B.G. Hilton – Author

In Search Of… S03E10 Bermuda Triangle Pirates

I’ll get to the episode in a moment, but first I want to look at the title: Bermuda Tringle Pirates. I use no hyperbole whatsoever when I say that this title is literally the best thing ever. It is the capstone of human civilization. If, as some argue, our society is in decline, I blame it purely on the makers of In Search Of for using up all so much of our awesomeness reserves to make this title.

Hello, and welcome to yet another episode of ‘People of the 1970s Found Somewhat Dangerous Waterways Unaccountably Fascinating.’

Open on footage of the US Coast Guard boarding a civilian vessel. There’s no music as they go aboard, just claustrophobic footage of men with guns and lifejackets making their way through the cramped corridors. A table is laden with uneaten food, and cockroaches can be seen scurrying about. The penny drops that this is a ghost ship before Nimoy says the word.

And we’re off to a flying start, I’ll say that much.

Nimoy talks up the Miami-based Coast Guard division which operates in ‘that now-legendary body of water known as the Bermuda Triangle.’ We talk to Rear Admiral Robert Jerkley. I wonder what his men call him behind his back? He tells us that there are a huge number of registered recreational vessels in the district.

Back to the helicopter and Nimoy tells us that nearly a third of American wrecks happen in the Triangle. Surprisingly, he admits that this is mostly because of the inexperience of their operators rather than because of anything spooky. But… surely some disappearances are weird? Nimoy suggests a bunch of crazy theories, and says that none of them has been proven.

In a marina we’re interviewing Carl Hiaasen, who was still a Miami Herald reporter at the time — though of course he later went on to publish some wonderfully strange crime novels. He talks about his researches into the Coast Guard records, concerning some missing vessels.

Now a re-enactment of four guys from Philadelphia joking about Bermuda Triangle mysteries before taking their yacht out into the waters off Miami. The re-enactment is particularly lame, because the actors looking at a map and filing a plan for their voyage, which isn’t gripping TV. They then get onto their ship with an experienced skipper. Lot of talking up how the safety equipment on the boat. Nimoy’s narration basically cycles through Bermuda Triangle legends, claiming that the men ‘may have’ been discussing these things. This is a stretch, but still it’s nice to hear Nimoy talking about spooky lighthouses and such.

Anyway, long story short, their yacht never came home. One of the lost men’s secretaries checks after them. Because they filed a plan, the Coast Guard could get going immediately. No trace found.

This is kind of dull, footage of Coast Guard officers at work.

Still in the Coast Guard office, we’re hearing another account of a missing vessel. This one is shorter and it doesn’t come with a re-enactment so I like it better.

Hiaasen is talking about a third missing yacht. The owner of the yacht believes that his missing boat is still out there. Hiaasen talks about how expensive this missing yacht was. As he tells the story, it sounds a lot like someone just stole this boat while it was docked.

Now Nimoy, in a blue windcheater, sitting on a boat — which hopefully is not about to be attacked by an electromagnetic earthquake. He wonders whether there was a connecting factor to all these missing boats.

Gonna go out on a limb and say ‘pirates’.

Back to the marina. Hiaasen still wandering around. Nimoy gradually closes in on revealing what the theory is. Hiassen says that the Coast Guard is tentatively looking into his theory of possible hijackings.

A marine insurance broker talks about how in the sixties, young people could just hitch rides with yachtsmen going to the Bahamas. Now, that doesn’t happen anymore because yachtsmen are too worried. A spooky-looking gun shop owner (but I repeat myself) tells a story of a stolen barometer. The point is not clear.

So far, this episode hasn’t been great. The intro was wonderful, but since then it’s just been faffing about before getting to the point – that some of the missing vessels may have been hijacked. As we look at seriously unattractive 1970s people in the Miami Marina, Nimoy redeems this episode with a single piece of narration. He lays the blame for these missing vessels (and barometers) at the feet of ‘a bizarre anachronism – the plundering buccaneer.’

So good! Just imagine that line in Nimoy’s voice and see what I mean.

