Search for the bWaratahb

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Further to previous 'Waratah Found!' and 'Waratah Unfound!' threads, another Clive Cussler funded expedition sets sail from Durban this week.

"It's been a difficult one to crack, but I'm cautiously optimistic" Expedition leader Emlyn Brown is quoted as saying. The story can be found here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/southafrica/story/0,13262,1194685,00.html

Has anyone got the dish on the Bill Elston story?

This is one I'd like to see solved - it has haunted me since early childhood.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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While on Waratah, I looked up a book on mysterious disappearances published in 1981 and Bill Elston's sighting is not mentioned. On the Internet, he's only found in the Guardian article. I won't say he's telling a tall tale, but he reminds me of Albert Smith of Rappahannock fame.
 

Dave Moran

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Apr 23, 2002
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Hmmm. I seem to remember a story similar to Elstons revolving around a pilot who spotted her in WW2 ? Lying on her side, fairly intact etc ...Could this be a pattern of repetition of an urban myth?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Dave, that was a South African pilot called Roos. An attempt to check his story failed because of bad weather. Roos was accidentally killed soon after. It seems that the ship he saw was another WW II victim.
 

John Flood

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Mar 1, 2004
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Hi Folks,

Is there on good books on the Waratah?

I know there were no survivors, so any details on the how she sunk would only be theories.

Was there ever any wreckage found at the time of the sinking?

All the Best,
John.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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John. according to the book "Without Trace", no authenticated wreckage was ever found. There were all sorts of wild claims of bodies being seen and messages in bottles were found in Australia but all were tall stories and fakes.
 

John Flood

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Mar 1, 2004
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Paul/Dave,

Thanks for mentioning a few books on the subject.

It's amazing that no wreckage was ever found.
Whatever happened to that ship, it must have been truly catastrophic!!

All the Best,
John
 

Wesley Burton

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Apr 22, 2004
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I have Clive Cussler's 'The Sea Hunters II'. One part of the book is about the Waratah. I guess this means they wont find her in this book.
 

Matthew Lips

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Mar 8, 2001
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The Waratah was believed to be rather top heavy. There is the story of a passenger who was distressed to notice that his bath water took forever to right itself whenever the seas were rough, and duly jumped ship in Durban even though he was booked all the way to the UK.

It has been years since I read anything on the subject (other than the repeated failed attempts to find the wreck), so excuse me please if I am very vague on details. However, top heavy is one thing you do NOT want if you encounter the sort of storm that can occur in the aptly named Wild Coast region in winter, which Waratah sadly did.

The land nearest to where she disappeared is sparsely enough populated today, and would have most likely been almost completely deserted in 1909. The chances of an eye-witness being out in shocking weather were virtually nil, unfortunately for wreck hunters and casual ship fans alike.

The most viable theory (not that I'm an expert)that I have read is that Waratah basically nosedived into a trough between two particularly high waves, and was unable to recover in time. The weight of water sent her to the bottom in double quick time, leaving no opportunity for any meaningful-sized bits of wreckage to break off.

Bearing in mind the bad weather, there would have been virtually nobody on deck and thus no dead bodies that we know of ever came ashore. The best guess is that the end came extremely quickly, and that all except maybe a handful of officers and crew were entombed in a watery grave.

It may seem a bit weird that a passenger liner can disappear without any trace within sight of land, but I have lived in that part of the world and believe me it's not so strange. Those winter storms may not quite be in the North Atlantic-at-her-worst league, but they have killed their fair share of vessels down the years. In 1909, it would also have been like having a shipwreck on the moon.
 
May 19, 2002
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I remeber reading somewhere that a South African Airforce pilot flew over what he thought was the Waratah lying on its side below, but when he flew back over the area he couldn't find it, also the story of a young teenage girl being dragged screaming onto the liner by her parents convinced something was going to happen on the voyage.

I think the man who jumped ship at the first opportunity was a man called Claude Sawyer but not 100% sure

Cliff
 

Senan Molony

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Jan 30, 2004
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>>It's amazing that no wreckage was ever found.<<

Missing Waratah

Cape Town, Wednesday

A quantity of wreckage has recently been washed ashore at intervals in the neighbourhood of Mossel Bay.
The most significant object is a cushion marked ‘W,’ while a hatchway which was found three weeks ago has been sent to the builders of the missing Waratah with a view to identification.

(Cork Examiner, March 3, 1910.)
 

Matthew Lips

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Mar 8, 2001
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Mossel Bay is a very long away away from where the Waratah suffered whatever fate she did suffer. However, given that the newspaper piece quoted by Senan was dated more than seven months after the event, I suppose it is possible that wreckage could have drifted that far south and west.

It would be interesting to know if there was any follow up to that story. Rightly or otherwise, popular legend has the Waratah vanishing off the face of the earth as if she had never existed.