Vanished without trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in November 1988 in calm seas.



One of the South Pacific's greatest sea mysteries of another kind was the disappearance of the Patanela, a 19-metre steel schooner, which vanished without trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in November 1988 in calm seas.

Patanela was one of the sturdiest yachts afloat and was famous for her Antarctic voyages and circumnavigations of the globe. She was considered by those who sailed her, and by the man who built her, to be virtually unsinkable. Constructed of steel with four watertight bulkheads, Patanela carried the latest safety and navigational equipment. During her three decades sailing the roughest seas in the world, Patanela did not falter.

Yet she disappeared on a calm November night, within sight of the lights of Botany Bay. There was no mayday call, no distress flares sighted, no debris, and no bodies as evidence of her sinking.

However, just under 20 years later, a ghostly 'message in a bottle' was found from one of the crew on a beach in the Great Australian Bight by a beachcomber. The 'message in a bottle' was from Patanela crewman John Blissett. In faded blue handwriting inside a Bacardi bottle, it was found on a secluded beach near Eucla on the southern coast of Western Australia, by Esperance woman Sheryl Waideman on New Year’s Eve.

It was written by John Blissett, 23, of Taree, NSW, on October 26, 1988, just two weeks before her demise as he and three others sailed Patanela from Fremantle across the great Australian Bight. It gave no clue, merely promising the finder a sail on the Patanela.

The solitary trace was a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy found floating off Terrigal seven months after she disappeared, but no explanation has ever been given as to why she disappeared on a calm night so close to home. 


Australia's Titanic

S.S. Waratah

The Waratah, sometimes referred to as "Australia's Titanic", was a 500 foot steamer. In July 1909, the ship, en route from Durban to Cape Town, disappeared with 211 passengers aboard. The disappearance of the ship remains one of the most baffling nautical mysteries of all time. To this day no trace of the ship has ever been found.

The Waratah was a luxury steamer, built by Barclay Curle & Co in Whiteinch, Glasgow (Scotland) and destined to be the flagship of the Blue Anchor Line. It was named Waratah after the emblem flower of New South Wales, Australia. The ship was supposed to serve as a passenger and cargo liner to Australia. It had 100 first class cabins, eight state rooms and a salon whose panels depicted its namesake flower.

On 5 November 1908, the Waratah set sail on her maiden voyage from London, England, with 689 passengers in third class accommodation and 67 first class passengers. Her captain was Joshua E. Ilbery, a sailor with 30 years nautical experience. The subsequent inquiry into her sinking raised some disputed reports of instability on this voyage. On the ship's return to England there was some discussion about stowage between the owners and the builders.

On 27 April 1909, the Waratah set out on her second trip to Australia. This was uneventful and on 1 July 1909 she set out from Melbourne on the return journey. She was bound for the South African ports of Durban and Cape Town and was then to return to London. The Waratah reached Durban, where one passenger, Claude Sawyer, an engineer and experienced sea traveler, got off the ship and sent the following cable to his wife in London:

"Thought Waratah top-heavy, landed Durban"

The Waratah left Durban on 26 July with 211 passengers and crew. On 27 July , it passed the Clan McIntyre. On the evening of the same day, the Union-Castle Liner Guelph passed a ship and exchanged signals by lamp, but was only able to identify the last three letters of her name as "T-A-H."

The Waratah was expected to reach Cape Town on 29 July 1909. It never reached its destination, and no trace of the ship was ever found.


Initially, it was believed that the Waratah was still adrift. The Royal Navy deployed the cruisers HMS Pandora and HMS Forte (and later the HMS Hermes) to search for the Waratah. On 10 August 1909, a cable from South Africa reached Australia, reading

"Blue Anchor vessel sighted a considerable distance out. Slowly making for Durban. Could be the Waratah."

The Chair of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament halted proceedings to read out the cable, saying: "Mr Speaker has just informed me that he has news on reliable authority that the SS Waratah has been sighted making slowly towards Durban." In Adelaide, the town bells were rung. However, it turned out that the ship in question had not been the Waratah.

In September 1909, the Blue Anchor Line chartered the Union Castle ship Sabine to search for the Waratah. The search of the Sabine covered 14,000 miles, but yielded no result.

