Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Waratah Revisited book

I have finally completed a book based on the blog. I have chosen the same name 'Waratah Revisited' and it should be out within the next three months. In the book I have chosen to delve deeper into the people connected with the tragedy, giving them my own voice. I have also tackled the Inquiry in detail which is a revealing and enlightening exercise.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Waratah - sub bottom sonar profiling

It is clear from the circumstantial evidence laid out in this blog, the Waratah foundered close to shore off Port St Johns.  The Umzimvubu River deposits tons of silt into the bay and in all probability the wreck of the Waratah lies buried beneath layers of sediment.

Wreck exploration is fiercely expensive and the waters off Port St Johns are notoriously 'unstable'. The current is swift and powerful making dives very difficult except under the most ideal of circumstances, which are few and far between.  The same applies to sending down ROV's.

Visibility is poor due to swirling silt and particulate matter.

The rub is this:  The wreck of the Waratah HAS to be found.

She remains one of maritime's most alluring mysteries and has left generations of descendants of those who perished without closure.

The story of the Waratah is complex and intriguing, perfect material for an epic period movie.

But it needs a concrete ending.

In the modern era, sufficient motivation, financial backing and use of Sub Bottom Sonar Profiling, should establish the resting place of the Waratah off Port St Johns once and for all.

Bitter disappointment ensued from previous attempts to locate the wreck.

Perhaps there was good reason at the time to give up the hunt?

With the launch of the new NUMA Files book, Ghost Ship, and Clive Cussler's involvement in the initial explorative initiatives, the time for closure is at hand.

It would be sad to see NUMA abandon the Waratah once the final page of the gripping novel is turned.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Waratah - Harlow dilemma

In this blog I have studied the witness account of Captain Bruce (CB), SS Harlow and concluded the Waratah foundered off Port St Johns (Cape Hermes), 27 July, 1909.

But the question remains:

Why did the Harlow not go to the aid of the Waratah?

Let's review the facts:

The Waratah was the only large steamer which could have been astern of the Harlow, gaining on her steadily between 5.30 and 7.50 pm, 27 July.

There were no other listed steamers of that size and speed in that location, at that time.

CB made his judgement based on the steamer's twin masthead lights - smaller vessels had one.

He estimated the steamer was making 13 knots (the Waratah's listed speed) relative to the Harlow's 9 knots.

CB assumed the Waratah had come about and was attempting to return to Durban, and based this assumption on his observation she was producing smoke in excess of that which could be expected from her single funnel.

He concluded the Waratah was on fire.

But the fire was not of a serious enough nature to prevent the Waratah maintaining a steady course, making 13 knots.

The volume of smoke associated with the Waratah, being blown by the prevailing wind towards the Harlow, was consistently associated with the approaching steamer, and not from land.

Bushfires onshore did however contribute to general smoke and light.

Smoke produced from coal is dark (almost black) compared with the lighter shade of dispersed smoke-haze produced by bushfires.

The description of the steamer's lights is highly specific - twin masthead lights and a port side red light - which excludes light from bushfires which create 'lines' of light on land, not out at sea.

This description gives a further clue - the Waratah was initially further out to sea relative to the Harlow, steadily closing towards the coastline.

I believe the Waratah had turned around out at sea and was making her way on a heading which would ultimately 'hug the coast' - as one marine expert of the time said 'in case Captain Ilbery needed to beach the Waratah'.

Additionally, a course closer to shore would be faster, making use of the winter 'sardine' current and avoiding the counter Aghulhas Current.

The crew of the Harlow observed two flashes of light from the direction of the Waratah, the descriptions of which match distress flares.

Explosions were NOT heard despite the prevailing wind blowing from the Waratah to the Harlow, about 7 miles away.

Shortly after the flashes, the consistent dense volume of smoke which had accompanied the Waratah for two hours, started to clear.

Once the smoke had dissipated, the lights of the Waratah were no longer visible despite the continuous bushfires onshore.

The smoke and steamer lights had been consistent markers of the approaching Waratah over a period of two hours and the factors by which CB estimated the Waratah's speed.

The simultaneous disappearance of these two markers led CB to arrive at only one logical conclusion:

Something catastrophic had occurred and the Waratah disappeared within a matter of minutes.

The time was 8 pm, 27 July.

It was dark out at sea and in all probability overcast, taking into account the time of year and the approaching cold front from the south.

CB was confronted with a dilemma.

If he came about, attempting to locate the Waratah, he would be faced with difficulties establishing her last exact position, assuming she had gone down.

The Harlow was not fitted with a searchlight.

Although a cold front storm was developing far further south, the winter seas off Port St Johns are rough, which would make rescue efforts difficult.

His search would have been further hampered by smoke from shore drifting over that segment of sea, compromising navigation and therein lay his next problem:

The last position of the Waratah was estimated to be less than a mile offshore.

There are a number of submerged reefs and rocks off Cape Hermes and Port St Johns, which would present a threat to the Harlow.

