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Missing Vessels

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The Witchcraft

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Interior of an RCC. The Coast Guard carefully plot, evaluate and respond to any crisis reported to them.

     It was a beautiful evening the night of December 22, 1967, when hotelier, Dan Burack, in company of Father Patrick Horgan left Miami’s yacht marina in Burack’s 23-foot cabin cruiser Witchcraft. Burack, an inveterate yachtsman, had invited Father Horgan to go out into the bay to enjoy the stunning view of Miami’s Christmas time lights. They were only going to cruise out a short way and then stop and, in the silence of a dark sea, take in the panorama of Miami’s lit skyline.

   Apparently Burack went to the area of Buoy # 7 in Miami’s Harbor, at Government Cut, less than a mile from the shore, for it was from here that Burack sent an unexpected message to RCC Miami at exactly 9 p.m. that night. His was a casual, steady voice. He said he had hit something below. There was no emergency. However, he would need a tow back into the marina. Since Burack felt there was no emergency, it is logical to assume whatever he hit (if he knew) had damaged his propeller or rudder but not his hull. The vibrations after starting his motor would have been a dead giveaway.

     Despite the Coast Guard expanding the search by 1,200 square miles that night, including requesting all private vessels as far as Bimini to be on the look out  (50 miles distant), no trace was found. Then they expanded the search northward into the Gulf Stream in case, by some remote chance, the cabin cruiser had been pulled out by a brief squall that had hit that night and churned the sea into moderate swells of 4 to 6 feet (although it did not hit in Miami Harbor, of course). Finally on December 28, the search was halted after covering 24,500 square miles without a single clue having been found.

     There is great mystery in the disappearance of the Witchcraft. Whatever had befallen the cabin cruiser it had happened quickly and cleanly. The Coast Guard had responded immediately. At 9:19 p.m. —only nineteen minutes after Burack signaled them— their searchlight beams were streaming the ocean in that vicinity. However, there was no sign of the Witchcraft, of debris, life jackets, bodies or any flotsam. In that short interim of 19 minutes Burack had never sent another message to Miami’s RCC  to indicate the situation had become critical, nor had he fired flares.

   The most unusual part, however, is the total lack of the cabin cruiser.  This is the most piquing, for the Witchcraft had built in floatation and was thus “unsinkable.” Although this term does not imply buoyancy, “unsinkable” means that some part of the hull should remain above water. It is like “corking” a vessel, so that the vessel’s gravity weight, even when fully flooded, is not enough to send it to the bottom.

   Burack was big on safety. He had plenty of life saving gear aboard (all very floatable, like seat cushions, jackets, etc), and had even spent extra, naturally, to have floatation built in. Some lumbering sunken form of the Witchcraft should have remained as a navigational hazard. The Coast Guard regularly destroys boats that have foundered or been swamped but, because of built-in floatation, remain a skulking hazard to other boaters.

   No explanation could nor ever has been given for Burack and Father Horgan’s sudden disappearance. And that is the keyword— disappearance— since it was never adduced how they could have perished. Despite the fact that Burack said it was not an emergency, he did have flares ready. In fact,  he told the Coast Guard he would fire one off to direct them to his exact position. We must assume then that Witchcraft was lost so unexpectedly as to even preclude Burack from firing the flare gun, for none was seen, and so completely as to eradicate any sign. Had that light squall drawn him suddenly to sea, he could still fire the flares and remain in radio contact with RCC Miami. There seems just no explanation.

   Nothing indicates that the Witchcraft sank. Yet on the other hand, it certainly did not remain. This puzzling paradox may have resulted in the conclusion “They are presumed missing, but not lost at sea”— a nebulous conclusion however striking. This very well could only be a paraphrase of the Coast Guard’s conclusions, or even an outright ad-lib on the part of those old salts who followed The Bermuda Triangle’s growing mythos. In either case, this conclusion fits the unbelievable scenario perfectly. Those who searched for Burack have never contradicted it, perhaps because they could still recall the bell of  Buoy #7 clanging idly in an all too empty sea. 

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