The New Zealand Herald
Wahine disaster remembered
Martin Johnston speaks to a couple whose memories of the Wahine’s movements don’t tally with official findings
Stuart and Jennifer Young had a frontrow view of the unfolding Wahine disaster.
They lived — and still live — in the southernmost house on Breaker Bay Rd. Looking out across the Wellington Harbour entrance, the shipping lights at Pencarrow Head and on the Barrett Reef buoy are roughly in line.
The Youngs have clear recollections of April 10, 1968, the day the ferry Wahine went aground on Barrett Reef and later sank further up Wellington Harbour, with the loss of 51 lives at the time and two more later.
They — and others in the area — saw the ferry doing strange and dangerous things before it ran aground, sightings through gaps in the mist that the official inquiry never quite squared with other evidence.
“It was one of the most dramatic things I have ever seen,” Stuart Young told the Herald in the lead-up to the disaster’s 50th anniversary today.
“The storm was just so outrageous. It started blowing the roof off my house.”
The disaster on the ship began about 6.10am when it swung to the left, wouldn’t go back on course and was hit by a monster wave on the left rear quarter. The radar had malfunctioned and the master, Captain Gordon Robertson, became disoriented and navigated by instinct.
He tried to turn out to sea and a new analysis of evidence by retired Cook Strait ferry master Captain John Brown indicates he nearly succeeded. But when a light was spotted roughly ahead, probably the Barrett Reef light buoy, he ordered the engines into reverse and the storm soon threw the ship on to Barrett Reef at 6.41am.
Stuart Young, an experienced sailor and avid observer of ships, told the inquiry he got up at 4.30am and saw the well-lit ship twice: at 6.20am and at 6.30am.
In the first sighting, the Wahine was between Barrett Reef and Pencarrow Head, but was heading in the wrong direction — south, out of the harbour.
This bears some resemblance to Brown’s findings, although the timings don’t match.