The Arathusa Room
Bill McCoy was arguably the most famous of the rum runners and is credited with starting the whole commercial practice of rum running. With the start of Prohibition Captain McCoy began bringing rum from Bimini and the rest of the Bahamas into south Florida through Government Cut (a man made shipping channel between Miami Beach and Fisher Island). The Coast Guard quickly caught up with him. This resulted in McCoy’s greatest innivation – bringing the illegal liquor to an area just outside of the U.S. territorial waters and letting smaller boats and other captains take the risk of bringing it to shore.
The rum-running business was very good, and McCoy soon bought a Gloucester knockabout schooner named Arethusa at auction and renamed her Tomoka. He installed a larger auxiliary, mounted a concealed machine gun on her deck and refitted the fish pens below to accommodate as much contraband as she could hold. She became one of the most famous of the rum-runners, along with his two other ships hauling mostly Irish and Canadian whiskey, as well as other fine liquors and wines, to ports from Maine to Florida.
In the days of rum running, it was common for captains to water down their liquor to increase their profits, or to re-label it as better goods. Any cheap sparkling wine became French champagne, unbranded liquor became top-of-the-line name brands. McCoy became famous for never watering his booze, and selling only top brands. This is one of several reputed origins of the term “The Real McCoy.”
On November 15 1923, McCoy and Tomoka encountered the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, just outside U.S. territorial waters. A boarding party attempted to board, but McCoy chased them off with the machine gun. Tomoka tried to run, but the Seneca placed a shell just off her hull, and Bill McCoy’s days as a rum-runner were over.