Tuesday, 31 March 2015

PRESSING THE WARATAH?

HER COAL CARGO.
ADELAIDE, Monday.

"In some quarters it has been expressed that the disposition
of the coal loaded at Durban has had something to do with 
the non-arrival of the Waratah, to put it bluntly coal placed 
on the spar deck bunker and so upsetting the centre of gravity 
that when she listed in the seaway she turned turtle." 

"When spoken to at the Port Adelaide
people well acquainted with the ship and
the principles on which she is loaded and
coaled RIDICULED the suggestion.'

"When she left Port Adelaide the Waratah had
2 200 tons of coal on board, and arriving at
Durban she would ship about the same
quantity (actually 1929 tons), allowing for the fact that
some of the Port Adelaide coal had not been
burnt, she would have about 2000 tons of
coal on board."

"When she left the Natal port at Durban 
she landed only 200 tons of cargo,
so if anything she would be stiffer than
when she left Australia."

"Where would the coal most likely be
situated?"

"It was in the bunkers which are all
below the main deck."

"The Waratah took on 1,000 tons of loose
coal at Port Adelaide, which was placed in the bottom
of the hold when the ship left Port Adelaide
for the eastern states, in continuation of her
voyage for London it would increase
her steadiness, and add to her stability "

"Was there any indication of unseaworthiness
when she left from the outer harbour walls?"

"On the contrary she must have been in
splendid form. She made the trip to Durban
in 18 days, which is a record for the
trip "

Consuming 15 tons of additional coal per day. Was it Captain Ilbery anxious to get home or pressure from the owners to make impressive passage times?? 

Friday, 27 March 2015

FURTHER EYE WITNESS?

There will always be skeptics when presenting the Harlow witness account. Why didn't Captain Bruce make a note of the incident in the log book and report the incident on arrival at Durban? I have attempted to interpret his and the chief officer's actions, allowing for benefit of the doubt. However, Captain Bruce's explanation that the Waratah exploded met with more than a little skepticism. If the Waratah had exploded, debris would have been scattered far and wide and the noise of the explosion heard by the crew on the Harlow, and surely those on land.

It is understandable that this theory is not entirely convincing and searches for the wreck off Port St Johns (Cape Hermes) deemed an expensive and arduous undertaking with little probability of a positive outcome. However, there is one further eyewitness account (apart from the policeman on horseback who may or may not have been in the vicinity) which deserves our attention:

'In connection with the fire, a naval officer attached to one of the Cape cruisers, who pricked off the chart the position stated by the captain of the Harlow, as that in which he saw what he supposed to be a burning ship, was right at Gordon's Bay, in the mouth of the St. John's River.'

It is almost astounding that this small account mentioned in a newspaper at the time, did not receive the gravity of attention it deserved. Captain Bruce of the Harlow was convinced that the large steamer astern was on fire. The naval officer on a vessel further out to sea witnessed the exact same thing and in the same location. What is not included in the statement is the time. But we can assume that the officer correlated the date and time as well.

Nowhere else in the scanty data available to us so many years later, is there a second, independent confirmation of any kind as to what in all probability became of the Waratah. If the large steamer on fire off the St Johns river was not the Waratah, it begs the question; which steamer was it then??? There were no other reports of burning steamers.

Perhaps it was assumed that the naval officer was 'cashing in' on the hysteria surrounding the disappearance of the Waratah? But to assume that he fabricated the additional eye witness account suggests that he did not represent the navy in an honourable manner. I find it hard to believe that a naval officer would be allowed to share a fabricated account with the press and if this had been so, the navy would surely have published a retraction at a later stage - which was never the case.

We can go round and round with the Waratah mystery, imagining that she foundered in the storm of 28 July, going down quickly at some obscure location along the South African coast and her wreck lies in waters too deep for discovery off the Continental Shelf. But before we do this, are we absolutely sure that the answer to the mystery does not lie in 36 m of water off Port St Johns, waiting to give much needed closure to the descendants of the unfortunate 211 souls prematurely snatched into a watery grave?

update:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/06/is-there-alternative-to-poenskop.html



   






NO DAMAGE SUSTAINED.

When Captain Ilbery took command of the Waratah he was initially confronted with challenges relating to the cargo loading plan and water ballast. The resulting tendency to top heaviness matched passenger impressions of the new flagship. It was embarrassing for a master who had dutifully and loyally commanded most of the Blue Anchor Line flagships, including the preceding Geelong. The Waratah was to be his last charge before retiring. It had got off to a very bad start.

