At 5 p.m. on May 16, 2006, Bob Clarke, the 74-year-old captain of the Super Suds II, received a routine radio call requesting his position from the marina manager in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. The captain reported that he was 25 nautical miles east of Georgetown. Moving at 20 knots through two- to four-foot seas, this would put the boat at port well before sunset, at 6:30 pm. After signing off, Captain Clarke gave command to his longtime first mate, Gerald “Wayne” Smith, and took a seat on a cooler next to Mike Robinson, a heavyset biker nursing a wad of tobacco under his bottom lip. The captain wanted to ask the tough ex–coal miner something in private while he still had the chance.
There were seven men aboard Clarke’s 26-foot fishing boat that day. The five paying customers all hailed from around Rupert, West Virginia, a sliver of muddy timber depots, used truck lots, and modular ranch houses hugging rural Route 60. Like most men from the area they had done time in the coal mines, with Bryan “Chris” Yoakum, 40, still pulling regular shifts. They also loved motorcycles, packing up when life permitted for soothing night rides through the region’s hollows and hills.