are caught is this: The fisherman hooks it, and with a violent swipe slams the poor little thing high and dry up on the bank.
The other two per cent. are caught in the presence of other fishermen, and for fiction’s sake the catcher has to play it around in the water for a moment, with his heart in his mouth, before scooping it up in the net.
The only authentic case I know of where a bass put up anything like the legendary scrap was a personal experience in which that bass far exceeded any fiction tale I ever heard.
It was up on the Muskosh River, just above the rapids known as Brown’s Cookery.
Evening was falling, and a purple haze hung like a magic curtain over the grey rocks and the dark green firs.
I drifted in my canoe about seventy-five yards above the head of the swift rapids. I was using frog bait and casting to the shores on either hand. In my canoe I had seven of the eight bass the law allows, all of which had put up remarkably good battles, considering that it was only fiction.
I had dropped my bait fair in the middle of swirl of current, when a giant bass leaped and took it. He came fully four feet clear of the surface in that wonderful rush.
With a steady rush that took all but ten feet of my hundred and fifty foot line, he passed me upstream, leaping every few feet and shaking his beautiful bronze body. At the end of the rush, when I had despaired, he turned and rushed as madly down stream, still leaping, and entered the rapids. There he had the swift current to aid him, and he took all but a foot and a half of my line. So intent was I on the battle that I did not notice I was drifting towards the dangerous rapids, which no man had ever shot, except in fiction.
Feeling the stern, if hopeless, pressure on my hold, that bass turned again, raced up stream, and again I was facing north. Leaping every four seconds, by the watch, which I was using to time him, in the interests of truth, he fought over that river.
To my horror, I suddenly saw white water at my side.
I was in the rapids. Would I relinquish that fabulous bass and seize the paddle in the vain effort to save my life? Or would I go to my doom like a good fisherman, holding grimly to my catch?
I decided to die game. Halfway through those raging rapids, with the bass following me in great triumphant leaps, with the dim shades of night upon us, my canoe overturned and I was thrown down, down, deep into that boiling rapids. I lost consciousness. I know not how I escaped from the ragged rocks of that furious stream. But when I came to, I was lying on the beach, three hundred yards below Brown’s Cookery, and morning was breaking. And that bass was still leaping and racing out in the pool below the rapids, with only two and one-half inches of my line on the reel. It had safely come through the rapids with me, and had fought me all night. But unconscious though I was, I held him.
When I dragged it ashore, along about noon, I was utterly exhausted. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the bass had missed his regular feeding time, I never would have got him. He weighed, if I remember rightly, seven and a half pounds – the largest bass ever caught in Ontario. I didn’t enter him in The Star competition, not did I tell my friends about him. For if there is one thing I detest, it is that air of incredulity with which a man’s fishing stories are received.
I tell the tale now, only by way of proving the rule that most fishing stories are fiction. Exceptions prove the rule. This case I have recited is the only instance I know of where a bass really did fight. Most bass are hauled in like an old boot.
I have similar tales to prove my contentions about lunge and trout. Once I fought a thirty-eight pound lunge which I had caught inadvertently on a three-ounce trout rod. It took me four days to land It. Owing to bad weather, I have no photos to prove it. And on another occasion, I hooked a two-pound trout which fought me a distance of seventeen miles up a stream near Caledon. Mile after mile we struggled, the creek getting smaller and smaller. My frail tackle and the delicate fly hook were almost frayed out. If it hadn’t been for the fact that at last we came to the headwaters of the stream, which were a small spring about two feet in diameter, I never would have landed that beauty. When I put my net under him in that small pool of crystal water, I was scarcely able to see. But the trout was just ready to make the seventeen mile journey back to where we had started.
It is cases like these which go to prove, by exception, just to what extent fishing is a legend, a fiction and a pure fabrication.
By Gregory Clark, June 23, 1923.
You know this freckle-faced, barefoot country boy, with a string of fish dragging on the ground and an old alder pole in his hand?
Have you ever seen him?
Sure you have – in cartoons.
Did you ever see him in the life?
Not likely. For he is only a sentimental fiction.
He is often pictured as selling his string of trout or bass to some perspiring and disappointed city man who is laden with scores of dollars’ worth of expensive fishing tackle.
He is quoted right and left by those who don’t fish for the discomfiture of those who do. If a man goes away for a week-end of bass, and comes home without them because wind or weather were against him, his motoring or gardening or golfing friends crow at him about the freckle-faced country boy with the willow tad who can go out any old time and bring home a string as long as your leg.