But being experienced and knowledgeable, Captain Ilbery together with recommendations from Barclay Curle & Co, the builders, ironed out the stability issues and established a method of loading and water ballasting that created a stable steamer. But damage to the Waratah's reputation had been done, and Captain Ilbery devoted much energy (derived from anecdotal reports) to putting the record straight. He was unambiguous when claiming that the Waratah was a very stable steamer and 'steady as a rock'.

Although Captain Ilbery was duty bound to over load the Waratah in terms of cargo, he appreciated that the dead weight assisted metacentric stability to an above average degree.

This brings us to a very important statement made by Captain Ilbery on arrival at Durban after the crossing from Australia:

'Port Natal, July 26, 1909

To the Collector of Customs.  Port

Dear Sir,

"I hereby declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that my vessel, the SS Waratah, has sustained no damage from any cause whatever since leaving the last port, Adelaide, and I have nothing special to report."

Yours faithfully,

(signed) J.E. Ilbery,

Master, SS Waratah.'

On the surface of this report, it seems as though Captain Ilbery was entirely satisfied with the condition of the Waratah and clearly dispelled any speculation that she had experienced problems on the voyage over from Adelaide. But we know two pieces of information were omitted from this report:

The Waratah took the ground alongside the wharf at Port Adelaide. Clearly Captain Ilbery was in no position to declare that the Waratah 'has sustained no damage from any cause whatever'. But he covered himself by wording the declaration carefully, including the crucial word 'since leaving the last port'. His report is truthful, because it does not include the period of time at Port Adelaide.

Why, did Captain Ilbery do this? I believe he was sensitive and defensive about the Waratah and did not want to enhance rumours that she was an unstable, unsafe steamer. He was also pragmatic taking into account that many steamers took the ground in ports (when the tide went out), without resulting in significant damage. He obviously had reservations about the very heavy Waratah being grounded in port, but elected not to share these misgivings, perhaps because it would achieve nothing and fuel apprehension.

But there was one problem, although relatively small, which did occur on the crossing from Australia. A copper pipe integral to the steam-transfer system fractured. It was a small section and easily / cheaply replaced in Durban. Such an almost insignificant problem would hardly merit mention in his report. However, the section of copper pipe was found to be defective, implying that the full extent of copper piping in the Waratah's steam transfer system, was prone to fracture and complications. Fractures within the high pressure and heated steam transfer system could have had catastrophic results. 

Why then did Captain Ilbery not disclose the issue regarding the flawed copper pipe? I believe that it related to a number of factors:

- he was defensive about his last flagship
- he was loyal to the Blue Anchor Line
- he did not wish to alarm maritime colleagues and the public
- he would (probably) address the issue of copper pipes on his return to London
- it was his last voyage as commander for the Blue Anchor Line
- but most importantly, the copper pipe flaw was integral and in no way directly related to the passage over from Australia.

The following extract from Mole's Genealogy Blog, Anniversary Reminder, suggests that damage was in fact sustained during the voyage from Adelaide to Durban:

A poignant letter written by a crew member on 26 July, from the SS Waratah in Durban, was received by his sister in London.  
'Just a line to let you know we arrived here safely after a pretty rough voyage from Adelaide. For 13 days after leaving that place we had heavy seas and weather and a lot of the deck fittings were broken and carried away by heavy seas that swept over the vessel. The last five days however have been fine and we got here yesterday midday (Sunday) and we leave the Cape Saturday next, on 31st  July for London, where we will arrive on August 21st although we are not due until the 23rd.' 
Deck fittings would not constitute significant structural damage which is why I assume that it was not included 
in Captain Ilbery's declaration at port.


PASSENGERS LANDED AT DURBAN.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December, 1909.

'Safe at Durban.
Those who landed.'

