Rarely if ever in maritime history have high-quality colour photos been taken of a ship in the exact same waters where, a few months later, she will be caught in a disastrous storm and sink with great loss of life. This photo is the first of an exceptional sequence showing the Wahine steaming into Wellington harbour near the end of a daylight sailing in January 1968. Moving from right to left, the Wahine is seen in this and the following six photos as she passes Point Dorset on the western side of the entrance channel. She is under the command of Captain Gordon Robertson. The hills of the Pencarrow coast, where 47 of her passengers and crew died on 10 April 1968, are behind the Wahine.

The Wahine steaming past the white-painted tower of Steeple light beacon, at right, and into Wellington harbour after having passed through the harbour's entrance channel. On 10 April 1968, just three months after this photo was taken, she rolled onto her starboard side and sank in a position just to the left of where she is in this photo. This set of seven 35mm colour transparencies were taken on Ektachrome film in January 1968 by Warwick W.G. Pryce, and are his copyright. They were scanned by Imagelab of Wellington in June 2013.


Wahine Painting

EV Wahine. Painting in ink and acrylics by Murray Robinson, 2003

Close-up photo of Murray Robinson's painting of the Wahine. The painting measures 1 x 0.5 metres.

T.E.V. Wahine (Turbine Electric Vessel) was a drive-on passenger ship owned by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. Of 8,944 gross tonnage, she was built on the River Clyde in Scotland by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd of Govan, Glasgow for her owner's "Steamer Express" service between Wellington and Lyttelton.

Established in 1895, this service no longer operates, having been discontinued in 1976. Up until 10 April 1968 it was maintained by two ships. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. the Wahine departed Wellington for the overnight voyage between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, arriving at Lyttelton next morning at 7 a.m. She would then sail back to Wellington the following night. Her partner on the Steamer Express service, the smaller and older Maori (7,498 gross tons, built 1953) ran in the opposite direction, leaving Lyttelton on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, passing the Wahine during the night before reaching Wellington next morning. There were no sailings on Sunday evenings. During Christmas and holiday peak times, extra daylight crossings were made in addition to the overnight schedule. Throughout the many decades since 1895 the Steamer Express service had gained a world-wide reputation for its very high standards of comfort, reliability and efficiency.

In October 1964 the Union Steam Ship Company invited tenders from eleven British shipyards to build the Wahine. She was to replace their Hinemoa which, after just 18 years on the Steamer Express, would now be retired early to make way for a new drive-on ship. On 25 February 1964 the tender submitted by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd of Glasgow was accepted. Three weeks later, on 18 March 1964, the contract to build the Wahine was signed for a fixed price of 3,042,175 pounds Sterling. The new ship was known as Hull Number 830 until 5 June 1964 when her chosen name Wahine, meaning "woman" or "wife" in the Maori language, was announced.

She was built in prefabricated sections that were assembled on the building berth by welding them together. This was a very new method in those days, as ships had traditionally been built by erecting steel frames and girders and then riveting steel plates to them to form the hull and superstructure. On 14 September 1964 the very first double bottom section was lifted into position. By mid-1965 the hull was fully complete and the ship's boilers and engines had been placed aboard. Launching took place on the afternoon of Wednesday 14 July 1965, the Wahine going down the slipway into the River Clyde after her sponsor, Mrs Tui Macfarlane, wife of the Union Steam Ship Company's Managing Director Mr F K Macfarlane, released a bottle of champagne across the Wahine's bows. Once afloat, she was moved by tugs to the fitting-out berth at Fairfields, where her construction would be finished. The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was, at the time, short of up to 400 skilled tradesmen out of a total workforce of nearly 3,000, and at the celebratory dinner following the launch Mr James Lenaghan, the company's Managing Director, advised that the Wahine would not be ready by the 31 October 1965 date specified in her building contract.

An aerial view showing the Govan shipyard of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd and the marine engine works of Fairfield-Rowan Ltd, on the south bank of the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. The photo looks east and up-river and shows the Number Two Building Berth where the Wahine was built, and from where she was launched. At bottom right is the fitting-out basin into which the Wahine was towed after her launch, and where she was completed. The long curving wharf and large buildings on the opposite bank of the river are those of the Meadowside Granary, where ships discharged grain cargoes. (With thanks to Sam Parker CEng FRINA).

