Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Modest Proposal for the Mystics

Don't you think it's funny that of the last dozen triangular ships, most were Navy ships? Did the Martians or Atlanteans have an extraordinary appetite for US government property during the first half of the nineteenth century?

Or is it maybe that the loss of a Navy ship, presumably built well enough to survive a sea battle, was more noteworthy, enough to fill the papers for weeks, months, and years, while the loss of a merchantman was nothing special and did not make a splash in the papers at a time when a person about to embark on a sea voyage would make their will?

Here's one that did make a splash: the President. The world's largest ship, vanished crossing the Atlantic, "the first steamship to founder on the transatlantic run when she was lost at sea with all 136 on board in March 1841."

True, she had a weak hull and was top heavy, underpowered, fitted with inferior paddlewheels for the crossing, overloaded, and last seen struggling in a gale. But who's to say she was a storm victim? Who's to say she didn't vanish in the Bermuda Triangle?

President encountered a gale and was seen on her second day out laboring in heavy seas in the dangerous area between Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank. She was not seen again.

But who's to say she went down off Cape Cod? Did anyone see her sink?

No. She may well have gone off course, struggled on into the Bermuda Triangle, and gotten by the Atlanteans.

Or even better, take the Naronic. That one's even more mysterious.

"After leaving Liverpool, she stopped briefly at Point Lynas, Anglesey, North Wales, to put her Maritime pilot ashore before heading west into heavy seas, never to be seen again."

But can we be sure that heavy seas, or icebergs, or a bomb, got her? If we can't be sure which one of the above got her, why can't the Atlanteans have gotten her?

We don't know that her course wasn't southerly enough to take her through the Bermuda Triangle. And if it wasn't, we can always extend the Triangle northward to cover her course. After all, it has been made to cover the Gulf of Mexico, the Azores, and even the Pacific.

Mystics, I propose you add the President and the Naronic to your triangular rolls without further delay.

And while you're at it, go forth and, like the beachcomber combs the beach, comb the old-time newspaper archives for merchantmen and small craft vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. There must be not hundreds, but thousands and thousands before the invention of radio alone.

It's like with cockroaches: If you see one, you've got a thousand. There must be a thousand civilian ships lost in and around the Bermuda Triangle for every Navy ship. The Ardilla and the other newfound victims of Quasar's pages 56 and 57 are only the tip of the iceberg.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

USS Grampus

USS Grampus, March 15, 1843.

The USS Grampus vanished on her way home to Charleston. She was last seen by the Madison off St. Augustine, Florida, on March 3, 1843. (Winer, Devil's Triangle, pp. 67.)

"Subsequent mysterious disappearances include another U.S. schooner/warship: Grampas [sic] in March of 1843 after sailing south of the Carolinas."

Now, ladies and gentlemen, in my line of business we call this a howler. Thankfully, my grandpas have never been wrecked… I mean, my family has done a lot of crazy things, I can tell you that… They've often been wasted… But they've never been wrecked… At least not to my knowledge.

Schooner USS Grampus presumably foundered in a gale off Charleston, South Carolina with all hands. At least 25 drowned. Last heard from on 15 Mar. 1843.

How would The Donald put it? Location, location, location:

Grampus was last spoken to by Madison off St. Augustine, Florida on 15 March 1843. She is presumed to have foundered in a gale off Charleston, South Carolina with all hands. Because of that location, some credit her otherwise unremarkable loss to the Bermuda Triangle.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Rosalie and/or Rossini, August 3, 1840.

London Times, Nov. 6, 1840 -- the Rosalie, a large French ship, bound from Hamburg to Havana -- abandoned ship -- no clue to an explanation. Most of the sails set -- no leak -- valuable cargo. There was a half-starved canary in a cage. (Fort, Lo!, p. 138.)

The article:

SHIP DESERTED. — A letter from Nassau, in the Bahamas, bearing date the 27th of August, has the following narrative: — "A singular fact has taken place within the last few days. A large French vessel, bound from Hamburgh to the Havannah, was met by one of our small coasters, and was discovered to be completely abandoned. The greater part of her sails were set, and she did not appear to have sustained any damage. The cargo, composed of wines, fruits, silks, &c., was of very considerable value, and was in a most perfect condition. The captain's papers were all secure in their proper place. The soundings gave three feet of water in the hold, but there was no leak whatever. The only living beings found on board were a cat, some fowls, and several canaries half dead with hunger. The cabins of the officers and passengers were very elegantly furnished, and everything indicated that they had been only recently deserted. In one of them were found several articles belonging to a lady's toilet, together with a quantity of ladies' wearing apparel thrown hastily aside, but not a human being was to be found on board. The vessel, which must have been left within a very few hours, contained several bales of goods addressed to different merchants in Havannah. She is very large, recently built, and called the Rosalie. Of her crew no intelligence has been received." (Times (London), November 6, 1840, p. 6, col. 3.)

