Monday, October 1, 2012


Yute, November 17, 1920.

The Spanish 2,974-ton steamer Yute sailed from Baltimore on November 14, 1920. On November 17, she radioed for help, giving her position as 240 miles off the New Jersey coast, southeast of Cape May. Rescue vessels found no trace of her. (Spencer, p. 108.) She was bound for Dunkirk. ("More Ships Added to Mystery List," The New York Times, June 22, 1921.)

The winter of 192021 was one of the worst on record in the North Atlantic. (Winer, Devil's Triangle, pp. 79.)

More details from the time it happened: 

The sixty-mile gale yesterday, accompanied during a part of the day by rain, caused a number of minor accidents on land and sea, and delayed the shipping entering and leaving the harbor, but did not do any serious damage. The United States Weather Bureau records showed that the wind was blowing at fifty-six miles an hour by 10 o'clock yesterday morning, and dropped to forty miles at noon, and reached its maximum of sixty miles velocity at 4 o'clock. Toward night the wind shifted to the northwest and dropped to thirty miles before 8 o'clock. The prospect for today is diminishing northwest winds and fair weather. 
During the forenoon four appeals for aid from ships in distress were received at the Naval Radio Station. The first came from the Spanish freighter Yute, Baltimore to Dunkirk, disabled 240 miles east-southeast of Cape May, NJ. The United Sates Coast Guard cutter Seneca was sent to her assistance finally and towed the Yute into port. ("Storm Winds Blow on Land and on Sea," The New York Times, November 18, 1920.)

Now, that towed into port thing would be a zinger if it was true. But probably the reporter was just rash in assuming that she had been successfully salvaged. After all, the Yute wasn't added to the triangular rolls by Bermuda Triangle writers, but by further newspaper articles and government investigators, which would be less likely to make mistakes than our sensationalist friends.

I'll have to check that with other papers and Lloyd's if I get around to it. Either way, the mystery is solved, as the Yute was damaged or lost, whichever it was, in a storm.

The Yute was one of a number of ships claimed by the Bermuda Triangle in late 1920 and early 1921. The record number of vanishing ships aroused suspicions that Russian reds were hijacking ships and sailing them to soviet ports. When government investigators realized how severe the storms had been, investigations ceased.

While most or all of those ships were probably really storm victims, it is of course not impossible that some ships were hijacked by communists. A correspondent of The Washington Post saw several ships with their names painted out in Vladivostok. (Group, p. 36.) However, I tend to think those may very well have been Russian ships that had their tsarist names painted out, pending renaming with, uh, "good socialist/communist" names.

Finally, those ships not sunk by storms may be victims of insurance fraud.

"The commercial morality of the world seems to have been markedly lowered as a result of the war," said one underwriter today, when asked for an explanation of the situation. "The demand for bottoms after the armistice raised shipping to unprecedented values. Insurance valuations increased correspondingly. Then the slump came and values were lowered and owners faced tremendous losses, but insurance policies continued at an artificially high mark. What we term 'moral risk' naturally increased and sinkings began. That is our notion how it all came about." ("Suggests Storms Sank Lost Mystery Ships," The New York Times, June 24, 1921.)

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