For most of the Twentieth Century the Clyde was one of the World's largest centres of heavy engineering and shipbuilding. Over thirty shipyards were located there, and in the early 1960s the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was among the oldest and most prominent. Originally founded in Glasgow in 1852, Fairfields had established its shipyard at Govan on the Clyde 12 years later in 1864 and, during the next one hundred years produced ships for owners throughout the British Empire, as well as many warships for the Royal Navy. Its facilities had been modernised during the late 1950s at a cost of £4 million, a very substantial figure at the time.

Advertisements for the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd, published in a magazine called The Motor Ship during the 1950s.

© Wellington City Archives (Union Steam Ship Company collection)

Gratefully acknowledged to the Wellington City Archives and not to be reproduced without their prior permission.

The Wahine, Yard Number 830, under construction on the Number Two Building Berth in the shipyard of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd at Govan, Glasgow, in early 1965. The River Clyde is at left while at right, beside the Wahine, another ship is under construction. Building of the Wahine has progressed as far as A Deck, with the Captain's Deck and bridge yet to be erected. The hull is being painted and already the name "Wahine" can be seen at her stern.

© Wellington City Archives (Union Steam Ship Company collection) Gratefully acknowledged to the Wellington City Archives and not to be reproduced without their prior permission.

Looking across the top of Number Two Building Berth inside the shipyard of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd, showing the Wahine on the slipway where she was built. The River Clyde is at left, out of the picture, and the time is late morning or early afternoon on Wednesday 14 July 1965. The Wahine is to be launched that same afternoon, and already crowds of shipyard workers are gathering for the event. At far left is one of the electric travelling cranes mounted on rail tracks that were used to lift the steel frames, plates, beams and girders for constructing the Wahine. This particular crane had a lifting capacity of up to 40 tons. Two more cranes can be seen at right, on the opposite side of the slipway. The box-like machinery cab of one of them is above the Wahine's name, while its jib is just ahead of her foremast. At lower right, directly in front of the Wahine's forefoot, is the launch platform with its sides decorated in striped canvas. Here, directors and senior executives of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company will assemble with their invited guests as the moment of launch draws near. Exact timing will depend on when the tide on the river is at its highest; officials standing at the river's edge will be monitoring this closely.

Foremost among the VIPs who will shortly climb the steps to the launch platform is Mrs Tui Macfarlane, wife of Mr F. K. Macfarlane. He was, from 1963 until retirement in 1973, chairman and managing director the Union Steam Ship Company, the Wahine's owner. Mrs Macfarlane was the Wahine's "sponsor," a role given traditionally to a great lady who, from the front of the launch platform, announces the name of the new ship, swings a bottle of champagne across her bow and then watches as the ship begins sliding down the ways, dropping off the way-ends and into the water. The platform has a glass front and a glass roof in case proceedings are dampened by rain. Shipyard managers accompanied by their wives wait beside the foot of the stairway for arrival of the official party. Launch days were always times of great merriment and celebration for shipyard employees and their families but, on this occasion, it is quite probable that some of the gentlemen waiting beside the steps already knew this launch could be their last. The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, with origins dating as far back as 1834, was just 90 days away from receivership when this photo was taken.

© Wellington City Archives (Union Steam Ship Company collection)
Gratefully acknowledged to the Wellington City Archives and not to be reproduced without their prior permission.

Launch day, Wednesday 14 July 1965. Standing at the front of the glass-enclosed launch platform, Mrs Tui Macfarlane has just spoken the words "I name this ship Wahine...." and has released a bottle of champagne across the Wahine's bow. Launching an ocean-going vessel like the Wahine followed a procedure developed over many generations of shipbuilding in Great Britain. It required very great skill, timing and co-ordination. The weight of the ship is borne by two parallel sliding ways or tracks that incline towards the river. These can be seen in the photo. The sliding ways have been heavily greased with tallow. They in turn rest on a massive support structure beneath them, known as the standing ways. In the hours preceding the launch, the last of the timber shores bracing and holding the Wahine in place on the sliding ways are knocked clear, one-by-one. Once all these timber shores have gone, counter-weights are applied and these are all that restrain the Wahine from slipping prematurely down into the river, before the moment of launch. She is watched constantly to ensure no movement occurs.

