Those who actively and enthusiastically participated have only vague and hazy recollections of what took place during those giddy days following the explosion of the shrimp boat, Gilberto, Thanksgiving morning 1977. Not because they’re getting up there in years and their memories are fading. Nope, but because they were stoned — baked, blitzed, cooked and fried. The boat was packed with Columbian marijuana.
Forty years ago parents in homes across the island were hollering down the hall at junior, screaming: “That better be an incense candle I smell coming from your room!” And more than a few of those parents were sitting around listening to Elvis the first time he was alive, dancing the Funky Chicken and the Bump, and even thought Bob Dylan’s lyrics made sense, because they’d done some beach combing themselves.
Kevin McCarthy, owner of the Amelia River Cruises, was one of the few clear-eyed witnesses to what happened that day.
“It was Thanksgiving morning and the foggiest morning I can ever remember on the island,” recalls Kevin, who along with his family and brothers, was visiting his parents, Harley and Alice, at their North Fletcher residence to celebrate the holiday.
“Someone called and said a shrimp boat loaded with marijuana was floundering in the jetties off Fort Clinch and had exploded,” says Kevin. “My brothers and I drove into Fort Clinch about 11 a.m. and saw the boat aground near the pier, just after it exploded.”
A variety of reports indicated that the “Gilberto” was loaded with 25 tons of marijuana, much of it on the deck, and that the Columbian crew set fire to it to destroy the evidence. Instead the fuel tanks exploded and had “Columbian gold” raining down all over the island.
“We saw the stuff everywhere,” said Kevin. “It was in the water, washed up on the beach, in the dunes — everywhere. People were hiding in sand dunes running out to grab it, and the police were chasing them up and down the beach.”
After about 48 hours Kevin said the cops were exhausted and gave up, while marijuana was scattered from one end of the island to the other, some of it even washing up across the sound on Cumberland Island.
“Topsy Smith, a local policeman who owned a gas station where Tasty’s is now at the corner of Centre and 8th Street South, loaded his pickup truck with bales of it and I heard that some of it was disposed of by burning it at one of the paper mills,” adds Kevin.
A commemorative shirt was even made saying: “Thanksgiving 1977 – Fernandina Beach, Florida – 25 Tons,” and featured a large marijuana leaf.
“Paul Rider, who made and sold those shirts made much more than people trying to sell soggy diesel-soaked pot,” said Kevin, who adds that around this time of the year he relates the story to people on his cruise boats. “Many times, following the cruise, locals who were on the boat, come up to me and quietly tell me their stories about that day.”
News reports say that among those buying the shirts were “police officers, attorneys, firemen, newsmen, sheriff deputies and those who had benefited from the wreck.”
Three crew members of the Gilberto, awaiting trial at Nassau County Jail, also requested T-shirts and were given them free of charge by Rider.
Soon Pajamadave Voorhees, who operates PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden and Pajama Life at 12 South 2nd Street along with his fiancé Zan Maddox, will be marketing replicas of the iconic shirt for $25 with $4.00 of each sale being contributed to the local police department.
The 1977 News Leader quoted Frank Chadwick, an agent for U.S. Customs in Jacksonville, saying it was “one of the biggest hauls of marijuana ever brought into the country on a vessel that size.” The value of the marijuana was estimated at the time to be about $18 million said the paper.
The world was informed about the event on the evening news that Thanksgiving Day when Walter Cronkite broadcast the fact that 25 tons of marijuana washed ashore on Amelia Island, sparking calls to local residents from friends, relatives and acquaintances they hadn’t heard from in a while.
Fernandina’s Flight Of Fancy: While making a decision concerning the new airport terminal building last week the Fernandina Beach City Commission reached rock bottom and began digging.
The commission voted 4-1 to borrow $337,500 from the airport’s new fixed base operator, Eight Flags Aviation, to add a tail and nose to its $4.2 million winged terminal building, a design that serves absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever. The design is intended to make the building look like a F4U Corsair that flew out of the airport during World War II. A couple of framed photos of the old plane in a cheaper more practical building would appear to be tribute enough, but nobody asked me.
Commissioner Roy Smith, a former private construction executive, expressed the lone opposition, rightly saying that building the terminal to resemble an airplane is: “a waste of money.”
Smith said: “I can’t see spending money that does nothing other than affect the looks of the building.” He is correct as the wings, tail and nose are purely decorative, and serve no practical purpose at all. Commissioner Smith also correctly pointed out that the money is tax payer money even if some of it comes from grants. “We all pay federal taxes and that money comes from tax payers,” he explains.
I usually agree with most of Commissioner Tim Poynter’s positions on city issues, but his argument on this one is wrong in so many ways it’s hard to keep count.
Lame duck Commissioner Poynter, who lost the most recent election to Philip “The Listener” Chapman, outrageously said the money: “….isn’t tax payer dollars, no matter how many times people want to say it is. We all pay taxes – I get it. But this isn’t coming out of our ad valorem taxes here in the city.” Hey, Commissioner since it’s not from private foundations, philanthropists, or rich Uncle Louis, where does the money come from? Geez Louise, you’re smarter than that Commissioner Poynter. Commissioner Smith is right, it’s tax payer money, even if that tax payer lives in Topeka or Sopchoppy.
