sjhstrangetales

THE PHANTOM ISLAND

Posted on: May 2, 2017

Sandy Island in the south Pacific Ocean does not exist (perhaps I should add “allegedly does not exist” there), and yet for many decades a lot of people claimed that it did, and it even appeared on maps.   Situated 1000 miles North-East of Brisbane, Australia, it was reputed to be 15 miles long and 3 miles wide, and often described as even bigger than Manhattan.

It was first noted in September 1772, when Captain James Cook recorded passing it in his journal.  The subsequent map, “Chart Of Discoveries Made In The South Pacific Ocean”, was published in 1776.  It was also sighted in 1772 by Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, a French navigator.   Sandy was still being recorded on British and German maps in the late 19th century, and was listed in the Times Atlas as Sable Island.   In 1876 the British whaling ship Velocity described heavy breakers smashing against the island.   The Velocity recorded it as “sandy islets”.  In 2012 the Telegraph reported that the Velocity may simply have mistaken the breakers, or a low-lying reef, for an island.

The legend of Sandy Island understandably became fascinating for travellers in the area.  Some claimed that perhaps it could only be seen at certain times,  which reminds me of the mythical Scottish village Brigadoon, from the musical of the same name, which only appears once every 100 years.   Some have compared it with the hit American TV series Lost.  In 2000 a bunch of Australian radio-hams decided that Sandy would be an ideal place to transmit from, and accordingly set out to find out.  The island proved very elusive.   A few years later, in November 2012, the Australian surveying ship, RN Southern Surveyor, found no trace of it in the area.  The crew recorded depths of no more than 4,300 feet, which ruled out any submerged mountains in the area.  It became accepted that Sandy had never existed at all.

In recent years it has been stricken from modern maps.  Wikipedia stoutly refers to it as “a non-existent island”.  Google Earth displayed it until 2012, although conspiracy theorists have pointed out that it was suspiciously blanked out by black pixels.   In the words of scientist Maria Seton it was depicted as “a big black blob”.

There are many theories as to how Sandy came to appear and disappear.  The most obvious one is that early travellers and map-makers simply made a mistake.  No one’s infallible.   Another is that it was a coral reef which broke apart, or that the island simply became completely eroded by the ocean over a long period of time.  I still prefer the Brigadoon theory myself ….

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