The Rewards of having a website: More Rum Running Tales

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Even though it’s been going on three years now since my last book, The Real Story of West Coast Rum Running hit the streets, it is still prov­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly re­ward­ing hav­ing a web­site up where folks are able to con­nect with me via my Blog. The lat­est re­sponse I re­ceived was from David Ferguson, who point­ed out that it was his fa­ther, “Davie” Ferguson, on p. 267 stand­ing out on the deck of the dis­trib­u­tor boat, Ryou II, be­hind George Butts and “Sparky” Miles. “My fa­ther’, Fergie, ap­pears in some of your pic­tures, but not in the text. I am not sur­prised. He al­most al­ways kept his thoughts, and cer­tain­ly his feel­ings to himself.”

Then there was Gary Cullen over in Tsawwassen who filled me in on the tale of Rosie Broun, a young lady liv­ing out on Port Roberts right next to the bor­der in a big house known as the ‘goat ranch’ or ‘snake farm.’ Here she was op­er­at­ing an aer­i­al tramway for load­ing boats run­ning in across from Washington state. Here on dark nights when there was no one around liquor car­goes were loaded and run south. Also, an­oth­er woman down in Renton, Washington, con­tact­ed me to fill me in on her husband’s great uncle, Louis Bussanich’s, ad­ven­tures back when he was ac­tive­ly in­volved in the trade. He and part­ner, J. Rice, made the news in Victoria after they were bust­ed in October 1928 by Canadian Customs in the Hoozit, “one of the neat­est speed­boats brought into Victoria” for being in Canadian wa­ters eager to pick up a load of liquor with­out re­port­ing them­selves. Bussanich later died down in Puget Sound after his ‘fast run­ner’ was shelled by a U.S. Coast Guard boat and sank.

Another per­son who con­tact­ed me just so hap­pened to be the niece of Sidney V. Elvy who was cook aboard the moth­er ship Federalship when she was seized on March 1, 1927, off the California coast. After the steam­er was brought into San Francisco all the of­fi­cers, crew, along with the own­ers, were jailed and put on trial. During their search of the steam­er, the Coast Guard hap­pened to come across a poem in Captain Stuart Stone’s cabin ti­tled “Hail, Ale, Gang’s All Here!” After being found in­no­cent of all charges and the crew were all set free, Sidney V. Elvy signed on aboard the 76-foot schooner, Noble, as cook. Upon their re­turn from Rum Row, Ensenada head­ed back home to Vancouver and en­coun­ter­ing thick fog while search­ing for the en­trance to Juan de Fuca Strait on January 1st, 1928, the Noble was caught in heavy swells off Escalante Reefs and sank with Sidney Elvy, along with three other crew mem­bers, los­ing their lives.

Still, what was prob­a­bly most re­ward­ing con­nec­tion I’ve made so far, was with Norma Warris, whose fa­ther was David Stanley, a ‘busi­ness’ part­ner of Archie MacGillis who was op­er­at­ing his big-time rum-run­ning op­er­a­tion out of Coal Harbour while Prohibition was un­der­way south of the line. After her fill­ing me in on all that her dad was well im­mersed in, she most kind­ly passed over his orig­i­nal doc­u­ments that he had held onto from those days. I felt I had struck it rich! And the wire­less mes­sage fea­tured above? It was sent out by Archie MacGillis over to David Stanley in Honolulu who was tak­ing care of their trade op­er­a­tions in Hawaii. And do note, that a 1924 dol­lar is worth some fif­teen dol­lars in today’s money.

Wreck of the Uzbekistan

Wreck of the Uzbekistan

This past August I found my­self on the in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful and fab­u­lous West Coast Trail which runs along the out­side coast of Vancouver Island.  I was as­signed to Pachena Point light sta­tion for a month-long post­ing work­ing as a re­lief light­keep­er but what was par­tic­u­lar­ly mov­ing was that I was sit­ting right be­side the Graveyard of the Pacific where my fa­ther had been in­volved with a res­cue op­er­a­tion of a ship up on the beach some 77 years earlier.

On April 2, 1943, in the midst of World War II, HMCS Outarde the Royal Canadian Navy minesweep­er which my fa­ther, Dick James, was serv­ing aboard as an Able Seaman, hap­pened to be en­gaged in minesweep­ing op­er­a­tions out in Juan de Fuca Strait. Then they re­ceived or­ders that they were to pro­ceed at full speed to the scene of a strand­ed ship up on the beach just two miles down from Pachena Point. This was the Russian lend-lease freighter S.S. Uzbekistan which had been launched from a ship­yard in St. Nazaire, France in 1937 and mea­sured 326 feet in length and was 3039 reg­is­tered tons.

The freighter slipped her moor­ings in Portland, Oregon, the morn­ing of April 1st, 1943, and was bound for Seattle where she was to load lend-lease sup­plies for Vladivostok. Unfortunately, with a south­east gale blow­ing bring­ing with it lim­it­ed vis­i­bil­i­ty, once up along the out­side coast of the Olympic penin­su­la, they missed see­ing the light of the Umatilla buoy. Then when they did fi­nal­ly see a flash­ing light they mis­took it as that of the Umatilla. They had made a grave error, in­stead, it was that of the Swiftsure buoy sit­ting out off the en­trance to Juan de Fuca Strait. As a re­sult, the cap­tain held his ship on a steady norther­ly course which had them head­ed right into the out­side coast of Vancouver Island. To make mat­ters worse both the lights at Cape Beale and Pachena Point had been shut down fol­low­ing the shelling of the Estevan Point light sta­tion a lit­tle far­ther up the out­side coast by the Japanese sub I‑26 on the 20th of June the year before.

HMCS Outarde, with my fa­ther aboard, ar­rived off­shore at the scene of the strand­ed ves­sel late the af­ter­noon of April 2nd to find her ground­ed some 150 yards off the beach sit­ting broad­side up against a rocky shelf just off the mouth of the Darling River. While there were some U.S. coast guard and Canadian naval pa­trol ves­sels sit­ting off­shore ready to as­sist with a res­cue, it was the Outarde’s whaler car­ry­ing a land­ing party of 11 men that were able to make it in along­side the Uzbekistan. Unfortunately though, as the whaler ap­proached the strand­ed ship and what with a strong sea pound­ing against her hull, she was car­ried around in­side her bow. Here the whaler was caught in the break­ers and hurled for­ward in the surf to be swamped but luck­i­ly was de­posit­ed up­right among the rocks well in­shore. The Russian crew who had all land­ed safe­ly and were camped out just up off the beach went down to lend the whaler’s crew a hand.

After sig­nal­ing be­tween ship and shore, the Outarde’s land­ing party left the beach that evening to head off to Pachena Point where arrange­ments were made to ac­com­mo­date the sailors. Here they re­ceived a good meal and beds for the night. The next morn­ing the Outarde flashed a sig­nal to Pachena in­struct­ing the land­ing party to head out on the trail for Bamfield where they would be picked up to re­join their ship.

So there I was some 77 years later after this major ship loss, out on Pachena Point. Then with some half-de­cent weath­er and a good low tide one af­ter­noon, I hiked down the beau­ti­ful West Coast Trail to her wreck site. It re­quired a bit of search­ing and with some scram­bling out over the rocky shelf, I fi­nal­ly came across what lit­tle was left of the Uzbekistan. There it was, its huge boil­er sit­ting out there with the surf pound­ing over it.
boiler in the sea

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