The counter-weights in turn are held in position by small timber shores known as "daggers". As Mrs Macfarlane begins her speech a bell is rung and warning lights flash at each of the dagger stations. Shipwrights then knock clear these timber shores and take out securing pins on the counter-weights. Electro-magnets now hold the counter-weights in position. Teenage apprentice shipwrights, known as "dagger boys", then run as fast as they can from each of the dagger stations, up the building berth to the launch platform. Here, each dagger boy shows the pin and the timber shore that he has carried with him, to the officials responsible for the launch. This is to verify that all the counter-weights are free of their daggers and securing pins. The dagger boys must all run as swiftly as they can - this was known as "the dagger race". When all of them have reached the launch platform Mrs Macfarlane will be at the end of her speech. The officials, having confirmed all the dagger boys have arrived, turn to Mrs Macfarlane who then strikes a mallet (later presented to her). A champagne bottle decorated with Fairfields and Union Steam Ship Company flags is let go and smashes against the Wahine's steel bow. Simultaneously, a button is pushed to cut the electrical circuit to the electro-magnets, so that the counter-weights are now released. Hydraulic rams positioned on the floor of the building berth are activated by shipwrights who have watched the champagne bottle for the instant it breaks. Firing of the hydraulic rams delivers the necessary push to the hull, and down the ways she goes. As the Wahine drops off the way-ends and enters the river a few seconds after this photo was taken, heavy drag chains attached to the hull and laid out alongside her will leap into the air and slow then stop her sternwards movement. This is to prevent the ship colliding with the opposite river bank. The drag chains can be seen in the photo, heaped up along the sides of the building berth.

Part of one of the hydraulic rams can be seen at the bottom centre of the photo. Some of the Clydeside men who built the Wahine have run forward to watch. The white-painted structures on each side of the Wahine's forefoot (or lower bow) are the port and starboard fore-poppets. Made of heavy timber, these function like cradles to support the hull on its journey to the river, and also take the crushing load as the stern lifts on becoming water-borne. The poppets are designed to fall away as the Wahine's bow leaves the slipway. Seconds after this photo was taken, the fore poppets broke from their mountings and somersaulted through the air, but no damage was done to the ship.
(With thanks to Ian Scott and to Sam Parker)

© Wellington City Archives (Union Steam Ship Company collection)
Gratefully acknowledged to the Wellington City Archives and not to be reproduced without their prior permission.

The Wahine afloat for the very first time, just after 2.30 pm on 14 July 1965, immediately after her successful launch. Timber from the fore-poppets can be seen floating in the river under her bow. The tug at her stern is manoeuvring the Wahine into the fitting-out berth at the Fairfields shipyard, where she will be completed. Towering over the ship is the giant hammerhead crane used by Fairfields for lifting boilers and engines into ships at the fitting-out berth. The Wahine was launched with her boilers and engines already installed. Even in her incomplete state the graceful lines of the new ship are apparent.

All shipping traffic on the River Clyde has been halted for the launch. Shipping movements on the river were controlled by a body called the Clyde Navigation Trust. Launching of ships always took place in the afternoon at high tide. Before the appointed time, motor launches belonging to the Trust went up and down the river displaying red flags each atop a long pole. This was to warn vessels on the river that they must stop. Assisted by Fairfields, the Clyde Navigation Trust was also responsible for clearing away floating debris, such as the fore-poppets, left on the river after the launch. For this purpose their motor launches (one can be seen in the above photo ahead of the Wahine's bow) would move around pulling timber out of the water and scooping up tallow (called "slum") floating on the river surface. The motor launches were crewed by boatmen from the western islands of Scotland and so they were irreverently known as "the Skye Navy".
(With thanks to Ian Scott)

© Ian Scott. Gratefully acknowledged to Ian Scott (at left, above) and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

This very rare old photo was taken on the floor of the building berth at Fairfields shipyard on the day the Wahine was launched. The two men are apprentice shipwrights; they are standing at one of the dagger stations. The "dagger" itself is the small, white-painted timber shore at knee level. Between the two men can be seen part of the standing and sliding ways. The black area above and behind them is the underwater hull of the Wahine.

