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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Warrnambool, Victoria

They call it the Shipwreck Coast and I can understand why after two days of gale force winds and high seas here in Warrnambool. Eight hundred shipwrecks occurred along the Victorian coast since 1797 and fewer than 200 of these wrecks have actually been found. All shipwrecks over 75 years of age are protected by State and Commonwealth historic laws.

In 1905 La Bella was approaching Warrnambool and was thown on its side into huge breakers then onto a submerged reef just south of the Warrnambool breakwater. The sea was so fierce that it wrenched a one and a half ton anchor from its moorings and flung it into the ocean.

Several attempts to rescue the anxious crew were made but the sea was so huge, the lifeboat crew couldn't get close enough and had to come back to shore. Onlookers had to watch helplessly in the moonlight as the men slowly succumbed to the cold and fatigue and were washed overboard.

Back on shore the lifeboat crews could see that the La Bella was breaking up and they made a desperate last attempt to rescue the five terrified sailors still left on board. A young local fisherman William Ferrier in his small dinghy also went out to help but both boats couldn't get close enough. Just then, the captain and another man jumped overboard and Ferrier picked them up. The captain indicated to the men left behind to do the same, two sailors took a chance and jumped, leaving one terrified man behind and both boats headed back to shore.

Ten hours had passed and the weather had eased slightly and William Ferrier decided to go back for the last sailor. He managed to get the man into his boat just before the La Bella broke up and sank.

William became a national hero and received a medal for bravery and was honoured by the Governor and Prime Minister.

For diving enthusiasts the La Bella is considered to be a spectacular dive. It lies on its port side in 13 meters of water, 300 meters southeast of the end of the Warrnambool breakwater.