'It has been definitely ascertained that thefollowing passengers from Australia landed atDurban, on the arrival of tho Waratah at thatport -
From Sydney: 
Mr. J E Mullon, Mr D R Boyce, Mr William Hocking, Mr Charles Swain, Mrs Swain, Mr H Foord, Mrs Foord,Mr W Cousens (of Wellington, N Z ), Mrs W Cousens and infant (NZ), Mrs Norris (of Napier, N Z ), Mr G Norris (Napier, NZ), Detective Mynott (of the South Africanpolice, in charge of a prisoner), Constable De Beer (South African police, escorting a prisoner), and Mr M'Loughlin (a prisoner from Brisbane), 
all of whom were booked to Durban. Mr Samuel Pearce, who booked to London with the option of breaking his journey at Durban, and Mr S G Sawyer, who booked to Capetown, but had business to transact in Durban.
From Melbourne: 
Mr F C Saunders, Mr G A Richardson, Mr Harold Grigg (of Long Gully or California Gully, Bendigo district, Vic), Mr William Milburn (of Long Gully Vic), and Mr James M'Naught (of Dunedin NZ
all of whom booked to Durban and Miss J C Ramsay who booked to Capetown.
From Adelaide: 
Mrs H Cawood, Mr A Brookes, Mr E J Waters and Mrs Waters and infant, 
all of whom booked to Durban,and Mr M Morgan, who booked for Capetown.

Total landed at Durban - 29.
From this archive newspaper cutting it is clear there were four people booked for Cape Town, who disembarked at Durban -
- Mr S G (Claude) Sawyer who allegedly had business to transact in Durban. This flies in the face of the story that Mr Sawyer disembarked at Durban because he had misgivings about the safety of the Waratah.
-  Mr Samuel Pearce, who wisely used his option to break his journey at Durban.
- Ms J C Ramsay and Mr M Morgan, who disembarked the Waratah at Durban, despite being booked through to Cape Town.' 
Why???? Were they influenced by Sawyer's forebodings???

Thursday, 26 March 2015

WARATAH GROUNDED AT PORT ADELAIDE.

"Charles Augustus Johnson (wharf manager 
at the Outer Harbour) said he knew
Captain Ilbery had a strong objection to his
ship touching the bottom alongside the
wharf at Port Adelaide, for he heard him
say to the agent just before sailing that he
did not think it right or fair for a vessel
of her size and weight to be on the bot-
tom, as she was in Port Adelaide. "

"He estimated the total dead weight of
cargo on board at 9,000 tons, and that her
draft was 28 ft. 3 in. forward and 29 ft.
5 in. aft."

Mr Johnson gave two crucial pieces of information in his comment. He acknowledged (albeit via hearsay) that Captain Ilbery was unhappy about the waratah taking the ground in port. Although the harbour bottom consisted mainly of mud, the sheer size and weight of the Waratah presented a very real problem. The steel hull plates were constructed from brittle steel, prone to cracking. In addition to this, the rivets were high in slag particles making them prone to snapping. To establish whether any significant damage had been sustained required dry-docking which was out of the question before the Waratah departed for South African on her final voyage. Latent or patent damage could easily have contributed to the escalating crisis off the Wild Coast. I don't believe it was a single factor, but there is no doubt in my mind that it contributed to the Waratah foundering as quickly as she did.




                                                                       Grounded!

See:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/needed-12000-tons-cargo-for-stability.html

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Waratah - stability teething problems.

The stability of steamers, circa 1909, hinged on metacentric height (GM). This is a measurement, which together with other variables, indicates how stable a steamer was in terms of top heaviness. The greater the figure, the more stable the steamer (stiff). A relatively low figure would make a steamer more prone to heeling beyond a certain angle (vanishing point) which held the possibility of rolling over - particularly in rough seas. To achieve a reasonable GM was a balancing act taking into account safety vs. comfort. A very stiff steamer (relatively high GM) created a very stable, but short and jerky heeling pattern. This was not favoured in steamers intended to convey first and second class passengers. In short, the voyage would be uncomfortable. However, if the GM was too low, although creating a slower, longer far more comfortable roll, a degree of instability was the price to pay.

In order to establish a safe GM, steamers had to be adequately (particularly if there were two or three superstructure decks) ballasted in terms of water tanks and appropriate cargo loading (offsetting the superstructure). The loading plan was specific for the vessel and related to the stability curves (calculating GM etc) for that vessel. The stability curves were calculated after a heeling experiment was conducted on new steamers to establish these parameters before going into service.

Captain Ilbery was called away at the eleventh hour when the Waratah was due for her heeling experiment, which left it in the hands of Mr Barrie (chief engineer) from Barclay Curle & Co. This was an extremely peculiar turn of events because it was essential that the master of the steamer understand what he would be dealing with on the maiden voyage. No reason for Captain Ilbery's absence is given in records. As if to make matters worse:

"Captain Ilbery informs us that you omitted to place on board a framed plan of stability curves, as provided for in clause 2 of specification. It is most important that this should be on board; kindly therefore send these, and a spare copy by return; such important plans should not have been omitted."