We then track the unappealing guy as he walks along, while Nimoy basically explains that pirates just look like everyone else. No parrots at all. Sigh.

Over footage of the beach proper, Hiaasen explains that pirates are cold blooded types but also likeable enough to get the information they need from people by acting friendly. Nimoy tells us that the pirate is looking for rich idiots. Well, that’s not exactly what he says but, y’know, read between the lines.

The unappealing guy re-enacts hiding a gun under a yacht bunk and then goes off with a departing yacht. Creepy music! Nimoy and Hiaasen taking turns talking! The pirate takes the boat to open water, retrieves his gun, and oh no! Gunshot SFX! The reenactor then starts changing the appearance of the yacht, then pilots it into the bayous to disguise the vessel further.

Okay, so I’m good here. After a slow patch, the episode has done everything that it could… Oh, it’s still going. Nimoy points out that it’s difficult to disguise boats completely, because America is ‘a nation of record keepers.’ Sure, why not? And then we see this tracking shot of Nimoy on his boat from a camera on another boat and it’s just as awesome as it sounds.

Anyway, Nimoy suggests that resale of stolen boats into lawful society is not really possible, but the boats can be sold on to drug runners. Hiaasen agrees on the basis of the locations of the hijackings. The insurance guy also agrees.

Not sure what this next bit is. People in ugly clothes filing into a room with horrible yellowish institutional paint on walls. Oh! It’s a seized goods auction. A drug boat is being auctioned. Nimoy assures us that the bidders are honest, legitimate people — except that maybe one of them is a front man for the Mob. Damn, I love this show.

Coast Guard vessels in a bayou. Or possibly a harbour. Fjord? Look, it’s on the water Nimoy tells us that the Coast Guard had been doing well against the smugglers until the mid-seventies. Then private yachts started disappearing – large private yachts. These are used as mother ships for fast-moving speedboats to run drugs to the shore. The scary guy from the gun shop agrees.

A Coast Guy talks about the profile of the sort of yacht that drug runners could use. We go back to crappy reenactments, as Nimoy tells us what Hiaasen learned – namely, that people from the original re-enactment were seen talking in Nassau to ‘drug or hippy types.’

Nimoy wonders whether these filthy hippies were invited on the yacht. Another missing boat case is kind of solved, when we learn that the yacht owners had their life savings in cash with them and took on two scary deck hands.

More crappy re-enactment, this time two skeezy looking guys in sunglasses talking in a seaside bar. Hiaasen suggests that boat hijackers/drug runners are often not professional criminals, just desperate people in need of fast cash.

Over even more Coast Guard footage and some creepy music, Nimoy sums up: some of the victims of the Bermuda Triangle were murdered by pirates/drug dealers, that explanation alone does not cover all the spookiness of the deadly triangle. The gun shop guy is shown selling guns to boat owners to protect themselves with.  But, Nimoy tells us over a final shot of the ocean, the Bermuda Triangle is too awesome to be fought off with guns.

This episode is kind of an odd one as In Search Of episodes go. It’s pretty much a straight up True Crime documentary, with the fanciful connection to the Bermuda Triangle as the only reason that this show is touching it. And even then, you have Nimoy dismissing a bunch of Triangle theories, before opening the door for them again in the end.

On the other hand – Bermuda Triangle Pirates, everyone. C’mon! Bermuda Triangle Pirates!

Best Quotes

One could talk of far-out Bermuda Triangle explanations – black holes, electromagnetic earthquakes. – Nimoy.

The modern pirate does not fly the Jolly Roger or lurk in the remote coves of the Spanish Main. There is reason to believe that the modern pirate strolls the streets of Miami Beach made undetectable by his commonplace appearance and his belief in the age old tradition of piracy – that dead men tell no tales. – Nimoy.

Summing up

Nimoyness: 10/10, What, the Karl Hiaasen? 9/10, Entertaining reeactments: 4/10, Here comes the Coast Guard: 9/10, Title: 15/10. Overall: 47/50. High Distinction. Also: BERMUDA TRIANGLE PIRATES!

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B.G. Hilton - Author