Vanished without trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in November 1988 in calm seas.



One of the South Pacific's greatest sea mysteries of another kind was the disappearance of the Patanela, a 19-metre steel schooner, which vanished without trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in November 1988 in calm seas.

Patanela was one of the sturdiest yachts afloat and was famous for her Antarctic voyages and circumnavigations of the globe. She was considered by those who sailed her, and by the man who built her, to be virtually unsinkable. Constructed of steel with four watertight bulkheads, Patanela carried the latest safety and navigational equipment. During her three decades sailing the roughest seas in the world, Patanela did not falter.

Yet she disappeared on a calm November night, within sight of the lights of Botany Bay. There was no mayday call, no distress flares sighted, no debris, and no bodies as evidence of her sinking.

However, just under 20 years later, a ghostly 'message in a bottle' was found from one of the crew on a beach in the Great Australian Bight by a beachcomber. The 'message in a bottle' was from Patanela crewman John Blissett. In faded blue handwriting inside a Bacardi bottle, it was found on a secluded beach near Eucla on the southern coast of Western Australia, by Esperance woman Sheryl Waideman on New Year’s Eve.

It was written by John Blissett, 23, of Taree, NSW, on October 26, 1988, just two weeks before her demise as he and three others sailed Patanela from Fremantle across the great Australian Bight. It gave no clue, merely promising the finder a sail on the Patanela.

The solitary trace was a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy found floating off Terrigal seven months after she disappeared, but no explanation has ever been given as to why she disappeared on a calm night so close to home.