As it turned out, the Sheriff was a really well-made shrimp boat. She had been made with the classic long leaf yellow pine and she was well balanced because her bilge was filled with concrete poured into her hull before the deck and pilothouse were cobbled on top. As a result, she plied the waters between Marco and Jamaica more times than Frank, Jimmy, and Pete could remember.
The first few runs were uneventful and very profitable for the Chief in Jamaica and everyone else in the saltwater cowboy network of Marco smugglers; Frank and the boys even found themselves waving to the patrol boats as Cuban and American law enforcement cruised alongside. Every time the crew of the Sheriff saw a boat coming into view, Frank would slow down, and Jimmy and Pete would lower the shrimping nets—and to anyone interested, the Sherriff appeared to be just another honest boat trawling along and making a living.
On the receiving end of the business was another group of saltwater cowboys and girls that came out to fill their fishing boats with the bales of marijuana that the Sheriff delivered just offshore.
Of course, to be successful in the smuggling business, there has to be a good scheme for everything to work perfectly and the Saltwater Cowboys and girls that brought the Sheriff’s pot into Marco had a plan that was just about genius.
During this time in the early 1980s, two offshore fishing boats docked side by side and were captained by two very good friends who made a lot more money smuggling weed than they did doing charter fishing.
For the sake of storytelling, their names were Groucho and Abbot, and they had first mates that were good looking girls with the names of Sally and Sue.
The plan was simple, and it always worked perfectly. On any given beautiful Marco Island day, Groucho and Abbott would be in contact with Frank and the boys on the Sheriff by single–sideband radio. When everyone knew that the Sheriff was just offshore—but still out of sight—Groucho and Abbott would just happen to have fishing charters scheduled with six anxious anglers for each boat.
Of course, the fisherfolk knew nothing about the smuggling; they were just honest and unknowing Marco Island tourists out for another great day of offshore fishing.
Once the boats were loaded with six passengers each and a crew of two, both of the boats cast the lines, left the marina together, and cruised out to the fishing grounds about 20 miles offshore.
After about 12 miles, the land begins to disappear and all that is visible is miles of emerald green open water. This is where there are several good shipwreck sites with a great underwater structure that is always good for legitimate fishing.
When Groucho and Abbott pulled up over the sunken ship together, they would naturally turn off the diesel motors of their big sport-fishermen. One boat would fish one side of the shipwreck and one on the other side.
The fishing was always good, and after about two hours, all of the tourists had caught their limit and the coolers on both boats were full of fish. Sally and Sue always added to the fun as their charter uniform was a bikini and a good tan, and with Groucho and Abbot both appearing as the classic and weathered old men of the sea, the Florida fishing guides disguise was complete. This is also, where the plan started—but apparently—Groucho’s diesel motor would not.
Abbott shouted over to Groucho and asked if they were ready to haul in the anchor, start up the engines, and head back toward Marco. Groucho told him it was and that everyone was ready, but after Abbot started his diesel and his passengers began taking their places for the hour-long cruise back to Marco, Groucho suddenly had engine trouble. He cranked away on the old diesel, but as everyone could see, there was something wrong. Groucho’s boat simply would not start.
After a few minutes with the engine still refusing to cooperate, Abbott cruised over at idle speed and tied up alongside Groucho, Sally, and all six of their now anxious passengers.
This was when Abbott offered to take Groucho’s passengers back on his boat. Groucho agreed, and Sally offered to wait with Groucho until a towboat or mechanic arrived and either repair the stricken motor or tow Sally and Groucho back to Marco.
Unbeknownst to the tourists, this of course was the plan, and when Abbott motored away leaving Sally and Groucho alone, it wasn’t long before Frank, Jimmy, and Pete showed up in the Sheriff.
The offloading from the Shrimp boat to the big sport fisherman always went fast with all the men dragging bales of pot and Sally keeping a lookout for other boats. When the Sport fisherman was full of as many bales as she could carry, Groucho’s motor started up perfectly now that the fuel shut off valve was back open.
Then with perfect timing and the setting sun behind them, Groucho and Sally casually motored into one of the canals on Marco. To the end of a canal where a dock and stilt house was waiting and a panel truck that would soon be full of marijuana and off to be distributed elsewhere.
On the following morning, when the sun came up, Groucho’s boat was spotless, “repaired” and waiting, right alongside Abbot’s sport fisherman and ready for another day of charter fishing.
Of course, this really happened in the 1980s on Marco, just the way it was described by a saltwater cowgirl named “Sally.”
Part Three Coming Next Edition…