An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end

Posted: 13 February 2011 in Antarctica, C20th, Evocative, Lonely places, Mysteries, Sea stories

The unidentified whaler or ship’s lifeboat found abandoned on Bouvet Island on 2 April 1964. The boat bore no identifying marks. There were signs that survivors might have made it to shore, but no trace of them has ever been found.

There is no more forbidding place on earth.

Bouvet Island lies in the furthest reaches of the storm-wracked Southern Ocean, far south even of the Roaring Forties. It is a speck of ice in the middle of a freezing fastness: a few square miles of uninhabited volcanic basalt groaning under several hundred feet of glacier, scraped raw by gales, shrouded by drifts of sea-fog, and utterly devoid of trees, shelter, or landing places.

What it does have is a mystery.

Let us begin this tale at the beginning. Bouvet is appallingly isolated; the nearest land is the coast of Antarctica, a further 1,750km south, and it is slightly further than that to Cape Town and Tristan da Cunha. Indeed, as Rupert Gould put it in characteristic style:

It is the most isolated spot in the whole world – a fact which anyone who cares to spend an instructive five minutes with a pair of dividers and a good globe can easily verify. Around Bouvet Island, it is possible to draw a circle of one thousand miles radius (having an area of 3,146,000 square miles, or very nearly that of Europe) which contains no other land whatever. No other point of land on the earth’s surface has this peculiarity.

[Gould p.136]

Yet, for all this, the island has a rather interesting history. It was first discovered at a remarkably early date: on 1 January 1739, by the earliest of all polar explorers, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier, after whom it is named. After that, however, the place remained lost for the next sixty-nine years – Bouvet had fixed its position incorrectly in an era in which navigation was still largely by dead reckoning. The island eluded the efforts of even Captain Cook to find it, and it only turned up again in 1808, when it was relocated several hundred miles from the spot where its discoverers had placed it. There remained considerable doubt, for the rest of the nineteenth century, as to whether the islands of 1739 and 1808 were even the same place, for not even the highly competent James Ross – in 1843 and again in 1845 – could locate Bouvet in the prevailing foul conditions, which include a semi-permanent shrouding of thick sea-mist, and storms 300 days a year. The isle was not permanently fixed on the nautical charts until 1898, when it was definitively relocated by the splendidly-named Kapitan Krech of the German survey ship Valdivia. [Gould pp.138-46; Stommel pp.98-9]

Sea-cliffs on the north coast of Bouvet Island

The Germans were the first to actually circumnavigate the island (Bouvet had believed that it was simply the northern cape of the sought-for Terra Australis, the gigantic but illusory southern continent it was long imagined must exist in the southern hemisphere in order to counterbalance Eurasia). They reported that it was no more than five miles long by three miles wide, that at least nine-tenths of it was under ice, and that it was almost entirely surrounded by unscalable ice cliffs which rose out of the sea well-nigh vertically to heights of up to 1,600 feet. [Muller et al p.260]  But the Valdivia‘s men, like most explorers who make their way to this most inhospitable of places, found it impossible to land. Heavy seas, soaring cliffs, and the absence of any coves or inlets make it too dangerous to approach Bouvet Island by boat in any but the calmest weather.

The first explorers to actually make it ashore were Norwegians from the survey vessel Norvegia in 1927. Led by a worthy successor to Kapitan Krech, the equally alliterative Harald Horntvedt, they were also the first to venture onto Bouvet’s central plateau, which rises to about 2,500 feet (780m) above sea level and consists of a pair of glaciers covering the remains of a still-active volcano. Horntvedt took possession of the island in the name of King Haakon VII, renamed it Bouvetøya (which just means “Bouvet Island” in Norwegian), roughly mapped it, and left a small cache of provisions on shore for the benefit of any shipwrecked mariners. [Baker pp.72-3]  The Norwegians returned in 1929 and again a few years later (when it was discovered that both their supply huts had been destroyed by the unremittingly hostile local weather), but after that Bouvet was left pretty much in peace until 1955, when the South African government expressed interest in the possibility of establishing a weather station there. To find out the answer to this question, the frigate Transvaal was sent south and she arrived off Bouvet on 30 January. [Crawford p.159]

Map of Bouvet Island as it is today. The Nyrøysa, where the mysterious lifeboat was discovered, can be seen on the north-west portion of the coast. Click to enlarge

It is here that the puzzle that concerns us comes gradually into focus. The South Africans sailed right around the island without finding any sign of the sort of large, flat platform on which a weather station might be built, but three years later – when the American icebreaker Westwind called at Bouvet on 1 January 1958 – it discovered that a small volcanic eruption had apparently taken place since 1955, and vented lava into the sea on the north-westernmost part of the island. The eruption had resulted in the formation of a low-lying lava plateau measuring perhaps 400 yards long by 200 yards wide. [Baker p.76; Crawford pp.162-4]

Bouvet Island had grown. And though the Norwegians, with a certain lack of poetry, named the plateau the Nyrøysa – meaning “New Rubble” – they did so by scribbling the name onto their maps. No-one actually went all the way to Bouvet to investigate.

Fast forward six more years to 1964. The South Africans, who had finally got around to dispatching an expedition to take a look at the New Rubble, sent two vessels to rendezvous at Bouvet on Easter Sunday: their own supply ship R.S.A. and the Royal Navy’s Antarctic ice vessel HMS Protector. The expedition waited for three long days for the chill winds howling across the Nyrøysa to drop below their customary 50 knots (90 km/h; 57mph) until, on 2 April, it was finally judged safe to attempt a landing by helicopter. One of the Protector‘s pair of Westland Whirlwinds then dropped a survey team on the New Rubble. The man in charge was Lieutenant Commander Allan Crawford, a British-born veteran of the South Atlantic [Crawford pp.45-114], and it was he who made an unexpected find only a few moments after landing.  There, wallowing in a small lagoon and guarded by a solitary fur seal, lay an abandoned boat: half-swamped, its gunwales awash, but still in good enough condition to be seaworthy.

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 pp.182-3]

Geological map of the Nyrøysa by Peter Baker. The lifeboat was found in the larger and most northerly of the two small lagoons (shaded black) on the new lava platform. Click to enlarge

It was a mystery worthy of a Sherlock Holmes adventure. The boat, which Crawford described as “a whaler or ship’s lifeboat,” must have come from some larger ship. But no trade route ran within a thousand miles of Bouvet. If it really was a lifeboat, then, what ship had it come from? What spectacular feat of navigation had brought it across many miles of sea? How could it have survived a crossing of the Southern Ocean? There was no sign it had ever borne a mast and sail, or engine, but the solitary pair of oars that Crawford found would barely have been adequate to steer a heavy, 20-foot boat. Most unnervingly of all, what had become of the crew?

It’s unfortunate that the shore party had practically no time to investigate their peculiar discovery. They were on Bouvet for only a short while  – about 45 minutes, according to Crawford – and in that time the men had to conduct a survey of the platform, collect rock samples and fend off the attentions of aggressive male sea-elephants who resented their intrusion. There was no time to explore the Nyrøysa properly or to hunt for any further signs of life. Given those constraints, it is very unlikely that the “brief search” Crawford mentioned consisted of much more than walking a few yards from the lagoon in either direction and scouting for the most obvious signs of bodies or habitation. Nor does it appear that any subsequent visitors to the island continued the investigation. There is, in fact, no further mention of the mysterious boat, though Bouvet was visited again two years later, in 1966, by a biological survey team whose members paid considerable attention to the lagoon. This group established that it was shallow, thick with algae, alkaline – thanks to seal excreta – and fed by meltwater from the surrounding cliffs. [Muller et al p.262]  But if the lifeboat was still there, they did not mention it.

In fact, nobody but Allan Crawford seems to have taken the least interest in the mystery. There was no contemporary newspaper coverage of the story, nor have I been able to find any further details of the boat itself, nor of the items found on shore. One or two further brief contemporary accounts of the landing do exist, apparently, but in a publication so obscure that I have not so far found copies of it.¹ No one, in short, seems to have asked how the boat came to be there; no one searched for any members of its crew. And no one attempted to explain what Crawford found.

Pretty much all we have to go on, then, are a few scant lines of Crawford’s, a sketchy knowledge of Bouvet Island’s history, and some common sense conclusions regarding the likely behaviour of shipwrecked mariners. With these, nonetheless, it is possible to construct at least three possible hypotheses that might explain the presence of the whaler.

We’ll begin by setting out the facts we can establish. First, it is clear that the boat must have arrived on Bouvet at some point in the nine years between January 1955, when the New Rubble did not exist, and April 1964, when it did. That is a reasonably restricted timeframe, and if the whaler really was a lifeboat, it ought to be possible to establish which ship it came from. Second, the Protector‘s shore party saw no sign of any camp or shelter, fire or food. Third, the presence of a heavy boat in a lagoon located at least 30 yards from the shore suggests either that it reached the island with a full crew, enough to man-haul it over some pretty rough ground, or that it was put there by a smaller group who didn’t plan to leave the island for some time. Beyond that, though, all is speculation – and perhaps the strangest thing about this extremely strange incident is that the handful of facts we have don’t fully support any of the obvious theories.

Let’s look first at the possibility that the boat was what it appeared to be: a lifeboat from a shipwreck. That would certainly be the most dramatic and romantic explanation, and it explains some of the things that Crawford noted: why the whaler was in the lagoon (it was put there by men who had no way of tying it up securely on shore, and who weren’t certain if they would need it again) and why a small pile of equipment was found on shore. Who knows why Crawford’s “copper flotation or buoyancy tank” had been “opened out flat” – but it sounds like the sort of thing a group of desperate men with very limited resources might do. The lifeboat theory probably also offers the best explanation for the presence of only a single pair of oars on shore: perhaps there had originally been others, but they were lost overboard in the course of a terrible voyage.

There are, however, plenty of things that don’t fit the lifeboat hypothesis, and the most obvious is the lack of much equipment and the absence of either bodies or a camp. There would be no good reason for a group of survivors to move away from the Nyrøysa; it is clear of snow, at least during the southern summer, and is the only large, flat area of ground on the entire island. But if a party of survivors did stay put in this small area, and died there, then some trace of a campsite, not to mention signs of their bodies, ought to have been discovered in even the most hasty search.

Might a small group have moved on and died elsewhere on the island, though? Unlikely. Bouvet’s ice cliffs are high and highly prone to avalanche, so it would be very dangerous to attempt to move inland or to camp too close to any of the vertiginous rock faces that abound on the island. On top of that, the most obvious sources of food – Bouvet’s seals and sea-elephants – congregate on the New Rubble. There would be no real need to hunt elsewhere, unless the survivors had been on the island for so long that they had wiped out the local animal population – and if that was the case, signs of a campsite ought to have been doubly obvious. The men would surely have left the remains of fires and sea-elephant suppers.