This country boy, however, is one of those sentimental fictions of which the world is unfortunately full. Fictions such as this hide the truth and are at the root of half the ills of the universe. This barefoot boy was conceived and is kept alive not by the scoffers, but by the anglers themselves. All good sportsmen like to cover their defeats with good-humored self-derision. When a man goes out for trout, and gets none, he does not blame the wind or the weather, which are really to blame. He blames himself, and says that he passed some freckled urchins on the stream who were getting plenty. When a man will so deride himself, watch out.
With a patience covering many years, I have hunted for one of these country boys I have heard so much about. I would meet boys on the side roads with willow gads and bare feet and freckles, with all the equipment, in fact, except the fish. I have encountered country boys on streams, and they have hung around me for hours watching my methods, trying to learn the secret, and hinting broadly in the hope that I would part with some of my bagfull of beauties.
Up east of Toronto I met four boys striding down the highway towards the lake. There was a likely looking trout stream crossing where we met, and I asked the boys if there were any fish in it.
“No,” they replied. “The on’y fish they is hereabouts is down in the Pickering River. Perch and suckers.”
Having long ago discovered the country boy to be the worst-informed angler in the world, I promptly disembarked at that stream, and as the boys went on with winks and grins, towards the Pickering River, I unlimbered all my tackle.
That evening we met again. From the Pickering River came the four barefoot country boys and their willow gads. One had three dried and miserable little perch on a twig. The other three had nothing.
And I had a bag of twenty as nice trout as ever graced a frying pan.
Needless to say, I didn’t show them my fish. I intended coming back to that creek. No, I admitted I had caught nothing, and they passed proudly up the road with their three perch, grinning derisively, perfectly conforming to the legend of the freckle-faced country boy.
And that’s the way it should be.
I could recount scores of instances such as that one. Like any good fisherman, I can tell them by the hour.
In fact, I am all for organizing a new fishing competition in which, on the first of June each year, the best ten trout fishermen in the National Club, say, or any other such easily sorted institution, would go up to Orangeville, or some such centre, and compete with the ten best barefoot, freckle-faced country boys of that neighborhood. At dawn of the first of June, the two parties would be turned loose on a given township, in which are enough trout creeks to accommodate twenty anglers.
If the country boys win, then the country boy crack can be sprung on all anglers for the current year.
But if the city anglers, with their fancy tackle, win, then the rule would be that the country boy gag be buried for the current year.
These images went with an article about declining manners by Laura Mason.
These illustrations went with a story by C. R. Greenaway on the rum-runners on the Detroit river during Prohibition. The photos taken were considered very risky, as it was not unexpected to be shot at by the gangsters who would not want evidence.
Stranded Overseas, They Try to Get Back in Desperation as Stowaways – Hiding in the Coal Bunkers is Challenging Death – Sometimes a Woman is found in the Hold.
In the dead of night on a windy Liverpool dock, a man sat huddled in the shelter of a great square pile of packing cases.
Single lights waved in the wind at lonely intervals down the length of the dock. In their fitful gleam, the funnels and masts of steamers could be seen, a great tangle of shipping. The night was filled with the groan of hawsers and cables, the splash of waves. The air was heavy with the smell of the salt sea, of paint and tar and coal smoke.
The man in the shadows had his eyes fixed tirelessly on the far end of the dock, where a small, second-rate liner was taking on cargo. Under the glare of portable calcium lamps the crane was swinging net loads of packages and rope tied cases up off the dock, over and down into the steamer’s hold. With shouting and whistling, groups of men on the dock and on be ship’s deck loaded and unloaded the crane’s burden.
For hours the man in hiding watched this ceaseless, noisy toil of the loading of a ship. He squirmed with cold in his worn tweed suit, and twisted the collar up about his neck to help a blue cotton handkerchief keep out the chill.
There was a look of desperation in his face. He needed a wash, a shave. His hands clutched restlessly at a bundle of sacking beside him on the planks.
As he started up the dark dock the crane suddenly paused in its swinging, and there was a commotion amongst the groups of men. There was shouting and shrill whistling. After a pause of about five minutes, two small squads of men came slowly down the dark dock bearing heavy burdens.
The man in hiding rose as they approached. He saw that the burdens were men, who twisted and moaned with pain.
“Thank God!” muttered the shabby man as they passed. Forgetting his sack bundle, be ran up the dock, towards the groups under the calcium lights. Work had recommenced. Slowing up, collecting his breath, he stepped up to one who was clearly a foreman, and said:
“Need any more help?”
