BOOK: Richard Winer, "The Devil's Triangle" (cont.)
Richard Winer: The Devil's Triangle. New York: Bantam Books, 1974. (First ed.: Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1972.) 0552094307. 336 pp.
[Continued from last week.]
More examples of healthy skepticism
Winer often mentions events that could easily become classic mysterious ‘disappearances’ if it hadn't been for the presence of some witness, due to whom we know what happened. The implication, I guess, is that many of the mysterious disappearances may have similarly mundane reasons, just that there weren't any witnesses around at the time. This is again a fine example of Winer's preference for sober rather than paranormal explanations. See e.g. pp. 54–55, describing how the crew of a ship, the Discoverer, saw in 1971 a cargo plane plunge into the sea nearby, and no debris or oil slick was found in the area (just one of the chunks of beef that the plane had been carrying): “Had the Discoverer not been present when the Connie [i.e. the Super Constellation plane] went down, there again would have been another chapter added to the legend of the ‘Triangle of Death’.” (P. 55.)
Similarly, when the Sno' Boy vanished in 1973, it turned out that it was badly overloaded with both cargo and passengers, it was caught in a storm, and plenty of debris was eventually found — hardly a mysterious Triangle disappearance (p. 66).
The 53-foot Ixtapa disappeared in December 1971; only a piece of its cabin was found a few days later. “One UFO buff went so far as to say, ‘Spacemen had to remove the cabin in order to get at the hiding crew.’ [. . .] But by far the greatest number of boating men [. . .] adhered to the opinion that the yacht had been run down by a ship that kept going because her crew was completely oblivious to the accident./ Suppose the boat that found the Ixtapa's cabin top had reached that location just a minute or two later when total night had decended upon the area? Or if her course had been just a few yards farther away in either direction leaving the wreckage engulfed in darkness?” The cabin top would probably not have been found, and “more fuel would have been added to the legend of the ‘sea of lost ships.’ ” (Pp. 90–91.)
Writing about the Marine Sulphur Queen, Winer concludes: “There was nothing mysterious or supernatural—simply an industrial explosion at sea.” (P. 136.) He cites, as an example. another similar accident, that of the V. A. Fogg: “Had it been the ‘Devil's Triangle’ and not the Gulf of Mexico where the V. A. Fogg was lost, she would certainly have been listed as another strange disappearance.” (P. 136. In fact it was listed as such even so, e.g. by J. W. Spencer, Limbo of the Lost, pp. 122–5.) But the V. A. Fogg sunk in shallow water, on a short course, and a pilot had reported seeing smoke in the area where the ship was supposed to have been lost. As a result, its wreck was soon found: “It was obvious that the V. A. Fogg had exploded and sunk within second. A number of bodies [. . .] were recovered.” (P. 138.) But the same event had occurred in Bermuda Triangle and if nobody happened to see the smoke, the wreck would be “resting in thousands of feet of water [. . .] beyond the reach of divers or most sonar scanning devices” and she would be listed as another mysterious Triangle disappearance (p. 138).
In the section about the Teignmouth Electron, which was found abandoned after its owner and captain committed suicide, Winer adds a very good remark: “What if Donald Crowhurst had taken his tape recorder and logbook with him when he decided to end it all? His disappearance would be labeled as another great unsolved mystery of the sea. If the facts concerning other ‘ghostships’ were discovered, would they too prove to be the results of earthbound causes?” (P. 179.)
Similarly he mentions the curious story of the Gulf King V, a fishing ship whose captain went berserk one day; the crew eventually escaped from the ship and were picked up by sister ships soon afterwards. But, Winer adds, if things turned out just a little bit different, we would have another perfect Bermuda Triangle mystery at our hands. If, for example, the crew had escaped at night, or when the other ships were too far to find them, they might have drowned; the deranged captain might have ended up somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and, driven mad by hunger and thirst, would perhaps jump into the sea himself — and the ship would be discovered some time later, in seaworthy condition and missing all its occupants for no obvious reason (pp. 196–7).
He also complains about the sensationalism with which the events in the Bermuda Triangle are often treated. For example, when he wrote a few articles about it for the Saga magazine, the editors changed his titles “The Devil's Triangle: Part I” and “Part II” into “Bermuda Triangle — UFO Twilight Zone” and “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle Flying Saucer ‘Space Warp’ Domain” (pp. 198–9). He also complains about the phrase ‘Bermuda Triangle’ itself: “If a geographical designation is to be applied to the name, it should refer ot the area where the most happenings have taken place—the ‘Florida-Bahama Triangle.’ ” (P. 199.) But it seems clear that ‘Devil's Triangle’ is his preferred term, and this, if you ask me, is just as silly and sensationalist as ‘Bermuda Triangle’ — even more so, in fact.
He also criticizes J. W. Spencer for his silly theories about UFOs kidnapping people, planes and ships in the Triangle, and for the errors in his account of the sinking of the V. A. Fogg (p. 198).
