Monday, April 11, 2011

A small mystery

Whaleboat lost on Bouvet Island
Bouvet Island is small, only 5 miles (8km) long by 3 miles (4.8km) wide. It is located deep in the Southern Ocean. It was first sighted in 1739, but not permanently fixed on a chart until 1898.

In fact, it is arguably the most remote place on Earth. You can draw a circle centered on it with a radius of 1,000 miles and  the area of that circle will contain no other land.

Buffeted frequently by gales, and nearly constantly covered by a shroud of sea-mist, it is a difficult island to approach. It is even more difficult to land on because almost its entire circumference is composed of nearly vertical cliffs, some reaching as high as 1,600 ft (488m).

It was briefly explored from time to time during the first half of the 20th Century as a possible location for a weather station, but no suitable ground to place such a station was found. However, in 1968 an American icebreaker visited the island and discovered a volcanic eruption had created a small, flat shelf on one side of the island which the Norwegians named "New Rubble".  

"What drama, we wondered, was attached to this strange discovery. There were no markings to identify its origin or nationality. On the rocks a hundred yards away was a forty-four gallon drum and a pair of oars, with pieces of wood and a copper flotation or buoyancy tank opened out flat for some purpose. Thinking castaways might have landed, we made a brief search but found no human remains." -Crawford

Our mystery starts in 1964 when the South Africans mounted an expedition to Bouvet Island to explore New Rubble. The landing party, led by Lieutenant Commander Allan Crawford, discovered an abandoned whaleboat which was half sunk in a small lagoon on the spit of land. Crawford was only on the spit of land for 45 minutes, but he could find no signs of a camp or human remains on New Rubble.

Was it a life boat from a sunk ship who's passengers found scant comfort in the Earth's most forsaken place, or remains of an earlier, unrecorded expedition to the island, or pehaps just flotsam washed ashore?

The mystery remains without an answer. For a good discussion of it see An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end at the website A Blast from the Past. He goes into some detail over the pros and cons of each possibility, and discusses the most likely candidate for a furtive exploration that might have lost the whaleboat.


talnik said...

Sounds like a good survival retreat for TEOTWAWKI.

ambisinistral said...

I dunno, that looks like a pretty dismal place to be stranded.

Granted, on the mainland you would face hordes of mutants and gangs of punk rockers on dune buggies looking to steal you gas and women, but at least you would have an outside chance of surviving.

There you would just freeze to death while getting blasted by an arctic gale.