Thursday, May 12, 2011

Perilous Waters

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination—next stop, the Twilight Zone!” — Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone introduction.

In conversation recently, passing mention was made of the Bermuda Triangle, that infamous swirl of spooky waters not too very far off the coast of Florida. Until then I hadn’t ever stopped to consider that it is so near, but then why would that proximity be anything special or alarming? It’s definitely out of my water skiing range, but the mention of it stirred interest, encouraging me to find out a little more than what I once saw on an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Looking at a map, the Bermuda Triangle or the Devil’s Triangle as it is sometimes called, is an area of the western North Atlantic defined by three points touching on Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, with most of the ‘mysteries’ centered along the southern boundary around the Bahamas and the Florida Straits. The triangle points enclose an area of shipping lanes with a steady flow of ships crossing for ports in either the US or Europe. Cruise ships abound and pleasure craft passing between Florida and the islands are a regular sight. It is also a heavily flown route for commercial and private aircraft.

For many years journalists and credulous others fascinated by spooky and unexplained disappearances in the Triangle area have studied mysterious loses of ships and planes and come up with sundry explanations, most of them at least a teeny tiny bit bizarro. But that area of the Atlantic does have some unusual features. It is one of only two places on earth where true north and magnetic north align, a condition that can definitely make compass readings iffy. Navigational hazards are frequent because of shoals and reefs along the continental shelf and the strong currents over those reefs. And the seabed in that part of the Atlantic has some of the deepest trenches in the world, easily hiding any wreckage. It is also an area famous for hurricanes, the southern boundary spawning 2005’s deadly Katrina.

Weird speculation about the Bermuda Triangle began with an article in Argosy magazine about the disappearance on December 5, 1945 of five planes known as Flight 19. The flight leader (in a time before GPS became common in navigation) got hopelessly lost trying to read a screwy compass. His radio communication was something like, “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are…the water is green…no white!” Someone also later claimed that officials on the Navy board of inquiry remarked that the planes just “flew off to Mars.” That and other disappearances have been attributed to sea monsters, giant squid, and even extra-terrestrials.

Dozens of air and sea disasters have been attributed to strange doings in the Bermuda Triangle, but scientists—despite the area dangers described above—have assured the public that the percentage of these occurrences is no greater in this one area than others. Alien abductions and the existence of a mysterious third dimension created by unknown beings are interesting concepts, but my personal favorite among explanations for disasters in the Bermuda Triangle is the one describing severe disturbance caused by ocean flatulence—great rumbling ocean farts suddenly spewing huge quantities of trapped methane, tipping over ships and knocking planes out of the sky. Don’t you wish Rod Serling would have recreated that one?


  1. I loved the Twilight Zone. When we lived in Sebastian, certain maps actually included our town in the "triangle." I've often wondered about all the strange things that have happened there - they can't all be coincidences. But the ocean flatulence is a new one to me. I don't think Rod Sterling, or the networks at that time, would have touched it with a 10-foot pole. Johnny Carson certainly would have in his day - so would Letterman and Carson Daly! Interesting reading - thank you!

  2. Hmmm. . . first a chili recipe and now ocean flatulence -- I sense a theme here.

  3. I had two friends who were young with small children and they disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. The small children had been left at home so it was only the parents. Nothing was ever found of them, their belongings or anything aboard the boat. The two were the only ones on the boat but he was an excellent boatsman. From then on, I have found it more comforting to fly down to those destinations.

  4. Darn. I have nothing to top A Reader's Life comment. What next? The flatulence given off by sumo wrestlers when they collide? Whatever the post I will have a can of Febreze handy. Rod Serling and the Bermuda Triangle: a match made ... unh ... somewhere.

  5. When I was a kid I used to love stories about the Bermuda Triangle. I guess I was attracted by the mystery and the hair-raising speculations about aliens and other paranormal activity. I truly believed that something supernatural was going on in that area.

    As I grew up I've come to realize that, while the zone itself is afflicted by a series of factors which increase the chance for boats and planes to get lost and sink without a trace, everything that happens there can be explained from natural causes.

  6. No, no Peninkcillin, rage against that growing up and believing everything can be explained by natural causes. Come on, some small part of the child in you still wants it to be supernatural. Admit it. I do.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America