“Yes,” said the foreman, hurriedly. “Get up on deck, there, and ease that net into the hold. Just had a couple of men smashed there. Watch yourself, now!”
Breathing blessings on heaven, the shabby one stumbled up a rough gangway to the deck. In a moment. under the direction of a fierce man in a blue great coat, he was seizing the huge swinging packages as they came overside, and was shouting and cursing with the rest of them, like an old-time wharf rat.
But he wasn’t a wharf rat. He was a Canadian clerk. His business was the writing down and adding up of figures in a ledger. But it was so long since he had written anything but his signature in employment agency lists that he had forgotten what ink and ledgers smell like.
He had come over to Europe to share in a certain war that took place some seven to eight years ago. He had sucked mud at the Somme, climbed Vimy, gone swimming at Passchendaele, done the great sightseeing tour from Amiens to the Rhine, and then, on his way home to Canada, had married a girl from Cherriton, whom he had wooed in those far-off Shorncliffe days; and then had taken his discharge from the Canadians in England.
He had planned to loaf about Blightey for year or so, and then return to Canada at leisure. But there was a great industrial slump in England right after the war, and he found himself, as weeks flowed into months, living off his wife’s parents. He could get no work. He had no friends in England. His people had no money to send him from Canada. When he called at the Canadian commissioner’s in London to get sent home, they regretted to inform him that since he had taken his discharge in England, the Canadian government could assume no responsibility for him.
He got rough jobs here and there for a day a week, for four or five days a month. He was destitute, broke, alone, shabby.
Down and out.
By long, hard stages he got to Liverpool. He haunted the docks, trying to get a job on the crew of Canada-bound ships. The ships officers pushed him out of their way. There were hundreds of qualified seamen begging for jobs.
Day after day he saw great liners draw gracefully out into the harbor, Canada bound. He saw great crowds aboard them – going home.
He grew rather crazy.
And then dreams of his boyhood came back to him. He recalled the tales of olden days, of great sailing ships, and of boys who went as stowaways on high adventure.
And, in a dim sort of ecstasy he decided to get home to Canada as a stowaway on one of these ships curving out to sea.
For six weeks the haunted the docks. The regular dock workers gave him no chance to get jobs. They were a jealous and brutal lot. He took several beatings and bootings for being found hanging about the waterfront. But by securing occasional pitiful jobs in the city, and with the proceeds buying the odd drink for sailors in the taverns by the docks, he picked up a little useful information.
In a piece of sacking he got together three or four pounds of emergency rations, some sea biscuit, a tin of bully beef, an old army water bottle full of cold tea. He even stole some dried herrings from in front of poor little shop.
And every night, evading watchmen and dock workers, he crept into the neighborhood of the Canada-bound steamers.
One night he was caught trying to board a tramp freighter for Montreal, and was nearly drowned when the crew pushed him over the side. Another time, when he was pretending to help a squad load a great packing case into the side of a ship, the foreman of the gang spotted him and booted him off the deck.
He realized that in some way he must get a job loading cargo into a ship.
And then came this night, when two men had their legs crushed by tons of cargo; and it being three o’clock in the morning, with none of the usual hangers-on about, the foreman of the dock gang had welcomed him, and sent him on deck.
He nearly broke out sobbing when he looked down into the vast dim hold of that ship. His hands were shaking so, his legs so weak, that the deck gang had to swear at him over and over. He toiled an hour. His hands were bleeding. His starved stomach was caving in.
“Come down here, some of you!” bellowed a voice from the hold.
He followed frantically a couple of the squad who moved away to obey the summons.
Down in the hold they were stowing cargo. Crates, cases, packages were being ranged solidly and immovably down in this safe bosom of the ship – Canada bound! So strenuously and willingly did he work, heaving and pushing the great weights about, that the men gave him the dirtiest work to do. He peered. He squinted. He pried. Into every corner his wild eyes bored. And presently, as he and his mates shoved a great crated machine of some sort into a position against the side of the ship, he saw a little space, just big enough for a man to crouch, under that machine.
He manoeuvred other pieces of cargo into position so as to screen the space.
When the attention of the gang was in another corner of the hold, he slipped breathlessly into his cranny and there he crouched. He heard them call him, hunt for him. He heard them say he must have gone off.
He heard tons of cargo come aboard, and then the sounds of day, the whistling of tugs, the splash of fresh wind on the ship.