In another convoluted defense of the nutty plan, Mr. Poynter said the airplane design would bring money into the city’s coffers because it will be a point of pride. Huh? He then launched into one of the silliest arguments of the meeting implying that wealthy people flying to Amelia Island for the Concourse de’Elegegance would continue to come here and spend the $17 million a year the TDC (Tourist Development Commission) says they do, because of the new design. No really, that was his argument.
“Do you really believe we would have Concourse here if we didn’t have the airport five minutes away from the Ritz where these rich people are flying in to buy millions of dollars worth of cars, and then flying out?” asked Poynter.
“Hey, Mr. Buffett are you going to the Amelia Island Concourse this year and buy a few million dollars worth of old cars?”
“Nah, Mr. Gates, I’m skipping it until they get an airport terminal there that looks like an airplane and install vending machines with more variety.”
Apparently Commissioner Poynter thinks these wealthy car-buying moguls and their pilots would boycott this classy event if they couldn’t land their private planes at an airport that didn’t boast a terminal building that looks like an airplane. Does Mr. Poynter really believe that these wealthy people and their pilots who never spent any time at all in the old terminal building, are now going to flock to the new “looks-like-an-airplane” one eager to shove money into soda and chip vending machines, hang around, chat with the Hertz Rental Car guy, and watch airplanes land and take off?
In the past they immediately jumped into their waiting limos and headed to the Ritz Carlton or Omni Resort. But the Ritz and Omni don’t look like airplanes. They’re just resort hotels with several bars, golf courses and tennis courts, award winning restaurants, concierges, shops, swimming pools, tiki bars, ocean views, live music and superior service. Why rush over there when they can hang out at the it “looks-like-an-airplane” terminal building and buy a bag of Fritos?
Commissioner Johnny Miller, in full Moonbeam Miller mode, defended the loopy idea of adding a tail and a nose saying: “I think it’s a bad idea to cut the nose off of it. I think, literally, if we do that, we are cutting off the nose of that building to save our face.” I don’t know what he’s talking about either folks.
If Commissioners Miller, Poynter, Len Kreger and Robin Lentz are correct, then maybe local businesses including restaurants and bars, should add appropriate appendages to their establishments to attract wealthy big spenders. However, it doesn’t appear to be working very well for the downtown marina which currently resembles the Titanic.
Stiff Arming The NFL: Local VFW Post 4351, American Legion Post 54, PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden, Sliders and I’m not sure how many more, not only cancelled their NFL ticket subscriptions, but vowed never to show future games featuring the disrespectful NFL’s national anthem kneeling knuckleheads again. This past Sunday — Veterans Day weekend– at PJD’s, patrons were treated to the 1976 Mel Brooks film “Blazing Saddles”, 1970s Monty Python BBC episodes, and more. When folks came in asking for the NFL they were told by PJ Dave, whose late brother, Joe, was a U.S. Navy SEA, “Not here!” He also had a sandwich board out front saying “Join us to NOT watch the NFL.” Many came in because of the sign and told PJ Dave how proud they were of him for blacking out the disgusting NFL kneelers. Nationally the anti-NFL mood is spreading as even Anheuser Busch has set up a hot line for folks to call to provide their opinion on whether the giant beer company should pull its NFL ads. It provides callers a minute to express their opinions and in a recording says they have great respect for veterans and currently employ some 1,100. Call them at 800-DIAL-BUD (342-5283) if you want to give your opinion. I suggested the company do what the king in a current Bud Light ad suggests and send the shameless NFL “to the pit of misery.”
Speaking Of The NFL: Just when you think they couldn’t do any more damage to their brand, they do. Lou Weiss, a Pittsburgh carpet salesman, who is a frequent and very clever contributor to the WSJ editorial pages, provided an opinion this past Monday (11/13/2017) headlined “Football Needs Some Real Drama” that laughingly took NFL players to task for their goofy mimes, skits, and nonsense following touchdowns, sacks, interceptions, etc. Mr. Weiss suggests that the NFL players be awarded points for their “creative displays.” For example he says “Imagine T.J. Watt as Stanley Kowalski dropping to his knees after a sack and yowling ‘Flacco?’ That’s worth a point,” says Mr. Weiss. He adds that Odell Beckham’s fake naps should become an homage to “Goodnight Moon” and that his urinating claptrap might reference “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Both worth a point he says. I suggest it be taken a bit further and teams should have a point deducted from their score for each member of their squad that kneels during the national anthem.
The Left’s Linguistic Gymnastics: Atlanta friend Benita Dodd who is also vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation says: “Don’t you find it interesting that the U.S. Senate plan to eliminate the mandate to have health insurance, that is, the “individual mandate,” translates somehow in the news into ‘millions of people will lose their insurance’? You mean that if you don’t force people to do something they may choose not do it?”
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: The Sadler Road restaurant La Mancha, is no more from what I hear. Apparently it has closed and no one I know can tell me why or where it went. If anyone reading this knows please post a comment and tell us. Also, Arte, the pizza emporium on North 3rd Street has changed hands and I’m told it has been purchased by a group of Arte employees who will resume full table service. Now if they can only do something about the acoustics. The North 2nd Street Pablo’s Mexican restaurant may not move into the old Alley Cat location on Centre Street as originally planned, but again I can’t confirm that either. Anyone?