CB no doubt considered the possibility the Waratah had struck one of these reefs, hence her rapid disappearance.

Even if he was able to find the location where the Waratah sank, there was a significant probability the Harlow would strike the very same reef and founder.

Maps of coastal regions, circa 1909 (even off the coast of the UK) did not have all reefs / rocks well demarcated and highlighted.

The coal fire on the Waratah may not have yet reached a critical stage, but the carbon monoxide levels may have been sufficient to cause some disorientation and confusion among passengers and crew.

Captain Ilbery's navigational judgement may have been impaired over and above the limitations imposed by darkness, disorientating smoke drifting from shore and a necessity to 'hug the coast'.

Under these circumstances he may have misjudged the Waratah's proximity to reefs.

It would realistically have taken the Harlow about an hour to come about and cover the 7 miles to where the Waratah was last seen, by which time the likelihood of finding survivors was remote.

CB realised there was in reality very little he could do to help, without placing his own crew at risk.

When all was considered, the Harlow continued on her voyage and the fate of the Waratah was consigned to the perils of the seas.

CB upon his arrival at Durban enquired if any vessels were overdue there.

None had been reported.

This must have reinforced his belief that the steamer they witnessed could only have been the Waratah, which had turned around.

His belief (which he later related) was confirmed when the Waratah was listed overdue at Cape Town.

The disappearance of the Blue Anchor Line flagship was to capture the attention of the world, generating distress and hysteria alike.

Cruisers were deployed at great expense to scour the coast and extend the search far out into the Indian Ocean.

CB was no doubt overwhelmed by a sense of duty to share his witness account which appeared in the press.

He was also summoned to the Board of Trade Inquiry, almost 18 months after the loss of the Waratah.

The Inquiry and even more so, the public, were likely to take a dim view of his decision to continue on course, ignoring obvious distress flares and making no attempt to locate the Waratah's last position and rescue any survivors - as remote as that may have been.

I believe CB and his First Officer carefully considered the best way to share their witness accounts without drawing negative attention to the fact that they had done nothing to assist a vessel in distress.

CB needed to convey the essence of truth, preventing further expensive and lengthy searches at sea, and allowing families and friends of those lost the dignity of mourning, rather than holding onto false hope the Waratah was still adrift in the Southern Oceans.

The owners of the Waratah planted a seed of doubt at the Inquiry in the form of bushfires onshore creating enough smoke and light over the sea to confuse the crew of the Harlow, thus establishing doubt by conjuring up a 'mirage' of an approaching steamer.

CB's First Officer 'ran with this ball' at the Inquiry and in the process significantly questioned his Master's judgement.

I believe CB opted for a massive explosion as a likely cause for the rapid disappearance of the Waratah and went on to say that all souls were likely to have been killed.

In one swoop he was released from the moral obligation to have searched for survivors.

After all, there had been smoke suggesting a fire and a catastrophic explosion could account for the sudden disappearance of the steamer.

But he contradicted himself by clearly stating that he had not heard explosions.

His reliability as a witness was lost.

Every description of the flashes of light pointed to distress flares.

But he could not admit to distress flares on moral grounds - 'failure to act'.

If the Waratah had indeed exploded, there WOULD have been scattered debris, which was never discovered.

The keepers at the Cape Hermes lighthouse did not report the sound of explosions.

But why did the keepers not see the flashes?

Bushfire smoke probably engulfed the lighthouse at Cape Hermes, significantly limiting the keepers' visual distance out to sea.

Coordinates for the last sighting of the Waratah give a position almost 8 nautical miles northeast of the Cape Hermes lighthouse.

It is very possible the keepers could not see flashes of light through the smoky haze, at this distance.

CB, who had demonstrated sound reasoning, establishing a plausible sequence of events and a convincing description of the Waratah, resorted to one blatantly misleading 'suggestion' to save himself and crew from the wrath of the Inquiry and the public:

The seeds of doubt had been planted, confusion established, and his witness account much like that from the Guelph, relegated to the realm of the unsubstantiated.

CB and his First Officer had overshot the mark, accounts which could not to be taken seriously.

Fate placed the Harlow in the wrong place at the wrong time and dished up a smorgasbord of difficulties, hampering attempts to establish what had become of the Waratah or to rescue survivors.

When all is said and done, the steamship consistently gaining astern of the Harlow, never overhauled her.


The Waratah, so near, yet too far


This is the 211th post, every one of them in memory of the brave souls lost with the Waratah.


Waratah - Guelph sighting, 'no foundation in fact'





Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954) Sunday 15 August 1909

'THE FATE of THE WARATAH'

MELBOURNE, Saturday.

'It is safe to say that in no other
instance of ocean disaster has the
tension of anxious agony been greater
than in the case of the missing
steamer Waratah, now three weeks
overdue in 'the three days' run be-
tween Durban and Cape Town.'

