Tuesday 9 April 1968
7 am TEV Wahine, Captain Gordon Robertson in command, berths at the Inter-Island Terminal, Lyttelton after a routine overnight voyage from Wellington. ("TEV" stands for: Turbine Electric Vessel.)
8.30 pm The weather forecast from the New Zealand Meteorological Service for the next 24 hours is received by radio aboard the Wahine.
The forecast begins with the words "Storm warning", and advises that at 6 pm on 9 April a "severe tropical depression" was centred about 60 miles east of North Cape (the northern-most tip of New Zealand, some 635 miles from Lyttelton and the Wahine). It is moving south-south-east at a speed of 20 knots, accompanied by winds of over 60 knots within 100 miles of the storm's centre, and over 35 knots within 300 miles of the storm's centre. In the central region of the country, including Wellington and Cook Strait, "strong northerlies changing to southerly after midnight tonight" are forecast, with the southerly winds "gradually increasing to gale or storm from tomorrow morning". There would be "rain and poor visibility."
8.43 pm Wahine departs from the Inter-Island Terminal at Lyttelton for her overnight voyage to Wellington. Aboard are 610 passengers, 123 crew plus one stowaway (a seaman) 75 cars, 4 trucks, 114 bags of mail and 24 "Seafreighters". These were tarpaulin-covered pallets mounted on wheeled trailers and loaded with general cargo. The Seafreighters were towed aboard the ship and parked on the main vehicle deck for the overnight voyage. The Wahine's normal 8 pm sailing time was delayed by the late arrival at the wharf of the express train bringing passengers from Invercargill and Dunedin.
Approx 9.15 pm Wahine rounds Godley Head at the entrance to Lyttelton harbour, and turns north. Captain Robertson sets the ship's course for Wellington.
Approx 9.30 pm Captain Robertson leaves the bridge and goes to his cabin, one deck below. Third Officer Mr G Noblet has the watch on the bridge.
Approx 10.30 pm Captain Robertson returns to the bridge to make a final check that all is well, before turning in for the night.


Inside Bridge

Photo acknowledged to the Glasgow City Archives


Inside the Wahine's Bridge. The photographer is standing in the port wing of the bridge and is looking across to the starboard wing, the twin windows of which can be seen in the far distance, slightly left of centre in the photo. Two of the aft-facing windows of the port wing are at right, and the inboard corner of the port wing control console with docking telegraphs is at lower right. The engine telegraphs were located beside these docking telegraphs - used to communicate orders to the Wahine's fore and aft mooring decks when the ship was leaving or coming alongside the wharf - but are out of the photo. Next to the control console is the engine telegraph recorder unit, and above that in the photo is the entrance to the bridge from the ship's chart room. The steering wheel with compass repeater on its pedestal is in the centre of the photo, and behind that is the radar screen, also on its pedestal. The tall pilot's chair was not retained on the Wahine's bridge; masters and deck officers were not, in those days, permitted to sit down while on watch on the bridge.

When the Wahine rolled as the storm struck her on the morning of 10 April 1968, Captain Robertson was thrown from about where the photographer is standing, across to the starboard wing, striking the radar in mid-flight.



Wednesday 10 April 1968
12 midnight Wahine's Second Officer, Mr W T R Shanks, takes over the watch on the bridge relieving Third Officer Noblet. All is normal.
1.30 am Wahine passes TEV Maori, her partner on the Wellington to Lyttelton service. The Maori is heading in the opposite direction, south for Lyttelton.
1.40 am Mr Shanks sights the light flashing on Kaikoura Peninsula, 12 miles (19.3 kms) to port of the ship.
4.00 am Wahine's Chief Officer, Mr R S Luly, takes over the watch on the bridge from Second Officer Shanks. The wind is from the south-south-west, blowing at 35 to 45 knots (64.8 - 74 kms per hr). A moderate to heavy southerly swell is running, the sky is overcast with heavy, continuous rain. The Wahine is steaming at 17 knots. Visibility is good. All is normal.
4.15 am Mr Luly sights the light flashing on Cape Campbell, eastern-most point of the South Island, 16.8 miles (27 kms) off the port beam of the ship. The Wahine is now in Cook Strait.
4.15 am Mr Luly orders propeller revolutions decreased from 188 to 170 per minute, thereby lowering the Wahine's speed from 17 to 16.5 knots (31.5 - 30.6 kms per hr). He also alters the ship's course to 358 degrees. This will place her off Wellington Heads in the correct position and at the scheduled time to enter Wellington harbour.
5.00 am Mr R J Lyver, the Wahine's Radio Officer, comes onto the Wahine's bridge and calls up Beacon Hill Signal Station using the ship's VHF radio telephone. He requests and is given weather advice for the harbour entrance area: winds are southerly and blowing at 40 to 50 knots (74 - 96.6 kms per hr). At Pipitea Wharf in the inner harbour near the Inter-Island Terminal, the wind is up to 60 knots (111 kms per hr) and a tug will be available to assist the ship in berthing if needed.
5.00 am Captain Robertson is woken at his usual time. He is given a typed copy of the weather details just received from Beacon Hill Signal Station.
Approx 5.10 am Having read the report, Captain Robertson telephones the bridge to confer with Chief Officer Luly about weather conditions. All this is entirely normal.
5 to 5.10 am The morning routine gets underway for the Wahine's crew not already on duty. The ship is due alongside the Inter-Island Terminal in Wellington at 7 am.
5.30 am The wind strength is now up to 50 knots (92.6 kms per hr) - a whole gale - having increased slightly, by no more than 5 knots (9.2 kms per hr), during the course of Mr Luly's watch.
The Wahine is nearing the entrance to Wellington harbour. Conditions are foul; gale-force winds, rain and heavy seas with the ship pitching and rolling heavily at times. But this is nothing unusual for Cook Strait and Wellington Harbour. Gales of 50 knots and over are a common, frequent occurrence in Cook Strait and on the Wellington to Lyttelton sea route. Neither Captain Robertson or Chief Officer Luly have any cause for alarm. The Wahine is a large, modern, ocean-going ship designed to operate in rough weather such as this. In the past Captain Robertson has taken the Wahine into Wellington harbour and berthed her at the Inter-Island Terminal in winds up to 62 knots, entirely without trouble.
5.45 am Chief Officer Luly orders a second small decrease in the Wahine's propeller revolutions, from 170 to 165 a minute. This is done to assist the ship's steering. Speed is now 15.5 knots (28.7 kms per hr) and she is approximately four miles south of Baring Head.
5.50 am Captain Robertson arrives on the bridge and takes charge of navigation of the ship. He slides open a number of the bridge windows so as to get more effective vision in the darkness and heavy rain. Using his binoculars, he searches for and then finds the light from the lighthouse on Baring Head. Chief Officer Luly does the same; they both see it clearly on the right-hand side of the ship, forward of the Wahine' starboard beam. The sighting confirms she is exactly where she should be. All this is in accordance with normal routine.
6.00 am Wahine is now abeam of Baring Head. Captain Robertson checks and confirms the ship is "on the leads" - correctly lined up with the navigation lights inside Wellington harbour that mark the entrance channel. Wind and sea conditions are unchanged. Quartermaster Ken MacLeod takes over the steering wheel on the Wahine's bridge.
6.00 am Seamen begin removing the chains and lashings that hold cars and trucks in place on the Wahine's vehicle decks, preparatory to her arriving at the Inter-island Terminal in one hour's time. But because of the ship's rolling and pitching motion, it is decided to stop this work.
Approx 6.01 am Chain lashings securing an articulated truck loaded with coke aft on the main vehicle deck, suddenly came apart with the movement of the ship. This is reported to the bridge by telephone. The Wahine is now passing through the entrance to Wellington harbour, from Cook Strait.
Approx 6.03 am Visibility decreases to approximately one mile. Captain Robertson orders "stand-by" on the engines because of the reduced visibility, and orders the Third Officer, Mr Noblet, to report immediately to the bridge ahead of his usual time at 6.10 am.
6.07 am Third Officer Noblet comes onto the Wahine's bridge. He is told by Chief Officer Luly to man the engine telegraphs located on the bridge's port wing control console, ready for engine orders in the reduced visibility. Mr Luly then leaves the bridge for the main vehicle deck, to take charge of the situation there.
6.08 am Having been notified in his cabin of the "stand-by" order on the engines the Wahine's Chief Engineer, Mr H Wareing, arrives on the engine control platform in the Wahine's main turbo-alternator room.
6.09 am Wahine begins veering away from her correct heading as she comes up to Pencarrow Head, off her starboard bow. Pencarrow Head marks the start of the entrance channel into Wellington harbour. To regain full steering control, Captain Robertson orders "half ahead both engines". This reduces the Wahine's speed from 15.5 to about 10 knots (18.5 kms per hr). The wind remains steady from the south-south-west at 50 knots (92.6 kms per hr).
Approx 6.10 am Visibility reduces further, now down to half a mile. The Wahine is holding her correct course of 358 degrees as she steams past Pencarrow Head. Captain Robertson looks at the radar screen to confirm the ship's position, but finds the radar is malfunctioning. He orders a seaman lookout to go quickly below, wake Mr Shanks the Second Officer who is asleep in his cabin after completing his watch at 4 am, and have him report to the bridge immediately. With the loss of the radar his extra pair of eyes will be needed.
Approx 6.12 am Pencarrow Head is now receding astern and the light at the southern end of Barrett Reef is off the ship's port beam. The Wahine again begins veering away from her correct course, turning to port. Quartermaster MacLeod immediately turns the wheel to starboard to bring her back on course.
At this point recollections differ. Quartermaster Ken MacLeod, the Wahine's helmsman, states that with the wheel hard over to starboard, the ship came back to her proper heading but then continued to go round to starboard until she was facing the beach along the Pencarrow coast, on the eastern side of the entrance channel. Mr MacLeod says he could clearly see the sky lightening over the tops of the Pencarrow hills with the approach of dawn.

Captain Robertson later testified at the Court of Inquiry that the Wahine refused to answer her helm when the wheel was put hard-to-starboard. She instead continued swinging to port, turning way from her correct course by as much as 30 degrees.
6.13 am To straighten the ship up and get her back on her correct course, Captain Robertson orders "full ahead both engines" with the wheel hard-to-starboard. The ship now increases to full speed.
Approx 6.14 am The Wahine is still refusing to answer her helm. Next Captain Robertson decides to go "full astern starboard engine" and "full ahead port engine", to pull the ship round. The wheel is still hard-to-starboard. But before he can speak the engine orders to Third Officer Noblet at the engine telegraphs, the Wahine is struck across her stern by a huge rogue wave, unseen in the darkness. She rolls violently to starboard.

Captain Robertson and everybody on the bridge except for Quartermaster MacLeod, who clings to the wheel, are flung headlong across the bridge into the starboard wing. Second Officer Shanks arrives on the bridge just as this is happening. Chief Officer Luly returns from the main vehicle deck a minute or so later.
The great storm of 10 April 1968 has struck. It came totally without warning and with catastrophic force, overwhelming the Wahine while she was off-course and lying almost beam-on to the winds and seas at the narrowest part of the entrance channel. Barrett Reef is close-by on the port bow.
6.15 to 6.41 am Captain Robertson tries repeatedly to turn the Wahine to port, back out into Cook Strait. She refuses to answer her helm or engines. The ship is caught broadside in huge frenzied seas and in hurricane winds that, in the breadth of a minute, have accelerated from 50 to over 100 knots (92.6 to 185 kms per hr). Visibility in the darkness and torrential rain is nil. It is utterly impossible to determine where precisely the ship is in the entrance channel. Second Officer Shanks is stationed on the starboard wing of the bridge having been ordered by Captain Robertson to keep a sharp lookout for the Barrett Reef light buoy. The seaman lookout on the port wing is given the same directive but they can see nothing.
Just before 6.41 am The flashing orange light on the buoy marking the southern extremity of Barrett Reef is sighted in front of the ship. Captain Robertson gives last desperate engine orders to turn the Wahine, all of which prove futile. Second Officer Shanks on the starboard wing of the bridge calls "rocks ahead" and then "rocks astern." Captain Robertson orders all water-tight doors closed and tells Chief Officer Luly to have the Wahine's Radio Officer send an SOS distress message. Mr Lyver transmits in Morse: "Wahine SOS going ashore think near heads." Captain Robertson activates the alarm bells that now ring throughout the ship.



Chart

© Captain John Brown 2008. Gratefully acknowledged to Captain Brown and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.


Up until the 40th anniversary in 2008 of the Wahine's loss, the precise whereabouts of the ship during the 24 minutes after the storm hit her, and before she went onto Barrett Reef, has remained unknown. But new research by Captain John Brown, a retired Cook Strait rail ferry master, has clearly established beyond doubt the Wahine's track during those crucial minutes. His analysis was first published in the 29 March 2008 "New Zealand Listener" feature article on the Wahine.

Captain Brown's chart with the Wahine's track is shown above. At bottom right of the chart is Pencarrow Head with its two lighthouses, and Barrett Reef is the large feature in the centre of the chart. Point Dorset, marked on the chart as "The Pinnacles", is at the top centre with Chaffers Passage between it and the northern end of Barrett Reef. The wind direction from the south-west is shown by the large blue arrow at left. The black symbols represent the Wahine, and the figures beside each symbol are the times when she was at each position on the chart. Thus, "09" means 6.09 am, "10" means 6.10 am, "11" means 6.11 am etc.

The chart shows the Wahine veering off her course from 6.12 am and turning beam-on to the winds and seas. The storm hits the ship at 6.14 am. She is then driven north by the storm until 6.28 am when Captain Robertson succeeds in his battle to recover control of the ship and turn her to port. She heads back out towards Cook Strait. But by then the Wahine is very close to Barrett Reef in the narrow entrance channel, though in the blackness and impenetrable rain the reef is totally invisible. At 6.36 am, while continuing to head south just off the eastern edge of the reef, the flashing orange light on the Barrett Reef Buoy is suddenly seen right in front of the ship. It is the very first sighting of any landmark made from the bridge since the storm struck 22 minutes earlier. Captain Robertson gives urgent helm and engine orders to get her away from this hazard. But control of the ship is again lost and she is driven by the storm onto the southern edge of the reef.

To determine the ship's track, Captain Brown analysed the tapes from the engine telegraph recorder unit on the Wahine's bridge. The recorder unit was housed in a large cabinet located next to the port wing control console. Each movement of the engine telegraph handles, sending orders to increase or decrease speed or put the engines ahead or astern, was recorded on the tapes. The tapes do not, however, indicate what the ship actually did in response to these orders. The time needed to stop an engine from going full ahead or full astern, so that it is turning its propeller in the opposite direction, must be factored in. The ship also takes time to pick up momentum when the speed or direction of the propellers is changed. Just as importantly, there is the effect on the ship of the extreme wind and sea conditions that morning. As Captain Robertson later told the Court of Inquiry: "Because the propellers or the engines were on full astern for five minutes doesn't mean that we went full astern on full power for five minutes. More than half the time those propellers were out of the water."


6.41 am The Wahine is carried sideways onto the southern extremity of Barrett Reef. She strikes the western side of Pinnacle Rock on the starboard side at her stern. The starboard propeller and tail shaft are snapped off, the starboard rudder is bent, split and crushed up into the ship. All the compartments at the Wahine's stern below the main vehicle deck flood immediately, and sea water also rapidly fills the propulsion motor room where the two double electric motors that drive the ship are located. All steering and propulsion is lost.
Just after 6.41 am Captain Robertson telephones Mr B A Clare, the Wahine's Purser, and tells him to broadcast to passengers over the ship's public address system that the Wahine is aground on Barrett Reef. All passengers are to put on the lifejackets in their cabins and proceed at once to their various muster stations on B Deck.
Approx 6.42 am Passengers hear announcements that the Wahine is on Barrett Reef, and that they are to assemble at their muster stations with lifejackets.
Approx 6.43 am The Wahine is now being driven northwards over jagged rocks along the eastern edge of Barrett Reef by the hurricane winds and seas. Her underwater hull is extensively battered and holed. Captain Robertson orders Chief Officer Luly to call up Beacon Hill Signal Station on the VHF radio telephone, and then to release the ship's anchors.



Chart

This is part of a chart that was given to Sam Parker CEng FRINA by Captain A C Crosbie, Chief Marine Superintendent of the Union Steam Ship Company from 1959 to 1969. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.


When the Wahine''s starboard propeller and its shaft were located by divers on Barrett Reef, their whereabouts were recorded on this chart. Sites numbered 1 (approx half-way down the picture) 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 are where rocks were found to have been broken as the result of the Wahine's underwater hull colliding with the reef. A tip of one of the starboard propeller blades was found at site number 2. Part of a broken propeller blade was found at site number 9. The word "shaft" indicates where the starboard propeller shaft, the A-bracket from this shaft (securing the shaft's outer end to the Wahine's hull) and the battered starboard propeller were lying.


6.43 am The Wellington Harbour Master, Captain R E Suckling, is telephoned at his home by Beacon Hill Signal Station and told the Wahine is on Barrett Reef. Beacon Hill Signal Station despatches the tug Tapuhi to the Wahine's assistance.
6.46 am Daybreak. Mr Wareing, the Wahine's Chief Engineer, reports to Captain Robertson on the bridge: all compartments aft of the main turbo-alternator room are flooded. Numerous compartments forward also have water in them, including the passenger accommodation on F deck. All propulsion and steering is disabled.
6.50 am Mr Lyver the Wahine's Radio Officer sends: "Our position is Barretts Reef and we are aground." This message is acknowledged by Wellington Radio.
6.50 am Captain Suckling, Wellington Harbour Master, telephones his deputy, Captain D W Galloway, and orders him to prepare the Wellington Harbour Board's pilot launches to go to the Wahine's assistance.
Approx 6.50 am In hurricane winds Chief Officer Luly and the Wahine's Bosun, Mr G H Hampson, make their way across the exposed roof of the Wahine's superstructure in front of the bridge, then climb down to the foredeck where they crawl forward to the windlass at the bow of the ship.
Approx 7.10 am Mr Luly and Mr Hampson let go both anchors. Very soon afterwards the Wahine is blown off Barrett Reef at its northern end. She is now in deep water at the eastern entrance to Chaffers Passage. The ship starts moving, drifting north stern-first on her anchor under the force of the wind.
For some 30 minutes the Wahine has traversed nearly the entire length of Barrett Reef, from south to north. She is no longer on the reef but her underwater hull has received such a destructive mauling that Captain Robertson anticipates the ship will now start to break apart and sink. But miraculously she remains afloat, upright and intact.
Approx 7.30 am Chief Officer Luly and Bosun Hampson get back to the bridge from the Wahine's foredeck. Captain Robertson orders them to prepare the ship's lifeboats and life rafts.
Approx 7.30 am Mr Clare the Wahine's Purser reports to Captain Robertson on the bridge: the muster of all 610 passengers and the checking of all cabins in the passenger accommodation areas has been completed.
Approx 7.50 am Chief Officer Luly reports to Captain Robertson that all lifeboats and life rafts are ready. Captain Robertson now orders Mr Luly to go below and make a full assessment of the flooding inside the ship.
8.02 am The Wahine radios: "We are now clear of the reef, anchored and not breaking up."
Sometime between 8 and 8.30 am Third Officer Noblet is ordered by Captain Robertson to go below to the main vehicle deck, make a quick inspection of the stern door for any leakage, and report back to the bridge. The stern door is undamaged but Mr Noblet sees that water is finding its way onto the main vehicle deck. Returning to the bridge, he advises Captain Robertson that there is flooding approximately 12 inches deep at the after end of the main vehicle deck.
8.22 am The Wahine, sheering out of control from side to side on her anchor cables, is being blown toward the rocks of Point Dorset. The wind force is increasing. Captain Robertson radios: "We are slowly drifting up the harbour barely clear of Fort Dorset."
Approx 8.30 am Further radio message from Captain Robertson: "Slowly drifting on Point Dorset. I think she will be ashore next swing."
Approx 8.30 am Chief Engineer Wareing reports to the bridge. Captain Robertson tells him the Wahine is about to go ashore on Point Dorset, and to evacuate all personnel from the ship's engine compartments.
Approx 8.40 am Mr Luly returns to the bridge and reports to Captain Robertson about the extent of flooding he has found in his inspection of the ship. They conclude that all the Wahine's double bottom tanks are now open to the sea, and that all lower compartments except the two boiler rooms, the main turbo-alternator room and the auxiliary turbo-alternator room are fully or near-fully flooded. Water is entering the main vehicle deck.
8.40 am The Wahine is just off Point Dorset, sheering out of control just feet from the rocks. Sea conditions are so extreme that the tug Tapuhi and pilot launch Tiakina, with Deputy Harbour Master Captain Galloway aboard, cannot reach the Wahine
Somehow the Wahine avoids hitting the Point Dorset rocks, escaping this new catastrophe by the barest of margins. For the next 40 minutes she slowly drifts past Point Dorset. It is another miracle. Hugely relieved, Captain Robertson begins to gain confidence that the Wahine will survive her ordeal. He is constantly watching the ship's hull and decides she is not sinking further.
Approx 9.37 am The Wahine is now clear of Point Dorset. Captain Robertson radios: "Riding to two anchors. Not touching at all. No danger of sinking."
Approx 9.45 am The tug Tapuhi and pilot launch Tiakina are forced to run for shelter in Worser Bay as the winds and seas continue to deteriorate.
Approx 10 am Chief Engineer Wareing inspects the main turbo-alternator room after having evacuated it 90 minutes earlier. He reports to the bridge that the compartment is dry, and with Captain Robertson's assent Mr Wareing orders his engineers back. The two boilers in the forward boiler room are flashed up, producing steam for the auxiliary turbo-alternators delivering electricity to the ship. Ventilation and the main lighting comes back on in the smoke room, general lounge and cafeteria where all the passengers are assembled in their life jackets. Stewards distribute food and drinks.



Drift Chart

(c) Martin Cahill. Gratefully acknowledged to Martin Cahill and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.
This diagram researched and prepared by Martin Cahill shows the Wahine's approximate track as she drifted slowly on her anchors across Chaffers Passage and along the Fort Dorset coast, inside Wellington harbour during the morning and early afternoon of 10 April 1968. She was swinging (or sheering) from side to side through arcs of up to 130 degrees, taking her out into deep water then close among the rocks and shallow ground that is marked in shades of light grey on the diagram. Fort Dorset was, at the time, a New Zealand Army camp. Radio messages from the Wahine are shown on the diagram, as is her position where "abandon ship" took place. During that morning the Wahine's position as she drifted north was recorded on a chart on the bridge chart table, but this was lost when the Wahine sank. Martin Cahill's diagram is the most accurate representation of where the Wahine was, in the absence of this chart.


Between 10 - 11 am The storm reaches its peak - the most extreme weather ever recorded in New Zealand up until that time.
Approx 10.10 am Captain Robertson advises the Union Steam Ship Company, the Wahine's owners, that: "Forward and after thrust compartments flooded also steering flat flooded and water in engine room." A few minutes later he adds: "Flood control in hand. Steeple (Beacon) bearing north 2 degrees 3 cables." Captain Robertson makes no mention of the water on the main vehicle deck, an omission which afterwards is determined to be a serious error of judgement on his part.
Even if Captain Robertson had better appreciated the risk from the water on the main vehicle deck, there was nothing more that he or anybody aboard the Wahine could have done about it. The ship was not equipped with portable water pumps. A few of these, set to work on the main vehicle deck, would soon have cleared the flooding. There were big fixed pumps located in the boiler and turbo-alternators rooms but the hoses and couplings for these were all stored in a locker inside the propulsion motor room, which was completely flooded.

The doors along the sides of the main vehicle deck, which gave access to the compartments in the bottom of the ship, were not water-tight. Nor were the ventilation trunks that allowed air to circulate into these lower compartments from the main vehicle deck. This was all due to shortcomings in the ship's design. Water from the flooded lower compartments spilled onto the main vehicle deck via these doors and trunks. In the floor of main vehicle deck were man-holes through which this flood water could have been drained, but the tools needed to open these man-holes were also stored in the flooded propulsion motor room. The primary means for removing water off the vehicle deck was through a system of drainpipes known as scuppers, but these could be activated only in calm seas. Because of the weight of flooding inside the ship, the outlets in the ship's hull for the scuppers were now well below her waterline.

There was no ship in Wellington harbour or anywhere nearby that could reach the Wahine in the violent sea conditions that morning. The Port of Wellington was not equipped with a deep-draft salvage tug or tugs capable of going to the assistance of a vessel in distress in heavy weather.

Captain Robertson was not ignoring the water entering the main vehicle deck, as has subsequently been asserted. He was getting reports regularly from the Chief Engineer, Mr Wareing and from Mr Luly who was the Wahine's Damage Control Officer. Both men judged the flooding on the main vehicle deck to be of manageable proportions and not an immediate threat to the ship. They both now set about doing all they could to remove it.
Approx 10.30 am Chief Engineer Wareing and his engineers start work on the main vehicle deck, attempting to clear and contain the water there. Chief Officer Luly, Bosun Hampson and a party of seamen join them.
Approx 11 am Flooding on the main vehicle deck shorts out the electrical switchboard adjacent to the stern door, cutting power to the vehicle deck lights and to the mooring winches at the Wahine's stern.
Approx 11.01 am The Radio Officer, Mr Lyver, transmits: "Master advises we are quite safe and about to make fast to a tug." The Wahine has now drifted to a point just south of Steeple Beacon, a concrete tower mounted on the seafloor whose flashing light marks Steeple Rock. Wind strength, although still at hurricane force, has begun to ease.
After 11 am With visibility having improved slightly, Captain Robertson calls up the tug Tapuhi by VHF radio telephone and asks her to attempt to get a towing wire aboard the Wahine. She is now close to Worser Bay where the Tapuhi and Tiakina are sheltering.
Approx 11.30 am The Tapuhi reaches the Wahine, is manoeuvred to a position just off her stern and stands by to receive a messenger rope by line-throwing gun from the Wahine. This is successfully fired by Chief Officer Luly.
Approx 11.50 am A steel towing wire of four-and-a-half inches thickness is hauled manually onto the Wahine's stern from the Tapuhi and made fast (there is no power on the mooring winches). Towing commences. Chief Officer Luly next starts the windlass on the Wahine's foredeck to try and shorten the anchor cables. But the windlass does not have sufficient power to do this. Mr Luly reports to the bridge.
Approx 12 noon The towing wire snaps in the heavy seas before the Wahine can be brought under control by the Tapuhi.
Just after 12 noon The broken towing wire is jettisoned and the Tapuhi withdraws to the shelter of Worser Bay to prepare a second towing wire. The Wahine's stern is now directly off Steeple Beacon and swinging closer and closer to it. To add to this fresh crisis, Captain Robertson now observes that the Wahine, instead of coming promptly back upright, is beginning to hang on each roll to starboard. He orders Second Officer Shanks to keep watch on the bridge inclinometer. Captain Robertson also orders Third Officer Noblet to go below and check that all portholes and vents along the ship's hull are closed.
12.15 pm Captain John Brown, Master of the Wellington Harbour Board pilot launch Tiakina, manoeuvres the Tiakina alongside the Wahine so that Captain Galloway, Deputy Harbour Master, is able to jump aboard. He joins Captain Robertson on the Wahine's bridge and offers his assistance. The Wahine is within a few metres of Steeple Beacon, drifting very slowly past. But as with Point Dorset, she again miraculously avoids going aground. Upright all morning, the ship has now begun listing very slightly to starboard.


Steeple Rock and Light Tower

©Murray Robinson

Steeple Rock and its light tower, at right, with the Pencarrow hills and shoreline in the background. The eastern end of Seatoun Beach is at the bottom of the picture, showing just how close to land the Wahine was. Out in the entrance channel the red-hulled pilot launch Tarakena is heading south, having just passed the spot where the Wahine rolled over and sank.


12.16 pm Captain Galloway advises the Harbour Master, Captain Suckling, by radio that the Wahine is down to a draught of 22 feet with an estimated 3,500 tons of sea water inside her, and she has a slight list of 5 degrees. Her normal draught is 17 feet. The news that the Wahine has begun listing is passed to the nearby head office of the Union Steam Ship Company in Wellington.
Approx 12.30 pm Still sheering out of control on her anchor cables and waiting for the Tapuhi to return, the Wahine drifts into shallow water just to the north of Steeple Rock. Here she touches the harbour bottom. More water enters the ship as a result. Her fore-and-aft trim changes so that she goes deeper by the bow. Flood water on the main vehicle deck runs into its fore part, known as the forward garage, which up to this point has been dry. Roughly 80% of the main vehicle deck is now covered with sea water moving freely about.
Approx 12.30 pm The impact with the sea floor is felt on the bridge. Captain Robertson orders Chief Officer Luly to go below and investigate.
12.35 pm Having seen the change in the flooding that the impact has wrought, Mr Luly returns to the bridge, confers with Captain Robertson who now leaves with Mr Luly for the main vehicle deck. Captain Galloway, watching from the starboard wing of the Wahine's bridge, sees that the list is growing.
12.50 pm Captain Robertson returns to the bridge with Mr Luly after making his inspection of the main vehicle deck. The impact with the sea floor has changed everything. "Not too good" is his reply to Captain Galloway when Captain Robertson is asked about the flood situation.
1.00 pm The list is now approximately 15 degrees off the vertical. On the bridge, Captain Robertson and Captain Galloway wait anxiously as the tug Tapuhi returns for a second towing attempt. The wind, still from the south-west, has now moderated to 40 knots (74 kms per hr). Visibility has greatly improved but very heavy breaking seas are still running.
From approx 1 pm The Tapuhi is manoeuvred close under the Wahine's stern, a feat demanding great skill in the huge seas. Chief Officer Luly uses the line-throwing gun to try and get a messenger rope across to the tug. The first two attempts fail. The telephone connecting the stern with the bridge, where Captain Robertson is watching, has gone dead and so he sends Third Officer Noblet aft to inform him as soon as the towing wire is made fast.

But as Chief Officer Luly waits for the Tapuhi to get back into position again so he can re-fire the line-throwing gun, both he and Mr Noblet see that the Wahine's list has suddenly become much worse. The sea is now just below where they are standing at the ship's stern on her starboard side. Mr Luly sends Mr Noblet back to the bridge to warn Captain Robertson.

Minutes later, Mr Luly is now so alarmed by the list that he orders Mr Hampson, the Wahine's Bosun, to take over the line-throwing gun while he hurries to the bridge to confer with Captain Robertson.
Approx 1.20 pm Captain Robertson is confronted with the most terrible situation. The Wahine is now listing at 25 degrees; if she goes beyond 30 degrees the ship will capsize. The passengers and crew must urgently be evacuated but it is impossible to launch the lifeboats and life rafts in the huge breaking seas around the ship and while the Wahine continues to sheer from side to side, out of control.
On this day of miracles and tragedy another miracle is now desperately needed. Straight away it is delivered.
1.20 to 1.25 pm Caught by the easterly set of the out-flowing tide, the Wahine turns on her anchors, swinging slowly round until her bow is facing Steeple Rock. She is now lying broadside to the wind and seas so that her starboard side forms a sheltered lee. In this position, the Wahine ceases her wild sheering movement for the first time since leaving Barrett Reef. The list steadies at approximately 25 degrees.
1.25 pm Captain Robertson orders Mr Noblet to find Mr Clare the Purser and tell him to come to the bridge immediately. Next, Captain Robertson tells Second Officer Shanks to go aft to the Chief Officer. Both he and Mr Luly are to lower all four starboard-side lifeboats on their davits to B Deck, ready for embarkation of passengers. The ship's 35 inflatable life rafts are also to be launched. Captain Robertson then presses the switch controlling the alarm bells. They sound throughout the ship, one short ring followed by one long ring repeated three times in succession. This is the Morse letter "A" for "abandon", alerting the crew for what is now to happen.
1.25 pm Using the Wahine's VHF radio telephone Captain Galloway orders the tug Tapuhi to "forget the towing wire. Save life, we are abandoning ship." The rail ferry Aramoana, standing by at the Cook Strait Ferry Terminal in Wellington, sails at once to assist.
1.25 pm Captain Robertson goes to the Wahine's radio office abaft the bridge and tells Mr Lyver the Radio Officer to transmit: "Wahine to all stations: We are abandoning ship." The Purser Mr Clare arrives on the bridge with Third Officer Noblet as Captain Robertson is on his way to the radio office. Captain Robertson tells Mr Clare to broadcast that the ship is to be abandoned and all passengers are to go to the starboard side of the ship. Captain Robertson then orders Mr Noblet to take command of the starboard-side accident lifeboat and get it away from the ship immediately.
Just after 1.25 pm Mr Clare the Purser begins his announcements over the public address system: "We are abandoning ship. Would all passengers proceed to the starboard side of B Deck. The starboard side is the right hand side facing the front of the ship."
After 1.25 pm The starboard-side lifeboats are quickly lowered on their davits to B Deck and secured there. Second Officer Shanks then reports to Captain Robertson on the bridge, who orders all passengers to be placed in the boats and life rafts. Mr Luly and Mr Shanks begin embarkation. Captain Robertson tells Chief Engineer Wareing, who has also arrived on the bridge, to evacuate all ship's personnel from the main vehicle deck and the engine compartments. The auxiliary turbo-alternators supplying electricity to the ship and the boilers making steam in the forward boiler room, are all shut down.


Seatoun wharf and beach

©Murray Robinson

The old wharf at Seatoun Beach, just as it was in 1968 and photographed at low tide. The rescue effort when the Wahine was abandoned was concentrated here; the Wahine was just offshore, located between the two vertical posts on the wharf. But tragically, life rafts and hundreds of life-jacketed swimmers were carried by the seas and outflowing tide across to the Pencarrow shore on the opposite side of the harbour (just above the white wharf rails in the picture).


Approx 1.30 pm Captain Robertson leaves the bridge and goes down to A Deck forward where he assists his seamen deploying life rafts into the sea. The storm has suddenly gone, replaced by a light north-westerly gale.
1.44 pm All radio transmissions from the Wahine end.
Approx 1.55 pm Final passengers leave the Wahine. Captain Galloway, Chief Officer Luly and Second Officer Shanks check the passenger accommodation for anybody remaining on the ship. She is close to rolling over.
Just after 2.00 pm Captain Robertson returns to the bridge one last time, then makes a final search of the passenger areas for anyone left behind. He moves along the starboard side of C Deck to the Wahine's stern. Captain Robertson is the last person aboard his ship. She is almost on her beam ends.
2.10 pm Captain Robertson jumps into the sea from the Wahine's stern.
Just after 2.30 pm Very gradually the Wahine rolls onto her starboard side and floats for a minute or two in this position, before sinking to the harbour floor. She lies 800 feet south-east of Steeple Beacon, on a compass heading later fixed at 296 degrees true.
Thursday 11 April 1968
6.45 am TEV Maori, the other ship on the Wellington-Lyttelton service in 1968, arrives at the entrance to Wellington harbour after an overnight voyage from Lyttelton. Her master, Captain John Cleaver, is ordered to wait in Cook Strait until 8 am before permission is given for the Maori to enter harbour. This is because the search for bodies from the Wahine is still in progress.
Morning Roger Carter, a watch foreman with the Wellington Harbour Board, takes the Board's launch Tuna out to the wreck of the Wahine, where he becomes the first person to go back aboard after Captain Robertson jumped from the Wahine's stern the previous afternoon. He secures the Tuna between two of the Wahine's ports lifeboat davits then walks along the hull of the wreck to her stern. Here, he secures in place a battery-operated green light mounted on a vertical stanchion. It functions as a warning to ships passing the wreck at night.

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

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Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Dominion Post Collection, EP-Accidents-Sea rescue-Wahine folder, 4 of 4-01.

An often-published photo of the Wahine that was taken on 11 April 1968, the day following the disaster. The storm has vanished and Wellington harbour is calm, the weather fine and sunny. Police and Royal New Zealand Navy divers in the foreground are searching the wreck for bodies while Union Steam Ship Company personnel are checking each porthole in case there are survivors trapped inside the wreck. Oil from the Wahine's fuel tanks has already begun leaking and smearing the ship's hull. In the background is the Pencarrow coastline where so many people had struggled and died less than 24 hours previously.

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Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington New Zealand No: EP/1968/1594/2

Saturday 13 April 1968, three days following the disaster. Bodies are still coming ashore; the final count will be 51 dead, 7% of the Wahine's total complement of 734 passengers and crew. The Wahine lies on the harbour bottom, her port side above water and smeared with leaking fuel oil. The ship's masts and funnels are just below the surface of the sea. Below and abaft the wing of her bridge can be seen the portside lifeboats, stowed in their davits. They could not be used on 10 April because of the Wahine's list. At the front of her superstructure is the ladder down which the Wahine's Chief Officer and Bosun climbed, doing so in winds of over 100 knots, to release the ship's anchors while she lay aground on Barrett Reef. Above the ladder is the single window for four-berth passenger cabin number A4.

Sources:
TEV Wahine Transcript of Court of Inquiry
Statements, affidavits and exhibits placed before the Court of Inquiry (held by Archives New Zealand)
NZ Government TEV Wahine; Report of Court and Annex Thereto, November 1968
Union Steam Ship Company archives, Wellington Museum of City and Sea
Private papers of Captain H G Robertson
Conversations with Anne Robertson (Captain Robertson's wife) Noeleen Knott (Captain Robertson' sister) and Ken MacLeod (helmsman on the bridge of the Wahine during 10 April 1968)
Shipbuilding and Shipping Record, 4 August 1966
N H Brewer A Century of Style
Martin Cahill
I J Farquhar Union Fleet
A A Kirk Fair Winds and Rough Seas
M Lambert & J Hartley The Wahine Disaster
G McLauchlan (Ed) The Line that Dared
Kay McCormick
Captain John Brown
Sam Parker CEng FRINZ
Roger Carter
Auckland Star, Evening Post and Dominion newspapers

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