Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Star of the Everglades Its Journey From the 1920s to Today Part 2

The “New” Star of the Everglades, at the time moored at Boat Haven in Naples, then owned by Capt. Jim Martin. (c. 1971). PHOTO S BY JIM MARTI N

The “New” Star of the Everglades, at the time moored at Boat Haven in Naples, then owned by Capt. Jim Martin. (c. 1971). PHOTO S BY JIM MARTI N

Craig Woodward

In our last issue, the history of the original vessel, the Star (of the Everglades), operated by the Lopez family from Lopez River and Chokoloskee was covered, including its use in hosting several U.S. Presidents, its being part of the classic local film “Wind Across the Everglades,” and its key role in opening up sports fishing for tourists in the Ten Thousand Islands. That boat was retired and replaced by a new vessel, a beautiful yacht with a colorful history. After finishing its service in charter fishing, the new boat was owned and lived on by a number of local residents, who retain great memories of this fabulous yacht which, like the previous one, was aptly named the Star.

In the early 1960s, the original Star left Everglades City for the last time and later returned as the new Star, a vessel still two decks high but now 65 feet long with a beam of 22 feet, a double-planked wood hull, 70 net tons and with a shallow draft drawing only three feet of water. It was ideal for taking sportsmen to the Broad, Lostman’s and Shark rivers. The new vessel had three private staterooms, with two beds, two showers and a full bathtub, a teak-paneled main salon with a fireplace and a bar — perfect for three couples. This Star, unlike the previous one, was air conditioned, had television, a cocktail lounge, a card room and a sundeck for wives who did not care to fish. The brochure of the time said: “In addition to the prized tarpon, commonly ranging up to 100 pounds of fighting dynamite, there are a great variety of other fish to be found; most commonly being the snook and redfish.” Dinner served on board was either fresh fish, stone crabs or steaks and lobster, and also included and served on the large table in the main salon was a full course breakfast and a light lunch. The new 1962 Star brochure said it did not take trips less than four days out of season and suggested a five-day minimum. The advertised price was $280 a day total during season for a party of four and excluded drinks and tackle.

The new Star of the Everglades was a custom-built luxury vessel, completed in 1927 for former Governor of Ohio James M. Cox, who at the time was the owner of the Cox newspaper chain which included the “Miami Daily News.” The vessel had been used in the Miami area to entertain Cox’s business clients and rich

Jim Martin at the helm of the Star of the Everglades (c. 1972).

Jim Martin at the helm of the Star of the Everglades (c. 1972).

friends until around 1961 when Capt. Jim Thompson and his wife Rosina purchased it for their Everglades adventures. Thompson could tow behind the Star up to three small boats with various outboards having horsepower up to 40 hp, giving anglers access into the small creeks and backwater bays while the Star remained anchored at the mouths of the large rivers that drained from the Everglades.

In late 1970, Jim Martin of Marco Island spotted the Star in dry dock at the Turner Boat yard in Naples. It had been pulled for caulking and other maintenance work on the wooden hull. He liked the old style of the boat, saw an opportunity to buy a boat he could live on, and quickly negotiated with Jim Thompson for the purchase. Capt. Jim Thompson had lost interest in the excursion fishing business after his wife Rosina died, and he ended up selling the Star to Jim Martin for $7,500. They made one last trip to Everglades City to offload Thompson’s personal items and the guide boats; the trip back to Naples, according to Martin, was a very emotional trip for Jim Thompson, who had grown much attached to the Star. In a way, many others’ lives would be impacted by this vessel.

Martin docked the Star in Naples at Boat Haven, paying dockage of $20 a month and mooring it adjacent to U.S. 41’s Gordon River Bridge. It was in a location that was too shallow for most boats, but the Star, drawing only three feet, could use it. For two years, Jim Martin lived on the boat and would rent rooms out for extra income. He worked at the Marco Beach Hotel, and about once a month, friends would join him on party trips to Little Marco Pass (now Hurricane Pass), all pitching in on fuel. But, even with fuel being 20 cents a gallon, the twin Chryslers 135 hp inboards were gas hogs and expensive to run. The vessel was not easy to operate and required three to four people to get it under way. The boat was also two floors high making it susceptible to winds and, compounding the problem was the weight of the upstairs main lounge made of dark wood of cypress and mahogany, and under the seats, it carried 600-plus pounds of water storage in large copper tanks making the boat a little top-heavy.