At the time of her launch the Wahine was the sixth ship and the largest to date built for the Wellington-Lyttelton Steamer Express Service. She was the first to be constructed with a stern door and drive-on vehicle decks. She was also, at the time, the world's largest drive-on vehicle and passenger ship. Four hundred and ninety feet long from the forward tip of her bow to her stern, and with a beam at its widest point of 71 feet, the Wahine's draught when fully loaded with passengers, cargo and fuel was 17 feet five inches.

The new ship was still far from complete when, three months after her launch, the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was placed in receivership on the afternoon of Friday 15 October 1965. The contract to build the Wahine was terminated as a result. All work on the Wahine ceased that day, with no prospect of it being resumed in the immediate future. Faced with a now deserted, half-finished ship, the Union Steam Ship Company moved to find another ship builder with whom a new contract for finishing her could be arranged. Union Company staff standing-by the Wahine at Fairfields were instructed to compile lists of all the work still needing to be done on the ship. Negotiations began with Harland & Wolff Ltd at Belfast, Northern Island, it being proposed to tow the Wahine across the Irish Sea to their shipyard. This was, however, forestalled when a new company called Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd was formed by the receivers in November 1965. Work on the Wahine recommenced after a fresh contract was signed on 6 January 1966. But a succession of promised delivery dates were not met. She was eventually completed in mid-May 1966, seven months late. On 27 May the Wahine was taken to sea for the very first time, to run her trials in the Firth of Clyde. For this she was under the command of a master and qualified pilot hired by Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd from the Clyde Port Authority.

© Jim Pottinger. Gratefully acknowledged to Jim Pottinger and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

Late May 1966 and brand-new, just a day or two after she was completed, the Wahine alongside at Greenock prior to going to sea for her trials in the Firth of Clyde.

© Sam Parker CEng FRINA. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

This photo looking aft over the port-side lifeboats was taken from the bridge of the Wahine while she was on her endurance trials in the Firth of Clyde. Ailsa Craig is the pinnacle-like island on the far horizon. The endurance trials were part of the builder's trials and involved 12 hours of continuous high speed steaming, the purpose of which was to assess fuel consumption and demonstrate the overall reliability of the Wahine's engines. This was the first occasion on which the Wahine's boilers, steam turbines, alternators and propulsion motors would have been run at high power for any length of time while at sea, since they were manufactured and installed in the ship.

© Sam Parker CEng FRINA. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be repreoduced without his prior permission.

Looking along the starboard side of the brand-new Wahine, photographed in the dry dock at Govan on the River Clyde, where she was built.

Photo acknowledged to Glasgow City Archives.

Photo acknowledged to Glasgow City Archives.

TEV Wahine on her builder's full power trials in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, 14 June 1966, immediately after she was completed. These photos convey what a truly beautiful ship the Wahine was.

During the short voyage from Greenock out to the measured mile off Arran, where the trials were to be conducted, the Wahine was unofficially clocked at a top speed of 22.4 knots (41.5 km per hr). But when she was just to the south of Little Cumbrae Island in the Clyde Estuary, one of the two main turbine condensers failed. The condensers' function was to take low-pressure steam which had passed through the turbines, and convert it back into feed-water for the boilers. This was essential for the production of steam, and without its condenser the turbine had to be shut down. This meant the Wahine's engines could not develop full power, necessary for the trials to proceed, and so they were aborted. A tug was summoned from Greenock to tow her back to port, and in the meantime the Wahine came into the Largs Channel, away from the main shipping route. She dropped anchor near Hunterston power station. To compound the day's mishaps, one of the anchor's flukes snagged the undersea telephone cable linking the seaside town of Rothesay. There was no lifting gear on the Wahine's foredeck, and so it was necessary to jury-rig a means for extricating the anchor without severing the telephone cable. This took several hours while waiting for the tug to arrive.

