The 1964/65 expedition was led by Major Warwick Deacock with Patanela skippered by Major Bill Tilman with eight other members in the group which sailed to Heard Island, on the fringe of Antartica, where they succeeded in conquering Mawson Peak which is the highest point on this remote island.
The voyage and climb is covered in detail in Philip Temple’s excellent book titled “The Sea And The Snow”. He describes the first sighting. ” Heard Island first made its appearance in the guise of lenticular clouds rising through the low mass of horizon fog. Mal, at the wheel, stared for fully half an hour until he brought himself to believe that something solid lay beneath them…The great, white mass slowly hardened in shape, aloof above the querulous mist and wind snapping at its feet, a shrug of cold shoulders in the sky.”
They were forced to abandon their initial attempt to land when ” The wind increased at a frightening rate and within half an hour a full north-west gale had developed” and for three days they weathered the gale out of sight of the Island whilst ” Sleet followed rain and snow the sleet. It plastered the rigging to be blown off with splashes into the waves. It was hard to see for the cutting wind in one’s eyes but there was nothing to see anyway but cloud, another huge wave and occasionally a seeming antithesis in nature – a tiny, fragile storm petrel swooping over a crest of the huge swell”
After three days they resighted land again as depicted in the painting. The skipper “peered ahead, wiping the cold tears from his eyes then said: ‘There it is isn’t it?’ In astonishment I followed the lie of his finger and picked up a wild, glaciated coast. It looked nothing like Heard, too big. With a twinkle in his eye the Skipper said: ‘ Maybe we’ve discovered a new island.” In fact it was Heard, but they discovered that they were now off the north coast and could see the full width of the island from Laurens Peninsula to Spit Point.
Following the trip, Patanela was overhauled and cleaned up ready for sale but this did not eventuate so she stayed with the original owners for some years and was again used for cray fishing before eventually been sold many years later.
The conclusion to Patanela is one of Australia’s greatest sea mysteries. The 63 ft steel schooner, which was one of the sturdiest yachts afloat, vanished without trace while approaching Sydney Harbour in November 1988. The reason for the ship’s loss in relatively calm conditions remains a mystery and a detailed account is provided in the book Patanela is Missing: Australia’s Greatest Sea Mystery by Whittaker, Paul, and Reid, Robert.
Postscript 1: 9th February 2008: An article in The Age newspaper today reports that a rum bottle with a message inside, was recently found at a beach near Eucla on the West Australian/South Australian border which contained a message from one of the crewman on the Patanela’s last voyage. The message supports information provided in a letter sent by Michael Calvin, one of the crewmen, to his twin sister Sue, during the early stage of the voyage, where he said they planned to head to Airlie Beach where they wanted to start a charter business and also said “We have just made a message in a bottle for a free holiday onboard the Patanela.
The message found twenty years later in the bottle at Eucla said ” 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 Freemantle, Western Aust, to Queensland to work as a charter vessel” The note invited the finder to phone one of two numbers to claim the prize.
Postscript 2 on 5 Oct 2010. I have just met up with one of the original crewman on the Patanela – John Crick. John saw the painting of Patanela on this website and made contact. He lives in New Zealand and was on his way to meet the expedition leader, Warwick Deacock, to present his one man show “A Patanela Shivoo” to the local community. John is an amazing character and by the sound of it can spin a great yarn. He was the youngest crew member on the voyage to Heard Island and showed me some superb photos from the trip.
Patanela Specifications were:-
Displacement 45 t
Welded Steel Hull Schooner with gaff sails
165HP Rolls Royce Diesel
Owned by Hunt Bros – crayfished from Strahan Leased & 11 years old at time of voyage.