While the tale of the Mary Celeste is one of the most enduring stories of missing ship crews, the Patanela is Australia’s very own maritime mystery. This ship vanished without a trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in calm seas in November 1988, leaving behind only a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy and a message in a bottle.
The Patanela was a 19-metre steel schooner that was known to be incredibly sturdy – having undertaken a number of Antarctic voyages and global circumnavigations under difficult conditions. Michael Calvin was one of the crewmen aboard the yacht, and the last communication from the vessel came in the form of a letter posted by Calvin at Port Lincoln, sent to his twin sister.
The ship was headed up the coast on its way to Airlie beach, where Calvin and his friend John Blisset had been promised use of the Patanela for a charter business. Just a few weeks later, however, the boat simply disappeared in waters off Sydney. No mayday call was received and no distress flares were sighted, no debris nor bodies turned up on Sydney’s shores – it simply vanished without a trace.
Almost 20 years after the ship’s disappearance, on New Years Eve 2007, a couple on a beach at Eucla, near the border between WA and SA, found a hand-written message in a bottle. Dated just a week or two before the disappearance, the note read:
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. Our ship is travelling from Fremantle, Western Aust, to Queensland to work as a charter vessel.
The only other trace of the Patanela that has otherwise been found was a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy that was discovered floating off Terrigal almost seven months after the disappearance. Over the years there have been numerous rumoured sightings, leading to theories of hijacking and foul play, but nothing was ever confirmed about the fate of the Patanela and her crew.
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