Kusche reports that there were no more articles in the London Times. The New York Times and The Nassau Guardian did not yet exist then. The Library of Congress and the British Library told him that there are no libraries with copies of August 1840 newspapers from Nassau or Havana. The Musée de la Marine in Paris had no information on this allegedly French ship.

Yet Lloyd's proved helpful:

I… regret that a search of Lloyd's Records has failed to reveal mention of any incident involving a vessel named Rosalie in the Bahamas in 1840.

However, I am enclosing extracts from Lloyd's Records, which contain references to a vessel named Rossini, which would appear to be the vessel in which you are interested.

Lloyd's List, September 25, 1840: Havana, 18th Aug. The Rossini, from Hambro to this port, struck on the Muares (Bahama Channel) 3rd inst.; Crew and Passengers saved.

Lloyd's List, October 17, 1840: Havana, 5th Sept. The Rossini, from Hambro to this port, which struck on the Muares (Bahama Channel) 3rd ult. was fallen in with abandoned, 17th ult. and has been brought into this port a derelict.

(J. F. Lane, Assistant Shipping Editor, Lloyd's, letter to Kusche, August 15, 1973, in Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, p. 25.)

Kusche found enough similarities between the Rossini and the Rosalie to make him agree they might be the same ship. "The names were so close that one could have been mistaken for the other, especially if they were handwritten, which most messages were in 1840." The correspondent in Nassau might have written Rossini, and the editor in London might have read Rosalie.

Both vessels were bound from Hamburg to Havana. Both were found near Nassau.

The dates were a good match, too: "It was reported on August 27 that the Rosalie was brought into Nassau 'within the last few days,' and the Rossini was found on August 17 and towed to Nassau."

Kusche examined the vice admiralty court minutes on the salvage of the Rossini, to see if the circumstances of the discovery of the Rossini match those in the tale of the Rosalie, which would prove that both were one and the same. But the only clue he found was the minutes mentioning "curious circumstances" under which the Rossini was found. This certainly would be a fitting description of the Rosalie story, but is too vague for a definite proof. The government in Nassau lost the affidavit with the exact description of the discovery of the Rossini, so unless someone feels like searching the Bahamian government's files high and low…

Here the matter could have died. Yet, just as love never dies, the mystics never rest:

The first recorded merchant ship disappearance was in 1840, when the Rosalie vanished in the Sargasso Sea. Rosalie has often been listed as a derelict ship instead, confused with the very non mysterious drifter Rossini, and claimed to have never existed at all. However, the British Maritime Museum does hold a record of her. She was built in 1838, of 222 tons. There is still some debate whether she vanished or was found derelict. The London Times of 1840 listed her as derelict.

This is pathetic — a prime example of how the mystics grasp at straws to stay afloat in their self-made Bermuda Triangle. All that the British Maritime Museum record proves is that a ship called Rosalie existed at that time. It does not prove that she ever had an accident, let alone in the Bermuda Triangle. As for the Times article, I quoted it above, and it may refer to the Rossini.

The Rosalie was indeed a real ship. She was built in 1838 of 222 tons of wood. In 1840 she was found deserted but in ship shape near the Bahamas. She was not the Rossini.

I don't know about you, but I feel much better now that I know that the Rosalie was built of wood, and not out of cookie batter like most ships of her era.

Yet one thing about the only fact Quasar could find and consequently waves about like a castaway waves his shirt is interesting: In the Times, the drifter was referred to as "very large" and "recently built." Quasar's Rosalie certainly was recently built, but would 222 tons (plus the weight of the non-wooden parts) empty displacement be very large, even in 1840? Observe that she was not just referred to as large compared with the small Bahamian coasters, but as "very large" in absolute terms.

The Cutty Sark, which was built in 1869 and admittedly contains iron reinforcements, weighs 963 tons. The USS Constitution, built in 1797 and more sturdily than a merchantman, displaces 2,200 tons, of which, of course, not all is wood.

The Charles W. Morgan was built at the right time (1841), displaces 313.75 tons (loaded?), and was "comparable to many whaling ships of the time." Would she have been called "very large"? If I got that right and gross tons means weight, the Mary Celeste weighed "198 Gross Tons as built 1861" and "282 Gross Tons after rebuild 1872." She was always considered a small ship.

