Traveling in the Bermuda Triangle
High Seas Survival In One of the World’s Most Treacherous Oceans
The famous Bermuda Triangle delivered a harrowing tale of survival. Read about Captain Fry’s experiences sailing to Bermuda, and the huge challenges he and his crew faced as the weather changed for the worst and the seas got ugly. Just another example of the uncertainties at sea, and how training for the worst pays off.
By Captain Mark Fry
Over the years, there has been much controversy over the Bermuda Triangle and how safe it may or may not be to sail through, so let me tell you of my years of experience in the Triangle. First of all, let me explain that the Bermuda Triangle is an area that runs from Bermuda to Puerto Rico to Florida, and covers approximately 500,000 sq miles of water (depending on who you ask!)
My first experience of the Bermuda Triangle was back in 1985 when I sailed a square rigger from St Georges Harbour Bermuda to Norfolk Virginia (approx. 610 nautical miles). It was late May when we left yet despite what the weather forecast had predicted for the next several days, (15 knots Southerly breeze). About four hours after departure, we were in a force 8 gale for about 24 hours. This is not the weather that had been forecast, and not the weather we had been expecting, but was my first encounter of what was yet to come.
In 1990, I owned a company called International Yacht Deliveries and we delivered boats for yacht manufacturers, charter companies, private individuals and corporations. We delivered everything from motor-yachts, schooners, racing sailboats, catamarans, to dive boats, and everything in between. Most of our work was from the East Coast of the United States to the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean chain to Trinidad and Tobago in the South, Texas and New Orleans in the North West, all of the Gulf of Mexico, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and ABC islands in the lesser Antilles that covers an area of roughly 3 million sq miles of water. Needless to say, during this time I encountered almost every nautical situation known to man, with one exception!
The Bermuda Triangle was that exception to the rule when it came to weather systems, and although I had been through it countless times before, there was one encounter that I will never forget. In June 1994, I was delivering a brand new 46’ sailboat from South Carolina to the British Virgin Islands and was about 400 miles South of Bermuda when the barometric pressure took a nose dive from 1014 mbar to about 992 mbars so we knew something was coming in hard and fast. The problem was, although we got a weather forecast every 4 hours, there was no mention whatsoever of an intense low pressure system in our vicinity. The sky went the blackest I had ever seen, the swell started to build rapidly and the wind and the rain had an intensity I had never seen before, in fact, the rain was so intense we had to wear our scuba masks on deck just to see and the wind speed indicator was jammed at 65 knots, its highest reading.
The intense low pressure system caused large confused seas in excess of 30’ and the waves were breaking over the yacht which resulted in 9 knock-downs. (A knock down is when the boat is knocked over by the wind and waves and the mast is horizontal in the water.) The waves bent the rudder like a paperclip and the boat was completely out of our control. All of the crew had two life jackets on, safety harnesses on both port and starboard and the life raft was ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.
On this particular delivery we had no sea anchor, so I was forced to deploy a brand new $5,000 spinnaker by shackling the head, clew and foot together with the anchor chain and rode and dropped the spinnaker bag over the bow. When I pulled the bag away, the spinnaker opened like a parachute and kept us head to wind for the next 14 hours which saved us from possible destruction as the storm passed over us.
Many people over the years have asked if I was scared during the storm, and my answer is that we went from being concerned, to worried, to scared, to absolutely terrified that we were not going to survive the night. When we had resigned ourselves to fact that this was probably our last night on earth and we would go down as just another statistic of ”just another boat that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle”, an amazing sense of calm came over us all. I asked the first mate to turn on Jimmy Buffet and crank the deck speakers to full volume where we happily shouted at the waves that exploded over the deck bending the rudder and shredding the anchor rode. As the morning came and the storm subsided, we realised that we had survived the most incredible weather incident we could have ever encountered and without exception all broke down in tears as we hugged each other. When you come this close to losing your life, colors are brighter, music is sharper, friends and family mean so much more, and every day is sacred!
As the sea swell died down I now had a severely bent rudder and a spinnaker full of water about 175’ below the boat. It took us 8 hours to winch the spinnaker back to the surface and almost four days to limp south to Tortola using a bucket with a hole in it as a rudder that was tied to the winches on both the port and starboard sides of the cockpit. After this episode, I resigned myself to the fact that I was finished with yacht deliveries and would seek an alternative career, but just a week later I was off again on my next adventure.
This story was published in the Practical Boat Owner magazine in the United Kingdom in July 2000 as an innovative example of how to use a spinnaker and survive a storm!
I guess the moral of the story is “beware of the Bermuda Triangle”. Be well prepared, don’t ever go through it without a very experienced skipper, and prepare for the very worst.
As for the strange lights we encountered in the Triangle- well, that’s another story….