The Bermuda Triangle
The “Bermuda Triangle” or “Devil’s Triangle” is an imaginary area located off the southeastern Atlantic coast of the United States of America, which is noted for a supposedly high incidence of unexplained disappearances of ships and aircraft. The apexes of the triangle are generally believed to be Bermuda; Miami, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The US Board of Geographic Names does not recognize the Bermuda Triangle as an official name. The US Navy does not believe the Bermuda Triangle exists. It is reported that Lloyd’s of London, the world’s leading market for specialist insurance, does not charge higher premiums for vessels transiting this heavily traveled area.
The most famous US Navy losses which have occurred in the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle are USS Cyclops in March 1918 and the aircraft of Flight 19 in December 1945. The ship probably sank in an unexpected storm, and the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean — no physical traces of them have ever been found. Another well known disappearance is the civilian tanker SS Marine Sulphur Queen carrying bulk molten sulfur which sank in February 1963. Although the wreck of Marine Sulphur Queen has not been located, a life preserver and other floating artifacts were recovered. These disappearances have been used to provide credence to the popular belief in the mystery and purported supernatural qualities of the “Bermuda Triangle.”
Since the days of early civilization many thousands of ships have sunk and/or disappeared in waters around the world due to navigational and other human errors, storms, piracy, fires, and structural/mechanical failures. Aircraft are subject to the same problems, and many of them have crashed at sea around the globe. Often, there were no living witnesses to the sinking or crash, and hence the exact cause of the loss and the location of the lost ship or aircraft are unknown. A large number of pleasure boats travel the waters between Florida and the Bahamas. All too often, crossings are attempted with too small a boat, insufficient knowledge of the area’s hazards, and a lack of good seamanship.
To see how common accidents are at sea, you can examine some of the recent accident reports of the National Transportation Safety Board for ships and aircraft. One of the aircraft accident reports concerns an in-flight engine failure and subsequent ditching of a Cessna aircraft near Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas on 13 July 2003. This is the type of accident that would likely have been attributed to mysterious causes in the Bermuda Triangle if there had been no survivors or other eyewitnesses of the crash.
A significant factor with regard to missing vessels in the Bermuda Triangle is a strong ocean current called the Gulf Stream. It is extremely swift and turbulent and can quickly erase evidence of a disaster. The weather also plays its role. Prior to the development of telegraph, radio and radar, sailors did not know a storm or hurricane was nearby until it appeared on the horizon. For example, the Continental Navy sloop Saratoga was lost off the Bahamas in such a storm with all her crew on 18 March 1781. Many other US Navy ships have been lost at sea in storms around the world. Sudden local thunder storms and water spouts can sometimes spell disaster for mariners and air crews. Finally, the topography of the ocean floor varies from extensive shoals around the islands to some of the deepest marine trenches in the world. With the interaction of the strong currents over the many reefs the topography of the ocean bottom is in a state of flux and the development of new navigational hazards can sometimes be swift.
It has been inaccurately claimed that the Bermuda Triangle is one of the two places on earth at which a magnetic compass points towards true north. Normally a compass will point toward magnetic north. The difference between the two is known as compass variation. The amount of variation changes by as much as 60 degrees at various locations around the World. If this compass variation or error is not compensated for, navigators can find themselves far off course and in deep trouble. Although in the past this compass variation did affect the “Bermuda Triangle” region, due to fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field this has apparently not been the case since the nineteenth century.