92 passengers, or 211 crewmen was ever found. The search even extended to the Crozet and Kerguelen islands south and east of Waratah’s expected course. The significance of these islands becomes clear if you recall Brad Van Liew’s impressions of them when he passed them in the Around the World Alone Race (see Chapter 4).
At the inquiry conducted a year later, an officer of the Clan MacIntyre testified that by the evening of July 27, the winds were at gale force from the southwest, and by the next day had become hurricane strength. At the hearing, there was disputed testimony that the Waratah was top heavy and had a tendency to roll excessively. Other experts denied this. A number of witnesses claimed they’d seen the vessel sink, or produced what they claimed was debris from the ship, or even claimed they’d sailed through an area and saw bodies floating in the water. The “witnesses” were all exposed as frauds; the debris, from other vessels; the dead bodies, actually thought to be fish offal, trash, or possibly pieces of a whale. Curiously, those who “thought” they saw dead bodies floating in the sea did not bother to stop to try to recover them or even check to make sure they were bodies.
So, what can we infer now, with the hindsight of 100-plus years, not being marine architects, and with no detailed knowledge of how the Waratah was designed and ballasted? First, we know that when storms coming up from the Southern Ocean stir up the sea and run headlong into the Agulhas Current, there is a strong likelihood that an extreme wave will be produced. Waratah’s last known position at latitude 31 degrees south, close to the coast, put her right where such action was to be expected—right where giant waves could build up in the shallower water. Second, there is a good possibility that the resulting waves had a wavelength of around 500 feet, the same as the length of the ship—and the precise length to suspend her in midair and break her back. Or, if she had a tendency to roll, there were no doubt waves that could roll her, and then crush and sink her. However, all of this is speculation, and we can do little more than accept the Board of Inquiry’s conclusion that the Waratah had been “lost in a gale of exceptional violence … and capsized.”5
The story does not end here. That a large vessel could disappear completely without a trace—no survivors and no witnesses—is both-