Just how likely is it, anyway, that any group of shipwrecked seamen would have made their way to Bouvet? Not only is the island remarkably hard to locate in even the best of circumstances; it also lies so far off the normal trade routes, and is so notoriously barren, that it’s hard to imagine any group of men with any alternative would have made for it in any but the most desperate of circumstances. Only a ship that went down to the west of Bouvet (so that the prevailing currents would have swept lifeboats towards the island), and which did so within a few hundred miles of it, at most, would be a likely candidate, and any hypothetical wreck would certainly require that a competent navigator equipped with charts, instruments and a huge degree of fortune was among the unhappy survivors. If the men in the lifeboat had had time to find their charts and sextants, however, they ought to have had time to have brought a good deal more equipment with them than Crawford discovered on the island. What sort of castaways, after all, make it to shore armed with nothing more than a barrel of water, a pair of oars, and an empty copper tank?

Stranded on Elephant Island, Ernest Shackleton’s men construct a shelter from a pair of boats, 1916. They survived in this accommodation for more than four months

Finally – and to my mind most significantly of all – why would any party of survivors, however well equipped, have left their boat floating in the lagoon? It was the only readily available source of shelter that they had on an island where, even in summer, the mean temperature hovers around zero. When one remembers what Ernest Shackleton’s men did when they were stranded on Elephant Island a few years earlier (they upended their boats and turned them into living quarters), it has to be admitted that the discovery of the boat in the lagoon is perhaps the strongest evidence that wherever the whaler came from, it was not the sole survivor of some grisly shipwreck.

What, then, of other explanations? Less likely, but not altogether impossible, is the suggestion that the boat found its way to Bouvet without any men on board. It might have been lost during a shipwreck, overturned and ditched its crew, or simply been washed overboard in a storm, and then drifted about the Southern Ocean, perhaps for years, before being washed up on the island. This theory has the virtue of simplicity, and it certainly explains why the boat appeared so worn – “there were no markings,” remember, “to identify its origin or nationality” – not to mention the absence of any signs of life on shore.

Other than that, though, the “derelict” hypothesis has little to recommend it. It certainly does not explain why Crawford found equipment left on shore, and it frankly strains credulity to suggest that, after making an ocean voyage of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles, a waterlogged hulk was washed ashore (in a storm presumably) in such a way that it avoided being dashed to pieces against Bouvet’s cliffs, was left pretty much undamaged, and then came to rest in the one spot on the coast of a small and remote island where it would not have been washed back out to sea again. It’s not as if that part of the island’s coast is knee deep in flotsam and jetsam, either; the men of the 1966 biological survey noted “the absence of practically any washed-up marine life this exposed western side of the island.” [Muller et al p.262]

A landing party from the Transvaal goes ashore on the east coast of Bouvet Island, January 1955. The man in the officer’s cap is Allan Crawford, who discovered the abandoned lifeboat on the far side of the island nine years later

A third possibility is that the boat might have come from an unknown ship that called at Bouvet between 1955 and 1964, and was, for some reason, abandoned there. This suggestion most convincingly explains the presence of the whaler; it is precisely the sort of general purpose craft used to make a landing, and in fact the Transvaal, when she called at Bouvet in 1955, had put her men briefly ashore in a very similar craft. If the abandoned boat had reached the island on a ship, moreover, there would have been no need for any implausible feat of navigation by its crew – and be in no doubt that a long voyage across the Southern Ocean in an open boat certainly is implausible, given the prevailing weather conditions. Ernest Shackleton’s voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, across 800 miles of the same seas, is routinely lauded as one of the greatest of all feats of seamanship, after all – and it was accomplished by men who were properly supplied, fully equipped, and who sailed, moreover, in an enclosed boat provided with a deck casing that prevented waves from slopping onboard.

The suggestion that the abandoned boat had belonged to a landing party has another advantage: it explains the absence of bodies, a campsite and significant quantities of equipment. Suppose, for example, that a group of men made a landing in two boats, but left the island in one, taking their gear (and any bodies, I suppose) with them when they went. Or perhaps they landed in the boat, and were later evacuated by helicopter. If the landing had taken place during the 1950s, moreover, it doesn’t seem all that unlikely that five or six harsh Bouvet Island winters would have been sufficient to erase any names or other markings that the boat once had.

Yet even this explanation, attractive though it is, has substantial holes in it. What sort of expedition would be planning to stay so long on the island that its men would go to the trouble of man-hauling a big boat into the lagoon – Crawford’s team, after all, did what they needed to do in less than an hour? What sort of expedition goes ashore carrying a copper flotation tank? And what sort of expedition would be so poorly equipped that it was forced to improvise, while briefly on shore, by hammering flat said tank?

Indeed, the more one tries to think through this superficially attractive solution to the problem, the more questions it raises. Perhaps the most important one is this: why would any shore party abandon such a valuable boat when they left? Whalers are pretty expensive items, and need to be accounted for. Yes, one might suggest that the boat had to be left because of some sort of emergency – but if the weather was so bad that there was no possibility of launching it again, it would surely have also been too bad for any shore party to get off in a second boat, or to be evacuated by helicopter. And if one imagines, say, an accident that required the immediate heli-borne evacuation of an injured man – leaving not enough men ashore to handle the boat – why would the party have taken all their usable equipment with them, but left a single pair of oars? Why not go back later for the oars and the whaler? Why, indeed – if there was a helicopter available all along – land by boat in the first place?

Bouvet Island: "A speck of ice in the middle of a freezing fastness: a few square miles of uninhabited volcanic basalt groaning under several hundred feet of glacier, scraped raw by gales, shrouded by drifts of sea-fog, and utterly devoid of trees, shelter, or landing places."

Bouvet Island: “A speck of ice in the middle of a freezing fastness: a few square miles of uninhabited volcanic basalt groaning under several hundred feet of glacier, scraped raw by gales, shrouded by drifts of sea-fog, and utterly devoid of trees, shelter, or landing places.” [Click to see full size]

Plainly more research is needed if we are to grope towards the right solution. Most of the materials do exist, but they require work; there are directories, for instance, of all the known shipwrecks and marine disasters that occurred during the years 1955-64. But these books, when consulted, turn out to be most unhelpfully organised – alphabetically, by name of ship, without any system of cross-referencing by date or place. This means that the only way of locating a likely wreck is to read through the whole of three large volumes, all the way from A to Z. [Hocking; Hooke]  Thanks to this hopeless limitation – and my own ingrained unwillingness to devote a couple of days to ploughing through about 800 pages of close type in search of something that is very possibly not there – the most that I can say, after going through the business end of just one of the three volumes, is that any shipwreck capable of leaving a party of men struggling across the Southern Ocean in a lifeboat must have taken place before the end of 1962. None of the wrecks that occurred between January 1963 and March 1964 remotely fits the bill.

One other obvious area for additional research remains, and that is to look into who else might possibly have been on Bouvet between 1955 and 1964. At first glance it appears unlikely that any such unknown expeditions ever took place – the island, after all, commonly went years without seeing human beings. But in fact traces of at least two possible visits do exist, and – in theory, at least – either might have abandoned a whaler in the lagoon.

The first, and by a distance the least likely, is also the most mysterious, for when Allan Crawford was working in Cape Town in May 1959, he received a visit from an Italian calling himself Count Major Giorgio Costanzo Beccaria, who asked his advice about chartering a ship to go to Bouvet. The Count’s purpose, it was explained, was to help a Professor Silvio Zavatti go ashore on the island to conduct scientific research.

Crawford did what he could to help the Italian locate a suitable vessel, but without success, and the Count returned to Italy. In June 1960, though, Crawford received an odd letter from Professor Zavatti himself in which he claimed not only to have gone to Bouvet, but to have ventured ashore, landing in March 1959.

The letter took Crawford by surprise, since he knew of no ship in any South African port that the Italians could have chartered, and when he wrote to Costanzo he received a letter denying an expedition as described had ever taken place. Zavatti, however, supplied further details, and even published a book, Viaggo All ‘Isola Bouvet, in which he described his adventures. This volume, Crawford drily notes, was written for children and illustrated by only a single photograph – “of seals, which could have been taken in any zoo” – and he eventually concluded that the entire episode was a hoax. [Crawford pp.172-6]  If the Zavetti expedition did take place, moreover, there is nothing in any of Crawford’s evidence to suggest that it abandoned a whaler on the island.

Altogether more promising, however, is a brief reference to another visit that I turned up in a bibliography of scientific research on Bouvet Island. [Watkins et al]  This suggests that in 1959 – five years before the South Africans arrived, which certainly fits well with Crawford’s observation of a worn and scoured-clean whaler bearing no identifying marks – a Soviet expedition including one G.A. Solyanik made some ornithological observations on Bouvet Island. That much, at least, is certainly implied by the title of Solyanik’s paper (which I have not yet seen), since it is called “Some bird observations on Bouvet Island.” It appeared in the second volume of a regrettably hard-to-find journal called the Soviet Antarctic Expedition Information Bulletin, published in 1964.

The Soviet icebreaker Ob’ in the Antarctic, c.1958

A brief poke about online confirms that Solyanik was real enough – he was a researcher at the Odessa Biological Station – and that he took part in the four-year First Soviet Antarctic Expedition (1955-58), organised to coincide with the International Geophysical Year of 1957. This expedition sailed on board the icebreaker Ob’, which was certainly large enough to carry whalers, and rendezvoused with a pair of Russian whaling ships, the Slava and the Ivan Nosenko, establishing two shore stations in Antarctica. Like the likely-mythical Italian expedition to Bouvet, the timing looks about right to account for a weatherbeaten whaler, left over from the visit, to have been found without identifying marks six or eight years later. And, given the secrecy that attached to most things the Soviets attempted at the height of the Cold War, it would not be much of a surprise to find that they did a lot of things in the Antarctic that the British and South Africans were unaware of at the time.

This is all still fantastically hypothetical. Further research is needed here. The Soviet theory certainly doesn’t answer all the questions I posed earlier in this post, and it’s not yet at all clear to me whether the Russians really did go ashore on Bouvet Island – and, if they did, whether some mishap resulted in them abandoning equipment there. Put a gun to my head right now, however, and I’d suggest that the most likely explanation for Allan Crawford’s mysterious discovery of 2 April 1964 may lie in the memories of some ageing Russian ornithologists, or in a long-forgotten audit of equipment supplied to the icebreaker Ob’, lying in some obscure ex-Soviet archive.

1.  The Newsletter of the South African Weather Bureau.

Sources

P.E. Baker. ‘Historical and geological notes on Bouvetoya.’ British Antarctic Survey Bulletin 13 (1967).

Allan Crawford. Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties. Edinburgh: Charles Skilton, 1982.

Rupert Gould. ‘The Auroras, and Other Doubtful Islands.’ In Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1944.

Charles Hocking. Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam, Including Sailing Ships and Ships of War Lost in Action, 1824-1962. London: London Stamp Exchange, 1989.

