Is the Bermuda Triangle All Its Cracked up to Be?

The Bermuda Triangle, fact or fiction? Despite its reputation, this part of the Atlantic Ocean might not be that special after all.

From giant sea monsters to UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle has been the inspiration for many conspiracy theories. Whilst tales of lost ships and other mysterious occurrences dates back centuries, is it really that strange a place? 

Whilst many vessels and lives have been lost in this part of the world, often in very mysterious circumstances, it turns out it might not be that unusual. Perhaps it is time to put the legend of the Bermuda Triangle to bed? 

Who are we kidding, it will never die. People love a good story and the Bermuda Triangle has enough tales of strange disappearances and other events to keep anyone captivated for a lifetime. 

Where is the Bermuda Triangle?

The Bermuda Triangle is a mysterious stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that has, reportedly, had a number of ships and aircraft disappear for some unknown reason. Whilst many disputes any claims of mysterious causes, some believe it to be a hotbed of paranormal or extraterrestrial activity

Bermuda Triangle extent
Very approximate extent of the Bermuda Triangle. Adapted from Google Maps

Geographically, the Bermuda Triangle is a roughly triangular shaped area of the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of North America. Whilst its exact extent isn't universally accepted, most people will agree that its vertices are the Florida Peninsula, the Island of Bermuda and the Greater Antilles island group (this includes Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. 

Most estimates give the triangle a rough area of between 500,000 and 1,500,000 square kilometers. But this will vary depending on people's definition of the triangle. 

This section of the Atlantic Ocean is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Ships of all kinds frequently traverse the region between the ports of America, Europe, and the Carribean Islands. 

The skies above it are constantly filled with both private and commercial aircraft all year round. Reports of strange occurrences in the area date back to around the late-15th-Century.

Since then ships have been found abandoned (with no obvious cause), others were simply lost with no distress signals either being sent or received.  There are also reports of aircraft apparently just vanishing for no reason whatsoever. 

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Bermuda Triangle Shipping
Example of a live shipping report for the region. Source: marine traffic

When was the first known anomaly recorded in the Bermuda Triangle?

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle, or Devil's Triangle as some prefer to call it, can be said to have begun as long ago as the 15th Century. During his voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus may well have produced the first recorded anomaly in the region. 

His now famous diary contains a few interesting references to some strange events as his ships traversed this stretch of ocean. The first occurred on Sunday, September 15, 1492:

"They sailed that day and night 27 leagues and a few more on their route west. And on this night, at the beginning of it, they saw a marvelous branch of fire fall from the sky into the sea, distant from them four or five leagues."

Columbus also noted a strange light that appeared at a distance only a few weeks later. 

He also recorded incidents of erratic compass readings that he couldn't explain at the time on Monday, September 17, 1492:

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"The pilots took the north, marking it [the pilots took sight on the North Star and compared it with its compass bearing], and found that the compasses northwested a full point [i.e., eleven and one-quarter degrees]; and the sailors were fearful and depressed and did not say why. The Admiral was aware of this and he ordered that the north again be marked when dawn came, and they found that the compasses were correct. The cause was that the North Star appears to move and not the compasses."

As tantalizing as this all sounds, it should be noted that the original logbooks have been lost to the ages. These accounts come from a copy made by Bartolome de las Casas who lived between 1484 AD and 1566 AD.

Bartlome was only a young child when Columbus made his journey, but his father and uncle were part o the original crew. He would later compile a Diary of Christopher Columbus' First Voyage to America that included the more famous notes detailed above within it.

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It goes without saying that these are not true facsimiles of Columbus' own words and are likely to contain exaggerations or, dare we say complete fabrications.

One of the first reports of a ship being lost in the region was in 1800. The USS Pickering was lost with all hands on board on its voyage between Gaudaloupe and Delaware. 

It has since been surmised that she was most likely lost in a gale, but no one knows for sure! 

Bermuda Triangle USS Pickering
Source: U.S. Navy Historical Center/Wikimedia Commons

Is the Bermuda Triangle dangerous?

In short no, at least no more than sailing or flying over the ocean in general. Whilst many claims this area of the Atlantic is particularly dangerous, the stats don't seem to hold up.

According to the insurer Allianz, 94 ships (or 100 gross tonnes) of shipping went missing in 2013. In 2017, this figure was about the same, depending on your definition of a ship. Of these, the most common cause was foundering (sinking or submerging). 

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Of all lost ships between 2002 and 2013, around 7 ships have gone missing or were classified as overdue in the 11 years. Or 0.64 ships per year missing due to mysterious circumstances, on average. 

Lloyds of London, another large insurance company, and the U.S. Coastguard say that losses in the Bermuda Triangle are the same as you'd expect anywhere in the world.

According to reports, the Bermuda Triangle region of the Atlantic has lost an estimated 50 ships over the last 100 years

Whilst this is a very simple comparison, it does give an indication that it's in line with global averages. Obviously, this makes no account for any overlap in the figures, whether all 50 ships mysteriously vanished, and the density of loses in this area over time.

Like all legends, the Bermuda Triangle's reputation has been much exaggerated over time. You can think of it as an enormous global game of "Chinese Whispers".

Science

Bermuda Triangle Mystery has Finally Been Solved

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One of its earliest pieces of PR comes from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest". Scholars widely believe that it was actually inspired by a real-life Bermuda shipwreck.

Exposure like this over the years has, unsurprisingly, hyperinflated the area's mystique. 

And that's before we even begin to talk about the enormous catalog of films, documentaries, and other media about the Bermuda Triangle.

Despite this, there have been some very weird events in the Bermuda Triangle. One of the most notorious was the loss of the USS Cyclops

She was a 542-foot Navy cargo ship who was lost with all hands in March of 1918. The ship had a 300-men crew and 10,000 tons of manganese ore in her hold. 

She sank without a trace, and no survivors, somewhere between Barbados and the Chesapeake Bay. For some reason, the crew never sent a distress signal despite having the equipment onboard to do so. 

All searches were in vain, and even inspired the then President of the U.S., Woodrow Wilson, to comment on the event.: “Only God and the sea know what happened to the great ship."

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But it gets weirder. The USS Cyclops had three sister ships two of which, the Proteus and Nereus, also disappeared at sea without a trace on almost the same route as the Cyclops.

What are some the most interesting ‘stories’ about the Bermuda Triangle?

One of, if not, the most famous story about the Bermuda Triangle was the mystery of the Mary Celeste. She was discovered adrift on the 4th December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Everything on board was pristine except for one obvious thing missing - her entire crew. There should have been seven crew members, the Captain, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter onboard.

When she was discovered by a passing British ship, the Dei Gratia, she was under partial sail. On boarded her, the Dei Gratia's crew found nine of the barrels of alcohol in her cargo hold were empty and there was a sword lodged in the deck. 

The lifeboat was also missing. To this day no one knows what happened to her crew.

But there is yet a more mysterious and haunting story from the Bermuda Triangle. In 1881 on a voyage between London and New York, a large American multi-masted ship, the Ellen Austin, came across an unidentified schooner, seemingly adrift.

After waiting some time to observe the vessel, and not receiving any response from the crew, the Captain decided to salvage it. A prize crew manned the vessel who confirmed that there was not a single soul onboard.

The prize crew was ordered to meet The Ellen Austin in New York and all was well, for a few days at least. Both ships became separated in a storm.

From here various stories offer contradictory endings. Either the schooner and her crew were never seen again or she was once again found with the prize crew also missing.

In the latter story, a second prize crew was sent to commandeer the schooner once again, with this crew also mysteriously vanishing. 

We will never know what really happened. 

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