In 1910, relatives of the Waratah passengers chartered the Wakefield and conducted a search for three months, which again proved unsuccessful.

An official enquiry into the fate of the Waratah was held at London in December 1910. Among others, Claude Sawyer gave testimony on that occasion.

In 1925, Lt. D. J. Roos of the South African Air Force, reported that he had spotted a wreck while he was flying over the Transkei coast. It was his opinion that this was the wreck of the Waratah.

In 1977, a wreck was located off the Xora River Mouth. Several investigations into this wreck, in particular under the leadership of Emlyn Brown took place. It is however widely believed today that the wreck off the Xora River Mouth was that of one of many ships which had fallen victim to German U Boats during the Second World War. It has proven particularly difficult to explain why the Waratah should be found so far to the North of her estimated position. Further attempts to locate the Waratah took place in 1991, 1995 and 1997.

In 1999, reports reached the newspapers that the Waratah had been found 10 km off the Eastern coast of South Africa (Addley). A sonar scan conducted by Emlyn Brown's team had indeed located a wreck whose outline seemed to match that of the Waratah. In 2001 however, a closer inspection revealed differences between the Waratah and the wreck. It appears that the team had in fact found the Nailsea Meadow, a ship which had been sunk in the Second World War.


In 2004, Brown, who had by now spent 22 years looking for the Waratah declared that he was giving up the search: "I've exhausted all the options. I now have no idea where to look".

The most popular theory advanced to explain the disappearance of the Waratah appears to be that of a 'freak wave' in the ocean off the South African coast. This theory was given credibility through a paper by Professor Mallory of the University of Cape Town (1973) which suggested that waves of up to 20 meters in height did occur between Richards Bay and Cape Agulhas.

Some have also suggested that instead of sinking, the ship was incapacitated by a freak wave and, having lost her rudder and without any means of contacting land, was swept southwards towards Antarctica to either be lost in the open ocean or foundering on Antarctica itself. No evidence except the absence of the wreck supports this theory, however.

Paranormal Activity

Several supernatural theories were also put forward to explain the disappearance of the Waratah. Claude Sawyer reported to the London inquiry that he had seen on three occasions the vision of a man "with a long sword in a peculiar dress. He was holding the sword in his right hand and it was covered in blood." This vision was one of the reasons why he decided not to continue the voyage on the Waratah. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle held a seance to establish how the Waratah could have vanished. 

David Willers theorized that the Waratah was scuppered off the coast of Tierra Del Fuego as the crew tried to sail to safety in his book 'In Search Of The Waratah'.

The Waratah was seen off the Transkei coast (East Coast of South Africa) making its way back to Durban when it sank. The eye-witness of the sinking was a police officer who patrolled the area on horse back. He apparently reported the incident in the occurrence book on his return to the station. What is known of him is that he was related (Uncle) to the late Noel Staples Martin - to whom he passed on the information verbally.


The mystery of the disappearance of the S.S Waratah is yet still to be solved.



Mystery of the Kaz II


Kaz II


On April 18th, 2007 a 12 metre sailing catamaran known as the Kaz II was found drifting 80 nautical miles off the east Australian coastline, with no sign of its West Australian crew of three.

On board the engine was running, the table was set for a meal, fishing lines were set, a computer was open and running. Fenders were down on one side of the catamaran. Apart from a torn sail, there were no signs of anything amiss on the boat. The crew have never been found, and no explanation has ever been given for their disappearance

It had set off three days before from Airlie Beach to sail around Northern Australia to Western Australia. Many theories have been advanced. The fact that fenders were down led to suggestions that they had been boarded by another boat and were victims of foul play. As clothes were found neatly folded on the aft deck, another theory was that the three crew known to be on board had all taken a swim together and the craft drifted away, it is assumed the crew were not able to get back on board and drowned.

Other theories were that the catamaran became stuck on a sandbank, and the men jumped overboard to push her free, but a gust of wind blew the vessel away from them, or that one fell overboard and the others were lost trying to save him. It was determined by instruments on board that the yacht had not been steered since the day of her departure, but had not been discovered drifting for three full days. An air-and-sea search was called off after four days, and the mystery has never been solved. 



