Thursday, 25 May 2017


The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July, 1923.

Distress flares were seen out to sea off
Long Bay shortly after dark last night by
the Long Bay police, and were found to be
proceeding from a motor launch about four
miles from the shore.
Information was conveyed almost immedi-
ately to the Signal Station at South Hend,
and at 5.52 p.m. the tug Waratah, which, dur-
ing the absence of the Captain Cook under-
going overhaul is acting as pilot steamer, was
ordered out. The flares continued, and were
visible from the shore, but when the Waratah 
reached Long Bay she was apparently
unable to locate them, for she turned north-
ward again, and at 10 o'clock was
returning to port. After the Waratah had
turned north, however, the flares were still
visible to those on shore, and a message was
sent to the Signal Station that the Waratah
had missed the launch in distress. The Signal
Station was unable to signal the Waratah
immediately, but when she was six miles off
she was signalled by the Morse lamp to
return to the search. The Waratah turned
south again, and from Long Bay she appeared
to have reached at about half-past 11 the
spot where the launch was last seen. From
about 10 o'clock, however, the flares at sea
ceased, and thereafter the Waratah had 
nothing by which she could be guided. The
pilot steamer remained on the spot for some
hours, and had not returned to port at 2
o'clock this morning.

Apart from the irony of the tug Waratah searching for a vessel in distress let us take a closer look at the logistics of the operation. The Waratah crew was notified of the distress flares, 4 miles offshore, at roughly 6 pm. By 10 pm, FOUR hours later, they were unable to locate the vessel. Furthermore the crew GAVE UP the search, returning to port, while the flares were STILL VISIBLE to those onshore. 

We assume that it would have been a straight forward operation if the crew of the Harlow had decided to return to the last guesstimate position of the Waratah, about 4 miles astern. This position was 0.5 miles offshore very close to the St John reef, Bluff Point. It was dark, a storm of exceptional violence was approaching fast from the southwest, the sea currents are notoriously treacherous at this location, the insurance implications if the mission went wrong etc etc etc... No, one can understand why Captain Bruce did not come about to investigate. 

Lastly, if the crew of the Waratah could not see the flares how can we possibly assume that the lighthouse keepers at Cape Hermes, more than 3 miles distant, HAD TO HAVE seen the two flares from the dying Waratah????


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