New theory on USS Cyclops and other Bermuda Triangle disappearances

And one that addresses why we can't find them, and where they all are.

bermuda triangle

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle has long intrigued humanity. The enigmatic region is famed for the numerous disappearances of planes and vessels.

Perhaps one of the most perplexing aspects surrounding the region is that many vessels lost in the ‘Devil’s Triangle’ are never recovered. It’s as though they vanished into thin air.

Leading theories include rogue tidal waves, aliens, foreign interference, methane reserves and even the lost city of Atlantis.

Upside took a deep dive into the history and geographical features of the region. We pieced together a theory based on real-world physics that addresses not only why the area’s waters are deceptively calm, but also where all the missing ships are.

Part 1: The USS Cyclops, The USS Proteus, and the USS Nereus

A good starting point in unraveling this mystery is a fairly typical Bermuda Triangle story.

It’s a three-fer, because the USS Cyclops, and its two sisters, the USS Proteus, and the USS Nereus all went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. True to the Triangle’s reputation, they were never recovered.

The three sister ships were built for the United States Navy. They weren’t tugboats either. The triplets were all 542 feet long and just shy of 20,000 tons a piece.

USS Cyclops
Naval History and Heritage Command, National Museum of the U.S. Navy

The USS Cyclops was the first to go. The Navy launched numerous searches over the years, but has repeatedly come up empty-handed.

The story of the USS Cyclops contains some important clues to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

In 1918, the Cyclops departed Salvator, Brazil voyaging toward the ports of Baltimore, Maryland with 306 crew members aboard.

It was supposed to be a direct trip. But about two weeks into her voyage, the captain made an unscheduled stop in the small island nation of Barbados.

The ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander George W. Worley, was concerned the boat was overloaded. The Plimsoll line, a measurement on the ship’s hull, was indicating the ship was sitting deeper in the water than it should have been.

Plimsoll line on a ship's hull measures how low in the water the vessel is sitting.

Upon arrival in Barbados, the captain’s concerns of overload must have subsided. The Plimsoll line was back to the right levels. During the impromptu detour stop, he requested more coal and water, which he was provided.

On March 4th, 1918, the USS Cyclops embarked the port of Barbados, resuming its journey toward Baltimore, Maryland.

It was the last time the ship – or any of her 306 crew members – were ever seen.

Over a hundred years later, the disappearance of the USS Cyclops remains the single largest non-combat loss of life in US Naval history.

In the aftermath of the the vessel’s disappearance, people struggled to find answers.

The Navy’s investigation into the disappearance included a review of how the ship had been loaded at its point of origin in Brazil. Documentation showed the ship had been loaded with the proper amount of weight allowable.

Theories that it was caught in a flash storm or had succumbed to structural issues circulated. Some suggested the ship had fallen to mutiny. Others thought the boat really had been overloaded, like Captain Worley had noted.

In the hundred years since the vessel’s vanishing, the Navy has launched numerous recovery expeditions. Despite advances in seafloor scanning technology, the fate of the USS Cyclops remains a mystery.

Just over 20 years later, as World War Two escalated, the Cyclops‘ sisters, the USS Proteus and the USS Nereus, would meet similar fates. Between them, an additional 110 crew members went missing. Like the Cyclops, no sign of either ship was ever recovered.

What happened to the Cyclops and her sisters? Why had no wreckage ever been found?

Captain Worley’s stop in Barbados, his request for more coal, and missing wreckage are key details to keep in mind as we peel back the layers of this century-old mystery.

Part 2: Across the pond – The Bolton Strid (featuring MrBallen)

To better understand what happened to the USS Cyclops and her sisters, we’re going to take a little trip to England.

Tucked away in Yorkshire, England, the Bolton Strid is a stream that, at first glance, looks peaceful.

the bolton Strid looks peaceful but is actually one of the most dangerous bodies of water on Earth.

It’s anything but. This little stream is widely considered to be among the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. 

If you were to fall into this stream, you would almost certainly die. That’s because under the surface, there is a powerful tow that would easily overpower world class Olympic swimmers.

The Bolton Strid reportedly has a 100% fatality rate. Most of the time, the bodies of those who fall in are never recovered.

The handful of bodies that have resurfaced after being caught in the Strid’s deadly current are generally found miles away from where the unfortunate soul fell in. How they turn up seems arbitrary. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months later….sometimes never at all.

So what’s going on here?

Former US Marine turned YouTube star MrBallen explains. (Special thanks for permission to use this clip.)

To better understand what makes the Bolton Strid so dangerous, we have to go upstream and survey the geographical features of the area. Then we’ll take a quick dive into its fluid dynamics.

The Yorkshire River

A few miles upstream of the Strid lies Leeds. The Yorkshire River flows through this British town, punctuated with a picturesque 3-arch bridge near the city’s River Wharf.

This large river squeezes itself into an exceptionally narrow passage as it exits the Wharf and makes its way into the Strid woods.

That squeeze creates a massive amount of pressure. Because the width of the river is constricting, the water is forced downward. That downward force is what makes the Strid an inescapable death trap.

