The Whiskey Boat

It was a time not all that too long ago in the US of A when some God fearing, right thinking individuals got together enough political clout and, with God on their side, succeeded to have a federal law passed to impose a prohibition on the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Distilled, fermented, or brewed. No matter. Prohibition. No alcohol!

It was the time of Shirley Temple, after all. Which, as you probably know, became the name of a non-alcohol drink . . . for kids. FYI . . . It's ginger ale with a shot of maraschino cherry juice. Garnish to high heaven. That way you'll get your kid to want to have a real drink as soon as they come of age. In any event, now that we can once again imbibe, try a "Dirty Shirley" cocktail.

Also, it was a time when drinking alcoholic beverages, by some estimates, soared to an all time high. By the boat load, if you will. Nothing like forbidding something to get the folks interested.


That boat. It was a salty dog of a boat. It was a wood boat. Good hand work. Long. 70 foot long, to be exact.  Good 30 foot at its widest to accommodate big loads. In fact, that rig had enough capacity on any day of the week to carry up slightly in excess of 800 whiskey crates, or so. Now, that's a big load. And, remember, back in the day, whiskey cases were made of wood. Sturdy, heavy wood. Built to be used again, and again. That added bookoos to the load.

But the beam was set wide purposely for such work. 

It was open except for a small enclosed housing over the pilot's wheel, which was well forward on the deck and just aft of the bow. A lapstrake hull, painted shiny blue, with dark varnished wood rails and bright trims. The use of purple was an homage to the Purple Gang, that feared bunch who trafficked Canadian whiskey into the US from Cananda by night across the narrows of the Detroit River. 

You'd think with such a wide beam for its length, and the board over board lapstrake hull construction, that boat wouldn't be worth a damn for smuggling. Maybe steady as she goes, but not much for maneuvering. And slow. True enough. Except for the assist from those twin Rolls-Royce 27 liter V12 Merlins. The very same unit which later in WWII would become legendary in its application in the iconic Spitfire fighter. But, mind you, these were completely blue-printed and hot-rodded all on up. 

That twin screw rig flew. In fact, unladen, with an inexperienced pilot at the helm, that beast could literally go airborne in a heart beat. And, as you can see, the engines were painted blue. Nice touch, huh? Noting that "Blue-printed" means the units were taken down to every individual piece and verified for close tolerance to spec. Everything also mangafluxed too. Lucy, you need to be esplained what is that? Do you? That's a process to determine structural integrity; no cracks or crazes, especially on inner engine block surfaces with moving contacts; as in, pistons and cylinders or cams and rockers.



In fact, the boat was designed to be operated only with a big load. The horsepower developed by those two beastly engines could plough that boat through the roughest seas. The load was ballast. Straight line trajectory momentum of a hydroplane racing boat. 40 knots per hour if need be.

And . . . Oh, yes! How the heck they engineered the connection between the ship's wheel so far forward and the rudder so long a way in back is anybody's guess? Keep in mind, this was well before even the idea of drive by wire was, well, an idea. 

You know, "drive by wire"? Electronic sensors at the steering wheel  — not mechanical, like the typical series of mechanical connections using actual wires or rod linkages  sending an electrical signal to actuate mechanisms at the intended end point of the action; in this particular instance, the rudder. They have that on automobiles; it's still rather high tech, built into a lot of race cars. You can have "By-Wire" technology not just for steering, but now for braking and accelerator too. And, shifting the tranny. 


It goes like this: Human Input (steering, braking, acceleration, gear shifting)—SensorElectronic SignalElectro-MechanismActuator Output—Result. Get it, drive by wire. Electric wire. 

The benefit is it's precise and instantaneous. Less effort too. Our old Mercedes Benz 300D had a Rube Goldberg kind of accelerator linkage from the pedal to the carburetor. Push the pedal and you could actually sense the mechanism moving sequentially at its own pace until the last point at the carburetor. The slowest car in town. The downside of drive by wire is that, as reliable and consistent as it is, if the electronics fail, you are, as they say, dead in the water. Can't get out and rejigger the thing to get it going again. Also, with such an electronic set up they have to engineer feedback and feel back into the process. Like the difference driving a vehicle without power assist steering and one with too much power assist. One develops shoulder muscles, the other lulls you into somnambulance.

Now that you are sufficiently educated, let's move along. Look. I know it was a long tangent. But, now you know. So . . . You are welcome!

This was a stealth boat, made for the doing of clandestine deeds. No frills. Except for the paint job and trim, that is. Directly below decks, a small galley and a bunk. Toilet facilities? Nah. There's the deck rail for that. Purpose built for  the transportation of whiskey and proofed spirits from still to swill. Why, you might ask, about the shiny blue paint job? He was a proud sailor, first. Certainly with a sense of style. It was an image thing. The ladies thought so, anyway. There was quite the buzz in the brothels dockside when he arrived. He packed a full load. No pun intended. They were all a twitter with excited anticipation when they saw him sliding his big rig, slow but sure, into its tight berth. Once again, no pun . . . 

Fortunately is was a calm night, that night, on the bay. The boat was loaded to the gills. Just one more bottle of hooch and the deck would have submarined under the water. It was watertight enough to meet such a situation. But, how much daring-do and death defying do you have to do just to make a buck?




Oh, he had shipped out in heavy seas with that kind of tonnage, but tonight the sea was calm. Lucky. The moon shone full. Not so lucky. With that vanity paint job he just had to have, a moonlit night . . . well, might as well be hauling in the middle of the day. Not to put too fine a point on it, you could see him. Plain as day. And, you can be sure, they were looking for him too.

In such a trade, you have your enemies. If it's not the sea itself, then it might be some damned bandits looking to pirate a quick score. Even the government had a dog in the hunt. Dog? Dogs! Plenty of guys in the Bureau of Prohibition, young turks out to make a name and a career for themselves. Didn't really give a good goddamn of a stinkin' crap whether anybody actually drank whiskey or not. Just playing the career game to the hilt. Those guys were even more ruthless and pesky than the felonious bums who would rob you for all your worth. Or, even, for a mere fraction of what you might be worth. After getting money, getting ahead is the all out goal.


The moon, too. With that shiny blue hull, the moonlight lit that boat up plenty. Might as well could have had a spotlight on it. You could see it lighting there there on that silky sea silhouetted in the otherwise inky blackness of the water, careening across the bay like some . . . what? Words fail. What do you call a glowing mass in the middle of a jet black sea, speeding like a demon and moving like some meteor? 


Naturally, and as you would suspect, they had him in their sights as soon as he made his way to the half way point on the bay. That bay must've been an easy five miles wide. Sometimes he would take the long way, just to mix it up and confuse them; which made it a fifty or so mile trip. Tonight, he couldn't waste any time. Bills to pay. Customers in a hurry to sell some intoxicants. And, imbibe.


His was the fastest boat on the water that night. When a cloud would darken the sky, he would take evasive maneuvers. After about an hour of being given heavy chase, he gave them the sliperoo. Nearly drank up all the fuel. He literally had to coast her in. That fuel tank came in thirsty too. Some irony, huh?


And, speaking of ironies, at the brothel that evening all the players gathered. Present and accounted for. Our smuggler captain, the pirates, even the G-men. Now was time for drinking and whoring. Never mind they had their differences by day. A job is only a job. Just because you spend the day robbing, or chasing felons, doesn't mean you have to keep up the act around the clock. Besides, when there's booze and babes, you know that's what you put your pants on in the morning for in the first place. 

Justice. Ha! So called justice would wait. Not tonight, though. Now to do a bottle and a dame some justice. Uncle Sam could wait too.  



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