Norman Hooke. Maritime casualties, 1963-1996. London: Lloyd’s of London Press, 1997.

D.B. Muller, F.R. Schoeman and E.M. Van Zinderen Bakker Sr. ‘Some notes on a biological reconnaissance of Bouvetøya (Antarctic)’. South African Journal of Science, June 1967.

Henry Stommel. Lost Islands: The Story of Islands That Have Vanished from the Nautical Charts. Victoria [BC]: University of British Columbia Pess, 1984.

EM Van Zinderen Bakker. ‘The South African biological and geological survey of the Marion and Prince Edward Islands and the meteorological expedition to Bouvet Island.’ South African Journal of Science 63 (1967).

BP Watkins et al. ‘Scientific research at Bouvet Island, 1785-1983: a bibliography.’ South African Journal of Antarctic Research 25 (1984).

Comments
  1. sctilley says:

    * Remote, decolate location? Check
    * Sheer cliff walls? Check
    * Hundreds of feet of glacier deep? Check
    * Constantly shrouded by mist? Check
    * Active Volcano? Check

    Well that’s it. I have found my evil genius lair.

    • faithbleed says:

      Came here to do the whole L O S T thing, but this is much better. Good show!

    • toasters says:

      The CIA was going to attack your glacier-fortress and arrest you for being evil, but then some intern in the 40s had the brilliant idea of morphing the US economy to become highly dependent on carbon-emissions, thus causing global warming and melting your ice fortress.

    • steers82 says:

      If you are thinking about building somewhere to stay permanently, why not go with the Kerguelen Islands there may be a few pesky civilians on the island already, but it comes free with satellite and missile tracking stations, and the weather is about 20 degrees warmer all year round.

      If you fancy somewhere more tropical why not Manuae) you could excavate the volcano and live in a tropical paradise!

    • Baron Von Madson says:

      I called it First!

    • Found your page while researching Bouvit for a piece on unbelievable islands I was writing. There is more detail here than in any other webpage I found. I agree with the idea it was the Soviets – no other explanation makes sense.

  2. mike0614 says:

    Is it really that impractical for a small boat to wash up on an island after being lost at sea?

    • dick f says:

      No, but… the points made are [i] it’d be an amazing coincidence for a small boat to end up 30 yards inland in a lagoon – the one place on the coast of the island where it wouldn’t be washed straight back out to sea; [ii] that it’d be even more amazing that the boat remained in good condition, rather than, say, being smashed to bits on the rocks – and [iii] even if all that did happen, it doesn’t explain the scraps of equipment laid out on the shore nearby.

      • MrEnthusiasm says:

        Surely it makes perfect sense that it would be found in the one place where it wouldn’t be washed back out to see – it’s already been to all the other places and been washed back out again.

      • RogerThat says:

        Without incurring any damage??

        Wouldn’t being swept up against cliffs like this island has have smashed the boat to matchwood?

      • dvNt says:

        Wait, so god isn’t real? ;P

    • AuroraToraBora says:

      It’s the most remote island in the world. You can draw a circle with a 1,000 mile radius around it (containing an area the size of Europe). Read the article. It puts it much more eloquently than I can in regards to the theory of it just washing on shore.

      “Frankly it strains credulity to suggest that, after making an ocean voyage of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles, a waterlogged hull was washed ashore (in a storm presumably) in such a way that it avoided being dashed to pieces against Bouvet’s cliffs, was left pretty much undamaged, and then came to rest in the one spot on the coast of a small and remote island where it would not have been washed back out to sea again. It’s not as if that part of the island’s coast is knee deep in flotsam and jetsam, either; the men of the 1966 biological survey noted “the absence of practically any washed-up marine life this exposed western side of the island.” [Muller et al p.262]

  3. sleepygeeks says:

    it seams like the only mystery, as even the writter admits to, is that they can not find anyone with enough free time to read some records and find out whats going on.

    Perhaps someone should tell 4chan that the boat is a 14 year old girl.

    would any remains, or supplys have been eaten or taken by the seals and used in a nest or something (keybord has no question mark)

    • Man always leave to much junk behind bones, fire pits. shelters.as mention when your shipwrecked you drag the boat up onto shore and flip it for shelter the boat was not found this way. Also all sea going vessels have names and any boat on the ship is named after that. well before 1200 A.D. this boat had no marking that’s part of the mystery.

  4. Barely Relevant says:

    It’s like rainbows and magnets, man.

  5. tired hippo says:

    Jacob

    • murray87 says:

      How’d Jacob get there? Tide goes in, tide goes out. There’s a life boat. How’d that get there? You can’t explain that. Never a miscommunication. The lifeboat is now diamonds.

  6. holy schiznoly says:

    Fascinating! 100 up boats for you.

  7. roundwanker says:

    It’s like double rainbows and magnets, man.
    FTFY

  8. admrwe says:

    i thought the same thing, in addition to the repeated mention of how bad the weather is there, it seems a few years could erase any traces of shipwreckees.

  9. andyl says:

    I’m guessing yes to the seals eating stuff, but even so, if it was a lifeboat there’s still the mystery of what ship would be so far away from the normal sea lanes and how it made it to such a small island in such rough seas. The abandoned-by-the-Russkies explanations seems to fit much better

  10. Luis Velez says:

    Things not to change on your blog
    ~ The template and presentation… are just great as they are.
    ~ The content is amazingly rich and should stay that way.
    ~ The subjects are carefully selected and researched – what else could we ask for?
    Thanks and hope to see you rising to further victories.

  11. joey cheeks says:

    You can’t explain that. – Bill O’Reilly

  12. troymcklure says:

    Wasn’t there a question on Jeopardy relating to this island last week? A Nat Geo sponsored series of questions?

  13. MrMango786 says:

    LOST

  14. LeroyPK says:

    You can’t explain that!

  15. abbeyie says:

    polar bears

  16. kretik says:

    boat on island far away from shit; where did it come from? news at 11

  17. sneezesneezecough says:

    Can’t explain it? Must be God.

  18. DanE3030 says:

    Lava ate them?

  19. Nelson Minar says:

    Wonderfully researched article

  20. Ianismycousin says:

    How was the boat found if it was in “the most isolated spot in the world”?

  21. nikiu says:

    Clicking link after link, this story took my whole evening.

  22. funkymoose says:

    this article = tldr

  23. marek says:

    Some people used to read these things called books, y’know… Back when I was a boy.

  24. Chrissy MC says:

    maybe it was someone from the titanics boat..perhaps jack survived after all

  25. dude2k5 says:

    solved: avalanche. they said it was pretty dangerous. guys probably got off ship, o shit an island! walk around for a few hours, AWE FUCK SNOWWW and bam.

  26. youstolemyname says:

    Ehh.. Could it have been abandoned by one of the earlier sailors?

  27. dinosbucket says:

    Is there a chance that the boat was part of the provisions the Norwegians left on the island? I mean it makes sense…if you’re going to leave food and such for someone who is shipwrecked, might as well also leave a small boat so they can get away.

    • NoOneOfConsequence says:

      That doesn’t make sense because, according to the article, the nearest land (Antarctica) is 1,750km away. Habitable land is even farther away than that. There is no way a 20-ft rowboat could make that trip.

      • dinosbucket says:

        Understandable, but this seems like a situations where if you’re going to leave someone food, might as well leave them a boat. The provisions could only sustain someone for so long.

      • eigen says:

        “Well, you guys will probably die before you can row 1,750km to Antarctica–where if you’re not dead yet you will be soon enough–so here’s a boat if you ever fancy escaping when you finally reach suicidal levels of desperation.”

  28. potatomafia says:

    I love reading about this kind of stuff, just fascinating.

  29. bluechartreuse says:

    looks like Frankenstein made it to the wrong Pole..

  30. Ecuriel says:

    A long-ish read (in internet terms), but I found it interesting.

  31. corkscrewhair says:

    Nah man, see:

    “The first explorers to actually make it ashore were Norwegians from the survey vessel Norvegia in 1927. Led by a worthy successor to Kapitan Krech [...] and left a small cache of provisions on shore for the benefit of any shipwrecked mariners.”

    The lagoon where the boat was found is located on a lava plateau didn’t exist until at least 28 years later:

    “on 1 January 1958 – it discovered that a small volcanic eruption had apparently taken place since 1955, and vented lava into the sea on the north-westernmost part of the island. The eruption had resulted in the formation of a low-lying lava plateau”

    • dinosbucket says:

      Ah, thank you. I had read the majority of the article, I should have put two and two together. It remains a mystery.

  32. WhatOnEarth says:

    Step 1: Alt + 63 (on numpad) Step 2: ?????? Step 3: If you were able to type step 2, then profit?

  33. KimJongChill says:

    For some reason, I have an almost aspie level fascination with Bouvet Island, this perfectly remote and desolate place, but because it’s actually not that interesting from a historical standpoint there’s very little written about it. It’s like having an itch that can never be scratched.

    Still, the second thing I’ll do when I’m a millionaire is charter a ship with a helicopter to take me their for a couple of days.

    • rasslinjd says:

      The first is two chicks right?

    • Mark Sav says:

      I share your aspie-level fascination. I’ll go halves with you on the helicopter.

      • Scott auden says:

        Dont be hard on yourself; there’s something compelling about incredibly remote places, the moreso in our inter-connected modern world. I find your fascination quite understandable. I hope you someday get there (but not by whale boat!)

  34. marcusaurellius says:

    I guess its not so isolated. I think our understanding of Bouvet Island should change.

  35. sickmate says:

    The writer has answered the question of who to my satisfaction, it seems it is very plausible that it was the soviets. As for why the boat and oars were left with no evidence of any supplies or habitation, my theory is that multiple boats were sent to the island, at least one person got lost and so one boat was left in case they found their way back in time.

    Anyway, it was a pretty interesting read.

  36. ricodued says:

    DYK that Bouvet Island, despite being completely uninhabited, has it’s own top-level domain: .bv

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.bv

    • ten_thousand_puppies says:

      I saw this too, and was simply in awe. Dunno why anyone thought that would eve be needed.

      Actually, maybe the guys from The Pirate Bay could purchase it :P

  37. WhatOnEarth says:

    the REAL mystery is why your keyboard doesn’t have a question mark

  38. aclevermoniker says:

    Drunk guy.

    Stole the boat.

    Wandered off.

    What do I win?

  39. padmadfan says:

    Day 86: Horror…death stalks us constantly now..have consumed the dead. Only 5 of us remain from the original 25. The “survivors”, if we can be called such, are less human and more monstrous..sunken, glassy, black eyes…When our whaling ship was sunk by a breaching whale with a harpoon stuck in its hide, we were forced to abondon not only much of our stock, but our hope as well.

    Day 87: What’s this?! Oh, joy and rapture! Thar be an island ahead! What manner of paradise has finally been bestowed upon us?! Oy, I knew if we just stayed alive there would be a boon in store! I cannot wait to reach the shores of what no doubt should be a tropical paradise.

