Message from yacht lost in 1988 washes up on Australian beach
A Sailor’s message in a bottle has been discovered on a beach in Western Australia – two decades after the boat that he and three others were sailing in vanished off NSW.
The note, in faded blue handwriting inside a Bacardi bottle, was found by Esperance woman Sheryl Waideman on New Year’s Eve on a secluded beach near Eucla. It was written by John Blissett, 23, of Taree, NSW, as he and three others sailed the schooner the Patanela from Fremantle across the great Australian Bight on October 26, 1988.
Less than two weeks later, Patanela simply vanished as she sailed some 18km off Botany Bay in the early hours of November 8, 1988. The crew planned to enter the harbour at dawn. The solitary trace was a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy found floating off Terrigal seven months later.
The note in a bottle sheds no light on what happened. Rather, it offers a sailing holiday to the lucky finder. “Hi there – out here in the lonely Southern Ocean and thought we would give away a free holiday in the Whitsunday Islands in north Queensland, Australia,” John wrote. “Our ship is travelling from Fremantle, Western Aust, to Queensland to work as a charter vessel.”
The note invites the finder to call one of a pair of phone numbers to claim the prize. It gives Patanela’s position as 34 degrees, 26 minutes, 20 seconds south, 129 degrees, 18 minutes, 54 seconds east in the Great Australia Bight.
John’s mother Marj, of Taree, said she was stunned to receive a message from Mrs Waideman revealing the discovery. “It was totally unexpected. It is not going to solve the mystery but it is a little piece of John we never had,” she said.
“It showed what an enjoyable and interesting trip they were having. They were two young blokes having a good time and they wanted to give somebody else a good time to enjoy the experience of sailing on such a magnificent vessel.”
Aboard Patanela, a 19-metre steel-hulled schooner, was Mr Blissett and his friend Michael Calvin, both from Taree, plus the skipper, Perth businessman Ken Jones and his wife Noreen. None have been sighted since Patanela departed Portland, Victoria, in early November. An inquest which started in 1992 concluded that Patanela foundered in the early hours of November 8, 1988 some time after a final radio contact with Sydney Harbour. Nothing remained to explain the vessel’s fate.
The disappearance sparked wide speculation and a variety of conspiracy theories including claims of piracy and drug running. There is no evidence to either substantiate or disprove any such claims.
The coroner concluded the most likely explanation for such a sudden disappearance was that Patanela was run over by a large commercial vessel – although there was a complete absence of any floating wreckage such a short distance off Sydney.
Story: Perth Now
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