Would be interesting to know what the Rossini weighed. I'm not an expert on mid-nineteenth-century sailing ships, but if I'm right, Quasar has shot himself in the foot with his 222 tons of wood.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

USS Hornet

USS Hornet, 1829.

"The USS Wildcat, with 31 crew; the schooner Lynx, with 40 men; and the schooner Hornet (which had won a notable victory over HMS Peacock in 1812) all vanished in 1824." (Quasar, p. 55.)

Brig USS Hornet lost with all hands in gale off Tampico, Mexico on 29 Sep. 1829. 145 lost.

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that in Moscow, Mercedes cars are being given to citizens?"

Radio Yerevan answers: "In principle, yes, but it is not Moscow but Leningrad, not Mercedes but Ladas, and not given to but stolen from."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that comrade cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's car was stolen in Moscow during the celebrations?"

Radio Yerevan answers: "In principle, yes, but it was not in Moscow, rather in Kiev, and it was not his car, but his bike, and it was not comrade cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, but comrade high school teacher Gagarin, and his first name was not Yuri, but Leonid."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that the schooner USS Hornet vanished in the Bermuda Triangle in 1824?"

Radio Yerevan answers: "In principle, yes, but it was not in the Bermuda Triangle, rather off Tampico, and she was not a schooner, but a brig, and she did not vanish, but was lost in gale, and the year was not 1824, but 1829."

Then again there was a schooner Hornet, but the rest of the data doesn't seem to fit… If she vanished in the Bermuda Triangle four years after the Navy sold her, I can find no account of it. And of course it was the brig Hornet that "had won a notable victory over HMS Peacock in" 1813, actually, not 1812.

The mystics wouldn't be called mystics if they ever got their facts right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

USS Lynx

USS Lynx, January 1820.

"The USS Wildcat, with 31 crew; the schooner Lynx, with 40 men; and the schooner Hornet (which had won a notable victory over HMS Peacock in 1812) all vanished in 1824." (Quasar, p. 55.)

Remaining off the southern coast through the end of the year, Lynx departed St. Mary's, Ga., 11 January 1820, bound for Kingston, Jamaica, to continue her service suppressing pirates. She was never seen nor heard from again, and despite the searchings of schooner Nonsuch, no trace of her or her 50-man crew was ever found. The disappearance of Lynx is one of the continuing mysteries of the sea.

Obviously, during the Age of Sail, all kinds of things could happen to ships, and without radios, no one would ever hear about it. Doesn't mean the Martians got her. Doesn't mean they didn't get her, either. Tossup. Think or believe what you want.

Quasar didn't bother to get the year right, though.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

USS Epervier

USS Epervier, July or August 1815.

The voyage of the Epervier in 1815 was an auspicious occasion. She carried the peace proposals for the War of 1812. She left Algiers for Norfolk and vanished, delaying the ending of hostilities. Here is one instance where the possible phenomenon of the Bermuda Triangle could have played a crucial role in world politics.

As for the facts:

Sloop-of-war USS Epervier disappeared in the Atlantic with 132 sailors and 2 marines after transiting the Straits of Gibraltar on 14 July 1815. She may have encountered a hurricane reported in the Atlantic on 9 August 1815.

(BTW, it was a treaty with the Dey of Algiers, and not the peace proposals for the War of 1812. But why let such a minor fact get in the way, or go out of one's way to check it? One war or other… All the same, huh?)

Observe the cherry picking by the true believers: In reality, the ship may have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle or somewhere in the Atlantic outside the Triangle. The ship may have been hit by the hurricane or not. But to them, to be able to claim another mysterious victim, she was of course lost inside the Triangle and of course not hit by the hurricane.

A sane person would assume she was sunk by the hurricane, until shown evidence to the contrary. Occam's razor, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

USS Wasp

USS Wasp, October 9, 1814.

"The USS Wasp, October 9, 1814, sailing in the Caribbean with a crew of 140." (Berlitz, Bermuda Triangle, p. 64.)

"The USS Wasp, which mercilessly pummeled British shipping in the War of 1812, mysteriously disappeared in the Caribbean in October 1814." (Quasar, p. 55.)

Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey gives you a lengthy write up in The Bermuda Triangle, pp. 63.

As for the facts:

The American warship continued her ravages of the British merchant marine. On 12 September, she encountered Three Brothers, a brig, and scuttled her. Two days later, she sank the brig Bacchus. On the 21st, an eight-gun brig, Atlanta, ran afoul of Wasp, and she, too, suffered the ignominy of capture. Deemed too valuable to destroy, Atlanta was placed under the command of Midshipman Geisinger and was sent home to the United States. She entered Savannah, Ga., safely on 4 November. From the time Wasp and Atlanta parted company, nothing was heard from the former. She was last seen by a Swedish merchantman bound from Rio de Janeiro to Falmouth, England, about three weeks after the Atlanta capture and was said to be headed for the Caribbean. Wasp apparently sank in a storm.