Like Jim Webb, who has kept old brochures and photos of the Star, Jim Martin also has sentimental feelings about the Star, and retained numerous photos as

The Star sunk near the Goodland Bridge before being salvaged. (c. 1982).

The Star sunk near the Goodland Bridge before being salvaged. (c. 1982).

well as his documents. Martin examined the official documentation — “Certificate of Enrollment for a U.S. Licensed Yacht” — from the U.S. Treasury Dept., and discovered that the vessel had been built in 1927 in Holly Hill, FL, south of Jacksonville. Martin decided to investigate and drove to north Florida looking at areas on the Halifax River. He found the location of the old boatyard and discovered that the builder was none other than William (Bill) McCoy — whose reputation later coined the phrase “The Real McCoy.” McCoy and his brothers had a great reputation building expensive speedboats and yachts for millionaires like Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilts, and, of course, also for the former Ohio Governor Cox for whom the Star was originally built.

During Prohibition, McCoy changed careers and ran whiskey from offshore boats into the eastern seaboard. On a usual trip, it was said he would make $300,000 profit! His profits ended on Nov. 23, 1923, when a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter intercepted McCoy’s vessel in international waters, outside the three-mile U.S. limit. After shooting 4-inch shells over his hull, McCoy surrendered, saying on capture: “I have no tale of woe to tell you. I was outside the three-mile limit, selling whisky, and good whisky, to anyone and everyone who wanted to buy.” He pleaded guilty, served nine months in jail and was soon out and back in the boat business. The phrase “The Real McCoy” originated because he refused to water down his liquor or sell moonshine like his competitors who, in their attempt to gain credibility, would claim their product was also “The Real McCoy.” As a result of McCoy’s capture, the U.S. changed its territorial limit from three miles to 12 miles.

By about 1972, Martin decided to sell the Star, one of his bigger concerns being what to do in the event of a hurricane. Heavy winds and waves would cause the boat to crash against the seawall or even into the adjacent bridge, so his plan was to sink it in place to stabilize it. Back in 1960, during the infamous Hurricane Donna, Capt. Jim Thompson had run the Star up into the backwaters of the Ten Thousand Islands and tied it off on mangroves — an option not available in Naples. Martin had several buyers interested in the Star, including one who wanted to operate it as a floating restaurant in Old Marco, but in the end, Jim Lowe purchased it.

Henry Lowe of Marco Island, brother of Jim Lowe, remembers when his brother owned

William (Bill) McCoy — “the Real McCoy” — high-end yacht builder and 1920s bootlegger. SUBMITTED PHOTO

William (Bill) McCoy — “the Real McCoy” — high-end yacht builder and 1920s bootlegger. SUBMITTED PHOTO

the Star and lived on it with his wife and daughter: “When both Jim and I owned part of Marco River Marina (now Rose Marina), we each lived on a boat moored there. My family was in the Big Dipper, and Jim and his family was in the Star. Compared to the Star, the Big Dipper I owned was like a crude barge. The Star was fabulous, and clearly made by a craftsman. The details could not be found today. It had brass throughout. Cypress walls inside and the ‘knees,’ which support the deck from below, were not prefabricated, but were chosen from the best part of the tree where the wood would have naturally bent and was cut and crafted to be part of this elegant vessel.” Henry said that it had been a dream of both brothers to live on boats, and they both owned theirs for about two years before selling them. Jim Lowe, being in the marina business, kept the boat maintained and the engines running. He took his family and the Star down to the Florida Keys on vacations.

The next owner was Fred Von Langen, who played the organ while his wife played the drums and piano. They worked as entertainers at the Old Marco Inn, and also sold Amway products. His dream was also to live on a boat; so upon purchase from Lowe, Von Langen, his wife and two sons — ages 12 and 14 —moved aboard and lived on the Star while it was moored at the Marco River Marina. From all accounts the Star, a high maintenance, old vessel started to show its age and to go into disrepair. He reportedly replaced the old gas engines with diesel engines; they were not run much, and it did not take very long for it to deteriorate.

Joe Torre, who worked at the time at O’Sheas Restaurant in Old Marco, purchased the Star from Von Langen with plans to move it to Remuda Ranch (the current Port of the Islands) and live with his wife, her son, Dave, and two daughters aboard. As Torre could only get one engine on the Star to operate, he arranged for it to be towed south by both a ski boat (Torre had owned and operated a ski School) and a house boat toward the Faka Union Canal. The single engine soon quit, and on the trip down, Dave Torre reported that the ski boat pulling the Star capsized with the Star ending up in the mangroves. The Coast

From a brochure for the Star when it was used to fish out of Everglades City (c. 1960s). PHOTO BY JIM WEBB

From a brochure for the Star when it was used to fish out of Everglades City (c. 1960s). PHOTO BY JIM WEBB

Guard came to the rescue and towed the Star to its new berth by the marina/restaurant at Remuda Ranch adjacent to the bridge at U.S. 41.