  40. Henk Looijesteijn says:

    I took the time today to read over lunch your story on Bouvet, and that reminded me I had been planning to look up a book by Gerrit Jan Zwier in which he describes his visit to Bouvet, so I ordered that before I could forget again. Secondly, I also searched for professor Zavatti – mainly because that count was probably a real count. Beccaria was the name of the man responsible for making the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1786 the first European country to abolish the death penalty. It turns out, according to Italian Wikipedia, that Silvio Zavatti existed, and the entry also confirms the man went to Bouvet (or confirmed that he claimed he did). Moreover, he appears to have been a genuine polar explorer, and founder of the Museo Polare in Fermo, a coastal town on the Adriatic, in the region called the Marche (see http://www.museopolare.it/, regrettably mostly in Italian). There is also an English page, in which somewaht more is said of Zavatti’s attempt to found a base on Bouvet (http://www.museopolare.it/English.htm; at times the English is fairly bad).

    This does not mean obviously that the man did not commit a fraud, though while looking for Internet traces of Beccaria I came across this on Google Books:

    http://books.google.nl/books?id=Sg49AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA386&lpg=PA386&dq=%22Giorgio+Costanzo+Beccaria%22&source=bl&ots=4biMGq4Dp8&sig=wHmy8-Bl8wcT6q4OronJRCILAlg&hl=nl&ei=GhdZTei4BMGAOovWtbEF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Giorgio%20Costanzo%20Beccaria%22&f=false.

    There actually the hired whaler is named.

    Possibly there is something in it – then again, maybe not. You might have to go to Italy on a holiday to find out more, ;-)

    • Mike Dash says:

      Thanks, Henk.

      Crawford did mention somewhere in his book that Zavatti named the ship he hired, and he checked out the claim with the owners, who said she had been in port in South Africa the whole time he claimed to have been onboard!

  41. asynonymous says:

    I can’t find Nyrosa, it’s supposed to be flat and low-lying right? I can only see cliffs bordered with ice.

    Edit: Used google earth’s 3d function to look at it from the ocean’s view. Seems like this is the flattest area, http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=h&ecpose=-54.40795396,3.2613412,731.85,99.467,67.195,0.028&ll=-54.409172,3.290802&spn=0.005014,0.016512&z=17 can’t see any lagoons though.

  42. flyco says:

    The vikings!

  43. roboctopus says:

    For some reason this reminded me of a side story in a Thomas Pynchon novel.

  44. Lawrie Williams says:

    Mayhaps a lost boat was placed there by an unrecorded tsunami and the other traces were made by later visitors.

  45. [...] An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end There is no more forbidding place on earth. [...]

  46. Th4tsGr8 says:

    Looking at the 3D google link a few posts above and the Geological Drawing from the article; it appears the Nyrosa has already eroded into the sea a 100 m or more since the time of the drawing. Therefore the lagoon may no longer exist as i would be right on the current shoreline.

  47. Séan R says:

    i love stuff like that but far too much to read lol

  48. SilviaLaura says:

    Giorgio (first name) Costanzo Beccaria (family name) was, as it seem, an explorer, even if he is known for exploring the Piaroas in Venezuela. He was born in Rome August 15 1914 and either the Museo Polare doesn’t update its site often or he’s still alive. Both Beccaria and Costanzo were families registered in the Nobility book for the Kingdom of Naples.

    Crawford, by the way doesn’t insinuate that the man was ‘calling himself’ anything. “An Italian, Count Major Giorgio Costanzo Beccaria, came to my office in Cape Town with a presentation letter”. On the other hand someone told him what the book was about since he ‘cannot read Italian’.

    The Italian project was about extablishing an Italian base for further explorations. Aptly named ‘Progetto Cenerentola’, Cinderella Project, fell through for general disinterest and lack of founds.

    They went to Bouvet with a whaler whose captain lent them a boat, or rather as Zavatti calls it a dinghy, to land.

    By the way the Italian expedition made two landing. One on Lars Island nearby – just like Harald Horntvedt – where they were stranded two days because of bad weather and a second one ‘on a little bay just south Cape Norway’. They were on Bouvet a few hours only, and in the wrong place anyway. There’s a long excerpt of the book here: http://www.ariannaeditrice.it/articolo.php?id_articolo=16037 for those who do read Italian or use Google Translator. Its stop just when they land on Bouvet :( .

    Even through Google Translator it should be evident that the ‘book’ – 79 pages only – is aimed at children, very much in the adventure book style. A more scientific report was published on magazines:
    ZAVATTI, Silvio, Verso l’isola Bouvet avamposto del Polo, in Paese Sera, Roma, 7 maggio 1959; La missione antartica italiana, in Le vie del mare, Milano, sett. 1959; L’Italia si è affacciata per la prima volta all’Antartide, in L’Universo, Firenze, sett.-ott. 1959; La missione italiana all’isola Bouvet, in Collectors’ Post, Milano, sett.-dic. 1959; Ritorno della missione antartica italiana, in Le vie del mare, Milano, febbraio 1960; La Missione Antartica Italiana all’isola Bouvet, in Rivista aeronautica, Roma, nr. 2, 3, 4 del 1960.

    As for the mystery boat, could it be that someone came on the island on two boats and some incident incapacitated enough men that they couldn’t man both anymore, and were forced to leave one on the island (with the useless pair of oars)? They pulled it as far from the beach s they could hoping to come bach and fetch it, but the weather didn’t allow them. The flattened tank puzzles me, however. Unless they tried to patch some hole?

    • Mike Dash says:

      Thanks, Silvia. That’s extremely useful information, and I’m sorry to have sounded so sceptical about poor old Count Costanzo.

      It’s worth noting, though, that the Count himself was very sceptical of Prof. Zavatti’s claims. According to Crawford, “he could not credit that his colleague could have stretched his imagination so far! I asked for an explanation. Zavatti, he said, had been so keen to form this expedition, and the Italian authorities had been so reluctant to support it, that he had felt the only course open to him was to pretend that a pilot visit had already taken place so that the Government would feel it was financing a viable project.” [p.174]

      Crawford also notes that some years later, in 1978/9, he got the librarian at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge to write to Italy and ask Prof. Zavetti for the name of the vessel he had travelled to Bouvet Island on at the time of his expedition – late March 1959. He received a reply naming her as the whale catcher “Setter IV”.

      “Upon hearing this,” writes Crawford, “I considered I held a trump card, as I had known the “Setter IV” quite well. I asked the Port Captain of Cape Town to let me know the movements of this vessel 20 years before.

      “”We have established from harbour pilot logbooks,” he wrote in reply, “that “Setter IV” docked at M berth on 20 March 1959 and shifted to the Robinson Dry Dock on 3 April. The vessel is recorded next as having sailed from M berth on 15 December 1959. It can be seen from the above that it is extremely unlikely that “Setter IV” was at Bouvet Island on 22nd and 23rd March 1959.”” [Crawford pp.175-6] The voyage from Cape Town to Bouvet takes about five days, so Crawford seems to be correct.

      On a more positive note, I find your theory as to how the abandoned boat got into the lagoon to be quite convincing. One could easily imagine a siutation in which rough weather made it impractical to try to get off the island with the mysterious oars, and they would not have been valuable enough to be a consideration in such circumstances.

  49. Maggie S. (Lemontree) says:

    Mmmkay. I was thinking about this. What about possible penal colony ‘inmates’, who might have been savvy enough to fashion an attempted escape, only to end up on the island, meeting a hasty demise? Ok. It’s waaay far-fetched, indeed. But Ive read a handful of books about various penal colonies of different countries…France, Russia, etc. My point, I guess, is, if, in any penal system, there are at least one or two amongst the prisoners who try (sometimes successfully) escaping, what if…Okey dokey. I think you get my drift. Haha..’drift’ :) MS/LT (ps/a good read is “Hell Beyond The Seas”, by Krarup-Nielsen, Aage, about the French Penal Colonies, and a man who escaped. I doubt anyone from the French Penal Settlement in Guiana would have made it all the way to Bouvet Island, but what about an escapee from a different country, whose penal settlement was located not so impossibly far away? The copper tank, well, that is a curiosity, too. Just a thought…)

    • Mike Dash says:

      Thanks, Maggie. As a matter of fact, a short series on some of the more notable escapes from the penal colony in French Guinea (popularly known as Devil’s Island) is planned for later in the year.

      From the perspective of your suggestion, it is as you say unlikely – the French did have another penal colony in New Caledonia in the Pacific, but my view, given the prevailing conditions, is that even if a group of escapees in the sort of open boat discovered in the lagoon had wanted to go to Bouvet and known how to get there, they couldn’t have expected to survive a long ocean voyage without being swamped. Wherever it came from, the boat must have begun its journey to the island from reasonably near by.

  50. SilviaLaura says:

    Thank you for your further researches!

    *that he had felt the only course open to him was to pretend that a pilot visit had already taken place so that the Government would feel it was financing a viable project*

    In fact the Govenment wasn’t that all helpful. Zavatti ended financing his own expedition, which made for a strange voyage (Genua to Mogadiscio on a banana carrier, Mogadiscio to Durban with a cargo steamer, Durban to Porth Elizabeth then to Cape Town by plane) which might explain why it was so hard for Crawford to trace him.
    From the summary I have, they found a whaler that was in train of joining others and the captain agreed to take the explorers there and retrieve them on its journey back – which seems to me mightily risky, but whatever.
    Anyway I wrote to Museo Polare in hope to solve this puzzle…

    As for the main mistery: how often did expeditions land on Lars Island and not straight on Bouvet? from there they could travel by boat to Bouvet and hopefully paddle back, leaving on Lars the main equipment. Also, how dangerous those male sea lions could be? Enough to put a boat out of commission, or to kill everyone who disembarked?

  51. Jason says:

    Very good work, but in this case, I think you eliminate too many theories due to using otherwise sound logic that might not be possessed by a stranded crew member. For example, the occupants of the boat might not have known the island was uninhabited and chose to look for a settlement soon after landing. Perhaps they were looking for a weather or navigation station that they could disrupt in order to attract a repair crew. Even climbing a peak to signal passing ships might have seemed like a good idea. Searching for provisions or finding a cave or campsite without elephant seals might also be a motive for abandoning their landing spot. Although we know better, it is easy to imagine someone thinking that there has to be a better place on the island to survive than the landing site.

    It is also possible that they attempted, unsuccessfully to tie up the boat, or that tides removed it from a previously secure position. I would imagine that if someone were lost at sea for a time, they might undertake a course of action that would defy our ability to comprehend. Unless the multi-boat or helicopter theory is correct, the occupants must have perished elsewhere on the island.

    Great read nonetheless!

