The myth surrounding the Bermuda Triangle has persisted for decades. Many people believe, sailors and civilians alike, that there is an intersection in the Atlantic Ocean into which vessels and planes disappear.
It is an abyss that stretches from Bermuda to Florida to Puerto Rico, supposedly, and it has sometimes been called the Devil’s Triangle.
The name was bestowed upon it by author Vincent Gaddis, who first proposed its existence, perhaps only half-seriously, in a men’s magazine, “Argosy,” in the 1960s.
But it wasn’t until 1974 that the legend truly gained traction in the popular imagination.
Charles Berlitz, a member of the Berlitz family that propelled language courses into fame, wrote a book entitled “The Bermuda Triangle” in 1974, and soon this fabled stretch of sea enjoyed a high profile in popular culture, and had many believers.
Alas, the story of the Bermuda Triangle is really just a 1974 version of what we would call today ‘fake news.’
One ship that fell prey to the Triangle’s dark pull, it was said, was the SS Cotopaxi, which vanished when making its way from Charleston, South Carolina, to Havana, Cuba, in 1925.
Those who believe in the Triangle’s existence believed that the vessel had disappeared into it, even though the myth was not described by Gaddis until almost 40 years later.
The SS Cotopaxi was identified in 2015 by Michael Barnette, a sea going investigator of sorts and marine biologist, who was intrigued by the vessel’s vanishing. Barnette moved to Florida about 20 years ago, in part to go diving and explore shipwrecks.
When he saw one that locals called “the Big Bear,” he started checking for evidence that it could be the Cotopaxi. He measured the sunken ship, researched newspaper and magazine articles from the period, and examined artifacts that had been recovered on board.
“The Cotopaxi was really the only option,” he said recently in an interview with smithsonianmag.com. As for the ship’s sinking being caused by the Triangle? Barnette was clearly both amused and impatient at such a notion: “That’s the thing about the Bermuda Triangle,”
He said. “If you actually look at it on a map, most of the stories associated with it aren’t even in the boundaries.
It’s total rubbish,” he concluded. In reality, the cargo-laden boat went down in a storm not far from the port from which it sailed; not nearly as entertaining an explanation, but a far more grounded one.
To countermand the persistent legend of the Cotopaxi, Barnette partnered with the Science Channel to make a documentary entitled “Shipwreck Secrets,” which aired in America on February 9th and is available to watch online.
Disproving one incident involving the Bermuda Triangle certainly won’t erase its lure as a dark place that causes planes and vessels to disappear.
At least in North America, people are reluctant to let go of the myth, perhaps because it offers a mysterious solution to an otherwise prosaic problem.
It isn’t unlike the appeal of myths like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster; no matter how much rational science is presented, some people simply want a more romantic explanation and prefer to not know the logical reality.
The reality of the SS Cotopaxi is that on that late November night, 32 people lost their lives when it sank.
The crew’s families sued the shipbuilder responsible for letting it set out, claiming that the ship was in “a sad state of disrepair,” as Barnette described it to smithsonianmag.com.
In a subsequent investigation, the court heard that repairs to the ship had not been completed before it left the harbour.
That allowed water, during the storm, to pour down over the coal the vessel was carrying in the cargo hold, and it quickly sank. Distress calls were sent out to Jacksonville, Florida, but no one could respond in time.
Conspiracy theorists who claimed the SS Cotopaxi was sucked into the Bermuda Triangle probably won’t stop believing in its existence simply because the disappearance of one ship has been proved.
But it’s one less ship they can say was lost at the hands of the Triangle, and every time that occurs, it supports facts and science, and delivers a blow to fiction, myth, and fake news.