On the morning of December 29th, 1922, the British Schooner Annie L. Spindler, sailing out of Yarmouth, in the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia, ran aground on the shoreline of Race Point Beach. The ship, dubbed "The Rum Runner" by those who knew her, came ashore almost exactly in front of the U. S. Coast Guard Station at Race Point, carrying what else but around 600 cases of Canadian Whiskey!
A lookout on duty at the station had spotted the vessel some ten minutes before she struck the shoreline. A terrible storm had churned up the waters, and the lookout could see that the ship's captain and his crew of five men had lashed themselves to the ship's rigging to keep from being swept overboard as the ship was tossed about by the enormous waves pushing it ever closer to the shoreline, its distress signals flying.
The seas were too rough to launch the surf boat to rescue the ship's crew, so Coast Guard Captain Irving Collins used a small canon called a Lyle gun to shoot a line out over the bow of the ship, and a breeches buoy was set up to rescue one man at a time as the pounding waves began slowly breaking the ship apart.
Picture a rope pulled taught between the mast of the ship and a crew of men on the shore, with a lifesaving ring, or buoy, hanging like a doughnut floating in the fryer, from a pulley attached to that rope. Got the picture? Now imagine a pair of breeches (a pair of pants,) attached to the buoy as if it were a huge waistband for the pants, which were hanging beneath the buoy, with the legs dangling in mid air. One at a time, a man on the ship would climb into that pair of pants, with the buoy circling his waist, and be pulled ashore by the crew of men on the beach. This breeches buoy, or beach apparatus, as it was sometimes called, was used to save the lives of hundreds of sailors over the years. Click the following link to see a four minute movie showing how the breeches buoy
Despite the snow flurries in the air that day, and the bitterly cold wind from the north, local people gathered on the beach by the hundreds all day long, watching as the receding tide left the ship lying broadside on the beach, completely out of the water, as the waves continued to thunder ashore and slowly dismantle the ship.
This was in the early days of Prohibition in the United States, when it was illegal in this country to manufacture or distribute alcohol. Some of the folks gathered on the shoreline cared less about the rescue of the ship's crew than they did about the possibility of getting their hands on a case or two of whiskey, but no such luck, apparently.
According to one account I read, they all went home empty-handed after spending most of the day waiting for cases of whiskey to be washed out of the hold of the ship, all the while trying to keep themselves warm against the winds and the storm.
I've read legends about folks rowing or even swimming out after cases of whiskey bobbing on the waves, which seems rather unlikely given the severe weather and dangerous seas that day. Of course, after all, this was
Provincetown, so anything might
have been possible.
Another report mentioned a couple of hundred cases of recovered whiskey stored in a sort of warehouse shed while the Coast Guard, courts, and customs service determined what should be done with the contraband, but when the shed was opened following the proceedings, all but a few cases of that good Canadian whiskey had mysteriously disappeared.
Other accounts I read raised the ships cargo of whiskey to some 800 cases, and one told of a house-to-house search by the authorities, looking for any sign of the purloined hootch, with not a single bottle being found. Of course, Provincetown fishermen and their families were all certainly clever enough to have hidden a few bottles where they would never be discovered.
I'll write more about the rum runners, shipwrecks, and the early U.S. Life-Saving Service, which evolved into today's Coast Guard, in future posts. Meanwhile, read the original New York Times article on the wreck of the Annie L Spindler