108 years ago
Monday, 26th July 1909, 8.00 pm
SS Waratah – departing from ‘C’ Shed, Durban, South Africa
Destination - Cape Town
Route - London via Las Palmas and Plymouth
Commander – J E Ilbery
Captain Ilbery and his crew knew a heavy southerly storm was blowing up from the Cape and they would soon be confronted by enormous seas. This stretch of the South African coastline is notorious and treacherous, taking merchant ships close to the very edge of the Continental Shelf, which generates gigantic swells, especially when very strong winds blowing from the south-west, oppose the 3 knot south-running coastal current.
During the passage from Adelaide, (Australia) to Durban, the Waratah had not been well-received by many passengers when moderate to rough seas had manifested in her top-heavy promenade deck being the cause of her insecure righting motion. Would Captain Ilbery and his senior officers have felt apprehensive in anticipation of this wild storm ahead of them?
Did that underlying unease amongst some of the crew and passengers start to increase now, as they recalled the recent Adelaide passage and the disagreeable way in which the Waratah had rolled, remaining on her sides for a long time before recovering? Little did any of them imagine that they were sailing directly to their deaths!
Where and when, exactly, did Waratah meet her demise?
Most haunting of all is how the passengers and crew would have faced their terrifying imminent doom. They would have been hurled about the ship as she hit the enormous waves and possibly rolled over completely. Perhaps she was engulfed by an enormous rogue wave as she drove down into a trough. We can only hope that their demise was quick, with perhaps no time to realise what was happening, before the thousands of tons of icy water poured over the ship to drag them helplessly into the depths of the Indian Ocean’s Continental Shelf.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders of the deep.
SS Waratah: by Seth Wade