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Bermuda Triangle theory busted: 1925 ship Cotopaxi found near Florida

An aerial view of the Bermuda Triangle.
The myth that things go missing in the Bermuda Triangle is just that, a myth.
(Image: © James Gass/EyeEm via Getty Images)

The identification of a nearly 100-year-old shipwreck has debunked a popular conspiracy theory: that the Bermuda Triangle was somehow involved with the 1925 disappearance of the SS Cotopaxi. The  steam powered bulk carrier never made it to its destination in Havana.

The real cherry on top of the discovery, however, is that the SS Cotopaxi shipwreck isn't even in the Bermuda Triangle, which stretches from Bermuda to Florida to Puerto Rico.

"That's the thing about this Bermuda Triangle — if you actually look at it on a map, most of the stories associated with it aren't even in the boundaries," Michael Barnette, a marine biologist and diver who identified the wreck, told Live Science. "It's total rubbish."

Related: Gallery: Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle myth didn't even exist when the Cotopaxi went missing. Not until the 1960s was the term coined, in a magazine article, and in 1974, the bestselling book "The Bermuda Triangle" (Doubleday) came out, proposing, among other things, that the triangle was created when the "lost" city of Atlantis was destroyed. 

The SS Cotopaxi, before its disappearance.

The SS Cotopaxi, before its disappearance.  (Image credit: Digital image from the Fr. Edward J. Dowling, S.J. Marine Historical Collection, University of Detroit Mercy)

Since then, the Bermuda Triangle has become common lore, just like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. In 1977, director Steven Spielberg's movie "Close Encounters of a Third Kind'' tied the disappearance of the SS Cotopaxi to the Bermuda Triangle and extraterrestrial activity.

Barnette's detective work has put the kibosh on that idea. When Barnette moved to Florida from the mid-Atlantic almost 20 years ago, he sought out shipwrecks he could explore while diving. One wreck in particular, known to locals as "the Bear Wreck" and located about 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers) off the eastern coast of St. Augustine, in northern Florida, caught his attention. 

Unlike most shipwrecks in that area, the Bear Wreck was large. Intrigued, Barnette did some research; he took measurements of the shipwreck, looked at historical newspaper articles and insurance records, and examined artifacts found at the wreck. 

His investigation showed that "the Cotopaxi was really the only option," Barnette said. "It's the one that just kind of screamed out."

In 2015, a rumor began circulating that a ghost ship found by the Cuban coast guard was actually the SS Cotopaxi. Barnette decided to set the record straight, so he posted a video online saying that the real Cotopaxi was at the bottom of the Atlantic. Soon after he posted that, Science Channel contacted him, and the two worked together to make a show about his find.

That show, the first in a series called "Shipwreck Secrets," aired Feb. 9. You can see it here

Divers have known about the so-called "Bear" shipwreck for years, but it was Michael Barnette who started doing the research that determined that the remains came from the SS Cotopaxi, a vessel associated with the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

Divers have known about the so-called "Bear" shipwreck for years, but it was Michael Barnette who started doing the research that determined that the remains came from the SS Cotopaxi, a vessel associated with the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.  (Image credit: Science Channel)

Distress calls

The SS Cotopaxi left Charleston, South Carolina, on Nov. 29, 1925, with a cargo of coal, but the vessel didn't make it far. A storm wiped out the ship, and none of the 32 people onboard were ever seen or heard from again.

Related: Mayday! 17 mysterious shipwrecks you can see on Google Earth

Research done by Barnette and British historian Guy Walters shows why. After the Cotopaxi went missing, the crewmembers' families sued the company that owned the ship. The families had found the ship's carpenter, who testified that the ship had broken hatch covers, which were used to cover the coal. If water sloshed aboard the ship and ran down to the cargo hold, the broken covers meant that the ship could flood and sink.

"We know from testimony that the hatch covers were in a very sad state of repair," Barnette said. "They were in the process of repairing all of these cargo hold covers, yet they were told to sail to Cuba before they completed all of that."

The research also revealed that the Cotopaxi had sent wireless distress signals on Dec. 1, 1925. These were picked up in Jacksonville, Florida, which isn't too far from where the wreck is today, according to a statement issued by Science Channel.

Moreover, another diver had discovered brass valves from the wreck with the letters SV on them. Barnette concluded that this probably stood for Scott Valve Manufacturing Co., whose Michigan headquarters are not too far from where the Cotopaxi was built.

"It made sense that a local shipbuilder is going to use local suppliers of hardware and things of that nature," Barnette said. "That's more supporting evidence that the Cotopaxi is the Bear Wreck."

Originally published on Live Science.

  • Bdoon
    The "finder" of this wreck does not disclose any direct evidence. Everything is assumptions.

    Additionally we know that heavy objects underwater move or that something could easily have occured in the Bermuda Triangle but the ship made it to the north Florida coast. There are more holes in this story than in the wreck.


