The Patanela Strange Disappearance

The final trip of the Australian vessel Patanela, which vanished in 1988 without a trace.

L. Small
7 min readDec 14, 2022


The Schooner Patanela. Source.

The “Patanela” set sail from Freemantle, Australia on October 16, 1988 on a month-long journey to Airlie Beach, on the opposite side of the country. The owner of the 63-foot schooner, a wealthy businessman named Alan Nicol, was on board. Nicol was accompanied by an experienced captain, 52-year-old Ken Jones, his wife, 50-year-old Noreen Jones, and their daughter, Ronnalee. Nicol also recruited two crew members for the voyage: Michael Calvin, age 21, and John Blissett, age 23.

The Panatela was equipped with numerous safety equipment, including radar, satellite navigation, watertight components, lifeboats, and a 48-hour-capable emergency radio beacon.

Alan Nicol disembarked at Esperance because he had to return to Perth for business. Ronnalee abandoned the yacht in Port Eyre, South Australia, due to job obligations. Panatela travelled toward the east, transmitting her whereabouts by radio on a regular basis.

Photo by Alexey Ruban on Unsplash

Keith McLennan, a radio operator with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC), received the first of three radio transmissions from the Panatela at 12:57 am on November 8. Ken Jones announced the schooner’s callsign (Victor Mike Papa Tango) and the vessel’s position as 10 nautical miles east of Botany Bay in a voice that appeared relaxed and peaceful.

Then he stated, “I believe we’ve run out of fuel…we’ve hoisted our sails and were tacking out to the east, tracking about zero-eight-zero…our intention is to tack out for a couple of hours, then tack back in. We may need some assistance in the morning to get back into Sydney Harbour.”

The night was cloudy, with a mild north-east wind and moderate waves that the schooner could have readily ridden. McLennan later testified that Patanela’s fairly typical message did not raise any red flags. It was not uncommon for ships to run out of gasoline, and in such calm weather, there looked to be little cause for concern. The schooner would have been within view of Botany Bay’s…



L. Small

"One arrow alone can be easily broken but many arrows are indestructible" ~Genghis Khan~