Wednesday, April 09, 2008
THE WAHINE DISASTER - WELLINGTON'S WORST EVER RECORDED STORM AND MARITIME TRAGEDY - LOSS OF 53 LIVES when CYCLONE GISELLE collided with massive southerly STORM FROM HELL on April 10 1968...
First published at Qassia:
On April 10 1968, the inter-island ferry from Lyttleton capsized on the rocks off Barrets Reef in Wellington Harbour during Wellington's worst recorded storm, with an eventual loss of 53 lives. It was one of New Zealand's worst ever tragedies.
The Wahine was less than two years old, having been built and delivered from Scotland. She was on her Lyttleton(Christchurch, South Island) to Wellington overnight run. Her cargo was mostly cars, 600 passengers and a crew of 125.
On this voyage to Wellington there was no idea of what lay ahead. The skies were a little overcast, the sea choppy but not rough, and there was even some mention of a Cyclone Giselle in the region.
But during the night things began to change for the worst: The seas began to build as the southerly winds increased. As she approached Wellington Harbour she met gale force winds and huge waves; she was pounded with her props coming out of the water.
When she approached Pencarrow at the Wellington Heads at 6-10 am, the winds were raging at 160km or 100 mph, visibility was extremely poor with the spray and sleat, and the high seas continued to buffet the ship. A sudden wave hit the Wahine and tore her apart and sent her careeing towards the rocks on Barrets Reef. The captain and crew fought valiantly to control the vessel. The captain then made the decision to try and leave Wellington Harbour and see out the storm in Cook Strait - but by then it was too late!
At 6-40am the Wahine hit the jagged rocks on Barrets Reef. She would eventually capsize. For the next few hours she drifted, with those shrieking winds and mountainous seas destroying her.
At 11am the tug Tapuhi managed to get lines to her, but they snapped like pieces of string. The Wahine was doomed and the captain and crew concentrated on abandoning ship and getting passengers off the Wahine. Four lifeboats full of passengers were launched, and many lifebuoys were thrown into the sea for struggling passengers, and they were followed by the crew.
The rest is history: People came ashore at nearby Seatoun Beach and over the other side of the harbour at Eastbourne over a period of many hours. Police and rescuers pulled them out of the water, many badly injured and some dead. Many a sad story has been written about them, and many more will follow.
The Wahine would lay in shallow waters by Barrets Reef for many months until it was cut up and sunk. The WORST STORM FROM HELL in Wellington's recorded history had taken a HEAVY AND DEADLY toll.