Habana Joe was a first-generation American immigrant born on the coast of New Jersey, Raritan Bay, where he was destined to be a fisherman like his father, according to Belle of Dayton. The Raritan Bay was known for its lucrative fishing and shellfish industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Habana felt most at home on his boat and knew the waters in the bay and beyond Sandy Hook, which preconditioned him for rum-running liquor back and forth from ‘Rum Row’ where ships anchored filled with barrels and cases of liquor off the coast of the northeastern seaboard from Cuba and the Bahamas,” according to the Belle of Dayton release.
As the story goes, Habana Joe was the “ideal boat captain” to make the most of the organized smuggling of imported rum using his small high-speed “contact boat” back to shore, according to Belle of Dayton. As the Coast Guard’s fleet obtained faster “six-bitter” patrol boats, the bootleggers like Habana made use of faster and more advanced boat-racing technology, keeping him always one step ahead of the prohibition agents.