Joe Torre’s brother helped restore the Star above the water line, but below it, there were major problems; neither engine worked, and the old wooden hull was leaking. Dave Torre says that in the three years he lived on the boat, while attending middle school in Everglades City School, the boat continued to take on water. In order to keep it afloat, they ran the bilge pumps day and night, and when the pumps quit, the floor became “quite soggy” to walk on. In the mid-1970s, Remuda Ranch was having financial problems, and often the electric would go off for non-payment. In addition to the Star’s 10-kw diesel generator to power the a/c, Joe Torre would try to connect the Star to a shore generator to keep the bilge pumps running. Dave says ironically that “at the time we were actually living on a sinking boat, with its lights constantly going on and off. Strangely, it was sort of a reflection of what was happening next door at (the ill-fated) Remuda Ranch.”

While they did have divers dive the boat to try to make underwater repairs, nothing short of pulling the boat would stop the leaking. Torre said that with its failed engines and with no boat travel lift big enough or near enough to pull a vessel this size, there seemed to be little hope. The previous owner, Jim Martin, would later say he believed that the problem was in the caulking of the wood in the hull, especially in the area near the tunnel drive where the prop wash had, over time, slowly eroded away the caulking, causing inevitable leaking. Joe Torre managed to get the boat towed to the O’Sheas restaurant on Marco where it was docked for a couple of years, and his family continued to live on it while he worked at the restaurant.

By around 1980, the Torre family sold the boat to Billy Oliver of Goodland, as Oliver recalls, for the price of $8,000. Oliver had it towed to Goodland by a crab boat, and, like others before him, planned to live on it. He remembers the boat as being beautiful and also being quite a “party boat.” Oliver said for a while it was moored behind a house near Stan’s, but, instead of using the normal bilge pumps to keep the boat afloat, Oliver switched to using a larger sump

Reclaimed wood from the Star of the Everglades at the Little Bar in Goodland. Note the handcrafted wood knees that once supported an upper deck.

Reclaimed wood from the Star of the Everglades at the Little Bar in Goodland. Note the handcrafted wood knees that once supported an upper deck.

pump in order to try to keep up with the amount of water coming in.

After a couple of years, Collier County red tagged the boat (for being in a residential area), so Oliver moved the Star to under the Goodland bridge. For a few days, Oliver had to leave to go to New York, and said, with sadness, that while he was gone, the Star sank and ended up sitting on the bottom. Meanwhile, before he returned, some kids had broken into it and tossed stuff into the water and did general damage. Oliver lost a lot of his photos and documents when the Star sank. For $5,000, he sold the wood, life rings, wooden knees and other nautical parts of the yacht to Ray Bozicnik. Then, after being stripped, the boat was donated to the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department, which used it for training as it burned off the topsides down to the waterline.

By 1982, the Star was gone, and its wood and other items purchased from it, under the creative direction of owner “Papa Ray” Bozicnik, were incorporated into his restaurant, the Little Bar in Goodland. Bozicnik had collected numerous antiques over many years while owning and operating restaurants in the Chicago area. The restaurant is today full of recovered wood doors, old pieces of a 1924 pipe organ, stained glass panels, an 1880 mantel and much more.

His son Ray remembers helping his father salvage the wood, door knobs, life ring and other items from the sunken vessel. From the Star, Papa Ray, with design help from his son built an entirely separate room — the “boat room” in the rear of the restaurant. That room, like the Star, is also air conditioned, paneled in the original rich woods, and its ceiling beams are supported by the almost century-old wood knees handcrafted by the Real McCoy’s craftsmen. It is a wonderful place to sit, drink cocktails or fine wine, eat great food, and immerse oneself into a classic era of another time.

I want to again thank Jim Webb for his memories of the Lopez family and the many brochures of the Star he has saved, Jim Martin for his vast knowledge of the history of the Star and the photos he shared, Henry Lowe for the information he shared about his brother Jim’s ownership of the Star, as well as Dave Torre for originally contacting me inquiring about the vessel he once called home, Alvin Lederer for the use of his photos, and to Billy Oliver and Ray Bozicnik for their information on the conclusion of this story.

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