Lake Theresa gambling ship runs aground, afoul of law

By Frank Fencil |

SPRING HILL, Florida — A Spring Hill gambling ship that for years avoided running above board finally found itself high and dry.

The famed Smokin’ Gertie ran aground on Friday, giving the authorities a long-awaited opportunity to arrest its longtime captain and impound the vessel.

The ship had been able to operate under a loophole in current maritime law. In a charter carried over from the 1850s, the ship was essentially free to offer gambling, prostitution and an opium den, so long as it never touched solid ground.

“A ship shall n’er be under Colony rule lest her bow be betrothed by a touch of the uncouth weed ‘pon the Creator’s earthen shore,” the law reads.

But global climate change and receding water tables have made keeping the ship afloat more and more difficult. In recent years, a dock had to be extended four times, and more recently guests had to crawl across a 20-foot ladder spanning the growing chasm to board the ship along the southeast corner of Delta Woods Park.

Finally, on Friday, the Capt. William R. McDougal did something he had avoided for 42 years — he ran the boat aground.

“We’ve been waiting for this for decades,” Hernando County sheriff’s public information officer Trudy Gormand said. “So many different sheriffs have hoped to be the one to nab the The White Lady of the Lake, and we finally got her.”

Frank Fencil

Frank Fencil is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades' experience. He has uncovered government corruption, toppled dirty police forces and covered two foreign wars as an international correspondent. He chose to return to his native Spring Hill in hopes of giving his hometown the quality watchdog journalism it deserves.

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