In effect, when the Waratah departed London on her maiden voyage, November 5, 1908, Captain Ilbery was not in possession of vital stability curves for his vessel and had not participated in the heeling experiment. The results were clear to Captain Ilbery and those on board. The Waratah felt top heavy and somewhat unstable. Fortunately the crossing was without incident and after communications with the owners and builders, Captain Ilbery was given advice about the loading plan and filling an additional ballast tank (number 8). The outcome of adjustments was very satisfactory and Captain Ilbery openly shared his renewed confidence in the new flagship with both colleagues and passengers alike.

If the Waratah had disappeared without a trace on her maiden voyage outbound from England, it could have been argued that stability played a possible and crucial role in an accident at sea. But by the time the Waratah had completed her maiden return voyage and was en route back to the UK on her second to maiden voyage six months later, issues relating to cargo stowage and water tank ballasting had been resolved, creating a stable steamer in terms of GM. It was quoted that her GM when departing Durban was in the region of 1.5 ft. well in excess of the average, 0.75 ft. We know that overloading the Waratah contributed significantly to improving the GM figure, but created other problems which I have explored previously.

Apart from tensions between the owners and builders emerging in the course of the Inquiry, it does seem that standards were not adhered to and the Waratah set off on her maiden voyage in a rather slipshod manner. It was very fortunate there were no incidents as a direct result. Captain Ilbery was an exceptional commodore with a flawless record. He was due to retire after returning to England having completed a fifty two year career at sea, thirty six of those years, commanding Blue Anchor Line flagships. But Captain Ilbery was ultimately an employee of the Lunds, obliged to carry out his duties as outlined by Blue Anchor Line management. He may not have approved of setting off from London on the maiden voyage under such circumstances but endeavoured to make the best of the situation. He did not wait until returning to London to sort out the stability issue and his actions created a perfectly stable triple deck steamer.



                                                        to list or not to list.....

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

VULNERABLE TO INSHORE CURRENTS.

23 October, 1910, the Portuguese twin-screw passenger / cargo steamer, Lisboa, ran aground at Soldier's Reef (Paternoster) on her second to maiden voyage. At 7700 tons she was the largest steamer in the Portuguese mercantile marine (Empreza Nacional de Navegacao). The Lisboa was built by D & W Henderson on the Clyde, and commanded by Captain Menezes.  
The Lisboa was en-route from Lisbon to Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, when she experienced strong inshore currents driving her onto the rocks. At the time she carried a component of 250 passengers, 50 crew, prize bulls (for bull-fighting), olive oil and wine. Seven crew drowned while attempting to lower a lifeboat, but the balance of souls made it safely to shore where they endured harsh conditions for three days while waiting to be rescued.
The Lisboa incident included the first official (for South Africa) use of wireless communication from a stricken steamer to summon help. The wireless operator remained on board until he was sure the distress call had been received, after which he leaped into the sea and swam to shore.
This case proved that wireless communication off the South African coast could be effective in times of distress at sea. The Waratah foundered just over a year prior to this and her lack of wireless undoubtedly encouraged authorities to implement and strengthen effective land-based receivers, which paid off in the case of the Lisboa. Although neither vessel could have been saved by communications, the authorities at least knew where the problem occurred and could dispatch rescue teams for those who had made it onto shore.   
An interesting further note; the Lisboa (virtually new like the Waratah) was steaming in the same direction as the Waratah when she foundered - close to shore, where she was vulnerable to inshore currents. Both steamers were known for their extraordinary size, by the standards of the day, which leaves one parting question: 
Contributory factors aside, were both steamers at risk of running off course due to their size?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

HULL DESIGN.

During the course of the Inquiry it emerged that there was dissension between the builders and owners of the Waratah. Contentious issues included, delays in completing the construction of the Waratah; that the Waratah be at least as stable and preferably more stable than the Geelong; stability assurances in various conditions of loading; and an intriguing reference to the Waratah's hull design. Although the Court deliberated long and hard on issues relating to stability, no attempt was made to establish what the owners implied regarding hull design.

The Waratah had a double steel hull consisting of plates riveted together. There was nothing out of the ordinary in this and I have already discussed the short-comings of the brittle steel used and rivets too high in slag particles. But this applied to most steel steamers circa 1908. The concerns regarding hull design had to relate to shape and dimensions. We know that the Waratah design was simply an extension of the Geelong template, a steamer which had proved itself in service. What then did the concern relate to?