  52. P.E.I. says:

    There’s another clue that nobody seems to have spotted yet, and that’s the water barrel. Was Crawford right in so confidently identifying it as a “44-gallon drum”? If so, was that a standard size in use by all maritime nations? It seems to me that a Soviet ship might have been expected to have water barrels calibrated in litres, not gallons.

  53. [...] Vehicle – [new NASA idea]Hitler’s Lost Sub: A Documentary – [13-parts series]Abandoned Lifeboat at the World’s End – [fascinating]Largest Pot Bust in History: See It Burn – [wow pic]Delightfully Creepy: [...]

  54. [...] An Abandoned Lifeboat at World’s End – Mike Dash. 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. [...]

  55. [...] However, a definitive answer has yet to be found. Read the whole story at A Blast from the Past. Link -via Dark Roasted [...]

  56. mocksafe says:

    Fantastic read. You’ve just hooked me on this blog.

  57. [...] However, a definitive answer has yet to be found. Read the whole story at A Blast from the Past. Link -via Dark Roasted [...]

  58. [...] An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end (AKoH) [...]

  59. [...] Simmons’s ESPN sports/pop culture site.  Robocop statue in Detroit: it’s happening.  This is cool if you are a history geek. And if you are, pft. [...]

  60. [...] However, a definitive answer has yet to be found. Read the whole story at A Blast from the Past. Link -via Dark Roasted Blend If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! [...]

  61. Jason says:

    The university library down the street from me apparently has vol. 1-8 of the Soviet Antarctic Expedition Information Bulletin. If I get time this weekend, I’ll swing by and take a look at vol. 2. Maybe there will be something in the article that can help solve this mystery.

  62. Bart says:

    Maybe some group got pirate-style marooned? Like in the stories: committed mutiny and set overboard in a whaler with a handfull of supplies? Has a certain dark romance to it, and they could be from any country that did whaling around those parts, didn’t even have to be very near the place and the loss of the whaler could be muffled under by the captains and company in charge. If reason fails there’s allays the fantastic, though it still doesn’t explain the lack of human remains.

    But I feel the remains are there somewhere: in frozen in some crevasse of buried under an avalanche. Where would you stay on that island? If that piece of volcanic rubble is as open and flattish and having that weather you described they may well took for shelter somewhat more inland, before they could make a shelter of the boat, and died there.

  63. [...] is a mystery story for you-An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end There is no more forbidding place on earth…..What it does have is a [...]

  64. Jason says:

    I found the article by Solyanik. It’s only a couple of pages long but does confirm that they were part of a whaler flotilla and did set foot on the island. Even more interesting is that they were stranded on the island for three days by an unexpected hurricane. The article does not mention them leaving a boat behind but perhaps they pulled it so far on shore to use as shelter and were later picked up by another landing craft.

    Unfortunately the photocopier at the library required the use of a student/faculty id card. I took photos of the article with my camera phone which doesn’t do a great job of taking pictures of close objects. I’ll download them from the phone later and if they are readable, send them to you.

    • Mike Dash says:

      Extremely valuable stuff; thank you.

      One could certainly see a situation in which a boat got left on the island in these circumstances. It would be particularly interesting to know whether the Soviet “whaler flotilla” had a helicopter – if so, some of the hypothetical scenarios set out in the comments section might have played out almost exactly as sugested.

      • Henk Looijesteijn says:

        that is very interesting – indeed, it might go some way in explaining why the debris was what it was.

        I have read the book by Gerrit Jan Zwier, Naar de rand van de kaart (To the Edge of the Map), published in Amsterdam by Atlas Publishers in 2008, describing among others a journey he made in March 2006 along islands in the Southern Atlantic. He could board with a ship rented by some rich Americans who make it a sport to visit as many countries as possible (this is their website: http://www.travelerscenturyclub.org/). Though Bouvet is not a country as such, it is on the list of countries, and there are fanatics who do nothing but travel to all countries on the list. Including Bouvet, which is why this expedition was primarily fitted out. It is a pity it is all in Dutch, as the descriptions are hilarious – Zwier finds out one lady of about eighty features also in a book by the Dutch mountain climbing expert/adventurer Ronald Naar, who met her on an exepdeition to Antarctica, whens she was about seventy. Her only goal was to land on Antarctica and get away again immediately afterwards – and this also happened on Bouvet. Another member of the expedition literally only leapt on shore, made a picture of himself, and leapt in the boat again – it took him all of two minutes. I will not give comments – none needed, I guess.

        In fact Zwier also landed on Bouvet, but the nature of the whole thing also meant he could be there only very shortly. He doesn’t write anything about a boat lying around there (of course it was 42 years ago, but ice and snow conserve well, I imagine) nor does he go deep into the history of expeditions to Bouvet. He does not give much of a description of the island – he does not mention small lakes. He does mention all forms of polar life, such as birds and many seals on the beaches. If someone got shipwrecked here, he would have been able to survive for some time on seal meat.

        What Zwier’s story does make clear is that Bouvet is devilishly difficult to land on even in good weather, on account of the strong surf, which can literally engulf a boat in seconds. Nothing dramatical happens, but boats get turned over, people get soaking wet, al that sort of thing – reading the account made it well possible that in other circumstances one would choose to leave a boat behind.

        Another interesting thing he mentioned is that the expedition was accompanied by a Norwegian ornithologist, who spent somewhere in the 1990s three weeks on Bouvet. In fact Nyrosa was fitted out with a container, which the Norwegians used to live in during their stay. The Norwegians were aware of the difficulties involved in landing on Bouvet by boat, and in fact used a helicopter to get there – obviously that was beyond the means even of the American countryhoppers.

        The Norwegians also found out that Nyrosa originated not in a volcanic eruption, but was formed as the consequence of a landslide. And they found out that during much of the time Bouvet suffers bad weather, such as driving rain and strong gusts of wind. Given that they were there for all of three weeks, they will have had ample time to investigate the surroundings and notice anything unusual.

        It might therefore be worthwhile to check with the Norwegian Polar Institute, if they know more about the boat and its history. They have an English website (http://npweb.npolar.no/english) but as is often the case the Norwegian site is more informative. I checked on Bouvet on it, but that did not yield easily readible results (save one, as will follow). Their website shows they regularly get back there – and that portions of Nyrosa, with the container, actually have disappeared, see this link which is in English: http://npweb.npolar.no/Artikler/2008/1199370947.35. Which incidentally might suggest the boat is also long gone.

        Well, overseeing all this, the Soviet case seems certainly the most likely possibility at the moment.

  65. clavdivs says:

    ok, the boats mine.

  66. sbutler says:

    Even though it happened in the Pacific, this is the right time period for Operation Fishbowl (detonation of high altitude atomics). There was also the Soviet K Project… and who knows how much of that we really are aware of. And the article points out that the Soviets were certainly aware of and had passed the island by 1960.

    All I’m saying is that at that period in history there was a lot of atomic testing going on. This island sounds like the perfect kind of place to do something you don’t want observed (well… before the era of Google Earth and spy satellites that can tell if you have lice or not).

  67. rongorongo says:

    What a fascinating story! – thank you for posting it. I wondered if the boat could have been part of a reconnaissance expedition for what turned out to be the mysterious nuclear test in the region?

    Since I missed the original posting on Bouvet island too I was struck by the familiar sounding nature of its location. It turns out that the northern hemisphere equivalent of 54.26S 3.24W would land you near the town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England. Thank you, gulf stream! (and no – Google Street View does not yet seem to be aware of Bouvet).

  68. dersins says:

    I smell the introductory chapter to a new Clive Cussler book….

  69. ivoshandor says:

    I was walking through some fog drifts the other day and I thought, motherfucker, this is just like Bouvet Island.

  70. mannequito says:

    I have to admit I was almost disappointed when, after all that mystery, he came to a reasonably logical conclusion with the Soviets. Much more amusing is the concept of an Italian Count teaming up with a Mad Professor and chartering a secret boat to head for the most isolated island on Earth and conduct experiments.

  71. dougrayrankin says:

    Previously, on LOST…

  72. imjustcreative says:

    Rarely do I feel the desire to read longer articles on my computer, it feels like work and not leisure, but this really piqued my interest. Fascinating read.

  73. hoyland says:

    I have to admit I was almost disappointed when, after all that mystery, he came to a reasonably logical conclusion with the Soviets. Much more amusing is the concept of an Italian Count teaming up with a Mad Professor and chartering a secret boat to head for the most isolated island on Earth and conduct experiments.

    Me too. Though I was slightly disappointed that he thinks that Soviet journal would be impossible to get hold of. I seem to be able to interlibrary loan a copy of the English translation from a college in the next city. I could well be able to spend a while on the bus, walk in and photocopy the thing. (I have my doubts I have reciprocal borrowing privileges, but I might.)

    • Mike Dash says:

      Just to clarify, I didn’t say the Bulletin was impossible to get hold of – just that it was “regrettably hard-to-find”. It’s available here in the UK from the British Library overflow store at Boston Spa, but that takes a couple of days to deliver to the main library, and I wasn’t going to be back for a while. And it can be had from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge too. I’ll get hold of it soon – but see further up the comments for a brief summary of what it has to say.

  74. jess the mess says:

    The bit about Dr. Zavotti was kind of sad – him sending a photo of seals to prove he had been there and all that.

  75. imperium says:

    Great analysis, a fascinating tale. Not my ideal holiday destination though.

  76. fuzzy pantalones says:

    it was the sea elephants’ boat. that’s why they were so mad when the guys were snooping around their stuff.

  77. grahjont says:

    I think in the Minute Mystery version, the survivors dissolved in the lake.

  78. Tweets that mention An abandoned lifeboat at world's end « A Blast From The Past -- twitchhiker says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by twitchiker. Twitchhiker said: Incredible post about the most isolated place on Earth, and a decades-old mystery. Your Sunday morning – sorted. http://bit.ly/ik7pVp [...]

  79. dhartung says:

    From the photograph, it seems like it may be possible to trace the design characteristics of the whaler. Although a common type of craft, it is probable — especially in ~1960 — that there were many different builders using traditional methods that would have distinctiveness enough for a general, oh, country-of-origin test. I believe the original photo to have much higher resolution than the reproduction judging by what appears to be handwritten notes in the lower right.

  80. [...] An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end (AKoH) [...]

  81. indubitable says:

    For more than a year, ominous rumors have been privately circulating among high level western leaders that the Soviet Union had been at work on what was darkly hinted to be the ultimate weapon, a doomsday device. Intelligence sources traced the site of the top secret Russian project to the perpetually fog shrouded wasteland below the arctic peaks of the Zokov islands Bouvet Island. What they were building, or why it should be located in a such a remote and desolate place, no one could say.

  82. Chris Scott says:

    Just a piece of trivia…
    It is on this island – under the name of Bouvetoya – that the first Alien vs Predator film is set…
    Mystery solved!