But the ship did not sail, in spite of the hurry to load her at night, till late that following afternoon. And then he remembered he had left his parcel of food the dock. He huddled in his corner, starved, half crazy with thirst, fearful that the ship might have ports of call in Ireland where he could be put ashore. Forty-eight hours he crouched in that dark hold, until he heard voices of some of the crew seeking something in the hold. They were far at sea. So he shouted with all his might for help.
They had to shift tons of cargo to get him.
They took him before the captain of the ship. He told them he had been knocked senseless while helping stow cargo and had not come to until the ship was at sea.
The captain smiled grimly.
“Aren’t you a Canadian?” asked the captain.
“Yes,” admitted the stowaway.
“Send him down to spell the trimmers,” said the captain, a little more grimly.
They don’t like stowaways, at sea. If stowing away were not discouraged, a ship’s master would never know where he got off. He might find himself with a dozen extra mouths to feed, every voyage. Then it gets ships’ officers in trouble with immigration authorities. Stowaways are decidedly a nuisance. So ship officers discourage stowing away.
Our Canadian wanderer they took down into the bowels of the ship and handed him over to the third engineer. The engineer turned him over to the stoke hold, and there he was introduced to a bad, coal-blackened squad of men known as trimmers. The trimmers grinned startlingly out of their black faces when the word stowaway was pronounced. They took possession of the shabby young man and set him to work, relieving them, turn about, at filling and wheeling barrows of coal from the bunkers to the stokers, who stood ceaselessly firing the great raging boilers.
For eight days the stowaway earned his passage among the trimmers. He worked as long as the trimmers wanted him to work. No union hours for him.
“The Somme was a picnic to that trip in the stoke hold,” he said to me – for he told me his adventures one night in Halifax, where he was awaiting money from his people to bring him the short – ah, blissfully short – journey from Halifax to western Ontario.
When the ship finally docked at Halifax, he was let up out of that hell in the bowels of the ship. He ached in every cell. He was bruised and aged and weary. But he was home. They banded him over to the immigration officers. The trimmers had mockingly assured him that he would be sent back by the Canadian immigration officers by the same ship he had come on, to the same port he had left. He was a listless and hopeless figure when he stood before the officers.
He nearly fell dead when he learned that, it he could prove he was a Canadian citizen and could get the money to pay his are back to his own people, he would be freed.
He wired for confirmation of his Canadian citizenship, and money was promised immediately.
Canada is very easy with stowaways who turn out to be Canadians. But with all others she is as stern as the rest of the world. And it is said that hundreds of the Canadians who were stranded in England after foolishly obtaining their discharge overseas, have come home either as members of the crews of ships, deserting on their arrival in a Canadian port, or else as stowaways.
Most of the stowaways do not go through all the hardships described. The easiest way to get aboard a ship is by bribing one or more members of the crew. The night before sailing, these sailors bring the stowaway aboard in the pretence that it is one of their mates a little the worse for liquor. He staggers and hangs his head, and the officer and members of the watch are unsuspicious.
They feed him from their own ration till the ship is clear of land, and then they let him be discovered, and he is put to work by an irate ship’s officer either in the stokehold, trimming, or scrubbing decks or relieving the cook’s helper of the dirtiest work that falls to that dignitary’s lot.
The agents of one of the big steamship companies tell a comic story of a stowaway who got aboard at Liverpool, a fine-looking young man in the best of business tweeds. How he got on the ship nobody ever found out. He slept in one of the lifeboats, and stole other passengers’ steamer rugs off the chairs on the boat deck. He spent his days cheerfully on deck and in the saloon, and he actually played cards and won from some of the passengers. He went down for meals with the rest of the passengers, and the stewards assigned him a place at one of the tables.
The day before landing, the lifeboats were swung in on their davits, and one of the sailors, noting that the cover of one of the boats was loose, lifted it and looked inside. There was a snug little nest, lined with the missing steamer rugs. He reported it to his officer, and that night, after everybody had retired, they came and opened the boat and found the elegant stowaway curled up sound asleep in his big cradle.
This man agreed to pay the company his passage, and after much telegraphing the money for the trip was produced by relatives in western Canada.
The scheme of signing on with a ship and deserting at a Canadian port is a good one, if the job can be got in the first place. Ships’ officers are very fussy about experienced men, and usually refuse to sign a man on these days unless he has papers to show he’s an experienced and able seaman.
Most of the stowaways on the high seas are not romantic figures, bucking fate, but are simply the sea counterparts of the hobo of the land who rides the rattlers and the blind baggages and steals rides in freight cars.