Snow identifies the Swedish merchantman as the bark Adonis, quotes from her log, and then elaborates:

At the time the Wasp was about two hundred miles northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. There was a rumor that a British frigate came into Cádiz, Spain, terribly crippled and with severe loss of men, and that the injuries had been caused when an American craft had engaged her in battle. The American vessel was said to have disappeared suddenly in the night, so suddenly that she might have gone down. Of course, if the relatively small Wasp had engaged a heavy frigate in battle, her fate was sealed before she began the engagement.

Another possibility which may explain what happened to the Wasp is that Captain Blakeley intended to run down toward the Spanish Main and then to pass through the West Indies. About the same time that the Wasp should have been in the area, two English frigates sighted and began to chase a craft about her size and type. A sudden heavy squall struck the three vessels, and when the squall ended the two frigates were afloat, but the Wasp, if it was the Wasp, had disappeared.

There is actually nothing surprising in a vessel of that size capsizing in a squall, especially when carrying every last bit of canvas to supply the needed speed to escape from her enemies. (Snow, Mysterious Tales of the New England Coast, pp. 238.)

Friday, August 6, 2010


Patriot, January 1, 1813.

During the week of January 1, 1813, the schooner Patriot disappeared. On board was Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of former Vice President Aaron Burr and the wife of Joseph Alston, governor of South Carolina. (Snow, Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea, pp. 167; Thomas Jeffrey, Bermuda Triangle, pp. 45; Winer, Devil's Triangle 2, pp. 34.)

On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown, South Carolina. The Patriot was a famously fast sailer, which had originally been built as a pilot boat, and had served as a privateer during the War of 1812, when it was commissioned by the United States government to prey on English shipping. She had been refitted in December in Georgetown, her guns dismounted and hidden below decks. Her name was painted out and any indication of recent activity was entirely erased. The schooner's captain, William Overstocks, desired to make a rapid run to New York with his cargo, and it is likely that she was laden with the proceeds from her raids.

The Patriot and all those on board were never heard from again.

Mystics have made much hay of the dismounted guns and the safe conduct granted by the blockading British. Of course, all lost ships not sunk by enemy warships can safely be assumed to have been beamed up to a Martian mothership.

Thomas Jeffrey trots out the old canard that the Patriot cannot have been sunk by a storm because no wreckage was found, as wreckage is found from every ship that sinks in a storm.

A perennial popular favorite is that pirates got her. Bermuda Triangle writers relate all kinds of deathbed confessions by would-be pirates that wanted to immortalize themselves with such a final yarn. They said they made Theodosia walk the plank or kept her as their sex slave until she died from exhaustion. Historically, walking the plank was much less popular than keeping sex slaves.

Winer very reasonably objects that pirates would not have dared to plunder in the presence of the British blockading fleet and that seas would have been too rough to board any ship.

Here some stories from the Wikipedia article, in case you don't have any of the Bermuda Triangle books handy:

Following the Patriot's disappearance, rumors immediately arose. The most enduring was that the Patriot had been captured by the pirates Dominique You or "The Bloody Babe"; or something had occurred near Cape Hatteras, notorious for its wreckers.

Her father refused to credit any of the rumors of her possible capture, believing that she had died in shipwreck, but the rumors persisted long after his death and after around 1850 more substantial "explanations" of the mystery surfaced, usually alleging to be from the deathbed confessions of sailors and executed criminals.

One story which was considered somewhat plausible was that the Patriot had fallen prey to the wreckers known as the Carolina "bankers." The bankers populated the sandbank islands near Nags Head, North Carolina, pirating wrecks and murdering both passengers and crews. When the sea did not serve up wrecks for their plunder, they lured ships onto the shoals. On stormy nights the bankers would hobble a horse, tie a lantern around the animal's neck, and walk it up and down the beach. Sailors at sea could not distinguish the bobbing light they saw from that of a ship which was anchored securely. Often they steered toward shore to find shelter. Instead they became wrecked on the banks, after which their crews and passengers were murdered. In relation to this, a Mr. J.A. Elliott of Norfolk, Virginia, made a statement in 1910 that in the early part of 1813, the dead body of a young woman "with every indication of refinement" had been washed ashore at Cape Charles, and had been buried on her finder's farm.