  83. Tweets that mention An abandoned lifeboat at world's end « A Blast From The Past -- Ping.fm says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by imjustcreative, Graham Smith. Graham Smith said: imjustcreative Mystery of abandoned lifeboat at world’s end –> Awesome article for some Sunday Reading http://ping.fm/77OMO [...]

  84. Tweets that mention An abandoned lifeboat at world's end « A Blast From The Past -- rtwflights says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by rtwflights. rtwflights said Ace this RT @twitchhiker: Incredible post about the most isolated place on Earth, and a decades-old mystery http://bit.ly/ik7pVp [...]

  85. the_royal_we says:

    Okay, so this blog? Rocks. Will definitely be reading more. Thanks for the post!

  86. Lynn H says:

    A novel-worthy mystery. Any takers?

  87. twodoctors says:

    fascinating detective work

  88. Sacred Flea says:

    Cool beans.

  89. Ryan says:

    Abandoned and extremely remote places have long been a fascination of mine, so I’ve known about Bouvet Island, but never about a boat found there. Intriguing. The difficulty in finding foreign and older published articles reinforces one of the drawbacks of the Internet, which is that people tend to think that everything ever written is available somewhere online. The truth is actually the opposite…most serious academic research still involves hours of poring over moldy old journals and books, often in tiny little libraries in foreign countries.

  90. sjms says:

    Love the abandoned boat story. So interesting.

  91. Mingo245 says:

    That’s very interesting. Probably castaways that got stuck and later rescued from that island.

  92. Garland says:

    But there was no evidence there was a camp there, and on an island with no sheltre, it makes little sense to leave the boat in the lagoon instead of using it as a sheltre. Even if it was castaways, the island is hundreds of miles from the nearest route that any ship would take.

    Every possible explanation just raises more questions.

    • Mingo245 says:

      Well you say there’s usually really bad storms there right? How old is the boat? If its from the 18th century storms could have washed away evidence of a camp. Or when they left they just took everything with them except the boat.

      • Garland says:

        The lagoon where the boat was found was on a volcanic plateau that formed sometime between 1955 and 1958. The boat couldn’t have been too old, considering it was left in a very harsh environment but was still sea-worthy.

        For the location, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to have left the boat there; it’s valuable and useful to simply leave floating in a lagoon.

  93. Mingo245 says:

    Its quite an interesting mystery yes? I really wish we knew more about it.

  94. Kellzofligin says:

    >>aggressive male sea-elephants<<

    Oh god what.

  95. Garland says:

    Sea elephant is another term for elephant seals.

  96. Bernard says:

    When Crawford was on Bouvet South Africa was still using the British Imperial system of weights and measures so he would have used gallons 44 gallons are equivalent too 200 litres in metric measures which the USSR and most of the world was using at that time

  97. sarajchurchill says:

    I find this fascinating…I think it could work into a research or a writing project

  98. thingfish says:

    Have added this site to my favourites

  99. Corona says:

    If you drain the lagoon and drill real deep, you’ll find the treasure of Oak Island.

  100. abeuscher says:

    This is so obviously a place for a villain’s stronghold I’m surprised there isn’t a bidding war. If this island is truly uninhabited, I may have to start believing that Cobra Commander doesn’t exist.

    • playswithknives says:

      You’ve got no idea how expensive it was to build my submarine bays, but the great big door in the cliff is awesome.

  101. sam480 says:

    You sure know how to pick ‘em, Norway.

  102. Malevolent says:

    If you don’t find this intriguing then there’s no hope for you.

  103. Matt K says:

    Very cool.

  104. [...] chances are someone has already been there, and they’re probably still alive. (Unless you go here. Then you’re pretty much doomed. But I would still go visit if I [...]

  105. Douger says:

    > Perhaps someone should tell 4chan that the boat is a 14 year old girl.

    This is the key to solving the mystery right here.

  106. [...] Lifeboat Mystery in World’s Most Desolate Place [...]

  107. marcoIRL says:

    how interesting…i can’t wait to visit this lost world.

  108. [...] Bouvet Island is a cold, storm and fog shrouded speck of land lost in the immensity of the Southern Ocean. The nearest land is the Antarctic mainland 1750 kilometres away. The nearest inhabited land is somewhat further. The nearest shipping lane is over 1600 kilometers away. Nevertheless, in 1964 a South African expedition discovered an abandoned ship’s boat in an inland lagoon. On nearby rocks were found a pair of oars, pieces of wood, a 44 gallon drum and a copper buoyancy tank which had been opened out flat. More information can be found here. [...]

  109. Diffusio says:

    Pretty wild stuff

  110. Beau says:

    This is fascinating!

  111. Beau says:

    I would like to offer a possible “connection”. Being an old “ham” (in more ways than one) operator I wondered if there could be a ham radio aspect of this mystery. “DXpeditions” are journeys by ham radio operators with time (and money) on their hands to travel to remote corners of the globe to make radio contact with other hams all over the earth. A Google search of “bouvet island dxpeditions” reveals a number of such journeys in the period from the 1970s to present.

    But in the commentary above it is mentioned that “First, it is clear that the boat must have arrived on Bouvet at some point in the nine years between January 1955, when the New Rubble did not exist, and April 1964, when it did.”

    Well, in fact, the Google search does indeed make mention of a DXpedition to Bouvet on November 26 to November 28, 1962 (links below). This date falls squarely in our “target” date range.

    Abbreviated quotes from the link include “Gus (Browning) went to Indian Ocean with his four friends, W0AIW and so. He made his second DXpediton alone.

    The QSL cards that I had worked with him in his second DXpedition.
    Those countries were very rare countries, not much activities were reported or new one.

    The most rare one was from LH4C Bouvet Island in his 1962 DXpedition.
    He made the first radio operation from the island.

    JA1BLC,JA1BK and JA1VX were only JA stations reported to work with LH4C
    There is no activities from the island for 15 years till March 1977 by 3Y1VC. After that, 3Y1VC from late 1978
    to early 1979, 3Y5X in late 1989 to early 1990 and 3Y0C in 2001 were reported active from the island.”

    The link for the above quotes is http://www.qsl.net/ja1dm/englishw4bpd62.htm

    Another link makes reference to the 1962 DXpedition at
    http://homepage2.nifty.com/JK1DVX/dxcj-2008.htm

    Interestingly, it also includes a photo of the radio shack, but from a 2001 DXpedition.

    The ham in question, Gus Browning (call sign W4BPD) was apparently a famous radio operator (he died in 1990). Many stories of his adventures appear at
    http://springfieldsc.us/Archive%20page.htm

    Tantalizingly, the following quote appears:

    “He also told of being adrift in the Indian Ocean in a small boat for several days, a tour through the African jungles, and another, south of Cape Town, Africa, which took him into the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean.”

    http://springfieldsc.us/Archive%20page.htm#Post 02

    I offer the above information solely because it documents a visitor to Bouvet during the time period under examination not otherwise mentioned in the above commentary. One can imagine various scenarios where the radio operator was dropped off in the whaler by a mother ship and the whaler was just left there when the the mother ship picked him up to continue his journey. Or, as quoted above, “being adrift in the Indian Ocean in a small boat for several days”! Could it be?

    I have not yet found a detailed description of the journey but I suspect that it exists somewhere. Perhaps someone more skilled in this type of research can use this tidbit to continue the search..

    • Mike Dash says:

      Beau, thanks very much for this. It’s a remarkable discovery and certainly opens up another very interesting line of investigation. I’ll try to look further myself, but certainly welcome information on Browning – an amazing character, by the sound of it – from all corners.

      • Beau says:

        Mike,

        Here is additional information and comments:

        1 – One of the items referenced above is a “copper flotation or buoyancy tank opened out flat for some purpose” found near the boat. In keeping with the ham radio theory, I am reminded of the need for a “grounding” system to provide for an electrical offset to the antenna as well as for lightning protection. It seems possible that Gus Browning needed a ground connection, and a flattened out piece of copper stuck into the earth would do the job….it’s not like he could run down to the hardware store on Bouvet to purchase a proper ground rod.

        2 – Here is a copy of a “QSL card” (a postcard confirming a radio contact) sent out by Gus verifying that he made radio contact from Bouvet on Nov 29, 1962 http://hamgallery.com/qsl/country/BouvetIsland/lh4c.htm

        3 – In a testimonial to Gus, another author reported: He told us once: “I have to QRT (“disconnect”) now and get back in the boat – my feet are getting wet!” (I’ve misplaced the link but I will look for it).

        4 – “73 Magazine” was a ham radio monthly magazine that was published for decades until it shut down in 2003. A search of the article database produces two listings in the years 1967:

        “Gus: Part 28 – Sir Gus lands on Bouvet”, October, 1967
        “Gus: Part 29 – Bouvet Island”, November, 1967

        The only problem is trying to read these particular issues published 44 years ago. I’m unsure if they have been scanned to download online. Perhaps some libraries might have them in storage. But I have the feeling that these two sequential articles (apparently of such length that it had to be split between two issues) would likely make reference to the boat (if he had one) and it’s disposition when he left Bouvet. If you have knowledge of how to access dated magazine issues, “73″ magazine would seem to be promising for research.

        The link to the database is at
        http://www.mikeyancey.com/73mag/listauthor.php?Author=w4bpd

        Beau

  112. Mike Dash says:

    Excellent work. There’s actually a near-complete set of 73 in the Library of Congress, so it will be possible to put this theory to the test.

    Watch this space…

    • Mike Dash says:

      Thanks to the extremely efficient staff at the Library of Congress, I am now in possession of both the articles noted by Beau.

      They’re interesting. Gus Browning states he landed at Cape Circumcision, which is about half a mile north of the Nyrøsa, but his description of the landing spot, a flat area about the size of two football pitches, sounds very much as though he actually was ashore at roughly the spot where the lifeboat was found. And he had a large (50 gallon) drum of petrol with him.

      However, Browning’s account is explicit as to how he got ashore and off Bouvet again: he hitched a lift on an icebreaker, and though he was taken to the island by ‘lifeboat’, the boat went back to the ship and returned some days later to pick him up.

      Hence while it might be possible at a stretch to imagine Browning was responsible for the equipment found by Crawford, the boat must have had another origin. Does this make the ‘flotsam & jetsam’ explanation for the lifeboat’s presence more convincing? Perhaps, but I still think any storm-tossed lifeboat would exhibit more sign of damage than the craft in Bouvet’s lagoon.

      The search continues…

      • Beau says:

        Some more random comments:

        1 – We both read the October and November 1967 issues of “73” magazine wherein Gus recounted his DXpedition. We agree that there was nothing particularly revealing concerning the lifeboat/whaler. Nevertheless, we must remember that this magazine is targeted to amateur radio enthusiasts and their primary concern is radios, their technical stats, antennas, etc., not the secondary concerns of how he got there. Believe me, I was a ham operator in my youth and all you think about is radios. We know that Gus was there during the target period. The fact that he doesn’t discuss the boats does not mean he wasn’t involved some way.