They are the hobos of the sea, and as soon as they tire of one port, they stow away for a cruise to another – they don’t care much, which. The customary procedure with these vagabonds is to get a job at coaling of the steamer, during which they smuggle in a bundle of food and water and hide themselves in the coal bunkers. These are the ones who get the rough and tumble treatment from the officers if they are caught.
Boys are great nuisances as stowaways. Too young to be taken on as sailors, without the influence to get signed on as boys, they have no other means of working off their-romantic fevers but to stow away. There is one of these boys who plies between Halifax, Sydney and St. John’s, Newfoundland, who has been a stowaway on practically every ship that, run regularly between the ports. He has become a sort of a port joke but is getting old enough to be taken seriously, and one of these days he will find himself trimming a tramp to Valparaiso or the Antipodes.
Women stowaways are rare. Sometimes a sailor will pick up a sweetheart in some port and induce her to stow away aboard his ship. But it is no life for a woman. Halifax had one very pitiful as recently. A sailor brought aboard a young girl of sixteen and hid her in the coal bunkers. He fed her. But she was very seasick, and he abused her frightfully, and on the run from Newfoundland she had her feet and hands frozen. He got a jail sentence out of it, and the girl was sent back to her home in Newfoundland.
Steamers carrying food cargoes, such as fruit and other ready edibles, are favorites with the sea hoboes. Most of these ships are refrigerated, but some of them carry deck loads or hold cargoes of crated fruit. This ensures both food and drink to the hobo, who lies snug throughout the journey in among the crates he helped load, and then he slips overside in the night, when port is reached, and swims ashore.
It isn’t uncommon to find the dead body of a stowaway when a ship is discharging cargo. One fruit steamer found two dead stowaways who, in loading the ship in the West Indies, had left a space for themselves when the officer in charge of the loading was not looking. They had the hidden themselves in this space. But they had forgotten that even in a fair sea cargo will sometimes shift. During the voyage the ship rolled a good deal, and the pair were crushed to death by the crates of fruit.
Bodies have also been found in the coal bunkers, in the cargo hold, starved to death or crushed, and one poor boy had hidden himself underneath some planking in the hold and was drowned in bilge when the ship took on all her cargo.
In the old day of sailing ships, when stowaways faced death for a change of air, there was no Salvation Army, no colonial offices and agents to help a man on his way to the other side of the world. It is easy now to cross the sea one way or another within the law. Only the hoboes and the very desperate resort to stowing away.
The hoboes do it from habit. The desperate are never that desperate again.
The reference to a “cracked spark plug” likely is a callout to Spark Plug, the racehorse introduced in the comic strip Barney Google, which was wildly popular since his introduction in 1922. His first race became one of comics’ first national media events, eagerly anticipated by millions of newspaper readers. So great was the public’s enthusiasm that Billy DeBeck (the creator), who had been planning to retire him after that one storyline, made him a permanent part of the cast.
By Gregory Clark
A bright young man from Montreal landed in Halifax with $5,000 cash in his pocket.
He put up at the best hotel. He banked his money at the corner bank.
And then he walked promptly down to the waterfront.
Along the miles of docks he strolled, in and out of tiny, shabby lanes, in the shadow of tall ships, and little, fat, iron ships, and tidy old sailing ships. He talked with sailors and longshoremen, ship’s officers and the masters of schooners. He spent an hour or more in each of the dim little cafes that are to be found in Water street, talking to all who would spare the time to drink a cup of coffee or a snort of contraband Negrita rum at his invitation.
The second day in Halifax he spent in the company of the hotel clerk, of the manager of the bank where his money lay, and of a merchant from whom he purchased some collars.
The third day, four gentlemen lunched with him at his hotel. These four were strangers to him and he to them. They had come to lunch in answer to his telephoned invitation “to talk important business.”
“I have five thousand dollars,” the young man from Montreal was saying “It is all I have. It represents a bungalow which was my home, and the cash surrender value of my insurance policies.
“But I will contribute also my personal services. I have here personal references that will vouch for my honesty. You can wire Montreal for confirmation of these letters.
“The chartering of a two-masted schooner will cost us $1,500 for one trip, six weeks. The wages of captain, mate and crew, with bonuses, all set us back, roughly, another $1,000.
“Whiskey can be bought to-day at St. Pierre $23.50 a case, and sold off New York at $34.50. The profit is $11 a case.
