19 April 2013

Wahine Storm - April 1968

It seems a long time ago but recent news recollections produced a few recollections of my own about the Wahine Storm in April 1968.

Farm Implement Shed at Wallaceville
I'd gone to work, at Wallacevile Animal Research Station, as usual.  Nothing seemed amiss. Later in the morning I was made aware, by the wind outside and from others who said that there was a major storm happening and that there were reports of the interisland ferry, Wahine, being in trouble. I went outside later in the morning and from the greenery damage about the place decided I should check up on Catherine, David (about 22 months) and Warren (about 2 months) who were only about half a kilometer away on a Station house. I arrived to find everyone OK but several trees had blown down across our southern boundary only a couple of metres from the house. Someone had said that the roof had blown off a motor assembly plant not far from the back of Wallaceville so I thought I'd investigate.

Windfall at Wallaceville Picnic Area
As I drove in our VW Beetle towards the back of the Station I found a man struggling with the wind. He was trying to get home from the roofless factory. I told him to get in and offered to drive him home - he didn't live far from the Station. He directed me to his street and when I asked him which was his house he said - "the one with the tree growing out of the roof". Sure enough the only house in the street growing a tree was his.

A day or so later (I was part of a mountain search and rescue group) I was asked to help search the coast for any of the 51 bodies. We didn't find any but I did manage to  get a photo of the Lady Elizabeth, the harbour police launch rescuing  another boat from some rocks - my photo made the Dominion newspaper and I made a few pounds - as money was referred to in those days. And there was much debris along the coast.

Lady Elizabeth Rescuing Boat

Wahine Debris

Wahine Lifeboat Beached

Forty years later my printmaking tutor, Joan Travaglia, told me that she had been on the Wahine that day when it foundered in Wellington Harbour. She died just over a year ago.  Since that time in Wellington I've done some boating and yachting and find it hard to imagine  the Captain of the Waihine doing anything to have saved the situation, such was the sudden onslaught of the storm at the entrance to Port Nicholson.

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