A further wait of 16 days elapsed while the condenser was dismantled and repaired. The Wahine put to sea again on 14 June 1966 and all was going well until "emergency stop engines" was ordered from the bridge, as part of the trials. The main electrical switchboard tripped out as soon as current to the propulsion motors was broken. This in turn resulted in loss of steam pressure to the turbines, before the switchboard could be reactivated. The surveyors from the British Department of Trade, who were observing the trials, reduced the maximum current that the main switchboard was permitted to handle, to avoid it tripping again in this way during an emergency stop. As a result, the switchboard could no longer deliver full power to the motors to enable them to reach 22 knots of speed. This in turn meant the Wahine reached only 21.7 knots (40.2 km per hr) below the contract speed of 22 knots.

Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd prepared to do further work on the Wahine but by now, with completion of the new ship nearly eight months behind schedule, the Union Steam Ship Company's management had had enough. Satisfied that the company's technical staff could rectify the electrical problems once the ship had reached New Zealand, they decided to accept the Wahine without further holdup, doing so at 12 noon on 18 June 1966. The company was right to proceed as such, for the Wahine was a brand-new ship and the breakdowns during her trials were not a matter for surprise. Her machinery was all new, high performing and very complex - much more so than ships fitted with diesel engines. All of it had to be made to function in unison, and achieving this could not be expected the first time the ship put to sea. Teething problems were inevitable but if the Wahine remained any longer with her builders in Scotland, there was a strong likelihood she might not get to New Zealand and be ready in time for the 1966 Christmas peak season. Other aspects of the trial had proved very successful; in particular the Wahine was found to be highly manoeuvrable, turning immediately when the helm was put 'hard over' in either direction, then straightening up on her new heading as soon as 'amidships' was ordered.

At 11.30 am the following morning, Sunday 19 June 1966, the Wahine left on her delivery voyage to New Zealand, sailing from Greenock on the River Clyde for Panama, across the Atlantic. There were 64 officers and crew aboard but no passengers or cargo. She was under the command of Captain EKG Meatyard, her Chief Engineer was Mr H Wareing, and Mr R McMillan was the Chief Officer (First Mate). But after steaming only 189 miles, problems with overheating in one of the main turbines forced the ship to put about and return to Greenock, where she anchored at 12.45 am on 20 June 1966. Repairs were carried out by Fairfields personnel and the Wahine departed again that afternoon. After 34 days at sea, having called for bunkers (oil fuel and water) at Balboa on the Pacific coast of Panama and then at Papeete on the island of Tahiti, she arrived in Wellington harbour on Sunday 24 July 1966. That afternoon she was opened to the public and thousands came to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, where the Wahine was berthed, to see her.

On the night of Monday 1 August 1966, with Captain Meatyard as Master, the Wahine made her first sailing from Wellington to Lyttelton. Mr Wareing continued as her Chief Engineer while Mr R S Luly was promoted from the Maori to be Chief Officer of the Wahine. Mr McMillan remained aboard as Extra Chief Officer. The Wahine's sponsor, Mrs Tui Macfarlane, who had launched the Wahine in Glasgow just over a year before, was aboard for this maiden commercial voyage along with 457 other passengers, 45 cars, 80 trade vehicles and 19 freight trucks. Departure from Wellington was held up for 45 minutes because of a fault with the hydraulic mechanism that raised and lowered the stern door. But next morning, exactly to schedule and after an uneventful trip in calm weather, the Wahine entered a mist-shrouded Lyttelton harbour and berthed stern-first at the Steamer Express terminal, Number 2 West Jetty, precisely at 6.49 a.m.

Later that morning she was dressed overall with flags for an official welcome to the port by Mr L G Amos, Chairman of the Lyttelton Harbour Board. Across the wharf from her at Number 2 East Jetty was the 10,590 grt British cargo vessel City of Winchester of Ellerman Lines, under the command of Captain A. Frame. The City of Winchester was loading cargo after arriving from Timaru.

