The Sinking of The I'm Alone

On March 22, 1929, the American Coast Guard cutters, Dexter and Walcott, created an international incident with the sinking of the rum-runner vessel, Iím Alone, 200 miles off the American coast.  At the center of it was of it all was Jack Randell, Captain of the Iím Alone and a native of Port Rexton, Newfoundland.

            Captain Jack Randell was born on January 1, 1879 in Port Rexton, Trinity Bay.  In November 1899, Randell joined the Royal Canadian Artillery to fight in the Boer war. He rose to the rank of Sergeant in the mounted scouts, and so wore two Colt .45ís and carried a carbine.  When the war ended in 1901, he returned to Newfoundland; shortly after his arrival, he was chosen as one of the veterans to escort the visiting Duke and Dutchess of York.  It was during this visit that the Royal Family members presented Sgt. Randell with his South African War medals.

            In 1902, Randell went back to sea working on many different kinds of ships.  Through his varied experience, he earned his Masterís Certificate, which entitled him to captain any ship in steam or sail of any tonnage for any ocean.  Jack Randellís services as a master mariner were much in demand and he worked for many mercantile firms and governments around the world.

            At the outbreak of the First World War, Captain Randell joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a Lieutenant.  He was given command of an armed trawler and was successful in sinking two ships off the coast of Norway that were headed for Germany with a load of raw material for the German War effort.  On May 17, 1916, Lieut. Randell was at Buckingham Palace to receive the Distinguish Service Cross from King George V.  Of course, the two men had met before; the King had visited St. Johnís Newfoundland, in 1901 as the Duke of York and presented Randell with the Boer War medals.

            In the Fall of 1917, Randell was awarded the Croix de Guerre for helping the French in action against German submarines; and in 1918, he was awarded two palms to his Croix de Guerre.  The British also awarded him an oak leaf to wear on his General Service medal.  Following the war, Randell returned to Newfoundland with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.

            Jack Randell again returned to sea, and in 1922 he was in the United States, interested in the rum-running business.  There was a lot of money to be made as Prohibition had come to the United States in 1919 and lasted until 1933.  During this time, American syndicates organized the smuggling of liquor into the States.  The liquor came from Canada, Saint-Pierre, Europe and the West Indies.  Canadian, Newfoundland and Saint-Pierre ships were among those involved in the rum-running trade.  Except for captaining a mining exploration trip to the Artic in 1927, Randell focused on rum-running.

            Rum-running to the United States was a game of cat and mouse, or hide and seek, with US Customs and the US Coast Guard.  If a ship was caught with liquor within the territorial waters, it would be seized along with its cargo.  Also during Prohibition, a treaty was signed between Great Britain and the United States to deal with rum-runners.

              In November 1928, Capt. Jack Randell took command of the two-masted schooner, Iím Alone.  The ship was some 200 tons gross weight, capable of carrying 6000 cases of liquor.  The American authorities were familiar with this vesselís history as a rum-runner and were keeping an eye out for her.

            During the first few months as captain, Randell was successful in bringing liquor from Saint-Pierre and Belize (British Honduras) to waters outside American territorial waters.  There cargo was unloaded to ships that came to meet them in what was called ďRum Row.Ē

            It was on March 20, 1929, that the US Coast Guard cutter, Walcott, came upon the Iím Alone outside American waters and asked Capt. Randell to ďheave to.Ē  He did and proceeded to have conversation with the captain of the Walcott who had boarded his vessel.  Capt. Randell advised the cutterís captain the he was in international waters and the American authorities had no jurisdiction over him.  Furthermore, he told the American captain, since he had not broken the Rum Running Treaty between the US and Britain, he would not surrender his ship.  Following this discussion, the cutterís captain returned to his ship and proceeded to follow the Iím Alone.  It was during this time that the Walcott fired several shots at the Iím Alone.  There was little damage done to the Iím Alone, and Capt. Randell was not about to surrender.

            The next ship to come upon the scene was the US Coast Guard cutter, Dexter.  After discussing the matter with the captain of the Walcott, the captain of the Dexter asked Capt. Randell to stop his ship.  When Randell gave a negative reply, the Dexter opened fire on the Iím Alone with rifle and machine gun fire, followed by four-pounder explosive shells aimed at the water line of the rum-runner.  All the while Capt. Randell and his crew remained at the stern of their ship.

            Finally, the Iím Alone succumbed to the attack and the vessel sank bow first.  The crew jumped overboard and clung to the wreckage.  The boatswain of the Iím Alone drowned.  The rest of the crew were hauled aboard the Dexter, and Capt. Randell was placed in leg irons.

            While onboard the Dexter returning to an American port, Capt Randell managed to get on deck one day.  He noticed signals being passed between the crews of the Dexter and the Walcott.  Being a master mariner and a former lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy in charge of warships, Randell could read the signals without difficulty.  They were discussing how to explain the sinking of the Iím Alone some 200 miles off the American coast in international waters.

            The sinking of the Iím Alone caused an international incident.  When the hearing took place in New Orleans, the district attorney dropped the case against the captain and crew of the Iím Alone because they were wrongly arrested outside American waters.  In addition, the United States government awarded the owners of the rum-runner $25,000 and the Captain and crew $25,000 as compensation.

            As he did so many times before, Capt. Randell returned to sea following his experience with American Justice.  Due to ill health, Capt. Randell retired in 1941.  This fascinating captain from Port Rexton died in 1944.


Authorís note: Many thanks to ex-Chief of police Don Randell (RNC) for information he provided during the research of this article.


Source: Robert Thorne, Downhomer, October 2001

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