    Brian
    Reply
  • barney
    Bdoon said:
    The "finder" of this wreck does not disclose any direct evidence. Everything is assumptions.

    Yes, no evidence such as measurements of the wreck's dimensions and key diagnostic features that match exactly with those on the arrangement plans of the COTOPAXI. Or the presence of the COTOPAXI's coal cargo. Or artifacts that match a local supplier to GLEW. Or the location of the wreck, which was on track and only 20 miles from the position of the distress signal. Yes, no evidence at all.

    Bdoon said:
    Additionally we know that heavy objects underwater move or that something could easily have occured in the Bermuda Triangle but the ship made it to the north Florida coast. There are more holes in this story than in the wreck.


    Brian

    No, heavy objects do not generally move underwater unless impacted by something significant like a hurricane. And that generally is limited to waters 100 meters or less.

    Put your tinfoil hat back on.
    Reply
  • Dwight Huth
    Bdoon said:
    The "finder" of this wreck does not disclose any direct evidence. Everything is assumptions.

    Additionally we know that heavy objects underwater move or that something could easily have occured in the Bermuda Triangle but the ship made it to the north Florida coast. There are more holes in this story than in the wreck.


    Brian

    SS Cotopaxi was an Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) Design 1060 bulk carrier built for the United States Shipping Board (USSB) under the World War I emergency shipbuilding program.

    With the shipwreck only being a 100 years old there would be artifacts, a ships name plate for example and other identifying characteristics would prove the ship was actually the SS Cotopaxi. The Cotopaxi served as a wartime vessel for the U.S. Navy even though it wasn't classified as a U.S. Navy vessel. Such vessels are marked by the U.S. Navy so that piracy does not take place.

    There should be a plate or several plates with the identifying number of 217270 which is the official U.S. ID number for the SS. Cotopaxi. Until such a plate is found the dimensions of the ship are rather irrelevant due to aging and loss of structure to get an actual measurement.

    The design was unique to the Great Lakes Engineering Works with deckhouse and engines aft (a design commonly termed a "Stemwinder") with four cargo hatches forward served by two masts.

    Was the team who found the wreck able to determine that the wreck was a Stemwinder design. With such a unique design such as the deckhouse and four forward cargo hatches the wreck should be easily identified.

    Until the ID Plate with 217270 is found then the wreck cannot be claimed as the Cotopaxi.
    Reply
  • barney
    Dwight Huth said:

    Was the team who found the wreck able to determine that the wreck was a Stemwinder design. With such a unique design such as the deckhouse and four forward cargo hatches the wreck should be easily identified.

    Yes. I am the guy. The wreck has all the attributes of a GLEW stemwinder, which is why this ID was not complicated. If you watch the program, which is available online at The Science Channel, we go through all this process.
    Reply
  • Dwight Huth
    barney said:
    Yes. I am the guy. The wreck has all the attributes of a GLEW stemwinder, which is why this ID was not complicated. If you watch the program, which is available online at The Science Channel, we go through all this process.
    Two turtles have the same attributes as well. One however is a snapping turtle the other is not.

    Do you have photos of the wheelhouse along with the four forward cargo hatches and the ID plate?
    Reply
  • barney
    Dwight Huth said:
    Two turtles have the same attributes as well. One however is a snapping turtle the other is not.

    Do you have photos of the wheelhouse along with the four forward cargo hatches and the ID plate?

    I'm guessing you aren't too familiar with shipwrecks. This is not a Hollywood film set. The wreck has been down for almost 100 years. It's collapsed and heavily sanded in. But yes, the wreck has all the diagnostic features and measurements consistent with the actual general arrangement plans of the vessel. But I am guessing you have not even seen the show and just want to be argumentative. Have fun...
    Reply
  • fltsfshr
    I was stationed at Boca Chica Naval Air Station in their AADCAP. You soon became a believer in the triangle. Commercial aircraft would appear on the radar and not know where they were. I don't know what caused it, I only know something was happening.
    Reply
  • Teako
    The real problem when you do not know why something is happoening is just making something up and challenging other people to prove you wrong. The Bermuda Triangle is a myth. AS far as I can tell nobody has proven it actually exists.
    Reply
  • Philquest
    Bermuda Triangle theory busted? Firstly, I didn’t know that there were such hard and fast lines drawn; secondly is it not feasible to suggest that the limits may vary over time, just as the magnetic poles do? Whether it is the vessel they think it is, or not, doesn’t “bust” a theory in any way whatsoever.
    Reply
  • Teako
    Philquest said:
    Bermuda Triangle theory busted? Firstly, I didn’t know that there were such hard and fast lines drawn; secondly is it not feasible to suggest that the limits may vary over time, just as the magnetic poles do? Whether it is the vessel they think it is, or not, doesn’t “bust” a theory in any way whatsoever.

    It very definitelyh is NOT a theory at all. Just an imaginary legend.
    Reply