'Every day even in Perth, where
the associations with the vessel are
not intimate, the feeling has been in-
tense, and. it can easily be imagined
how the relatives of those on board
in different parts of the world have
awaited each day's cabled news
eagerly grasping at the least scrap
of hope.'

'On Tuesday, for instance, it was
wired that the Union Castle liner
Guelph, had sighted the Waratah
Eastward of East London on the
night of the 27th, but two days
later it was announced that this
report had no foundation in fact.'

'Meanwhile, the White Star liner
Runic arrived at Cape Town from
Durban, and would probably approximate
to the course which would have
been taken by the missing steamer,
but she saw no sign of Waratah, of
any kind.'

The Guelph and Runic, unlike the Harlow, were not in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Waratah - sufficient, qualified crew?

Loss of the "Waratah."

HC Deb 08 September 1909 vol 10 c1455W 1455W

'Mr. SUMMERBELL asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the overdue steamer "Waratah," with over 300 souls on board; if he can state how many able seamen she was supposed to carry to be efficiently manned, if he can state how many sailors and firemen signed on per month, to be discharged in Colonial ports, on her signing articles in London on the 23rd April, 1909; how many of the seamen produced certificates of discharge to prove their qualification as A.B.'s; how many sailors and firemen were paid off during the voyage and how many changes in the crew, composed of sailors, firemen, trimmers, greasers, and quartermasters, have there been since the vessel sailed from Loudon on her last voyage; whether all the men shipped at Colonial ports produced certificates of discharge for three years' sea service; and what was the number and composition of the crew and their various ratings when the ship left her last homeward port?'

'Mr. CHURCHILL My attention has been called to the case of the "Waratah" but as it seems possible that it may be necessary to institute an inquiry in the case, I do not think it advisable that I should at present make any statement upon the points to which the hon. Member refers.'

The Waratah when she departed Durban had a crew number in excess of requirements.

The crew were capable and skilled for the job at hand.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Anecdote Saturday - meals onboard

Culinary Department on a Steamship - 1910 Travel Guide

'In former years the supply of salted meat, hardtack, etc., for the equipment of the steamer formed the most essential part of the catering, which was occasionally improved by carrying cattle on the hoof, and the victualing and culinary arrangements closely connected therewith, belonging to the most important department of the modern passenger vessel, have been considerably improved and changed during the last twenty years, owing to great advancement in the art of cold storage.'

'These improvements and changes have attained a degree of perfection which is not excelled in the first-class hotels in even the largest cities. The improvement made even in the catering for the steerage passengers during the last two decades plays an important part in the kitchen arrangements. The competition of the steamship lines, as well as governmental regulations, have both been effective.'

'The arrangements which have had to be made by the kitchen and bakery, owing to this great advancement, have given rise to the adoption of arrangements which are totally different from those formerly used. The modern bakeries, situated between-decks, bake delicious bread and rolls of all kinds, while the bakeries of the pastry cooks and confectioners are famous.'

'A steward of one of the large trans-Atlantic liners told the writer that the allowance for food for each first class passenger was $2.50 a day, without counting fuel, cooking, or any charge for service. On one of the large coastwise lines, the boast of the manager of the line was that the food for the first class passengers cost only 67 cents a day per passenger.'

'From this it will be seen that there is every desire to be liberal as regards the table of the first class. The table of the second class is equally good, considering the passage money paid, and is far better in every way than will be found in the ordinary country hotel. The food is better cooked and better served, and there are apt to be fully as many fresh vegetables.'

'The necessity of catering for 1,000 or 1,200 first and second class passengers on the modern express steamers presents conditions which are paralleled only by the most luxurious hotel. About twenty kinds of warm dishes, besides hot beverages, must, as a rule, be prepared for breakfast on the modern passenger steamer.'

'The luncheon comprises, in addition to the introductory course and salads, which latter are prepared daily and in a large number of different ways, three or four different soups, and eleven or twelve warm dishes, besides four or five different vegetables and an ample supply of cold dishes. The dinners on some of the ships consist of ten or twelve courses.'

to be continued....


Photo 124 - The Galley Showing Steam Cookers
The Galley - steamers 1910





http://www.gjenvick.com/HistoricalBrochures/Steamships-OceanLiners/1910-TravelGuide/CulinaryDepartment.html#ixzz31rIzm9rV 


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Waratah - Court grants letters of administration

ADELAIDE, December 20 (1910)

'The Full Court has granted letters of
administration in the estate of the late
Mrs. Agnes Grant Hay; who with her
daughter, went down with the steamer
Waratah.'

'Only a codicil of her will has
been found, and it is inferred that the
will itself either disappeared with the
vessel or was destroyed in a fire which
ruined Mrs Hay's mansion, at Victor
Harbour, shortly before she embarked on
the Waratah.'

'Another daughter, swore
to the contents of the will
in an affidavit.'
Agnes Grant Hay

It is shocking to discover that Mrs Hay's will was only 'sorted out' one and a half years after the Waratah disappeared.

She was a widow and what did her surviving children, engulfed in grief, do about finances in the interim?