As part of the welcome festivities for the new ship the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Bernard Fergusson, accompanied by Lady Fergusson, were guests of the directors of the Union Steam Ship Company for a luncheon held aboard the Wahine on 17 August 1966. Two days later the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rt Hon Keith Holyoake, visited the ship for a reception in the Wahine's smoke room along with several of his cabinet ministers, their wives and the mayors of Wellington and Lower Hutt.

The voyage from Scotland was the only occasion during her short life that the Wahine went deep sea (crossing oceans out of sight of land). At the time of her loss on 10 April 1968 she had been in service for just over 20 months.

© Sam Parker CEng FRINA. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

The Wahine berthed at Princes Pier, Greenock in Scotland. It was from here that she departed on her long voyage around the world to New Zealand.

The Wahine in Wellington harbour for the very first time, early afternoon on Sunday 24 July 1966 at the completion of her delivery voyage from Scotland. She is dressed overall in flags for her arrival and has anchored in the stream while customs and health formalities are carried out. The ship passing the Wahine at right is the Cook Strait rail ferry Aranui, also brand-new having entered service just seven weeks earlier.

Once customs and health clearances had been given, the Wahine weighed anchor and steamed slowly towards the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Wellington's inner harbour, from where this photo was taken on Sunday afternoon 24 July 1966.

The Wahine tied up alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Wellington's inner harbour. Sunday afternoon 24 July 1966.

All three colour photos by Mrs Edith Beck.

During and after 1968 there was much speculation that the Wahine had been poorly built, and that this had contributed to her loss. The fact that she remained afloat, upright and intact after the damage inflicted to her lower hull while aground on Barrett Reef, and that she did so while in extreme wind and sea conditions, proves this notion to be false. Her survival after Barrett Reef is testimony to the strength of her construction and the great skill of the Clydeside men who built her. The Union Steam Ship Company's management, however, had good reason to be disappointed with the performance of her builders. The Wahine had failed to reach her contract speed of 22 knots and the lateness of her completion meant she had not been ready, as intended, for the 1965 Christmas holiday peak season. Also, numerous leaks and defects were found in the ship's high pressure steam plant and these had to be rectified by the company's own engineering staff following the Wahine's arrival in Wellington. Problems continued for the remainder of 1966 and at one point a special team of engineers was assigned to the ship to help deal with them. All of the faults were traced to inferior workmanship on the part of the Wahine's engine builders. Initially the Union Steam Ship Company sought £602,000.00 compensation from Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd for breach of contract. In late March 1967, after many months of negotiation, compensation of £50,000.00 was finally agreed and subsequently paid by Fairfields.

The Certificate of Survey issued to the Wahine by the Marine Department of New Zealand classed her as a home trade passenger ship, while under Lloyds Register of Shipping she was rated as "Plus 100 A1 Ferry". Big, fine-looking and beautifully proportioned with her curved bow, raked masts and tall funnel, the Wahine embodied her owner's hopes for great commercial success through the introduction of drive-on facilities. Before this, passengers travelling with their cars on the Steamer Express had them hoisted aboard one-by-one using the ship's derricks, a time-consuming and labour-intensive process. Ships such as the 6,911 ton Hinemoa, which the Wahine replaced, had only limited space on their decks for the transport of cars and by the early 1960s could not keep up with demand. The change to drive-on required very substantial capital investment. In addition to the expense of building the new ship, the 12 year old Maori had in 1965 been sent to a Hong Kong shipyard to be rebuilt with a stern door and vehicle deck. New terminals with link spans had also been constructed at both Lyttelton and Wellington.

The Wahine had space on her vehicle decks for up to 200 cars, trucks and Seafreighter trailers. Seafreighters were tarpaulin-covered pallets mounted on wheeled trailers and loaded with general cargo. They were towed aboard by special tractors. Her main vehicle deck, accessed through the ship's stern door, extended the full width of the ship and was 380 feet (115.8 metres) long, reaching from the Wahine's stern to within 90 feet (27.5 metres) of the ship's bow. When at her loaded draught of 17 feet five inches (5.3 metres) the floor of the Wahine's main vehicle deck at the ship's stern was approximately five feet (1.5 metres) above the waterline. Amidships it was approximately 3 feet 6 inches (1 metre) above the waterline.

