Then the heckling began. The sight of a mastless sailboat provoked ugly, delirious outbursts of sexually charged machismo: "Where the hell's the mast on that thing?" and "Congratulations! Thanks for coming!" and "Hey, maybe next year." A guy on a sailboat named Margaritaville sneered, "Want to borrow my mast?"
Sorg smiled calmly. "I'm going to have to borrow somebody's," he yelled.
Photos by Kirk Nielsen
Columbus Day Massacre: Captain Sorg (foreground) and crewman Walter Goebel recover after the dismasting and before the disrobing
The sun set and we still had not located Branning. In the twilight we dropped anchor near the outer ring of the stygian flotilla. When darkness fell, lights atop sailboat masts dotted the night sky above the powerboats' scattered luminescence. "It looks like a city," Walter marveled. It sounded like 1001 open-air nightclubs.
Sorg descended into the tiny cabin to prepare coffee and a dinner of fried steaks and salad. There would be rum and Coke for dessert. While the party boats thumped into the night, the Special Warfare was the scene of sleepy conversation ranging from the ills of local television news to the amazing achievements of former Navy Seal and current Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. We secured a small fluorescent lantern to ward off drunken skippers on power vessels, then turned in for the night. Whoops and screams mixed with the strains of music drifting over the water. God knows what was going on.
As soon as the sun rose over Elliott Key and the slumbering partiers, Sorg wasted no time heading north. It was sunny and a strong breeze kicked up a mild chop. "This is my kind of wind!" he exclaimed. "We would have done well today." Walter, apparently still under the bacchanalia's naughty spell, told an obscene joke involving Superman, Superwoman, and the Invisible Man. A boat with billowing sails approached and two crew members razzed us about having no mast. But Special Warfare pressed on.
"Beaten but not defeated," said Walter. Sorg nodded. "We will live to fight again."
Others would not. On Sunday night a 22-foot powerboat rammed into a much larger sailboat near Elliott Key. According to the Coast Guard, the crash killed one man and injured two passengers in the motorized vessel. No one on the sailboat was hurt.