        2 – You will recall that our previous search of 73 under “Bouvet lifeboat” brought up the October and November 1967 issues and with your skill you were able to secure the articles that we read. However, a search of 73 under merely “Bouvet BOAT” brings up 9 different pages in several issues, 7 of which are in 1967. See http://hamcall.net/73/?nam=&pw=&search=bouvet+boat

        A search of just “Bouvet” by itself brings up 80 pages through the years. Remember, Gus died in 1990 I believe.

        I will leave it to you to decide if activating the Library of Congress for these additional issues would be worthwhile. I believe he was on an extended journey….he did Tristan da Cunha and Gough for example….and he might just have made just tangential reference to Bouvet in the other issues. Then again, you can’t know for sure without reading them.

        3 – I wonder if it would be worth contacting the heirs of Gus (his wife died in 2007). One would think that he must have taken many photos on his journey and perhaps made a diary.

        4 – As you can see I tend to think, given the few clues available and the fact that we know Gus was there, that he was somehow involved.

  113. Andy says:

    I just looked on Google Earth satellite – the boat’s still there…

    • Daniel says:

      I looked on the Nyroysa and still can’t find it though

      PS: this is one well researched article, very interesting indeed, job well done author

    • Beau says:

      Andy,

      I am new to Google Earth. I panned over the northwest coast but basically could only see rocks and rubble. Does Google Earth have some “coordinate” numbers that I could use to zoom in on the boat? Thanks.

      Beau

  114. Andy says:

    I’m sorry, I was just fooling around. I did look for it, and sometimes the resolution is good enough to pick out things as small as people – but if the boat’s still there, I couldn’t make it out… just a bunch of dark ice… maybe the owners set sail again.

    I question one point of the investigation: if I had been shipwrecked on that forlorn place and nobody came to rescue me, I would have eventually started climbing, looking for a whaling station or even just a better vantage point to survey this place I washed up on. So it’s possible that there’s a frozen corpse or two somewhere on that island…

    • Beau says:

      How about the “Meteorological Station”? The map shows it just south of Nyraysa. Is that viewable?

      • Mike Dash says:

        There is an interesting parallel here with Tristan da Cunha – almost as inaccessible as Bouvet, but inhabited – where there was a volcanic eruption at pretty much the same time, in 1961.

        This resulted in the creation a small lagoon at a spot known to Tristanians as Pigbite. It is no longer there. As the Tristan government website notes:

        ‘When the 1961 lava cooled this area was a sea inlet until longshore drift created a bar beach and this lagoon. Used by Tristan youngsters as a safe swimming and boating lake in the 1970s and 80s – the lagoon was gradually filled in with stones and sand from Caves Gulch, and by pebbles and boulders tossed over the beach by northerly storms. The lagoon disappeared altogether by the 1990s.’

        I’d guess Bouvet’s two lagoons met the same fate over the same period.

  115. Mike Dash says:

    An alternative explanation for the vanishing lagoons can be found here, where it is commented that

    “abrasion by the action of the sea on the seaward cliff of Nyrøysa above Westwindstranda is pronounced and ongoing, with an estimated 50-100 m lost from 1966-1979, and 6-9 m disappearing in places from 1996-1997 to 1998-1999.”

    The same article suggests that it is possible the Nyrøsa was formed not by volcanic action but by a major landslide.

  116. Jude says:

    Mike, I have to congratulate you and thank you for writing such a fascinating article. I should add that reading the comments in chronological order is equally interesting as the reader feels as whenever a new piece of information comes to light, the reader feels as though it just happened, and they were there, solving this mystery. I’ll now check out the rest of your blog, good job!

  117. Mike Dash says:

    Beau forwards a message he received from Dolph Kessler, who was on Bouvet in 2006. It returns us to another possible line of enquiry [see Henk Looijesteijn's comments above].

    Dolph says:

    “We were landing on Bouvet in 2006
    We did not see any left over of a lifeboat

    “In fact we nearly stayed there forever.
    This pictures of Jeff Shea tells more
    On Bouvet is hard to land, but it is even more difficult to leave
    So it took us three hours and the help of 6 zodiacs to leave

    “This trip was made possible by the century club, see link
    http://www.travelerscenturyclub.org/
    Perhaps some of their most experienced travelers knows more about Bouvet and the lifeboat
    In fact the lifeboat could be from a travelers club expedition of the sixties, a wild explanation. People from the century club are really mad about reaching Bouvet.”

    The photos Dolph refers to show something of the difficulties of getting a small boat onto Bouvet and off again:

  118. The picture link I posted is from Dolph Kessler’s Panaramio site. Also, for whoever asked if Lars Island is close to Bouvetøya, it is extremely close, with the coordinates -54.452656,3.314853. NASA also has a picture at http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/EFS/lowres/ISS017/ISS017-E-16161.JPG from their “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth” series. As for viewing the meteorological station, I do not see it on Google Maps, only on this photo from Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Bouvet_Island-CIA_WFB_Map.png

  119. Scott auden says:

    The copper “tank” stands out. Were such tanks common? What were they used for, and by whom? Why flatten it?

    • Mike Dash says:

      It seems to have been a buoyancy tank from the lifeboat. No one has any idea why it was flattened; all I can do is repeat the comment that its presence suggests someone in the boat had very few resources available to them. That suggests castaways more than it does, say, a crew of Soviet ornithologists, though plainly it is not impossible, given the difficulties of landing supplies, that anyone might have found themselves short of a sheet of flat metal… we just can’t conceive of the exact circumstances.

    • Scott auden says:

      What would sich a “buoyancy tank” be providing buoyancy for? Likewise the drum. Interesting coincidence: another buoyant metal container. Especially given the proximity to the oars, could these be the remains of or the begining of an improvised “boat” ? Copper seems an odd choice if it was meant for buoyancy. (doesn’t like seawater) i think the copper tank could be the key. What sort of vessel would use or carry such a thing?

      • Mike Dash says:

        Buoyancy tanks are part of the equipment supplied to lifeboats – they are fitted fore and aft to help keep the boat afloat in the event of swamping. Hard to see why anyone would turn one into a boat when the lifeboat is still there in the lagoon, but then I’ve not heard any reasonable explanation of why else anyone would flatten one.

      • Scott auden says:

        I have to think I’d be sorely tempted to burn the boat. Or retask it as a shelter. In my imagined drama, they explored the possibility of using drum and tank as boat before commiting to irreversably altering their lifeboat. Or to extend the “marooned mariners” scenario”: perhaps more than one “vessel” was involved. The life boat, and the drum and other flotsam (oars, tank, what have you) perhaps the lifeboat degraded at sea, someone used the tank or barrel in desperation. As you mention we can speculate endlessly. If I were to search for remains, I think I’d look up high: until I got hungry, a bull elephant seal would intimidate me. And I’d want distance from surf and storm, as well as visibility. I’d go for the highest ground I could. If the crater wasn’t active, it’d provide some shelter from wind. Heck, perhaps some geothermic feature providing heat is even possible. A freezing man might be desperate to ignore the danger. Conveniently, later volcanism might eradicate evidence. Sign me up for the expedition! Thanks, mike for the fascinating discussion. Must send the lunk to an archaeologist buddy of mine!

    • Beau says:

      Scott – I refer to my comment made above on 22 and 23 May 2011 regarding the copper tank. I am not an electrical engineer but have been an amateur (“ham”) radio operator since I was 12 years old. We have established that a ham operator, Gus Browning, went to Bouvet in 1962 on a “DXpedition” to set up a transmitter there and contact as many other hams around the world from this location while he was there. His voyage to Bouvet (and other islands) is documented in radio magazines of that era. In any event, for proper operation of a transmitter, a “ground” connection is necessary as an “offset” to the antenna. One can certainly imagine that Gus improvised a ground connection by using a tank made of copper (which is an excellent conductor of electricity). Furthermore, “flattening out” the tank would facilitate inserting it into the frozen earth to maximize the conductivity of the connection.

      While we have no proof that this is what happened, we do know that a radio operator was there in 1962 and could have found a tank, especially a copper one, to be useful, even necessary to complete his “mission” of broadcasting from a frozen speck in the southern ocean. And the flattening of the tank makes perfect sense from an electrical engineering perspective.

      While the above explanation is possible, we cannot be sure. But I have not read any other plausible scenario. I agree that we should organize an expedition ourselves to find out for sure. Maybe the Norwegian government would supply our funding:)

      • Scott auden says:

        An expedition is certainly called for; best part is, since there are no inhabitants, we won’t even need to learn norwegian!

  120. Cuyaya says:

    Fascinating read.

  121. [...] ממש עוברות באיזור הזה אבל אולי לכם תהיה תיאוריה של מי סירת ההצלה הנטושה שנתגלתה שם ב-1964. עם מעט צידה, ללא שום סימן מזהה, וללא אנשים בתוכה . וזה [...]

  122. [...] An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end Posted on April 3, 2012 by cleek There is no more forbidding place on earth. [...]

  123. joel hanes says:

    > why flatten the copper tank

    to have a flat piece of metal
    to put over a fire
    to cook bits of elephant seal
    because what choice to you have

  124. pearadise says:

    They got eaten by fucking elephant seals man. i mean come on!

  125. CPH says:

    Astonishing story. The boat, however, is almost surely a from a Soviet bird-watching expedition undertaken in November 1958. A quick consult of the actual piece cited by Mike (by G.A. Solyanik, “Some Bird Observations on Bouvet Island” in: Information Bulletin of the Soviet Antarctic Expedition 13 (1959), pp. 97-99 reveals this paragraph:

    “In November 1958 a group of sailors and scientists from the research vessel of the Antarctic whaling flotilla Slava landed on Cape Circoncision. Because of an unexpected hurricane, the group was forced to spend three days (November 27-29) on the island, which gave them the opportunity to explore this poorly studied section.”

    The piece goes on to describe the beach and (in great detail), the nesting habits of Antarctic penguins. The location and dating here are pretty convincing, as is the detail of the dingy coming from a “whaling” flotilla. Its a pretty convincing bit of evidence.

    • Mike Dash says:

      Thanks! I do agree, but I’d feel just a bit happier if the article mentioned an abandoned boat, or even landing at the spot where the boat was found. The Soviet expedition is easily the best lead we have, though – especially now we have mention of a “beach”, and especially if we assume the copper tank was the product of another expedition, by the radio ham “Sir Gus”.