World famous Maritime Mystery

Mary Celeste

Probably the most famous was the mystery of the Mary Celeste, a brigantine, discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872, unmanned and under full sail, heading towards Gibraltar. Of her people on board nothing has ever been learned. She had sailed with a Captain and a crew of seven, plus the Captain's wife and two year old daughter.

She had set off on November 5 from New York, headed for Genoa with a cargo of alcohol. Just a month later, she was discovered drifting by another sailing ship, the Dei Gratia. They boarded the ship, finding her in generally good condition. One lifeboat had been launched, and the Captain's sextant and chronometer were missing. The last log book entry had been made on 24th November, showing her west of the Azores. The Mary Celeste was world news at the time, but no conclusions were ever reached. Some suspicion fell on the crew of the Dei Gratia after they returned her to Spain, and as a result of this they were rewarded only one fifth of what they should have been awarded for bringing the ship home. 


The world famous Ghost Ship

During the second World War an Australian Naval vessel managed to send one last desperate message to the outside world before ship and crew disappeared forever, a terrifying message of only two words... "Flying Dutchman!"

The legend of the Flying Dutchman is one of the oldest Ghost Ship myths. The story stems from 17th century nautical folklore of a Man o' war class ship that has been cursed and can never make port doomed to sail the seas forever. To witness the ship is a portent of death for ship and crew. 


The Flying Dutchman


The oldest written account is linked with Australia from George Barrington’s A Voyage to Botany Bay (1795) (also known as A Voyage to New South Wales).

“I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, but had never given much credit to the report; it seems that some years since a Dutch man-of-war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape. Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitude. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared. Nothing could do away the idea of this phenomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman. From the Dutch the English seamen got the infatuation, and there are very few India men, but what has some one on board, who pretends to have seen the apparition.”

In 1880 another account in Australian waters this time coming from the future king of the United Kingdom George V when on a three year voyage with his brother Prince Albert Victor of Wales and their tutor Dalton aboard the HMS Inconstant. The future king and his brother had been transferred to the HMS Inconstant after the rudder of their original ship the Bacchante was being repaired. The Dutchman was sighted on a voyage off the coast of Australia between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton records;

“At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her ... At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”

The most accepted theory of where the myth of the Flying Dutchman originates is that of Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken and his ship, who set sail in 1680 from Amsterdam to Batavia, a port in Dutch East India. Vanderdecken's ship encountered a severe storm as it was rounding the Cape of Good Hope. 

Vanderdecken ignored the dangers of the storm - thought by the crew to be a warning from God - and pressed on. Battered by the tempest, the ship foundered, sending all aboard to their deaths. As punishment, they say, Vanderdecken and his ship were doomed to ply the waters of the oceans.

The first version of the legend as a story was printed, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for May 1821which puts the scene as the Cape of Good Hope. This story introduces the name Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken for the captain and the motifs (elaborated by later writers) of letters addressed to people long dead being offered to other ships for delivery, but if accepted will bring misfortune; and the captain having sworn to round the Cape of Good Hope though it should take until the day of judgment.

“She was an Amsterdam vessel and sailed from port seventy years ago. Her master's name was Van der Decken. He was a staunch seaman, and would have his own way in spite of the devil. For all that, never a sailor under him had reason to complain; though how it is on board with them nobody knows. The story is this: that in doubling the Cape they were a long day trying to weather the Table Bay. However, the wind headed them, and went against them more and more, and Van der Decken walked the deck, swearing at the wind. Just after sunset a vessel spoke him, asking him if he did not mean to go into the bay that night. Van der Decken replied: "May I be eternally damned if I do, though I should beat about here till the Day of Judgment. And to be sure, he never did go into that bay, for it is believed that he continues to beat about in these seas still, and will do so long enough. This vessel is never seen but with foul weather along with her”

Another theory is that of 17th century Dutch captain Bernard Fokke is the model for the captain of the ghost ship. Fokke was renowned for the speed of his trips from the Netherlands to Java and was suspected of being in league with the Devil.

Other legends suggest that the Dutchman was a pirate ship

"originally a vessel loaded with great wealth, on board of which some horrid act of murder and piracy had been committed".


“The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence ... and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire.”

The Flying Dutchman continues to be witnessed to this day however the last recorded sighting was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and disappear.