The Mystery of Bouvet Island

22 Mar
Picture showing the west coast of Bouvet Island.Credit to François Guerraz

Picture showing the west coast of Bouvet Island.
Credit to François Guerraz

The freezing subantarctic Bouvet Island is literally in the middle of nowhere; located in the South Atlantic Ocean, it is known for being the most remote island in the entire world. A Norwegian dependency, it is a very small, uninhabited island, and is now classified as a nature reserve after a weather station operated on it for a few months during 1978 and 1979. Aside from its unfathomable isolation, there doesn’t seem to be anything all that special about this island at first glance.

In 1964, British Lieutenant Commander Allan Crawford and a team were sent to Bouvet Island by helicopter, to research a new piece of land that had popped up on the island due to volcanic activity. Here’s where it gets a bit weird. When they arrived, they found something very unusual. On this new patch of land, which had only been there for around ten years, the team came across an abandoned lifeboat, floating in a lagoon. The oars were on the shore, along with a copper tank.  There were no signs of any people or bodies, and the boat was unmarked and thus unidentifiable as belonging to anyone in particular. Unfortunately, the team did not have much time to look around, but before they left they snapped this photo:

Picture taken of the abandoned lifeboat

So, where did the boat come from? It’s possible that it came from a ship in distress, but that theory has been seen as doubtful because of the sheer remoteness, minuscule size and lack of visibility of the island due to the harsh weather. Even if it was a shipwreck victim, where did they go? As mentioned previously, there were no signs that anyone had tried to camp near the lifeboat, or attempted to use it as a shelter. It’s also possible that it just happened to wash up near the island, coming to rest in the lagoon after floating in from a shipwreck hundreds of miles away, but this doesn’t explain the oars and other equipment on the shore.

From here, the mystery deepens. Another expedition to the island a couple of years later found no traces of the boat, the oars or the copper tank. Did the owner of the boat come back to fetch it? This seems unlikely, again due to the general remoteness of the island, coupled with the fact that retrieving a lifeboat would mean lifting it out with a helicopter or dragging it back out to sea and placing it on a ship; both just seem like way too much effort to go to for something as insignificant as a lifeboat.The whole thing is very mysterious, and quite creepy to think about. I have two theories:

  1. The lifeboat did belong to a shipwreck victim who had simply happened to come across the island by pure chance. Landing on the shore, he left the boat (which was obviously too heavy to carry around) and went to look for some kind of food and water sources. The severe climate may have been too much for him to handle, and he could have collapsed and died elsewhere on the island whilst doing this. As stated above, the team that found the boat didn’t have time to search much further than the shore where the boat was, so this seems like a logical explanation. There are still several questions remaining, though. Were there any shipwrecks in the general vicinity of the island at the time? If so, why didn’t anyone come forward to claim the boat and say it was from their ship? Where did the boat disappear to? Maybe the boat somehow floated back out to sea, or simply sank into the lagoon. Unfortunately, there is no real way of knowing.
  2. A larger ship was in the area on an expedition, and sent a team with a couple of smaller boats to land on the shore. When they landed, they noticed that one of the boats was slightly damaged, and the team all headed back on the good boat, got back on the ship and left, after exploring the island. This would explain why there were no signs of any camping activity or human remains. As the team who found the boat in 1964 spent very little time on the island, perhaps they didn’t notice the boat was slightly damaged. This still doesn’t explain where the boat disappeared to, though, and again, if this theory is correct, why didn’t anyone come forward to say that it was their boat?

Either way, the mystery of the boat on Bouvet Island remains unsolved. I doubt anyone will ever know the exact reason behind it, but anyone with other theories is welcome to list them in the comments below.

For more in-depth information on this topic, please see http://allkindsofhistory.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/an-abandoned-lifeboat-at-worlds-end/.

3 Responses to “The Mystery of Bouvet Island”

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