  126. Oldfurr says:

    Items such as flotation and tankage routinely float away from sunken boats, much less ones being battered apart at sea level as the photo seems to indicate in this case. Those items that came ashore in such circumstances wouldn’t have a good chance of long term survival in their original form in an area with Sea-elephant type critters around who will nicely flatten you, your furniture and your copper tank ( and most any other sheet metal object you might care to name ) just moving about the shore on their day to day business.
    It is VERY easy for a boat to be swept into a basin/lagoon in the sort of conditions that can come down on mariners virtually without warning in those waters even when trying to land during a “calm” period. Mariners attempting a landing on an unknown and uncharted shore, possibly under a commander unable or unwilling to wait several weeks or months for a weather/sea conditions window to open, with unknown currents and rips, having no better observations of the landing area than can be made from a mothership a safe distance offshore and by their own observations on the way in ( made at water level in a small moving boat ) are at even greater risk still. Being thrown or dragged over the rocks at the lagoon entrance or simply having a sea drop you on an unseen rock can result in more than sufficient damage to make any attempt at repair/retrieval of a relatively cheap ships boat in an area of lethal conditions an impossibly stupid idea if any safe way off ( such as the hypothetical Soviet cold war era mothership’s other boats ) is available.
    Just a few thoughts from someone who once had some ATON experience in the USCG in an area of S/E Alaska where some shore based lights & daymarks were serviced by getting right up next to the rocks ( and moving directly from whaleboat to rock ) and has mucked about with sunken boats in shallow water ( nothing I’d want to do in the high southern latitudes! ).

  127. Hr Toll says:

    I just wanted to point out that ‘Kapitän’ is German for ‘captain’. The captain of the Valdivia was called Adalbert Krech.

  128. latte drink says:

    Has anyone spotted a wierd flash on the screen as the post is
    launching? For some reason its almost as if it would like me to experience a seizure whenever the
    website is loading. Probably something wrong with my own pc.

    ..

  129. Kurt says:

    Mike, As an old time ham I don’t recall any pictures of Gus actually being on Bouvet if you get the drift of this comment. I like the Soviet scenario. My hypothesis is that the boat was damaged on landing, that the copper tank was flattened to try to make a repair, and that another boat from the mother ship came in to retrieve the group. This has been a very interesting mystery.

  130. Thank you for an exciting story! You mention that Bouvet “lies far off the normal trade routes”, but Norwegian whaling in this region has been extensive (though I am not sure about the activity in this period).

    It might interest you that The Norwegian Polar Institute will etablish a new meteorological station at Nyrøysa in the end of 2013. This news article in Norwegian contains a video of the new station: http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/distrikt/troms_og_finnmark/1.10847598

    My own interest in the island is because the company that I work for is named Bouvet after the island :-) (www.bouvet.no)

  131. [...] is a rather intriguing story about this island and an abandoned whaler found there. You can read here all about it. (Thanks [...]

  132. Steve Hoge says:

    You will no doubt receive a new flurry of hits here as Bouvet Island was the answer to this week’s “Where on Google Earth” quiz. http://www.whereongoogleearth.net/2013/01/04/contest-275-answer-bouvetoya-bouvet-island-south-atlantic-ocean/

    I noticed at the end of the page on the Springfield SC site you linked to at http://springfieldsc.us/Archive%20page.htm#Post, the editor mentioned that Gus Browning “left a recently found manuscript that will now be published.”

    Links to that manuscript were not obvious on initial perusal of this quirky site. However, a Google search brought this up: http://springfieldsc.us/MANUSCRIPT%20ARCHIVES.htm . There doesn’t seem to be any further mention of Bouvet Island in this manuscript, but I sense these are NOT the complete archives of his lifetime’s notes…

  133. Fede says:

    I decided to do some more research on Silvio Zavatti and Giorgio Costanzo Beccaria, but I just realized there already are some pretty well researched comments about them. I am aware that I’m basically just rewriting something that has already been said over a year ago, but I spent two hours researching this and don’t really feel like deleting everything.

    As SilviaLaura already pointed out, this website http://www.museopolare.it/IndiceC.htm#COSTANZO%20BECCARIA says Beccaria was born in Rome in 1914 and took part in several expeditions around the world. That’s pretty much everything I could find, and it surely doesn’t help that “Beccaria” is a famous surname in Italy.
    On the other hand, Zavatti seems to be better known: he has a page on the italian wikipedia, has published several books and founded a museum focused on Antartic exploration (http://www.museopolare.it/). There’s even a photo of him with Umberto Nobile, arguably the most famous among modern Italian explorers (http://www.circolopolare.com/images/zavatti2.jpg). Overall, he seems to be a reliable source, though I have the impression he was more a romantic adventurer than a scientist.

    I find it pretty weird that all Italian sources agree that the two explorers visited Bouvet Island in 1959, while English websites don’t even mention the expedition. However, this article (http://www.ariannaeditrice.it/articolo.php?id_articolo=16037) explains that their party was scarcely funded and partly unsuccesful, so it makes sense that foreign newspapers didn’t talk about it.
    The article linked above, dated 2008, is by far the most complete and informative publication I could find on the argument. It explains that Zavatti originally planned on doing two expeditions to Bouvet Island: the first to explore the terrain and determine if it was possible to establish a weather station in the island, the second to actually build said station. However there was never a second expedition, due to lack of funding from the Italian government.
    Most importantly, though, the article also contains several excerpts from Zavatti’s own publications. According to him, they left from Cape Town the evening of the 16 March 1959 on a South African whaler, and arrived at Bouvet Island five days after. The duo landed on Lars Island (just south of Bouvet) and set up a camp. The whaler was back two days later to pick them up, and this time Zavatti and Beccaria managed set foot on Bouvet island “in a small bay just south of Cape Norway”; collected the data they were looking for and then went back on the whaler. It is important to note that Cape Norway is approximately 3 km south of the Nyrøysa, where the mysterious boat was found, and Zavatti doesn’t mention leaving anything behind. Therefore, it seems extremely unlikely that the lifeboat belonged to the Italian expedition (assuming there was an Italian expedition).
    Again, I hope this can prove helpful in some way.

  134. BobSagetasaur says:

    That was absolutely facinating. Worth the read, for sure!

  135. Jmoss88 says:

    Great read! Thank you!

  136. doomladen says:

    Nothing makes sense, so I have no idea about the solution. If someone were shipwrecked and made it to the island then they’d pretty much have to use that ship as shelter so that can’t be it. The odds of it being debris washed ashore into that lagoon are just too remote, and it wouldn’t explain the equipment left on the beach. And if it were a visiting ship, why leave all that stuff there?

    I think the visiting ship is the most likely theory, i.e. this boat was the launch of a larger ship that visited and left it there, which then returned some time later and collected the equipment (which would explain why subsequent visitors didn’t mention it being there).

  137. StiggyPop says:

    Just the kind of stuff I love to find. Seems like the Soviet theory holds the most water.

  138. KevlarKitten says:

    This was an amazingly well written article. Loved reading it!

  139. voy says:

    u must change the title ! it’s no so intriguing ! for this strange story, it needs a real intriguing title !

  140. Renoesrok says:

    Seems as though you have your culprit all wrapped up.

    Still very interesting, thank you.

    P.s. chanarchive bought me here

  141. Cam Dillinger says:

    Good story !
    Well followed up, but sadly lacking a confirmed ending !

    The abandoned lifeboat on an empty island really fires the ol’ imagination, doesn’t it ?
    Imagine being in that position ? Makes you shiver to think about it, (even sat at home!)

    Barrels of water are pretty standard gear for lifeboats.
    Perhaps the copper flotation tank which had been hammered flat, was done so to function as an ‘improvised heliograph/signal mirror’, to signal another ship or vessel ?
    Or maybe they just attempted to use it as a ‘roller-bearing’ when dragging the boat across land to it’s final resting place, but found that the boats weight simply crushed it flat ? (Although the ‘improvised cooking-pan’ idea, that someone mentioned earlier is also pretty logical.)

    It could be that a Mutiny took place ?, and the Captain, 1st mate and few crew members were sent ashore at gun point from a vessel seized by mutineers or pirates ?

    Or, (my personal favorite !)
    Maybe a shore party was made up of the most stupid and annoying crew members (A ‘Ship of Fools’) and they were sent ashore under false pretenses. With the intention being left behind and the main ships crew getting rid of these ‘albatrosses hung about their necks’ ?
    (Anyone thats spent a long journey (or just a long time) in close, confined and unchosen company will, at least partially, understand this kind of action !)

  142. My favourite mystery story…and probably entirely down to you, thank you. Islands fascinate, was a Tristan fan for a long time, Pitcairn – spooky…any other gems?

    Much praise, Mat

  143. Ha, you could have been anyone in the world, turns out u played footie up at Grists, me ex-tiff. Your books look great, I’ll go study …and throw money when I’m rich

  144. Tj Phillips says:

    What if the camp and survivor were just covered over by the lava flows?.

  145. Slapadastic says:

    Man, was that a badly written article.

  146. […] An Abandoned Lifeboat At World’s End […]

  147. Mrs Fonebone says:

    Excellent mystery. It’s too bad people didn’t read the article before tossing out theories here. The Soviet expedition has a lot of plausibility and it shows that this was an area of interest. I got the impression from the title that no one had been near the place in the intervening years. The copper flotation tank getting beaten into a flat shape is really a puzzle.
    At least the article makes it seem unlikely this was a castaway situation–what terrible irony to find land, with water from the glacier, and seals to eat–but no way to make a fire or shelter against the bitter cold and storms.

  148. tenthirtynine says:

    An interesting read. I imagine a small island like that would be quite exposed and a lagoon quite calm – drawing in any floating objects. My guess is that the boat fell off a ship. They don’t really detail what the tank was. Again possibly some kind of life preserving equip? Torn open from being dragged over rocks. It may even be unrelated to the boat. At a quick look I couldn’t see if this is close enough to the Antarctic to experience sea ice. The boat it’s self looked pretty battered and sinking. More water would have sank it. The oars and tank would both float so a storm would pull them back out to sea.

  149. mysteryweapon says:

    Sure sounds like an awfully cold and lonely place to die.

  150. Sturmakat says:

    I think I found the lagoon .

  151. parsifal says:

    The first thing I thought when I pictured the flat sheet of copper was that maybe someone made something that would reflect sunlight on them for warmth.

    • Mrs Fonebone says:

      Me too. Copper also is an electrical conductor and possibly they might have wanted to use it to make a mirror to signal ships or planes. The article said the boat was still usable, so it wasn’t for a patch, apparently.

  152. 4J5533T6SZ9 says:

    Apparently the average temperature is 30!

  153. mike0v says:

    Mike,

    Don’t know if you’ll see this but here’s a link to another abandoned lifeboat, this one in northern Greenland.

    It shares some details with the boat on Bouvet: origin unknown, ancient and this one is three miles inland!

    http://www.arcticthule.com/photos

    Visit this page and scroll down approximately half way to the bottom. On the right side of the page you’ll see the boat with two researchers standing in it.

    Surprisingly enough, Bouvet, Greenland and the science fiction movie which placed a pyramid under Bouvet are all related. Hard to believe but true, as humanity shall soon see.

    Excellent work on this article, Mike. This was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever read.

    MV

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s