Incidentally, Winer does not categorically reject the possibility of UFOs, but he maintains a skeptical attitude towards them (p. 208). Regarding their supposed involvement in the Triangle events, he says that “certain magazines and writers have exploited that hypothesis” (p. 209) but responsible UFOlogists haven't, and they in fact say that the level of UFO activity in the Triangle is not unusually high (pp. 209–10).
Chapter 2 contains an impressively lurid description of what it must have
been like when a hurricane sunk a group of Spanish ships in the Caribbean
in the early 16th century. “Those who opened their eyes into the
wind-driven rain had their eyeballs splattered out of
the sockets. Clothes were ripped away, and bodies were masses of
torn flesh as though they had been lashed and beaten by King Neptune's own
master-at-arms. Mouths that opened to scream spewed forth blood instead of words.
Cargoes shifted. Vessels capsized. Men were crushed. Others drowned.
Those dying prayed to live. Those living prayed to die.” (Pp. 27–8.)
It seems clear that if Winer's paranormal writing hadn't taken off, he could
still have made a good living by writing horror stories
A couple of interesting ‘firsts’ mentioned in the book: the first steam-powered ship of the U.S. Navy to disappear in the Triangle was the tug Nina, en route from Norfolk to Cuba, in 1910 (p. 66). The first known aviator to vanish in the Triangle was one Herbie Pond, a rumrunner, in 1931 (p. 33).
I was interested to read (p. 69) that the U.S. Navy still uses a few wooden ships (or at least did use them when this book was written, in the 1970s), namely minesweepers: “As long as magnetic mines are used in warfare at sea, the navies of the world will utilize these wooden vessels.”
There's a curious story on pp. 156–7. Supposedly, one night in February 1935, a number of hotel guests at Daytona Beach, Florida, saw an airplane crash into the sea very close to the shore. The coast guard was alerted, but no traces of any wreckage were found, and it turned out that no planes were reported to be missing in that area at that time. If the story isn't totally made up, I really wonder what causes this sort of mass delusion.
Winer also mentions the Ellen Austin, whose crew sighted an abandoned
ship in 1881 and put a prize crew on it. The two ships were later separated
by a storm and after a while the Ellen Austin found the derelict again,
but sans the prize crew. A new prize crew boarded it, and despite many
precautions, a couple of days later the two ships lost contact again and
neither the derelict nor its prize crew were ever seen again (pp. 164–5).
There's an interesting section about this case in Kusche's book (pp. 52–3);
Kusche found that all mentions of this case eventually trace back to a 1944
book, The Stargazer Talks by one Rupert Gould, who didn't mention
his source of information about this story. Furthermore, he didn't mention the
second prize crew and its disappearance, so the later authors (like Winer) who
mention this must either have had some other source of information or they
simply made the thing up. So this part of Winer's book does seem somewhat less
than perfectly trustworthy. There really ought to be some kind of law that
would prohibit the publication of books about the Bermuda Triangle unless
they cite their sources very pedantically
In his account of the Deering, Winer says that the message in a bottle, which suggested that the ship was a victim of pirates, had been proven to be authentic. Supposedly the wife of the Deering's captain had the message analyzed by handwriting experts, who found that the note was written by one Henry Bates, the ship's engineer (pp. 169–70). But Gian Quasar in his considerably more extensive story of the Deering, on his website, says that the message was actually a forgery, written by the man who claimed to have found it; he admitted this at some point and it turned out that he had hoped his ‘discovery’ of the message would help him get a job at a local lighthouse.
He mentions a curious thing he'd noticed one day while filming underwater:
“maybe a hundred feet across, possibly seventy-five, but no less than fifty
feet in diameter. It was perfectly round. Its color was a deep purple. It was
moving slowly up toward us. At its outer perimeter there was a form of pulsation,
but there was no movement of water. As we started for the surface, it stopped
its ascent. Then slowly it began to descend into the blackening depths.” (P. 202.)
I'm not quite sure whether to believe all this, but it sure sounds scary
There's a brief discussion of the ‘Devil's Sea’ near Japan on pp. 210–1, but it's unimpressive, just a rehash of the familiar claims about it; Kusche's account of the Devil's Sea (pp. 231–9 in his book) remains by far the best I've read so far.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this book and I think I like it better than those by Berlitz, Jeffrey, Spencer and Quasar. If I had to recommend you just one book about the Triangle, I wouldn't know what to say; but if I could recommend two, they would be this one and Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved.
This book says on p. 223 that Winer “is writing his second book, entitled Cyclops, an in-depth study” of that ship's disappearance; but I can't seem to find any mention of it on ABE.
He does seem to have written several further books on more or less paranormal subjects, however: The Devil's Triangle 2 (1975); From the Devil's Triangle to the Devil's Jaw (1977); Haunted Houses (1979); More Haunted Houses (1981); Houses of Horror (1983) Ghost Ships (2000).
Vincent Gaddis: Invisible Horizons. Mentioned here e.g. on p. 35 in relation to the disappearance of five (out of seven) fighter planes near Kindley Field in late 1944, one year before the Flight 19.
Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World. Mentioned on p. 127.