The Waratah had a sharp or fine bow, typical of many large steamers. The idea was that this type of bow at operational speeds reduced resistance, further assisted by a substantial length of hull and a rounded stern. This bow design had a tendency to 'split' oncoming swells rather than rising over them. What is difficult to understand given that the Geelong and many other steamers had similar bows, is why was the Waratah different and why did the owners have concerns?

Perhaps the Waratah's performance related to the extent of cargo-loading. If she was very heavy, perhaps the tendency to 'split' oncoming swells became marked with significantly increased volumes of water breaking over the fore deck. This scenario would be amplified by rough sea conditions. The fore hatch was identified by other commentators at the time as being a weak link and if broached, the Waratah would take on tons of water very rapidly and founder within minutes.
But a more rounded bow would increase resistance and running costs, even though it would have been a safer option, but perhaps by the standards of the day, more rounded bows were not yet an option?

There is another possibility surrounding the nature of the query. Waratah was the first of the Blue Anchor Line vessels to have three superstructure decks. In order to maximise stability the hull form had to be narrow and deep to establish adequate GM. The owners might have questioned Waratah's hull dimensions in this context....

See:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/needed-12000-tons-cargo-for-stability.html




Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Waratah - danger posed by wrecks.

For the Harlow theory to hold water (oh dear) there has to be a plausible explanation for the Waratah to have foundered within minutes. Captain Bruce claimed that the Waratah exploded, but this was refuted due to the absence of sound resulting from explosion/s and lack of debris. I have consistently maintained that Captain Bruce opted for 'an explosion' resulting in complete destruction of the Waratah as an 'excuse' for not going back to assist potential survivors.

Explosion/s aside, there has to be a plausible explanation for the sudden disappearance of a large steamer which had been, up until that point, steadily gaining on the Harlow. The Waratah had to have struck an object, in all likelihood a reef. However this period comment from a newspaper cutting throws another light on the subject:

'The coast has a bad name for submerged wrecks, which are swept along by the current.'

"She may have struck something like that", added the officer....

This comment is important in two respects: 

Firstly, submerged wreckage was a common occurrence in 1909, with potential to inflict significant damage to steamers, and particularly those like the Waratah, already compromised by cargo overloading strain and brittle hull plates with or without hairline cracks from prior damage. 

Secondly, floating wreckage was common during 1909 suggesting that wreckage constantly washed up onshore creating a complicated scenario how to establish from which vessels the wreckage and debris originated. Unless specifically searching for debris from the Waratah (remembering all land searches were conducted south of Cape Hermes), this evidence might have gone unnoticed among a selection of steamer remains, further highlighting the weakness of claims made that the Waratah disappeared without a trace.   
update:


http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/06/is-there-alternative-to-poenskop.html





Monday, 9 March 2015

DISASTER IMPACT.

The disappearance of the Waratah triggered debate at the highest levels; should legislation be introduced enforcing the fitment of wireless equipment to all commercial steamers. Although there was some hesitancy at Westminster as to whether a Marconi wireless would have assisted the Waratah's plight, common sense prevailed and initiatives were implemented throughout the Commonwealth Nations and the United States, developing and expanding land-based radio receiver stations along all important coastal routes.

'The Cape Government are appointing a
Commission to inquire as to what arrangements
should be made for dealing with
shipping casualties on the coast, with a
view to providing reasonable facilities, for
saving life and property.'

'The Admiralty have been approached with
a view to securing the services of an experienced naval
officer to assist the Commissioners.'

In addition to communications, it is clear from this newspaper extract that the Cape Government recognised the importance of coastal facilities to deal with crises at sea. One can infer that this was considered a weak link along the sparsely populated Wild Coast and extended Cape coast. There is a modern-day assumption that debris washed up onshore from a steamer, circa 1909, would have been discovered. This is not the case. The notion of 'disappearing without a trace' is only as strong as the extent of facilities and personnel along the coast to make such discoveries or follow up on reports of such. The Waratah was believed to have foundered en-route to Cape Town and land searches were focused on the coastal stretch southwest of Cape Hermes. This further highlights the weak link - apart from the Cape Hermes lighthouse keepers, who was there to observe and report debris?





HYPOXIA



The disappearance of Malaysia MH 370 one year ago, has captured the news headlines once more. In an era of modern technology and satellite tracking it is astounding that a Boeing 777 could disappear without a trace. The investigation teams from various countries are no closer to unraveling the mystery than when the flight first disappeared.