“If each of you gentlemen will kick in ten thousand dollars, we can buy nearly two thousand cases at St. Pierre; and on the second leg the voyage, three thousand cases at Nassau.
“You can figure the profits…”
Two days later, from one of the docks off Water street, a trim schooner put to sea.
Aboard her was her master, who had just banked $1,500 to his credit before sailing. Aboard her also was the bright young man from Montreal. And in a locker in her cabin was the sum of $42,000 in cash.
The smart little schooner, of a hundred and fifty tons, fled nor’east before a fair wind out Halifax, and in three days anchored in the harbor of the island of St. Pierre, one of the two in the St. Pierre-Miquelon group, off the south coast of Newfoundland, which belongs to France.
There is no prohibition in France nor in her colonial possessions.
The warehouses on the wharves of St. Pierre are crammed with hundreds of thousands of cases of whiskey, rum, wines and liquors of every sort.
Big ocean steamers bring heavy cargoes of liquor to St. Pierre from Scotland and France.
But as fast as they bring it, small steamers and schooners take it away.
The young Montrealer was rowed ashore in the dinghy. He was directed to a building abutting on the docks of St. Pierre. There to a man at a counter he made known his request for a cargo of two thousand cases of whiskey, rum and wine, to total $42,000.
With another official, be arranged for a berth one of the docks. With the French customs officers he arranged for clearance of his cargo of booze to the port of Nassau, in the Bahamas.
And that night, his cargo of two thousand cases was loaded aboard the little schooner.
In four more days the schooner entered Halifax harbor. To excise officers who promptly demanded her clearance papers and manifest, it was shown that the schooner was merely putting in to Halifax for water and to drop a member the ship’s company.
The young Montreal man was put ashore, and after a few hours in harbor, the schooner went to sea again without him.
And he took train for New York, having made complete arrangements with the master of the schooner to meet him at certain point in the Ambrose Channel off New York seven days later.
In New York it did not take the young Montrealer seven days to find a purchaser for the two thousand cases. He dined two nights at a fashionable café, made the acquaintance of the head waiter in that time, and then asked him who in New York would like to pick up two thousand cases.
He was promptly introduced to his man.
Five days later, at dusk, a small steel tug, aboard which was the young man from Montreal and the fat gentleman who was buying the cargo, drew up alongside the schooner, which, true to its master’s word, was lying just where he said it would be lying in the Ambrose Channel.
The two thousand cases were transferred from the schooner to the tug.
And $66,000 cash was paid over to the Montrealer, who stowed it in the cabin locker, and instructed the skipper to set sail for Nassau at dawn.
Nassau is seven hundred miles below New York, off the Florida Coast. But the little schooner made the voyage, in spite of bad weather, in five days.
At Nassau, the Montrealer went ashore, and within an hour had purchased three thousand cases of Scotch whiskey. The schooner drew up alongside a large tramp steamer just in from Glasgow, and the cases were shifted from the big ship to the little two-master. On the schooner’s deck, the young man paid over $65,000 cash to the agent of the owners of the whiskey.
And cleared Nassau for St. Pierre.
But the schooner didn’t go to St. Pierre. It hauled into the Ambrose Channel about eight days later, after a rough passage.
By a passing launch, the young man sent a message ashore. And that night, aboard the same steel tug, came the same fat man, and took over the three thousand cases at $35 a case – a lump sum of $105,000 cash, paid over in $1,000 bills, in the cabin of the little fishing schooner.
The next morning, the schooner set sail for Halifax, where it arrived three days later and set ashore the young man and his wad of money. But because it was cleared from Nassau to St. Pierre, the schooner could not stop, and went on to St. Pierre, where it loaded with ballast, and cleared St. Pierre in ballast for Halifax.
The young man went to his hotel and called up his four partners.
They assembled at once to hear the news.
And $105,000 was split five ways pro rata, according to the investment of each.
The last reports on this bright young man is that he and his backers have dispensed with slow schooners and have chartered a steamship of the type known as a trawler, and are making the run between St. Pierre and Nassau, with intermediate store each way of the Jersey coast.
Instead of three thousand case lots, they are carrying thirty and forty thousand case lots.
They double their money each round trip.
There will be no shortage of motor cars in their families.
They are reputed millionaires.
By the greatest of good fortune for the rum runners, there are two ports of the Atlantic coast which do not demand clearance papers.
The laws of the sea are hard and fast laws. You can’t poke your nose into every port of the world and drop anchor. There are certain little formalities to be seen to. Officers come aboard and demand your clearance papers, from your last port of call. You have to show that the cargo mentioned in those papers is intact. You have to show that you have come direct from that port. They don’t allow loitering about the high seas.
But St. Pierre and Nassau in the Bahamas, beautifully positioned, one at the north end and one at the south end of the Atlantic coast, are not strict in the matter of clearance.
If you happen to drop anchor in Nassau, cleared from St. Pierre with a cargo of whiskey, why, nobody is going to pester you with questions if that cargo of whiskey has mysteriously disappeared between the port of clearance and the port of destination.
How ideal for the rumrunners!
A veritable flood of liquor is pouring into America from Europe through these two ports.
Many Canadian ships, from little fishing schooners to yachts, are employed in the trade.
And unbelievable fortunes are being made. The only difficulty is that, like all good things, too many get wise to it, and gum it up. Too many ships are peddling their goods off the coast nowadays. With the coming of spring, their number will be increased a hundredfold, it is expected.
The result is, that instead of whiskey selling at $60 a case off New York, with a profit of nearly $40 for the rumrunner, it has dropped to a little over $30.
Too many crooks spoil the broth. There is likely to be a glut of whiskey off New York and Boston this summer. The schooners that pick it up for $20 to $25 a case at Nassau will have to sell it a little over cost. Profits will be cut. A lot of good men will be ruined and go back to fishing and those other industries of the coast.
Off Halifax and certain other smaller ports of Nova Scotia which it would be cruel to mention, I visited some of the rumrunners.
Romance has come back to the sea, and especially to canvas. For half a century canvas has been on the wane. It has been reduced to fishing and to the carriage of certain foul-smelling commodities from little islands in the sea to the mainland. Sail had fallen to a pretty low ebb. The men who could sail a ship were few in number.
Then came the rum game, and the rattiest little old schooner came into its own. You could buy a pretty decent schooner for $6,000 or $7,000 before the rumrunning came in. Now they want twice that, if you can buy at all.
Many an old retired sailor, whose wisdom was all in canvas and the handling of a ship with sails, has been dug up out of his retirement to help man a rumrunner. It has been a great comeback. I talked with one old fellow of sixty-five who had gone ashore for good because he couldn’t compete with the boys on the steamers, and there was no more call for his cunning with canvas. He lived in simple poverty in a little village outside Halifax.
Now he is the mate of a three-masted tern schooner, making regular trips over the rum route, and he is getting not only mate’s pay but double pay as a bonus every trip. He has enough money to buy a pretty cottage to go home and die ashore. He has enough, in fact, as be pointed out himself, to get married on!
There is a sort of revival of the romance of the old privateering days in the game. The coast is filled with sailing ships as never in the last quarter century. All kinds of odd craft are making the winds work.
In the little cabin of one of the schooners I visited there were three shotguns hanging in racks upon the wall.
“What for?” I asked, “Shooting gulls?”
“Not them,” replied the skipper. “Those are for the preservation of law and order on the high seas. Those weapons are for the suppression of piracy. When we are lying in ‘rum row’ off the Jersey coast, every time a strange boat comes near, we man the bulwarks with those three guns, loaded with buckshot. There have been several cases of piracy – toughs from ashore coming aboard a helpless, honest ship and looting her cargo and her cash box.
“This trip I am exchanging those old double-barrelled guns for a set of modern pump guns that throw five charges of buckshot at a pretty good lick I’m told.”
One Halifax schooner master, by hard work all last year and the year before, had worked up a very decent business. He had amassed the overwhelming capital of $80,000. It is probable he never had a thousand dollars in the bank in the old days, though he toiled hard and dangerously at the fishing off the Banks. He risked his life and his ship in the most hazardous of callings for a very uncertain reward. Now he was rolling in wealth.
He made a trip down to Nassau and sunk the whole $80,000 in a cargo and brought it to the line-up of vessels off New York.
One of the “law-breakers” from shore came out – a big power boat – and he made his deal with a couple of foreigners.
They paid him in cash – $1,000 bills – the sum of $142,000.
And the skipper sailed tremulously for home. He took ballast at St. Pierre, and came to his home port in Nova Scotia. He was filled with dreams of founding a steamship business, of building a fine mansion, and living ashore for the rest of his life. As he sailed in the harbor he stood on deck picking a nice site for his future home.
When he plunked his fabulous fortune down In front of the teller in the bank, dazed with the thrill of it, he was the proudest sailor ever home from the sea.
The teller began to count the bills.
Then be stopped and fingered them.
