Sunday, 11 October 2015


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday, 21 September, 1909


Optimistic views as to the possibility ofthe Waratah being yet safely towed to portare held by Mr. R. H. Shepherd, a pilotfrom Durban, who is now on a visit toAdelaide. Interviewed by a representativeof "The Advertiser," he said:
"I know the Durban coast and the currents well, and have had a long acquaintance with Captain Ilbery, of the Waratah.
It has been taken for granted by somepeople that the Waratah has capsized.Many remarks have been passed to theeffect that the vessel was unstable andunseaworthy. I do not know how hercargo was stowed on her last voyage, butI heard there was a lot of silver concentrates in the hold. 
However, she went out of Durban on her last trip drawing 28 ft. 9 in., and, speaking as a practical seaman, I say that no question of her instability entered anyone's head there. 
I boarded the vessel five minutes before she sailed out of the harbor to say good-bye to the captain. There was no coal above the deck.The coaling foreman at Durban was loudin his complaints because he was obliged toload his coal all down one hatchway. Thispoints to the fact that all the coal bunkerswere full, which would make the vesselmore stable. 
Much has been said about thesuperstructure of the vessel being topheavy, but to the main portion of thesteamer it bore about the samerelation as a hat box would toa railway porter's trolly. 
I handled the vessel on her first visit to Durban. There was a high gale of wind blowing, and the ship drew practically the same draught as when she left on the last occasion, yet she showed no signs of instability.

This is a convincing report made by an expert eye witness of the time. In Mr. Shepherd's opinion, the Waratah was not unstable.
The question of functional overloading was far from exonerated by the 'official' loadlines etc..
A reader asked the question 'how could the Waratah be described as dead'? A dead ship is one without propulsion. In the context of commentary of the time, the expression dead ship or dead in the water was a description of an operating, moving vessel. It suggested that the vessel was heavy and unwieldy, with reduced buoyancy, and in the case of Waratah, under powered.
I suppose these issues could be argued until the cows come home. Unfortunately the mysterious loss of the Waratah generated hysteria, speculation and hoax bottle messages. Some dramatic descriptions of the Waratah's dangerous rolling pattern were no doubt a product of this hysteria. I prefer, when all is said and done, to go by an expert of the time, Mr. Shepherd.
In my opinion the Waratah foundered off Cape Hermes, due to a catastrophic fire on board, and a tragic sequence of events. There was no storm at the time and stability and buoyancy hold little relevance to this scenario.

No comments: