Why did the Wahine sink?

As with most transport accidents and disasters, there was no one single cause for the Wahine's loss. Instead, a sequence of events and circumstances came together and built up throughout the morning of 10 April 1968 to produce the final outcome. Had any one of those events and circumstances not been present, the chain would have been broken and the Wahine likely would have remained afloat.

At 6 a.m. weather conditions at Beacon Hill Signal Station, located 440 feet (134 metres) above sea level inside the harbour entrance, were deteriorating sharply. The wind strength there had reached 60 to 75 knots (111 to 139 kms per hr) compared to 50 knots (93 kms per hr) at 5 a.m. It was raining very heavily and visibility had dropped to half a mile. The weather information received on the Wahine's bridge from the signal station one hour earlier at 5 a.m. was thus no longer correct. The staff on duty at the signal station did not radio the Wahine to warn the ship of this change, even though they knew she was about to begin her passage through the entrance channel. The protocol followed by the signal station was to supply weather information to ships only if and when it was requested. If ships did not ask, the signal station would not tell them even if weather information given as recently as one hour before was no longer accurate.

Just before the storm struck the Wahine had turned 30 degrees off her correct course so that she was lying almost beam-on to the approach of the storm's winds and seas. Caught in this position at the moment when the storm hit her, the Wahine was, as a result, much more vulnerable to its impact. Had she instead been on her proper heading and under full helm control, the weather would then have been on the Wahine's stern and not on her beam, and with her engines returned to full ahead she might have been able to run before the storm past Barrett Reef to the inner harbour, where there was more sea room.

The Port of Wellington did not have modern, deep-draught salvage tugs capable of assisting an ocean-going ship disabled in heavy weather. In 1968 the only tugs available in Wellington were the 232 ton Taioma and Tapuhi. Of Second World War vintage, both were harbour tugs entirely suited to normal day-to-day tasks around the wharves. Only the Tapuhi had steam up on the morning of 10 April 1968, and although she made courageous efforts to assist the Wahine she was too light and her towing gear too puny. The following year the Wellington Harbour Board ordered the first of three new, much larger tugs. Had they been there that day, the outcome for the Wahine would have been entirely different.

wahine

In August 1971 the Wellington Harbour Board took delivery of the Kupe, first of two diesel-powered, deep-draught tugs equipped with salvage gear that were ordered in the wake of the Wahine Disaster. Vastly superior in every respect to the elderly Tapuhi and her sister Taioma, Kupe was joined in February 1972 by a second, identical new tug, the Toia. What might have been achieved had vessels like these been despatched to the Wahine on the morning of 10 April 1968! Of all the shortcomings revealed that day, top of the list was Wellington's lack of modern salvage tugs capable of going to the assistance of a ship in distress in heavy weather. The Tapuhi courageously did her very best but she was too small, while the Taioma could not move from her wharf because her boilers were cold and several hours were needed to raise steam in them.

As with aircraft, ships often get into trouble as a result of accident, breakdown or weather. Lamentable is too feeble a word to describe how a major commercial port like Wellington could have had no suitable tugs for handling a full-scale maritime emergency, especially given the port's location on the doorstep of Cook Strait, one of the world's most tempestuous seaways. It equates to an international airport knowingly having fire trucks that are too small and too under-powered to put fires out when responding to a big plane crash.

© Murray Robinson 2008

For removal of water from her main vehicle deck in the event of flooding, the Wahine had a system of 24 drainage points known as scuppers. Their total inadequacy was cruelly exposed on 10th April 1968. The scuppers consisted of small gratings set at intervals into the deck. Each was connected to a pipe six inches in diameter that ran beneath the main vehicle deck to a non-return valve mounted on the ship's outside hull. Under normal load conditions the non-return valves were positioned approximately three feet above the Wahine's waterline. With some 3,500 tons of sea water inside the ship, her draught increased by approximately five feet so that on 10 April 1968 they became completely submerged. Moreover, the scupper non-return valves could only to be opened when the ship was either alongside a wharf or in calm, sheltered waters. While the ship was at sea they were required always to be kept closed. This meant that, in any type of emergency involving bad weather or damage that caused the ship to sink lower into the water, the scuppers were quite useless. No other means was provided for getting water off the main vehicle deck in the event of flooding.

How this shortcoming could have been permitted seems, in hindsight, quite incredible. The explanation lies in the way the ship was designed. The interior of the Wahine's hull below the main vehicle deck was divided into 13 compartments separated by water-tight bulkheads. She was built to stay afloat with any two adjacent compartments flooded. In this condition, the Wahine's draught would increase by about two feet to just over 19 feet (5.8 metres), leaving the scupper non-return valves on the outside hull just above the waterline and, theoretically, still able to be used. If a third compartment became flooded, the valves would go below the surface of the sea but by then they would be irrelevant because, with more than two adjacent compartments flooded, the Wahine would not stay afloat.

On 10 April 1968 however, nine of those compartments were either fully or partially flooded. Only the two boiler rooms, the auxiliary turbo-alternator room and the main turbo-alternator room were free of water. In addition, the Wahine was floating on her tank tops - the steel floors inside each of these compartments. The areas beneath these floors, comprising the very lowest part of the ship immediately above her keel and known as the double bottoms, were open to the sea for the entire length of the Wahine as the result of Barrett Reef. Yet not only was she still afloat, she was stable and upright. The Wahine's builders had provided information in the form of two booklets carried aboard the ship for the guidance of her master and officers during flooding emergencies. These booklets were entitled "Trim and Stability Particulars" and "Damaged Stability Criteria". They went no further than what to do if two adjacent compartments were flooded. Since the Wahine was meant to sink with any flooding beyond that, the booklets said nothing about an eventuality where up to nine compartments were breached. As such, these emergency instructions proved on 10 April 1968 to be as worthless as the scuppers.

vehicle deck
© Murray Robinson. Not to be reproduced.

Inside the Wahine's main vehicle deck. This photo was taken on the port side from a point forward of the stern door, and looks up towards the bow. The ramp at left provided access for cars to the upper garage on the deck above. There was an identical ramp on the starboard side of the ship. At right is the engine casing. This was a narrow rectangular steel box that ran down the centre of the main vehicle deck at its aft end, bisecting it. The engine casing provided ventilation and access by ladder to the main turbo-alternator room and the propulsion motor room on the deck below. The area in the foreground, as well as the area immediately behind the camera, was where the water entering the main vehicle deck built up during the morning of 10 April 1968. It was here that the Wahine's engineers and seamen under Chief Engineer Herbert Wareing and Chief Officer Rod Luly, laboured throughout that morning trying to combat the flooding. The circular recesses set into the deck were for lashing vehicles in place while the ship was at sea.

Wahine Stern Deck Plan


The Wahine's Achilles Heel; how the sea got onto her main vehicle deck. This photo shows part of E Deck from the Wahine's general arrangement plans. E Deck was the floor of the ship's main vehicle deck, with the stern door at left. The red blocks denote the five steel doors, known as "tunnel escapes", inside of which were stairways that led down to the compartments under the Wahine's main vehicle deck at her stern. On 10th April 1968 all these lower compartments were filled with sea water from top to bottom. The doors themselves were fire-resistant but not watertight.


The yellow blocks denote the tops of five vertical steel trunks that allowed air to circulate into these same compartments below the main vehicle deck. The trunks, or shafts, were rectangular in section and each had openings in their tops and bottoms that were covered by wire mesh. The openings at the top were 18 by 10 inches and 16 inches by 16 inches in size, and were cut into the front of the trunks four feet up from the floor of the main vehicle deck. There were no covers or flaps by which these openings could be sealed off in the event of a flooding emergency. On 10th April 1968 flood water slopped and spurted up through these openings with the rolling and pitching of the ship. Water also dribbled across the sills of the non-watertight doors.

Along the sides of the Wahine's main vehicle deck at its aft end were a number of access doors and air ventilation shafts or trunks that came up from the compartments immediately below. All these compartments were filled with sea water. Because of another crucial fault in the design of the Wahine, the doors and the vents at the top of each of these shafts were not water-tight. As the Wahine rolled and sheered about in the storm, water from flooded lower compartments slopped over the sills of the doors and spurted up through the vents. The ship's engineers worked strenuously to try and block off the vents, ramming sacks and lengths of canvas down into each, but the water that found its way onto the main vehicle deck came primarily from this source. No water leaked through the Wahine's stern door. Throughout the events of 10 April 1968 the stern door remained fully closed and water-tight.

In addition to these internal doors and ventilation trunks there were other openings onto the Wahine's main vehicle deck and upper garage that similarly were not water-tight. At the after end of the ship, 33 feet (10 metres) from the stern, was a narrow rectangular hatchway in the roof of the main vehicle deck, leading directly out onto the open deck above. Known as the tonnage hatch, it was 4 feet long, 24 feet wide (1.2 x 7.3 metres) and served no practical purpose whatsoever as all cargo, stores and equipment taken on and off the ship were moved through the stern door.

This hatch was, instead, a device for reducing the Wahine's gross register tonnage (grt) and thereby lowering the port charges her owners had to pay. Gross register tonnage is the total of all permanently enclosed space above and below decks aboard a ship, with 100 cubic feet or 2.83 cubic metres equalling one ton. Port charges were calculated on net tonnage, which is the gross tonnage minus those spaces such as the bridge, crew accommodation and engine rooms that are not used for earning money when occupied by passengers and cargo. By fitting a tonnage hatch that could be opened, the Wahine's cargo spaces on the main vehicle deck were deemed not to be fully and permanently enclosed. They were, therefore, excluded from the ship's gross tonnage, thus decreasing it substantially and resulting in much lower port charges in Wellington and Lyttelton.

In order to qualify in this respect, the tonnage hatch had to be positioned right aft on a ship's weather deck, and it had to be openable in the same way as a normal cargo hatch. On the Wahine the tonnage hatch was covered by wooden hatch boards on top of which were tarpaulins secured in place by rope spliced around the hatch coaming. By the late 1960s new methods for assessing ships' tonnages were being adopted and the practice of fitting tonnage hatches was lapsing into disuse. Located where it was, the tonnage hatch on the Wahine was very exposed and vulnerable to heavy following seas of a type often encountered on the Wellington-Lyttelton run. Immediately below this 96 square feet (8.9 sq metres) opening was the main vehicle deck. The tonnage hatch lay directly in the path of the rogue sea that struck the vessel at 6.14 a.m. on 10 April 1968.

The Wahine's upper garage on D Deck had glazed windows along its sides but at the rear of the garage there was, on both sides of the ship's hull, a row of 12 open rectangular ports without glass. These ports were known as tonnage openings and served the same function as the tonnage hatch. They had canvas covers for weather protection, and they were located beside the car ramps that ascended into the upper garage from the main vehicle deck below.

With the ship at her normal loaded draught the tonnage openings in the upper garage were 19 feet above the Wahine's waterline. But as her list worsened on the afternoon of 10 April 1968, these tonnage openings on the Wahine's starboard side leaned closer and closer to the sea. Once the list got to around 30 degrees and the sea reached them, water would have spilled unhindered into the upper garage and down the car ramps onto the main vehicle deck. There was no provision for sealing the car ramps and the upper garage off from the main vehicle deck.

wahine stern

wahine front
© Vic Young. Both photos gratefully acknowledged to Vic Young and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

Top photo: the Wahine's tonnage hatch was located on the open deck just under the portholes below the row of nine large windows on the aft face of the ship's superstructure. The large windows were those of the Wahine's cafeteria on B Deck. The rogue wave that hit the Wahine at 6.14 on the morning of 10 April 1968 came at her from roughly the same direction as where the camera is in this photo. All the chairs, equipment and fittings on the deck at the Wahine's stern, where the men can be seen standing and sitting, were torn from their mountings and swept against the starboard rails by the impact of this wave. Tarpaulins covering the tonnage hatch similarly were ripped away, allowing rain water to run between the hatch boards onto the main vehicle deck immediately below.

In the bottom photo can be seen the tonnage openings on the port side of the Wahine's upper garage. These are the larger, darker windows near the top of the ship's green hull, immediately forward of the open hull door under the bridge wing. There was an identical row of windows on the Wahine's starboard side. None of them were enclosed with glass. In the photo the windows are far above the sea, but this was no longer the case as the Wahine listed further to starboard after 1.30 pm on 10 April 1968. Hundreds of tons of seawater would have surged in through the windows on the starboard side without restraint as the list went past 30 degrees. It is remarkable that the Wahine continued her slow list and did not immediately roll over as soon as this happened.

The Wahine was not equipped with portable water pumps. Two or three of these, set to work on the main vehicle deck, would have soon eliminated the floodwater there. The ship had three main bilge pumps fixed permanently within her boiler and main turbo-alternator rooms, and these were all linked by a system of pumping lines built into the ship that enabled the pumps to remove water from any of the compartments below the main vehicle deck. This system unfortunately did not extend to the main vehicle deck itself. The pumps had flexible hoses that could have enabled them to drain the main vehicle deck, but these hoses were all stored inside the propulsion motor room which had been completely flooded when the Wahine grounded on Barrett Reef.

All the ship's heavy engineering and carpentry tools were also inside the flooded propulsion motor room. Denied access to these, the ship's engineers were unable to remove the four openable, circular plates set flush into the vehicle deck above the main turbo-alternator room. These openings were there to allow lifting chains to be lowered through them when the turbine casings needed to be lifted for maintenance work on the turbine machinery. When not needed for this, the openings were permanently sealed to make them water-tight and gas-tight. Power tools were needed to loosen and remove them. Had it been possible to do so, the flood-water on the vehicle deck would have drained down into the main turbo-alternator room where the bilge pump system would have discharged it overboard.

The reason why more effective flood countermeasures were not provided on the Wahine's main vehicle deck was because, when the ship was designed, it was fire and not entry of seawater that was seen as the most likely threat. With up to 200 cars parked inside the ship for each overnight voyage, often in rough seas, spillage or leakage of petrol was an ever-present hazard. Very elaborate fire detection and fire suppression systems were therefore incorporated into the main vehicle deck and the upper garage. In particular, there were no openings or pump inlets between the main vehicle deck and the boiler and turbo-alternator rooms below, through which split petrol could find its way into these lower compartments. Electrically powered machinery throughout the boiler and turbo-alternator rooms meant unlimited sources of potential ignition by which this petrol could have caused a devastating fire. Fatally for the Wahine, the same attention was not given to the possibility of flooding in terms of improved drainage, more comprehensive pumping equipment and doors and air vents that, when closed, were water-tight.

Also, in 1966 when building of the Wahine was nearly complete, Lloyds Register of Shipping in London assigned to the ship a freeboard height of 3 feet 9½ inches (1.5 metres) above her waterline when she was riding at her normal draught of 17 feet 4 inches (5.28 metres). Lloyds Register was the organisation responsible for surveying and certifying the Wahine as fully in compliance with all requirements of the British Board of Trade. "Freeboard" is the height from the waterline of a ship to the upper deck level at her normal draught when fully loaded. Ships therefore have a "freeboard deck", which is the deck level from where this height to the waterline is measured at the centre of the ship.

Aboard the Wahine, E Deck, or the floor of main vehicle deck, was the freeboard deck - it was located 3 feet 9½ inches above the waterline. In 1966 all openings below this level such as doors and vents, had to be either weather-tight or watertight. But openings above the freeboard deck did not have to be weather or water tight. Hence the non-watertight internal doors along the sides of the Wahine's main vehicle deck at its aft end that led down the compartments immediately below. Similarly, the openings for the air ventilation trunks rising from these same lower compartments were not provided with flaps or covers by which they could be made watertight in a flooding emergency. In hindsight, the freeboard deck aboard the Wahine was much too low; it should have been set two decks higher at C Deck instead of E Deck, and thus the internal doors and ventilation truck openings would all have been required to be watertight up to the level of C Deck. If this had been the case, no sea water would have entered the main vehicle deck from these sources on the morning of 10 April 1968.

It was the water on the main vehicle deck that caused the Wahine to list, roll over and eventually sink. The quantity was deceptively small; it comprised no more than about 200 tons of the total 3,500 tons of flood water inside the ship. When Captain Robertson saw it at around 12.40 p.m. he estimated there was between 15 to 18 inches (0.4 to 0.45 metres) of flooding at its deepest point. With hindsight, it is clear that he and his senior officers did not fully appreciate the enormous hidden danger from this water. Through a process known as "Free Surface Effect", water that is free to spread and move around over a very large surface area without barriers or bulkheads to confine it, will gradually destroy a ship's stability so that she lists and sooner or later capsizes. This is what happened to the Wahine. The water need only be a thin film; it is its area and not its weight or depth that is the critical element. But even if Captain Robertson, his Chief Engineer and his Chief Officer had more fully understood the threat from the water on the main vehicle deck, without tools and additional pump gear there was little if anything more that they could have done about it.

Wahine flooding
© Murray Robinson. Not to be reproduced.

This diagram shows the flooding inside the Wahine. All the areas with sea water in them are shown in blue. The compartments at the stern of the ship (left) were totally flooded, while those forward of the two boiler rooms (right) were either fully or partially flooded. How the Wahine stayed afloat, stable and upright throughout the morning of 10th April 1968 with all this water inside her, is simply incredible. The black hatched area comprises the main vehicle deck, the forward garage and the upper garage (on D Deck). The two thin wedges of flooding on the main vehicle deck are also shown in blue. It was this water, moving freely about and spreading into the forward garage, that eroded the Wahine's stability and caused her to list and then roll over.

Around 12.30 p.m. the Wahine, still drifting up the harbour on her anchors, touched the sea floor near Steeple Rock, just off the eastern end of Seatoun Beach. The impact was very slight, no more than a nudge; Captain Robertson later described it as a single, gentle "bump". But it was the coup de grace for the Wahine. Captain Robertson's strategy of carefully nursing his badly damaged ship while waiting for the storm to die away, would very likely have succeeded but for this. Somewhere inside one of the flooded lower compartments, the impact was enough to cause a bulkhead or tank top, under terrific strain since the mauling on Barrett Reef, to give way. The Wahine's trim and stability, already on a knife edge, changed immediately as more water entered the ship. She went deeper by the bow; the engineers working on the main vehicle deck saw the flood water there, which been concentrated near the stern, quickly run forward as the Wahine's fore-and-aft trim altered. The fore end of the main vehicle deck, known as the forward garage, had previously been dry. Now there was water covering some 80% of the entire main vehicle deck, its depth no more than a few inches in the forward garage and up to three feet on the starboard side at the main vehicle deck's after end.

How could water as shallow as this threaten a 9,000 ton vessel like the Wahine? With Free Surface Effect it is not the depth or quantity of water that is critical, but the surface area over which it is free to expand and move about. Water covering 80% of her main vehicle deck, which was 380 feet in length, meant that what remained of the Wahine's stability was soon destroyed. She could no longer stay upright. By around 1.10 p.m. the ship was listing between 15 to 25 degrees and it was just a matter of time before the Wahine rolled over. She did so at 2.30 p.m., less than an hour and a half later.

If it was this water on the main vehicle deck that caused the Wahine to list and then roll over, why was it not correctly identified as a deadly threat to the ship? There can be no denying that Captain Robertson and his senior officers under-estimated how hazardous this water was. On his visits to the bridge Chief Engineer Wareing advised Captain Robertson that, while the flooding on the main vehicle deck was of concern, it was not sufficient to cause alarm and could be managed. Captain Robertson accepted these reports from his Chief Engineer, as he was fully entitled to do. For them the essential factor was that despite the flooding the Wahine was stable, coming fully and easily back upright at the end of each roll. The winds and seas were so extreme that, if the ship was losing stability, they knew they would very quickly have noticed a change in her behaviour. She would have become sluggish and would increasingly have failed to come upright when she rolled. This was not the case; for hour after hour the Wahine continued to weather the storm without any alteration in her draught or her movements. As long as this remained the case the ship's Master, Chief Engineer and their officers were justified in believing the Wahine would be all right. Everything changed when the Wahine struck the sea floor off Steeple Rock at 12.30 p.m.

wahine off steeple rock
The Evening Post.

The Wahine glimpsed by a very brave photographer near Steeple Rock, late on the morning of 10th April 1968 around the time the storm was at its height. She is clearly stable and upright, riding to her anchors as if not troubled in the least by the hurricane winds and seas. From the look of her, there is no suggestion that she is disabled, heavily flooded, not under control and will sink in just a few hours' time.

To the eye there was not a large amount of water on the main vehicle deck. The Wahine's engineers and seamen worked zealously to limit the ingress of water and remove it as best they could. Their principal means of doing so was by allowing the water to drain through an open door from the main vehicle deck down into the main turbo-alternator room. The bottom of this doorway was, however, fitted with a 24 inch (0.6 metres) high steel coaming. The engineers had no cutting gear by which to remove this coaming and thereby allow much more of the water to drain away. Once the Wahine began listing to starboard and the floodwater ran to this side of the main vehicle deck, this door, located on the port or upper side of the engine casing, was of no further use.

Why did Captain Robertson not make any mention of the flood water on the main vehicle deck in his radio signals to the authorities on shore? This after all was surely a matter of the greatest significance? Captain Robertson's failure to report the vehicle deck flooding was, in retrospect, a serious error of judgement on his part. To explain this error, we have to put aside our preconceptions and try to understand what it was like for him on the bridge that morning: saturated, freezing and concussed, in command of a disabled, heavily flooded ship drifting on anchors close to land, caught in a huge and worsening storm, the winds at hurricane force and increasing, responsible for the lives of 734 people, utterly on his own as he knew there was no vessel that could get to him with help. Captain Robertson knew the Wahine was designed to remain afloat with any two of her 12 compartments below the main vehicle deck flooded. More than this and she was expected to sink. On 10 April 1968 only the two boiler and the two turbo-alternator compartments were dry; the rest were either partially or totally flooded. All the compartments aft of the main turbo-alternator room were full of sea water. Yet incredibly the Wahine was still upright and afloat.

Although he was confident the Wahine was all right and would survive, Captain Robertson was fully aware that it just needed one more thing to go wrong and total disaster would ensue - an anchor cable breaking, the hull touching another rock as she sheered about, a sudden bulkhead failure allowing water into one of the dry compartments. In this context a few inches of flooding on the main vehicle deck seemed immaterial. Captain Robertson viewed the water there as part of the overall knife-edge flood situation aboard the Wahine. He did not see the vehicle deck as a problem that was separate and much more threatening compared to the rest of the flooding. Mr R D Jamieson, the magistrate and member of the New Zealand Judiciary who presided over the Court of Inquiry into the Wahine's loss, was fully correct when he ruled that the omissions and errors of judgement made by Captain Robertson had occurred "under conditions of great difficulty and danger." They therefore did not amount to wrongful acts or negligence.

The Wahine's senior officers, all highly experienced seafarers, clearly felt the same as Captain Robertson: their ship was going to be all right and she would make it through her ordeal. The Wahine had survived Barrett Reef, avoided Point Dorset, the storm had reached its peak, she was upright, stable, riding to her anchors, not sinking further and well inside the harbour with a large floating dock to lift her out of the water just a few miles away. It was simply a matter of hanging on and containing the situation for just a short while longer. In these circumstances, and with all the other damage to the ship, there was no point in getting too anxious about some water on the main vehicle deck. Again, they did not see this water as a separate, much more immediate and far more dangerous problem. In the context of the Wahine being in harbour and not out at sea, her draught and trim not having changed for several hours and with the storm receding, they were fully justified in thinking this way. Appreciating this is key to understanding the conduct and the decisions of the men on the Wahine's bridge and main vehicle deck that morning. Unlike us, they did not have the benefit of knowing what was going to happen from 12.30 p.m., after the ship unexpectedly struck the harbour floor. It came genuinely as a massive shock and surprise when the list started increasing and it was realised she was about to roll over.

But having decided the worst was over, that they were almost in the clear and that it was now just a question of waiting for the storm to moderate, it seems that a sense of non-urgency crept onto the bridge of the Wahine late on the morning of 10 April 1968. At 12.15 p.m., alarmed at how deep in the water the Wahine's stern had gone, Captain John Brown of the pilot launch Tiakina manoeuvred alongside the Wahine so that Captain Bill Galloway, the Deputy Harbourmaster, could leap aboard and confer urgently with her Master. Both men displayed very great skill and resolve in doing this, Captain Galloway risking his life to climb the side of the out-of-control Wahine. On telling Captain Robertson that his ship looked to be much more dangerously flooded than earlier radio messages implied, Captain Galloway must have been more than a little surprised to then be asked if he would like some lunch.

Copyright © 2008 Murray Robinson www.thewahine.co.nz

wahine wreckage
© Tom McGrattan. Photo gratefully acknowledged to Tom McGrattan and not to be reproduced without prior permission.

Part of one of the Wahine's main steam turbines and a condenser, removed from the wreck and landed on the Taranaki Street Wharf in Wellington in 1972, after four years submerged. In the right foreground is a section of the ship's tank tops and double bottom. The steel is being cleaned of marine growth and will then be cut up and trucked away for scrap.


Wahine on a fine day
Photograph by Gladys M Goodall for the Felicity Card Co Ltd. (W.T. 494)

The Wahine berthed at the Lyttelton Inter-Island Terminal. She lived through just two southern hemisphere summers before her loss and, judging by the brown hill slopes in the background, this photo was taken on a fine afternoon during one of them.
Steamer Express Linkspan
© Pat Corkery. Gratefully acknowledged to Pat Corkery and not to be reproduced without prior permission.

The linkspan at Lyttelton that was used by the Wahine and the ships of the Wellington-Lyttelton Steamer Express Service, photographed in August 2008 but unchanged from 1968. Cars and trucks drove over the bridge, shown raised, then through the Wahine's stern door and onto her vehicle deck. It was from here that the Wahine departed on the evening of Tuesday 9 April 1968, on her last voyage. Only the linkspan itself remains. The terminal buildings that once occupied the wharf area at left in the picture have all been demolished and the rail tracks for passenger trains connecting with Invercargill and Dunedin have also gone. Preserving the linkspan as a historic place would be a fitting memorial for those from Christchurch and the South Island of New Zealand whose lives were lost in the Wahine Disaster.

Stren door loading
Photograph by Gladys M Goodall for the Felicity Card Co Ltd. WT 368

An early evening scene at the Lyttelton Inter-Island terminal during the Wahine's short life. Vehicles are being driven across the linkspan through the brightly-lit square of her open stern door. Smoke rises from the Wahine's funnel as additional boilers are flashed up ready for departure promptly at 8 p.m.

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