It was this passion for cruising that ultimately led them to the Super Suds II. Earlier that week the group had driven down to Myrtle Beach for Bike Week, a 300,000-strong celebration of chromed lowriders and America. Robinson, the 56-year-old group leader, had arranged the fishing trip as a midweek breather for the boys, chartering with the upbeat, potbellied Bob Clarke just as he’d done the previous two years. Robinson originally planned to fish for sea trout offshore, but when Clarke recognized him at the marina, the captain instead pitched, at no extra cost, the Marlin Quay Deluxe Package: a 60-mile early season run out into the warming Gulf Stream for a daylong trawl for tuna, wahoo, and dolphin fish.
By the time Clarke handed control of the boat over to Smith, the winds were kicking up, blowing out of the southwest at upwards of 15 miles an hour. In the Gulf Stream, the period between wave crests had been a comfortable eight seconds, but these more powerful gusts were pushing the waves together every four, making for an increasingly bumpy ride. Mark Spradlin, a 37-year-old carpenter, and Dwayne “Biggin” Wills, 39, Robinson’s stepson, joined Smith at the helm. Fifty-six-year-old Jennings Hughart, nicknamed “White Owl” after his preferred boyhood brand of smokes, held on in the padded fighting chair at the stern, and Yoakum rode out the thumps on a giant beanbag against the starboard hull. Opposite him, seated atop a cooler, Clarke was asking Robinson if he wanted to hook up for a week or two of deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico that coming winter. That’s when Robinson spotted a peculiar wave forming just off the starboard side. Because of the blue skies and small seas no one was wearing a life jacket.
“It was not a large wave. It didn’t come over the top of that boat like people think,” said Robinson, recalling the freak accident. The wave had a deep trough, so as it rolled under the starboard bow of the twin-hulled boat, the portside pontoon dug into the water. The Super Suds II tilted just enough to send the men and equipment sliding across the deck, forcing the boat perpendicular to the waterline. Another small wave then broadsided the exposed hull. In all it took no more than a few seconds for the two-ton boat to flip. Of those who would survive the long nightmare to come, all remember the next moments as slowing into a surreal montage of air bubbles, eerie shafts of sunlight piercing the water, matted heads breaking the surface, and men clambering every which way onto the flat part of the overturned vessel. When all seven had finally climbed atop the boat, there was silence—no voices, no equipment humming—nothing save labored panting and the sea splashing against the upturned pontoons. They were 13 miles from shore in choppy, unseasonably cold 68-degree water. There had been no time to radio for help or trigger the emergency beacon. The usually reserved Biggin Wills, a six-foot-two, 300-pound gentle giant, was the first to speak up. “So what do we do now?” he asked.
“How do I know?” Clarke answered, half jokingly. “This ain’t ever happened to me before.”