Tuesday, 14 June 2016


If the final position of Waratah is as marked and described by Captain Bruce of the Harlow, a sinister possibility emerges. Note on the above image that the significant St Johns reef lies a relatively short 0.68 nautical miles roughly west of Waratah's last quoted position. We know from the account that Waratah's attitude when sighted for the last time at 8 pm, 27 July, was heading south-southeast in order for the red side light to predominate. My first thoughts were that Captain Ilbery was either attempting to reach the Harlow for assistance (fire on board) or heading out from shore as directly as possible to regain the inner steamer track when a catastrophic event occurred and to avoid reefs. 

But there is another far more plausible implication if one considers that Waratah was only 0.5 nautical miles offshore heading away from Gordon's Bay (Port St Johns) northeastward - Waratah probably struck the St Johns Reef a glancing blow, taking on tons of water. The stricken flagship managed to struggle on + drift for 0.68 miles before succumbing to negative buoyancy, during which time two desperate socket signals were sent up, a last plea for help. 

The chart below gives us a further important clue. If the last position of Waratah is correct, the wreck lies in 36 - 38 m of water, which equates with the 20 fathoms quoted by Captain Bruce. Note the depth of sea at the furthest protrusion of the St Johns Reef - 18m. Waratah would not have grounded.

Waratah position roughly where 'Pt' of 'Bluff Pt' appears on chart, courtesy Cdr van Niekerk, SA Navy.

If Waratah lies in the vicinity of the demarcation on the Google Earth image, why has she not yet been discovered - even by accident ? 

We can see clearly from the Google Earth image that the final position falls within the silt output zones of both the Unzimvubu and Nkadusweni Rivers. In all probability the reason for not discovering the wreck of the Waratah to date is because she is deeply silted, requiring sophisticated sub-bottom imaging to give up her final secret.

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