It does appear from detailed analysis that the most likely scenario directs attention to the Captain of the jet. MH 370 veered off course and made a number of turns (human input) before heading south into the Indian Ocean. Vital communication devices were turned off suggesting further human intervention.

Could the Waratah have fallen prey to a similar event, crew intentionally causing the steamer to founder?

I personally don't think it would be possible for such an incident such as MH 370 to occur on a large steamer. In the case of the jet, the Captain could lock himself in the cockpit and depressurize the cabin, passengers and cabin crew succumbing to hypoxia within 12 to 15 minutes. This gives complete control to the Captain in the cockpit who would have had access to supplemental oxygen for at least an hour. It would be very difficult indeed for a single individual on board the Waratah to have taken over the steamer without intervention from the well-manned crew. It seems highly remote that a mutiny took place and the mutineers intentionally caused the Waratah to founder. I believe there would be further evidence to this effect, if mutiny had indeed taken place.

I do, however, believe that hypoxia could have played a significant role in the loss of the Waratah off Cape Hermes. The crew of the Harlow and an officer on a navy vessel further out at sea, commented on the steamer afire. Hypoxia is a subtle, stealthy enemy and many of the crew  and passengers on board the Waratah may not have been aware of the effects in the last hour / minutes. The hypoxia caused by increasing levels of carbon monoxide (smoke) results in disorientation and poor judgment. Before passing out, crew and in particular Captain Ilbery, might have made navigational errors, lost control of the fire and not made valiant attempts to save themselves and passengers. It is soothing to imagine that all souls on board the Waratah 'fell asleep' due to hypoxia before the steamer slipped beneath the waves.

update:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/06/is-there-alternative-to-poenskop.html




Friday, 6 March 2015

Waratah - could she have broken her 'back'?

It is well recorded that some heavily loaded steamers from the Waratah era sustained complete fractures of the hull (snapping in two) in gale conditions. For this to occur (such was surmised in the case of the USS Cyclops) the wave length would have to equate with the length of the vessel.

We know that the Waratah was significantly overloaded, placing undue stress forces on her hull. Could she have experienced a similar fate off the Wild Coast?

[hide]Conditions Necessary for a Fully Developed Sea at Given Wind Speeds, and the Parameters of the Resulting Waves
Wind ConditionsWave Size
Wind Speed in One DirectionFetchWind DurationAverage HeightAverage WavelengthAverage Period and Speed
19 km/h (12 mph)19 km (12 mi)2 hr0.27 m (0.9 ft)8.5 m (28 ft)3.0 sec 9.3 ft/sec
37 km/h (23 mph)139 km (86 mi)10 hr1.5 m (4.9 ft)33.8 m (111 ft)5.7 sec 19.5 ft/sec
56 km/h (35 mph)518 km (322 mi)23 hr4.1 m (13.6 ft)76.5 m (251 ft)8.6 sec 29.2 ft/sec
74 km/h (46 mph)1,313 km (816 mi)42 hr8.5 m (27.9 ft)136 m (446 ft)11.4 sec 39.1 ft/sec
92 km/h (58 mph)2,627 km (1,633 mi)69 hr14.8 m (48.7 ft)212.2 m (696 ft)14.3 sec 48.7 ft/sec
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_wave

The above chart gives a better understanding of the factors contributing to wave length. According to the data, a gale would have to be blowing at roughly 75 km/hr (47 mph) over a sustained period of at least 42 hours in order to create a wave length approximating the length of the Waratah - 465 ft. (141.7 m). Could this have been possible off Cape Hermes late 27 July, 1909. The simple answer is 'no'. The Captain of the Harlow clearly stated in his account that the storm approaching from the southwest had not materialized off Cape Hermes by that time.

If, for arguments' sake, the Waratah had continued on course for Cape Town and run into the 'storm of exceptional violence'. Within the first 24 hours of the storm, it is not possible, given the data above, that the wave length could have achieved 141.7 m. 

However, shorter wavelengths, in a turbulent, stormy sea create significant forces against an already strained hull. The excessive rolling and pitching forces could theoretically cause failure of a compromised hull. It stands to reason Captain Ilbery, under the circumstances, made a decision to turn back for Durban. One thing is clear, whatever presented the final straw for the Waratah's hull integrity, could not have been in the form of a 'back-breaking' wave length.

Important update:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/06/is-there-alternative-to-poenskop.html

See:

http://waratahrevisited.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/needed-12000-tons-cargo-for-stability.html



                                                       Liberty Ship, SS Quartette