A started look came into his face.
“What’s this?” he exclaimed. “Where’d you get this stuff?”
The $142,000 was all in counterfeit $1,000 bills.
The skipper was flat broke.
When two foreign gents arrived in Halifax some time later looking for a schooner to break into the game, some friends of the old skipper brought them to him.
Yes, he knew the ropes. He would willingly charter his ship and hire out as master of it.
“We’re from New York,” said the strangers. “The game is too crooked down there. It is all in the hands of one big gang. There is no profits for the little dealer. It all goes in graft. So we’ve come up here to break in from the outside.
Their plan was this: they would put supercargo of their own selection on board the schooner, and he would go with the ship to St. Pierre where a five-thousand-case cargo would be bought and delivered off New York to these men personally. A date was set. Another foreigner, of the gunman type, was introduced to the skipper, and he set sail.
The run to St. Pierre is only 400 miles from Halifax and can be made in three or four days’ fair sailing. But it was a bit rough. And the old skipper rolled that schooner through the trough all the way. The result was that the landlubber supercargo was a pretty dead specimen when they made St. Pierre.
He could hardly make the purchase, he was so upset. And when it came to getting aboard again for the long run to New York, he couldn’t be persuaded.
So the old skipper advised him to take steamer from St. Pierre to Halifax, and there the schooner would call and pick him up, so sparing him the worst part of the voyage.
The gunman, out of his element, with promises that his bosses would never find out, agreed.
But at Halifax he was as fearful of the next leg of the voyage for a storm was raging at sea and the skipper was determined to set sail.
So another arrangement was made, whereby the seasick supercargo could come aboard the schooner at New York a day before his bosses were to come aboard; and all would be well.
The skipper was such an honest old man!
He made the Ambrose Channel the evening the gunman was to meet him.
Presently, with the flashlamp signals arranged on, the unfaithful supercargo came alongside in a small launch, very sick and frightened.
“Beat It!” cried the skipper. “Your bosses came out last night and found us and took the cargo off. They are sure looking for your hide.”
Without a sound, the terrified gunman fled into the dark.
That same night, with his knowledge of the game, the old skipper found a buyer for the 5,000 cases in his hold among the small craft cruising out from shore. He got his money, $35 a case, $175,000, and he made dead certain that it was real money that time.
The following night, which was the first night agreed for the rendezvous, the two foreigners came aboard, vastly excited and delighted.
“What?” exclaimed the old skipper. “Here again!”
In moment pandemonium was loose on that schooner.
“Why,” said the skipper, “your supercargo went ashore to get you last night and came off about midnight with you, in a steel tug. Wasn’t it you? You don’t mean to say it wasn’t you?”
“Did they take the booze?” screamed the owners.
“You certainly did! Now don’t try pulling any tricks on me,” cried the old skipper.
And he bundled them off his ship.
They are probably still looking for that double crossing supercargo. And he is as faithfully avoiding them.
And the old skipper has his money back.
“Anyway,” he is reported to have said, “landlubbers haven’t any business in this sea-going trade.”
There are risks in the game. For one thing, no insurance can be got on either cargo or ship. Losses, when they occur, are heavy losses.
One man I talked to is a shipowner. Rumor has it that he is not missing the opportunity to invest circumspectly in the game.
He recently chartered a small two-hundred-ton steamer for one trip of about one month’s duration for $7,000. He further obtained from the man who chartered it (an American) a bond for $40,000, the value of the little vessel, to guarantee that it would break no laws or otherwise get into trouble.
That is a good rent, eh?
The Nova Scotia people generally, who have all the liquor they want despite their prohibition law, feel that Canada is missing a great opportunity to pay off the national debt in not going heartily into the rum-running game in large way.
But the rum-runners themselves complain that too many people are in the game already.
They are talking of the “good old days”. That’s a bad sign – for them.
By the good old days they mean a year ago, when a case off New York sold for $60.
And their hearts are further steeped in gloom with the news that the United States government is making an effort to have the British and French governments put the lid on St. Pierre and Nassau by requiring strict clearance papers in and out of all ports of call.
This will mean that rum-running will become a pure smuggling game, and cargoes from Europe will have to be transferred from big ships to little ships on the high seas.
And that’s a game only mariners can play.
And only the mariners are glad.
Editor’s Notes: There are a lot of prices listed here but $1 in 1923 equals about $15.80 in 2022. So, for example:
$60 = $950
$5,000 = $79,000
$42,000 = $663,000
$142,000 = $2,243,000