But the pressurized water doesn’t only carve downward. While the rocky banks at the Strid’s surface have been worn away slowly, it appears that underneath, softer earth was hollowed out. As a result, beneath the surface, there are large caves that are much wider than the the width of the Strid appears at the surface.

Below is a rare photo taken of the Strid floor, captured by a rope camera. As you can see, the river carved out large, bulbous caves that are much wider than what is visible from the surface.

These bulbous caves are what make the Strid so deadly. Anyone who falls into the narrow opening at the surface will be sucked into the undercurrent and pinned against the walls of the Strid’s underground tunnel network of caves.

In order to get out, the victim would need to be able to swim against the powerful current, align themselves vertically with the Strid’s surface opening, then swim against the immense downward pressure of an entire river being forced into a narrow opening. Needless to say, no human could overpower the force of the river.

Part 3: Back in Bermuda: Plate tech tonics

Back to Bermuda.

What’s happening at the Bolton Strid is a microcosm of what is happening on a much larger scale in the Bermuda Triangle.

We know that the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico are shallow compared to the bordering Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean archipelago are on the ridge of the Caribbean plate. In other words, there is a drastic elevation change in ocean floor levels.

We can actually see this in satellite images.

This makes for some interesting fluid dynamics.

Ocean currents: Underwater rivers

Ocean currents are essentially underwater rivers – they move directionally and with kinetic energy. The North Equatorial Current flows from the deep Atlantic Ocean from east to west.

We know that this current is exceptionally strong. The Gulf Stream – essentially the top of the North Equatorial current that makes it passed the drastic elevation change at the ridge of the Caribbean plate – is a one-way river. It flows in from the southern entry points, and out through the north.

But like the Bolton Strid, most of this powerful ocean river crashes into the Caribbean plate and is forced downward.

That downward directed river starts to dig – and it digs deep.

We can tell, because there’s a big hole there we like to call the Puerto Rican Trench. And we know the river’s digging is something fierce, because the Puerto Rican trench is believed the be the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean.

puerto rico trench

Underwater waterfall

With the current being continuous – not unlike the flow of the Yorkshire River – the Puerto Rican trench isn’t simply filled up with tepid water.

Instead, the current’s continuous downward trajectory in effect makes the Puerto Rico trench an underwater waterfall.

If we think of the Puerto Rico trench in these terms, the stories of the Bermuda triangle start to make more sense.

It would be harder to out-swim the pull of a waterfall’s current nearer the ridge than it would be further upstream. As with any body of water that leads to a waterfall, as the water gets closer to the ridge, it accelerates.

And indeed, one of the points in the Bermuda triangle is directly on the trench’s mouth. The other two points of the triangle near Miami and the remote island of Bermuda are the perimeter in which the pull of the tow can be felt.

Vessels that enter the area become subject to the downward-pulling pressure that picks up strength as it gets closer to the trench.

Part 4: The fate of the USS Cyclops

When we re-examine the story of the USS Cyclops through this framework, it starts to make a lot more sense.

The Cyclops departed Brazil and was on the open waters for two weeks with no issues. As it entered the Bermuda Triangle however, it was pulled deeper into the water and toward the ledge of the Puerto Rico trench waterfall at an accelerating rate.

This explains why the captain noticed the hull’s Plimsoll line was too low in the water – it was. He mistakenly believed the problem was the boat was overloaded, the usual reason for such a reading. Captain Worley radioed the port in Barbados, who agree to receive him.

Importantly, in making this detour, the captain likely turned around and began moving away from the trench’s mouth. As they approached Barbados, the strength of the downward force decreased. The Cyclops became more buoyant. By the time the captain reached Barbados port, the Plimsoll line was right where it needed to be again.

But the captain knew what he saw. The vessel had been sitting too low in the water. It seemed the boat had gotten heavier. In reality, the trench’s downward force pulled the boat lower into the water. The lower the ship was in the water, the more resistance it experienced in making headway.

Perhaps that’s why the captain requested additional coal while in Barbados. The experience of mud-like waters was still fresh in his mind. He wanted the extra power in case it happened again, despite his initial concern that the boat was overloaded.

As he departed Barbados resuming his journey toward Baltimore, he once again charged into into the deceptively mild waters of the Bermuda Triangle. Once again, the Plimsoll line sunk lower. The waters became like quicksand near the trench’s mouth. Ultimately, the ship and her crew were swallowed up by the sea.

So where are the USS Cyclops and her crew? And where are her sister ships USS Proteus and the USS Nereus, who also went missing in the famed region?

Probably where all the vessels that vanished without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle – at the bottom of the trench Puerto Rican trench.

Either that, or the North Equatorial current buried them in the Atlantic sea floor.

To be continued:

But a question remains: why do many vessels make it through this undercurrent without getting pulled into the sea while others don’t?

There is a second important variable that differentiates the voyagers from the victims.

This important question will be answered in Part II of this special report, coming in October 2021.

calm waters of the atlantic ocean in the bermuda

 

Jack Tazman is a Baltimore, Maryland native. He attended Washington University where he studied political science.

Since then, he worked as a writer for various national news organizations specializing in politics and policy.

He now resides in New York City as a freelance writer and political consultant.

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