Writing in the Charleston News and Courier, Foster Haley claimed that documents he had discovered in the State archives in Mobile, Alabama, said that the Patriot had been captured by a pirate vessel captained by John Howard Payne and that every person on board had been murdered by the pirates including "a woman who was obviously a noblewoman or a lady of high birth". However, Haley never identified or cited the documents he had supposedly found.

The most romantic legend concerning Theodosia's fate involves piracy and a Karankawa Indian chief on the Texas Gulf Coast. The earliest American settlers to the Gulf Coast testified of a Karankawa warrior wearing a gold locket inscribed "Theodosia." He had claimed that after a terrible storm, he found a ship wrecked at the mouth of the San Bernard River. Hearing a faint cry, he boarded the hulk and found a white woman, naked except for the gold locket, chained to a bulkhead by her ankle. The woman fainted on seeing the Karankawa warrior, and he managed to pull her free and carry her to the shore. When she revived, she told him that she was the daughter of a great chief of the white men, who was misunderstood by his people and had to leave his country. She gave him the locket and told him that if he ever met white men, he was to show them the locket and tell them the story, and then died in his arms.

Another myth about her fate traces its origin to Charles Etienne Arthur Gayarre's novel Fernando de Lemos: Truth and Fiction: A Novel (1872). Gayarre devoted one chapter to a confession by the pirate Dominique You. In Gayarre's story, You admitted having captured the Patriot after he discovered it dismasted off Cape Hatteras following a storm. You and his men murdered the crew, while Theodosia was made to walk the plank: "She stepped on it and descended into the sea with graceful composure, as if she had been alighting from a carriage," Gayarre wrote in You's voice. "She sank, and rising again, she, with an indescribable smile of angelic sweetness, waved her hand to me as if she meant to say: 'Farewell, and thanks again'; and then sank forever." Because Gayarre billed his novel as a mixture of "truth and fiction," there was popular speculation about whether his account of You's confession might be real, and the story entered American folklore. The American folklorist Edward Rowe Snow later put together an account in Strange Tales from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras incorporating the Gayarre story with later offshoots; for example, on February 14, 1903, one Mrs. Harriet Sprague issued a sworn statement before Notary Freeman Atwell, of Cass County, Michigan claiming to corroborate the details of You's confession in Gayarre's 1872 novel. Mrs. Sprague described the contents of an 1848 confession by pirate Frank Burdick, an alleged shipmate of You's when the Patriot was discovered. The pirates left most of Alston's clothing untouched, as well as a portrait of Alston. Later, "wreckers" (locals known for rifling stranded vessels in often-criminal fashion) discovered the deserted Patriot and one of them carried the painting and clothing ashore, giving it to a female suitor. Years later, a physician caring for the now-elderly woman noticed the unusually expensive oil painting in the Nag's Head shack and it was supposedly confirmed to have belonged to the Alston family. The detail of the painting in Mrs. Sprague's story appears to be derived from a separate legend that first appeared in print in 1878. In 1869, Dr. William G. Pool treated Mrs. Polly Mann for an ailment; in payment she gave him a portrait of a young woman which she claimed her first husband had discovered on board a wrecked ship during the War of 1812. Pool became convinced the portrait was of Theodosia Burr Alston, and contacted members of her family, some of whom agreed, though Pool conceded "they cannot say positively if it was her." None of them had ever seen Theodosia in life. The only person who had actually known Theodosia that Pool contacted was Mary Alston Pringle, Theodosia's sister-in-law. To his disappointment, she could not recognize the painting as one of Theodosia.

A popular (though very improbable) local story in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests that Theodosia Burr Alston may have been the Mysterious Female Stranger who died in Alexandria at Gadsby's Tavern on October 14, 1816. She was buried in St. Paul's Cemetery with a gravestone inscription that begins: "To the memory of a / FEMALE STRANGER / whose mortal sufferings terminated / on the 14th day of October 1816 / Aged 23 years and 8 months."

The truth, however, is probably more prosaic.

A less romantic analysis of the known facts has led some scholars to conclude that the Patriot was probably wrecked by a storm off Cape Hatteras. Logbooks from the blockading British fleet report a severe storm which began off the Carolina coast in the afternoon of January 2, 1813, and continued into the next day. James L. Michie, an archaeologist from South Carolina, by studying its course has concluded that the Patriot was likely just north of Cape Hatteras when the storm was at its fiercest. "If the ship managed to escape this battering, which continued until midnight," he has said, "it then faced near hurricane-force winds in the early hours of Sunday. Given this knowledge, the Patriot probably sank between 6 p.m. Saturday [January 2] and 8 a.m. Sunday [January 3]."