The infamous “Rip”, Victoria’s Bermuda Triangle, is an area of water that lies across the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It is a notoriously dangerous location for shipping because of a convergence of several factors. These include the rapidly changing weather conditions often experienced, the massive tidal surges through the Bay entrance and the highly variable water depth – including the presence of reefs and shallow sand bars.
This combination can generate lethal conditions that ramp up with great speed, in particular big seas with only short spaces between the crests. Many ships have been wrecked in the area, including some large vessels, in excess of 3000 tonnes.
In 1904 the 6900 tonne vessel RMS “Australia” was sunk off Point Nepean after running aground on Corsair Rock, and the 3100 tonne steamship “Times” was wrecked at the same location on 1949.
On the other side of the Bay entrance, about 3.5 km away, lies the Lonsdale Reef, and numerous vessels were wrecked there over the years including the “George Roper” (2100 tonnes) in 1883, the “Gange” (1070 tonnes) in 1887 and the “Holyhead” (2237 tonnes) in 1889.
One of the more tragic events involving the “Rip” occurred on the evening of 17 February 1960, when a party of 74 Army Commandos left Point Lonsdale on a simulated “night raid”, intending to cross the Bay over the Rip – between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean. They were seated in a variety of craft, including kayaks, amphibious vehicles called “ducks” and inflatable boats known as Zodiacs.
At around 7 pm, when the party was about half way across, a squally change loaded up with thunderstorms ripped through the area, and conditions almost immediately turned deadly. Large waves crashed across the party, with many of the vessels capsizing and the crews pitched into the water – leading to a grim fight for survival across the next few hours.
In one of the worst peacetime disasters in the history of the Australian Defence force up until that time, three commandos had drowned and more than 70 others had to be rescued.
Image: Map showing the location of The Rip at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay south of Melbourne. The distance between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean is about 3.5 km, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.