Sailing Twitter is baffled by claim that it’s “scientifically impossible” to “travel across oceans”

Geno EJ Sajko Photography/ShutterStock pixssa/ShutterStock (Licensed)

Baffling new viral claim posits it is ‘scientifically impossible’ to travel across the Atlantic Ocean

The poster also said the slave trade didn't happen until the 1900s, and cargo ships weren't around until 1855.


Marlon Ettinger


Posted on Jan 29, 2024

Sailors and history enthusiasts on X were baffled by a bizarre claim from a poster over the weekend that it’s impossible to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The conversation kicked off in a thread posted by Christina Proenza-Coles, the author of the book American Founders, which is about the contributions of African people and their descendants to the Americas between the 16th and 20th Centuries. To promote her book, Proenza-Coles posted a map which showed how, because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africans outnumbered Europeans three to one in the Americas.

“This means that up until the early 19th century, most of the people who arrived in the Americas arrived enslaved,” Proenza-Coles posted.

But a rebuttal to it brought profound confusion to the site. 

“Christina, you can not travel across oceans. It is scientifically impossible,” replied @NiijiK, setting off a firestorm as they tried to explain that it’s impossible to traverse the Atlantic Ocean by boat is because of ocean gyres that turn ships back if they try to make it to the other side.

Gyres are “large systems of rotating ocean currents” formed by temperature differences, wind, and the amount of salt content in the oceans, according to the National Ocean Service. Those currents are churned up by the ocean and can impact navigation, especially in poorly charted systems. 

But most of the main systems are mapped and accounted for now—and some even help with navigation by powering ships forward.

@NiikiK’s theory seemed to be based on the idea that the gyres were impassable back during the time of voyages like that of Chistopher Columbus from Europe.

“In his diary he also states he lost 2 ships at sea because of Ocean Gyers,” she wrote in one post where she shared a picture of a dark-complexioned man which she said was a real depiction of Columbus, who she also claimed was an Iberian Moor (an archaic word for Muslims from the parts of Spain which were colonized to various degrees by the Islamic caliphates between the 8th and 15th Centuries). Columbus was in fact Genovese, from the pre-Italian city-state of Genoa.

Posters piled onto the theory in another viral thread expressing amazement that anybody could believe the theories.

“As an offshore sailboat racer who has literally sailed across most of these oceans I feel like this was made for me specifically,” posted @eggs_for_brekky. “The funniest thing is for those who don’t know she’s not wrong that ocean gyres exist I just have 0 idea why she thinks they make travel impossible.”

“Like they literally make it easier,” they posted in a follow-up post. “We specifically try and take advantage of them for our routing in races and they are extremely consistent.”

Some posters compiled a list of other bizarre theories the original user subscribed to, including the idea that cargo ships weren’t invented until 1855 and that the Atlantic Slave trade didn’t happen until the 1900s.

But for most, those ideas were nothing next to the idea that it was impossible to cross the Atlantic.

“I’ve seen a lot of things pragmatically denied on this app but denying oceanic travel of any kind might be the worst,” added @Lib_Development.

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*First Published: Jan 29, 2024, 4:03 pm CST