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The Bouvet Island Lifeboat Mystery

November 05, 2015

There is a place in the Southern Atlantic ocean that is considered the most remote island in the world. If you were to draw a circle two thousand miles in diameter with this island at it’s center, it would not intersect with a single spec of land. This island is Bouvet Island.

This unlikely piece of real estate is the tip and crater of an extinct volcano. The scant nineteen square miles of dirt is 93% covered by glacier and is perpetually tormented by storms of the worst variety. Temperatures there rarely rise above zero and the “beaches” are sheer ice walls 90 feet high. There is one “safe” way onto the island, and that is by helicopter. That is if you can get past the constant sea mist that hangs heavily in the air from the near perpetual storms.

It was actually discovered in 1739, but no one actually managed to set foot on the island until 1927. This was due to no one being able to find it consistently, and an inability to scale the rough cliffs. There was no reason to go there. It is a thousand miles off of any trade routes, contains no resources, and, as you may have surmised, is not a terribly pleasant place. What they found in 1927 was just as they expected. Ice and dirt. They did a quick survey and mapped it out and then left. There were a few visits in the following years with the hope that they would find a large, flat area on which they could place a weather station. This was a fruitless endeavor until the mid 1950’s.

In 1957, it was discovered that the “extinct” volcano at the heart of the island burped up a significant amount of lava and created a whole new section of island. This flat, low lying section of island was possibly the one thing they had been looking for to place a weather station. An expedition to explore that possibility was put together in 1964.

On Easter morning in 1964, the South African ship R.S.A. and the Royal Navy’s Antarctic ice vessel HMS Protector rendezvoused at the coordinates of the island. They had to wait three days for the winds to drop below 50 knots (About 60 mph), so they could safely get a helicopter into the air.

When they landed, it took only moments to find something most peculiar. About 200 yards into the island, surrounded by fur seals in a small lagoon, there was a boat. Swamped and riding low to the gunwales, but still seaworthy, lay an unmarked lifeboat. This was a thousand miles from any shipping lanes or any land. There were also two small oars and a floatation tank that had been split open and flattened. There was no other sign of humans. The expedition searched the rest of the accessible island and found no remains or signs of even momentary occupation.

When the next expedition came some years later, the boat was gone.

This poses so many questions for which there are so few answers. Was this lifeboat manned when it ran into the island? It would seem so, as the boat was so far from the actual shore. So far that it must have been dragged by hand. Add to that, the oars were placed to the side and there was the modified floatation tank. There are no recorded shipwrecks in that area, and once again, this was far from any conventional shipping lanes… How long could someone survive on a lifeboat in those terrible subzero oceanic storms? Long enough to make a thousand mile journey?
And what happened to them when they got there?

There is no scenario that works. No line of thought that makes sense. No plausible explanation. And now, there is no way to know, as the evidence has vanished.

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