2011-05-19 / News

Former Jamestowner pens book with surprising twist

By Ken Shane

In case a reader thinks that no one writes ripping yarns of the sea anymore, John Lawless is ready to disprove that. The long-time Jamestown resident has written a short story about an adventure that he had on a Jamestown-based fishing boat in the mid-1980s.

“I lived in Jamestown for about 20 years,” Lawless said, who now resides in Warren. “Then I went to Florida for awhile and Alaska for awhile.”

“Pot Luck” is the story of a most unusual fishing trip. “I was on a boat called the Mister Bill. She was tied up in Jamestown for a while. Most of the crew lived in Jamestown.”

Although the events chronicled in his story took place 27 years ago, it took Lawless a long time to write his story. “I used to tell the story with the family at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “My nephews told me I should make a book on that. After awhile, telling the story to other people, they were all saying I should make a book on it.”

Writing the story didn’t come easily to Lawless. “I tried to find someone who would make the book for me, but I couldn’t find anybody who would do that, so I got some writing software for my computer. I sat down and stared at the computer for a while. I never wrote anything at all in my life. It was something new for me all the way around. I started with one letter, then one word, and it started going. Next thing I know, I had a book there.”

“Pot Luck” was published by Rosedog Books in Pittsburgh. “I went online and there were several publishers,” Lawless said. “I thought these people gave me the best deal, so I took them.”

Lawless was an experienced commercial fisherman working on a boat called the Mister Bill that called Jamestown home. The boat and its crew made regular voyages to the Georges Bank targeting species like haddock, cod and flounder. It was on one of these trips that the crew landed a completely unexpected catch.

After setting out from Jamestown, the Mister Bill was somewhere south of Nantucket when one of the crew members spotted a white plastic bucket floating in the water. It was not one of the five-gallon buckets that are so common in North America, but an unusual seven-gallon bucket that is more often found in South America. The sealed bucket was hauled on board. When it was opened, the crew got the surprise of their lives.

The bucket was tightly packed with marijuana. It wasn’t long before more buckets started showing up in the water, and the crew dutifully hauled them in. Eventually the “catch” amounted to a share of about 100 pounds for each crew member. The next day the crew put out their fishing gear in an effort to avoid suspicion and ended up with a successful lobster haul as well.

Returning to the dock didn’t seem like a good idea, so the captain brought the boat into the little-used boat basin at Fort Wetherill, where it was unloaded. Tensions were high when they encountered a local police officer, but the captain managed to convince him that nothing was amiss.

John Lawless used the money from his windfall to buy a skiff and some bull raking gear to dig quahogs. His wife had recently died, leaving him to care for six children, and he wanted to be able to come home at night. The Mister Bill’s captain, however, had other ideas. He had been bitten by the smuggling bug.

It is the captain’s adventures in the smuggling trade, including an unpleasant stint in a Cuban jail, that make up the second half of the 20-page story.

Although the names of the Mister Bill’s crew members have been changed for obvious reasons, the Mister Bill was the actual name of the boat they worked on and the book includes photos of the boat to prove it. The Mister Bill is still fishing and can be seen unloading its catch at Parascondolo’s in Newport.

Lawless says that the boat’s captain is still living in Jamestown and that he was in touch with him as recently as last week. Another crew member got in his pickup truck after unloading the boat, drove off with his share of the loot, and was never seen again.

No one ever really knew where the floating buckets came from, but Lawless speculates that they came from a Caribbean freighter that had departed from Cartagena, Colombia, with a cargo of 10 tons of marijuana hidden in a false deck. At some point during the trip north, the freighter must have encountered a Coast Guard patrol and scuttled the ship rather than face arrest. That sort of thing was, and is, common in the drug trade.

“Pot Luck” by John Lawless is available from Amazon.com and Borders.com.

Return to top