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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    ‘Moonshiners’ episode about rumrunning filmed in Mystic, New London

    In this Day file photo, the schooner Argia sails past Morgan Point Light in Noank while on a day sail in Fishers Island Sound on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.
    In this Day file photo, sunbathers at the Noank Town Dock park on Friday, July 5, 2019, watch the Mystic schooner Argia, returning from a day sail on Fishers Island Sound, pass in the Mystic River.
    Eric Jederlinic, one of the captains of the schooner Argia, perches on the schooner's yawl boat Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, as he tightens the clew lashing as he and First Mate Jack Meyer, back, bend on a new main sail while docked at Steamboat Wharf in Mystic. (The Day file photo)
    Jack Meyer, one of the two captains of the schooner Argia, transits from the starboard side to the port side on the foremast shrouds Tuesday, April 26, 2022, as he and mate Colleen Mason, perched on the main mast cross trees, rig the halyards for the schooner's sails. (The Day file photo)

    If the ship gracefully racing across the water in the latest episode of the Discovery Channel series “Moonshiners” looks familiar, it should.

    It’s the sailing schooner Argia, which is based in Mystic, and it pops up often in this episode about fabled rumrunner Bill McCoy.

    So do other local figures: Stephen Jones and Robert McKenna, who have each written about McCoy and collaborated on an Emmy-winning documentary about him; and James Brundage, curator for the U.S. Coast Guard Museum that is based at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. Shots are included of the Coast Academy, too.

    This is the 13th season of “Moonshiners,” which focuses on the lives of people who produce illegal moonshine. This episode was one of those focusing on historical figures in the world of alcohol.

    McCoy was a rumrunner during Prohibition (which was instituted 1920-33). McCoy sailed liquor from other countries, primarily the Bahamas, to the East Coast of America. He would stay at least 3 miles offshore, meaning just beyond the government’s jurisdiction. Other boats would then bring the bottles to shore. McCoy was known for not watering down the liquor he sold, hence the phrase “The Real McCoy.”

    The TV show’s crew spent a week shooting in southeastern Connecticut in August, including a full day aboard the Argia. When an interview subject or narrator speaks about, for instance, McCoy’s ship or other vessels, the episode shows the Argia as an on-the-water visual example.

    Amy Blumberg, captain and general manager of the Argia, said, “I’ve been around this kind of boat my whole life, different traditional ships, and a lot of times you’re part of filming and then it ends up … maybe the tiniest little snatch of the boat is in the finished project. In this, we were really featured, so that was exciting, and the crew was really featured.”

    Blumberg said the Argia crew dressed as closely as they could to era-appropriate 1920s shirts and pants. And the TV cameras got all kinds of footage of the ship. They used a drone and, she said, “They got footage away from the ship. They got footage up close. They hung cameras down near the water line as the boat was sailing, and out on the head rig. And they had a camera up aloft.”

    They captured close-ups of Captain Eric Jederlinic gazing out toward the horizon, as well as shots of Captain Jack Meyer.

    Blumberg said it would have been ideal if the crew could have shot on McCoy’s real ship, Arethusa, but that’s been gone for almost 100 years.

    All about McCoy

    It makes sense that the TV people got in touch with McKenna and Jones for the episode; they know a lot about McCoy.

    McKenna wrote an article about McCoy for WoodenBoat magazine, which was one of the most in-depth articles about McCoy’s life and career and became one of the publication’s most popular articles. The piece focused on McCoy and his brother Ben as boat builders and how they ended up rum running.

    Jones and McKenna republished a book called “The Real McCoy” on Mystic-based Flat Hammock Press, as well as five other books about rumrunning during Prohibition. Jones had written a manuscript titled “The Actual McCoy.”

    They also worked with director/writer Bailey Pryor on the documentary “The Real McCoy,” which won five Emmy awards.

    One of the elements the “Moonshiners” episode explores is the nature of Prohibition.

    “Prohibition was just this really weird 13 years that people don’t quite understand. It wasn’t illegal to drink, but it was illegal to manufacture and transport alcohol. McCoy didn’t believe in the law … so he provided ways around it,” McKenna said.

    McKenna filmed for about a week — on the Argia but also inside the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London.

    He said the process essentially involved the producer interviewing him. While a cameraman was off to the side, he said, “You can hide these cameras everywhere and you hide these microphones everywhere, so it was just more like a conversation.”

    After seeing the episode, McKenna said, “I thought they did a nice job with it. They got a lot of good information. … They did a lot of research -- we gave them a lot of research, but they did a lot on their own.”

    He felt that the way they structured the episode — having two of the modern-day moonshiners who are regulars on the series tell the McCoy narrative and interlacing into those segments McKenna and the other historians talking about the history — was very effective.

    A chance to revisit the subject

    Jones said in an email, “I originally became interested in McCoy when my father talked about him. He himself had lived on an ex-rum running schooner, which he brought to Noank in 1932. Later, I knew Ellery Thompson as a young man, who transported McCoy from Mohican Hotel on Montauk Point on his dragger.”

    Jones said that, after working on the documentary years ago, doing the Discovery Channel project “gave me the chance to revisit the subject with fresh eyes.”

    He added, “Rumrunning is a very rich subject because it cuts across so many topics: the various ethnic rivalries seem especially relevant today. And, of course, using low tech, traditional maritime methods and gear has a timeless appeal.”

    Jones made sure to note that McCoy was a rumrunner, not a moonshiner. Moonshiners were landlubbers who manufactured “white lightning” back in the Appalachians and used trucks. Rumrunners "imported" legitimate European brands by sea.

    “I hope that people realize how, in many ways, what has come to be called Prohibition affects the whole fabric of society. The unintended consequences. Prohibition, for instance, is now universally understood to have inadvertently put the ‘organized’ in ‘organized’ crime. But Prohibition … also can be seen as being (inadvertently) the first successful government program to aid commercial fishermen. The ‘running’ of the ‘rum’ (actually, a generic term for all booze, from sherry and champagne to gin and scotch) was done by an uneasy consortium of gangsters and fishermen, the fishermen operating most often on an ad hoc basis (such as Ellery) grabbing targets of opportunity,” Jones said.

    As for the “Moonshiners” episode, he noted that interviews were also conducted on New London's Lawrence Malloy's 1883 oyster dragger Anne, and the ‘Mistress,’ belonging to Tyler Callin, a dock tenant of Mystic Schooner wharf.

    k.dorsey@theday.com

    To watch:

    What: The “Moonshiners” episode “The Real McCoy”

    Where: The Discovery Channel

    When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

    Also: Can be streamed at Discovery+, among other sites, and is available on demand

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