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– we’ll also set ourselves a totally spurious time deadline of, say, one hour to gather as much information we possibly can. Our subject is one I’ve known of vaguely for years and years, but never properly looked into: the mysterious disappearance of the SS Waratah, a brand-new passenger ship belonging to the Blue Anchor Line, in July 1909.
The ship, a 9,300 ton, single-stack luxury liner intended for the London-Sydney route, vanished off the coast of South Africa with all hands – a total of 211 passengers and crew.
According to most accounts, not a single body or piece of identifiable wreckage was ever found, and repeated searches have since failed to reveal any trace of the ship on the sea bed.
If that was all there was to the Waratah’s tale, it would be enough to make the story interesting – it’s surprisingly rare for a vessel of such size to vanish absolutely without trace.
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Boarding the ship in Sydney, Sawyer noticed that she rolled heavily even in moderate weather, and took an unusually long time to recover.
In this one, a ship, much like the Waratah, was labouring through heavy seas.
As Sawyer watched, horrified, she was struck on the beam by a huge wave that rolled her over and sent her plunging to the bottom.
On one occasion, sitting in his bath, Sawyer was surprised to notice that the water was tilting to an angle of 45 degrees – a discovery that alarmed him so much that he mentioned it to some fellow passengers and at least one member of the Waratah’s crew.
It was what happened next that gives the Waratah story an especially spooky quality.