Island Issues

This Thanksgiving Marks 40th Anniversary Of Amelia Island’s “Highest” Level

This Thanksgiving Marks 40th Anniversary Of Amelia Island’s “Highest” Level

Next week Amelia Island will celebrate the 40th anniversary of what would be a very memorable event if any of those involved could remember what the hell it was.

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.

Pajama Dave’s commemorative shirt

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.”

The “It looks like an airplane terminal.”

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?


J. Effingham Bellweather - 11. Dec, 2017 -

J. Effingham Bellweather - 04. Dec, 2017 -

Dave, I read with interest, one of your fans correcting you regarding weather Americans have been woken up by the snowflakes in the NFL. He must be watching a different league.

Steve Crounse - 20. Nov, 2017 -

Hey Dave, I know your Boycotting The NFL, but I told you I’d keep up updated on your beloved Red Skins. Seems you missed a barn burner on Sunday. I’m sure you were having a great time watching old reruns of “the thin man” Anyway your team was up by 15 points with less than 3 minutes to go. The Danny, was thrilled you should have seen the Hi-Fives going around. But then New Orleans had to mess it up by making two touchdowns and a two point conversion. Then in overtime. Well. 34 to 31 New Orleans. But getting back to the boycott, did you see all the empty seats in the stands? Neither did I, other than a few seats empty at the Cleveland Game, (It’s Cleveland) all the stands seemed packed, and Mexico, did you see any available seats in the 120,000 seat Soccer Stadium.? Or the Eagle, Cowboy game? You wouldn’t have seen that, your Boycotting the NFL. How about the news of Poppa Johns owner, John Schnatter apologizing to the NFL and the fans. Seems it wasn’t the Kneeling players that were effecting the sales of his Pizza Pies, Come to find out, it was the Cost and Quality of his product. Remember his store in town? they closed, he couldn’t compete. Oh Ya, Did you see the latest GQ cover? Colin Kaepernick GQ’s Man of the year, “American Hero” I’m sure GQ will lose a couple Subscriptions over it. Have a great week Dave. Ps Don’t cheat on the boycott, people are watching.!!

Dave Lott - 20. Nov, 2017 -

Dave, while I also think the airplane design of the new terminal building is a huge waste of money, let me add some clarity about the source of the grant monies from the FAA. The monies are not direct taxpayer assessments but come out of the FAA Trust Fund established in 1970. According to the FAA, “the Trust Fund provides the primary source of funding for FAA and receives revenues principally from a variety of excise taxes paid by users of the national airspace system. The excise taxes are imposed on domestic passenger tickets, domestic flight segments, and international passenger arrivals and departures, and on purchases of air travel miles for frequent flyer and similar programs. In addition, taxes are imposed on air cargo waybills and aviation fuel purchases. The largest source of excise tax revenues are related to transportation of passengers.” So, yes eventually, some of the monies come from consumers as reflected in the cost of their airline tickets; but none of the money comes from a direct tax obligation to a resident or property owner in Fernandina Beach. It is for that reason, that any income raised by the use of the airport property or facility has to be recognized by the airport fund and expenditures have to be related to airport facilities and operations. The airport doesn’t have landing fees because the cost of tracking flights would exceed the revenue due to a lack of a control tower. Hope this helps! Enjoyed the story about the Gilberto.

Joe Murphy - 19. Nov, 2017 -

Dave I was told by reliable source that La Mancha is now part of Days Inn on Sadler.

Steve Crounse - 18. Nov, 2017 -

Dave, Thanks for the Heads-Up on the Budweiser 800# Hot Line. I wanted a way to continue my support of the NFL players right to protest the Police brutality of their Brothers and Sisters across America. You do remember that was and is their intent. The first Amendment seems to be a sticky thing for some of you Alt-Right types of folks. But there is an Up-Side to all of this, The people in Cities like Boston and Pittsburgh, across this Nation, that support the players rights to protest, and have been on a waiting list for season tickets( for Years)finally have a chance to purchase them. The folks of your ilk can finally have the opportunity to watch NASCAR Sundays at your local watering hole. By the way Dave, you’re not missing much by not watching the Washington Red Skins Game. I’ll keep you posted.

Tom Yankus - 17. Nov, 2017 -

My wife visited La Mancha last month asking for a free meal donation for the NAMI Auction. Management told her that they would not as they would soon be closing and moving to another location. Possibly by downtown? Just a guess, Dave. When is Shuckers going to open? GREAT location.

Florence - 17. Nov, 2017 -

“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.”

You owe me a keyboard!!! And yes, please do give us some info on Pogo’s Kitchen which appears to have been under construction for many many moons, what gives?

Capt Charlie - 17. Nov, 2017 -

Where are the burger updates?

Marlene Chapman - 17. Nov, 2017 -

Dave, more often than not I don’t agree with you, but regarding the new building at the airport, you are 100% spot on! A foolish waste of taxpayers money, yes I said taxpayers money, for a building that the majority of the people on the island don’t want, don’t need and don’t have use for! We are spending this amount of money on an “airplane” look alike for the very few will use it. What about building T hangers, which are desperately needed and will bring dollars in? How can anyone justify this expense and sleep well at night? Beyond me!

Vince Cavallo - 17. Nov, 2017 -

About Poynter’s argument about other people’s taxes funding the airport terminal folly, perhaps he needs to be acquainted with a paraphrase of Margaret Thatcher’s quote about OTM: eventually you run out of other people’s money. In case he has not heard, the federal government is running over a $500 billion deficit again this year and the total national debt is over $20 trillion. It is also interesting that the pro terminal fiasco bunch is not returning to the Commission. Does not really matter, damage already done.

Charles Mullen - 17. Nov, 2017 -

I enjoyed the read, Dave. What’s the shipping charge on the tee shirts?

David Scott - 17. Nov, 2017 -

Tuffy, the shipping charge I’m told is $4.00. Send your order to or mail it to Pajama Life c/o Pajamdave Voorhees, 12 South 2nd Street, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034 along with a check for $29.00.

Chris - 17. Nov, 2017 -

Dave – How about some restaurant news from the South end of the island? What’s the status on new restaurants Pogo’s Kitchen and Langniape (sp?)? And what caused the change of management at Cucina South after they were closed for a month due to a terrible vandalism?

Lea Gallardo - 17. Nov, 2017 -

Enjoying these posts and look forward to Friday mornings!

Orlando J. Avila - 17. Nov, 2017 -


We are looking forward to Arte’s new owners who are personal friends with big plans.
They are great people years of experience in the restaurant industry and will no doubt do a wonderful job.