Thursday, February 11, 2010

Seventeen Caravels

Seventeen caravels, July 4, 1502.

Thirty-two caravels carrying treasure and slaves sailed from Santo Domingo for Spain despite Columbus' warning that the westerly winds meant an approaching hurricane. (Chaplin, pp. 21; Winer, Devil's Triangle, pp. 25.) In the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, the hurricane struck. Only five ships made it through the storm. The flagship of Admiral Antonio de Torres El Dorado and twenty-six other ships were lost.

Ten wrecks were found on reefs and beaches, but seventeen caravels vanished. No trace of them has ever been found. They were the first known ships to vanish in the Bermuda Triangle.

Not hard to figure out how. They were not as lucky as ending up on reefs and beaches.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus' flotilla: Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, September/October 1492.

Christopher Columbus is the first European on record crossing the Bermuda Triangle. Conveniently for sensationalists, he supposedly observed some weird things. (Chaplin, pp. 22; Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, pp. 17; Thomas Jeffrey, Bermuda Triangle, p. 20.)

He saw a "marvelous branch of fire fall from the heavens into the sea," (Columbus, log, September 15) which obviously was a meteor.

I doubt that it was a meteorite. They would be commonplace to seamen and hardly cause for such a furor. (Chaplin, p. 23.)

That's a prime example for how sensationalists work. According to the log, there was no furor over the meteor, only later on over the long journey and the malfunctioning compasses. Plus, in that day and age it wouldn't at all have been strange for folks to make a furor out of a meteor, commonplace or not. After all, in those Dark Ages, celestial phenomena were considered omens.

Columbus saw lights, which may or may not be called strange and which may or may not have been luminous fish, or torches belonging to Indians on a native three-hour tour.

His compasses may or may not have malfunctioned more or less, for which there may or may not be a simple, naturalistic explanation, like his being confused by his discovery of magnetic variation, or some iron object wreaking havoc on the compass.

Sunday 23 September
 Since the sea had been calm and smooth the men complained, saying that since in that region there were no rough seas [Sargasso Sea], it would never blow for a return to Spain. But later the sea rose high and without wind, which astonished them, because of which the Admiral says here that the high sea was very necessary for me, a sign which had not appeared except in the time of the Jews when they left Egypt and complained against Moses, who took them out of captivity.
 The sea "rising" without any reason might be explained that they encountered the North Equatorial Current while exiting the Sargasso Sea. Without this, it is hard to explain, except as undersea tremors.

From this grudgingly reasonable explanation for the waves, the same author in another work veers into UFO territory regarding the light:

The unexplained light, rising and then hovering in the west, is perhaps the most propitious phenomenon recorded in the Triangle. It happened on the eve of discovering the New World, and it inspired Columbus and his crew to sail on and discover the Bahamas. Columbus saw it first, then Pedro Gutiérrez, then "After the Admiral said it, it was seen once or twice; and it was as a small wax candle that arose and lifted up." What both arose (alçava) and lifted up (Levatava) imply is hard to say — whether it means it rose up, hovered, and then disappeared upward or merely vanished while levitating is unclear. (Quasar, p. 116.)

To me, it implies that someone lifted up a torch. Like the Statue of Liberty. Not so hard to imagine.

Rule of Ragnar: If any language can be interpreted to be that of a UFO sighting, someone will.

Today, it is hard for landfall specialists to explain it, since Columbus was too far at sea to have seen any bonfire or torch on land and local island fishermen would not have been so far at sea at night with torches to attract catch.

Apparently, for some people it is harder to believe in venturesome native fishermen than in venturesome aliens.

Some say high winds made the presence of a fisherman unlikely, but others say there were no high winds. As Columbus' original log has been lost, we don't know exactly what the weather was like at landfall.

Then again it is possible that the light did come from an island. The exact location of the island where Columbus first made landfall, called Guanahani by the natives and named San Salvador by Columbus, is disputed. The island today called San Salvador was known as Watlings Island until 1925, when historians prevailed with the theory that this was the one true place. Yet it is just as likely that Columbus unwittingly passed the light-bearing island in the darkness and landed on a more westerly island.

Of the arguments I've read, Pickering makes a convincing case for the Plana Cays with his plot boxes. Ultimately, however, due to the shapes and sizes of the islands, I tend to agree with Verhoog that the Caicos chain was the one true place. I'm convinced that Island IV was Great Inagua, and from there pretty much everything falls into place.

I'm not an expert on Columbus though and may very well be wrong. Still I wonder whether a changing sea level and shifting sands may be the causes why no combination of islands seems to fit perfectly.

Ultimately, it boils down to whether you are a skeptic or true believer. A skeptic would accept that Columbus & crew may have been fallible and medievally ignorant of the true workings of a compass enough to put some iron object near it. A true believer would paint Columbus as a renaissance superman who would never do something like that. Thus the mystic conveniently leaves intact and unsolved the mystery he craves.

After all, if the Bermuda Triangle is so all-encompassing and powerful, how could the very first man known to have traversed it have escaped its spell? (Permit me to editorialize some in this first article, this first, so representative, case.)

The Columbus case (if you want to call it a case) sets the tone for the whole Bermuda Triangle legend, puts it in a nutshell. It's a perfect example of the tug of war between skeptics and mystics, the former ready to accept any naturalistic explanation, even if it is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the latter fighting tooth and nail to discount any naturalistic explanation not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to preserve the mystical worldview they crave for kicks or to feel how insignificant and ignorant they are. Call it an armchair traveler's Grand Canyon:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean."
 He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."
 "Yes. And that particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature — I've never received it from nature, only from…" She stopped.
 "From what?"
 "Buildings," she whispered. "Skyscrapers."
 "Why didn't you want to say that?"
 "I… don't know."
 "I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window — no, I don't feel how small I am — but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

— Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, p. 446.

A mystic will try to preserve a mystery as another excuse to feel small and remain a helpless victim of nature. A proud, reasonable person will use his mind to solve any mystery he encounters.

Or in a nutshell:

"Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others only want to gargle."

— Lawrence Kusche, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved, p. xiii.

That's what Bermuda Triangle Central is here for — to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truly mysterious cases waiting to be solved from the zombie cases kept alive undead by the mystics. And of course, if possible, to solve the mysteries.