The following story is based upon a real life account written by Forrest Frank based upon a story by Captain John Helm Gibson. These appeared in the Scarborough Daily Post in 1920 as part of the 'Sea Dogs' stories by Forrest Frank.
At four o'clock in the morning the second mate called me and said he thought the ship had run aground. No one had felt the strike; she simply refused to move. I could hear no grating of rocks, and the chief engineer was of opinion that something had fouled the propeller. As soon as I got on deck and had the lead put over the side, however, we found only 17 feet of water. it was a beautifully clear night, and quite plainly I could see one of the red sectors of Carrysfort Light. By this time it was breaking daylight, and I realised that the vessel had found her own way four miles within the Florida Reef. The water was clear and shallow. All round the ship were huge dark lumps in the sea, which I first thought to be rocks, but on getting a boat out to survey our position and dropping the lead over these lumps, it went right through them out of sight. They proved to be huge sponges, and we found afterwards that the vessel was resting upon a soft bed of them and not even her paint had been scratched.
However, there we were, stuck on the Grecian Shoal and shift we could not. During the course of the afternoon a crowd of men from the Bahamas, Abaco and the Florida shore, who had been engaged in their boats in those waters turtle trapping and sponge fishing , gathered round and proferred their assistance, but I knew something of the habits and character of these salvors and refused their offer. They were not at all put out and said that they could wait. We ran out the steam anchor in our own boat but could not get it to hold, and then we began to jettison our cargo, which consisted of patent fuel, but I soon saw that in the heat of that place and handling such stuff my own crew would very quickly be worn out, and I was forced to take on these piratical salvors. There was the natural argument about terms, but eventually I got them to agree to the conditions set out in 'Lloyds Arbitration Salvage Agreement' Form. The point of which is that the amount of the salvage award shall be settled by a committee of three, on which the salvors shall appoint one representative, the owners one, and Lloyds the third, the Committee to sit in London.
The great obstacle I knew to their signing of their agreement would be the sitting of the committee in London, the usual, indeed the invariable practice of these men being to rush ships into Key West, where some smart lawyer would repudiate the agreement and put a bond on board. How to get them to sign this London clause I did not know, when a magazine story I had been reading a few days before flashed into my mind. It was about an old thief of a lawyer who was reading over a will in which he had wrongfully inserted a sentence or two, and who, when he came to this part, placed his pen between his lips whilst he fumbled with the paper, gabbling over the words till he got on safe ground. I did the same, read the agreement with a flourish of trumpets, dabbing my pen in my mouth at the part about the committee sitting in London, and, at the end, asked them if they understood it all clearly, and got their signatures. They went to work, and bringing a large schooner to anchor seaward lashed one of our bower anchors to her stern with with 30 fathoms of cable and 100 fathoms of steel towing hawser shackled on to it, got it all set up taut with purchases, and continued jettisoning the cargo, eventually throwing 500 tons overboard. It was two days hard work - an awful messy and choking job, but we finally got clear. When well afloat and assured that the engines were alright and the ship under control I thanked the men and said goodbye.
"But it's not goodbye yet, Cap,"
"We'll sure go down to Key West with you."
I replied that there was no need for me to go to Key West for as the ship was undamaged I proposed continuing my voyage to Vera Cruz. This was facer to them, but I knew that if ever I had put into a United States port there would be precious little value of the ship left. I told them they would get their money all right, but I must proceed, as I had lost so much time already. But I knew I would see more of them.