On the deck immediately above the main vehicle deck was a second and smaller parking area known as the upper garage, with space for approximately 50 cars. Vehicles were driven to and from the upper garage using two fixed ramps positioned against the ship's hull on the port and starboard sides of the main vehicle deck. The upper garage was 96 feet (29.3 metres) long and, like the main vehicle deck, extended across the full width of the ship. Unlike the main vehicle deck, the upper garage had windows along its sides.


© Sam Parker CEng FRINA. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

These three remarkable photos were taken inside the Wahine's main vehicle deck by Mr Sam Parker, a young naval architect who worked on the Wahine throughout her building. The top photo shows almost the entire length of the main vehicle deck with the photographer standing just inside the stern door. Final construction work is still in progress. The large structure at left is one of two moveable ramps used to access the portable car deck that was secured to the top of the main vehicle deck at its aft end, where there was 18 feet 6 inches of headroom. This portable car deck was intended for use during peak holiday seasons and could be lowered into position in sections as and when needed.

In the second photo the starboard ramp by which cars drove to and from the upper garage, is at right. There was an identical ramp on the port side of the main vehicle deck. The engine casing is at left and the forward garage is in the distance. On the morning of 10 April 1968 the deck area in the foreground, beside the ramp, was covered with seawater sloshing about with the movement of the ship.

The bottom photo is the Wahine's forward garage. The sides of the garage at left and right curve in towards the ship's bow, which lies behind the bulkhead at the far end of the garage. The sides and deckhead of the forward garage and the main vehicle deck were painted a pale green.

In addition to vehicles, the Wahine could accommodate 924 passengers in a total of 381 cabins spread over six decks. Fifty-five of these were single berth cabins, 213 were two berth, 21 were three berth, and 90 were four berth cabins. The ship also had two 12 berth dormitory-type cabins on F Deck. Included in the 213 two berth cabins were two luxury suites on B Deck. Flourescent lighting was fitted throughout the passenger accommodation, the Wahine being the first ship in the Union Steam Ship Company's fleet to have this feature. She also had passenger lifts, television and a stabilisation system to dampen rolling movement while at sea. All of these similarly were firsts for a Union Company vessel.

The Wahine had three public rooms for her passengers. Amidships on B Deck was a lounge bar known as the Smoke Room, with seating for 158 patrons. Adjacent to this at the after end of B Deck was the Cafeteria, with large windows providing views over the Wahine's stern. This room had seating for 165 diners. Here passengers could obtain counter-style meals and also have breakfast prior to leaving the ship at the end of the overnight voyage.

Directly above the Cafeteria, at the after end of A Deck, was the General Lounge. It similarly had large panoramic windows giving extensive views out over the sea. Furnished with television and comfortable seating, it was designed for use by families with children, together with passengers wanting an alternative setting to the Smoke Room in which to relax.

The Wahine was a twin-screw ship powered by steam-driven, turbine-electric machinery. In keeping with other ships having the same type of propulsion system, she was known as T.E.V. Wahine - turbine electric vessel. Her engine spaces occupied five of the ship's 14 water-tight compartments situated below the main vehicle deck. Nearest to the bow were the ship's two boiler rooms: the forward boiler room and the aft boiler room. Each had two water-tube marine boilers that burned oil fuel to make high pressure steam at 615 pounds per square inch, heated to 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Three of the four boilers were sufficient to deliver steam required for maximum power, allowing one boiler to be shut down at any time for routine maintenance.

Aft of the boiler rooms was the auxiliary turbo-alternator room. Here, steam from the boilers was fed into three turbines each of which was coupled directly to an alternator that produced electricity. Known as turbo-alternators, they had a maximum running speed of 8,518 rpm and an electrical output of 650 kilowatts (kW) each. Two of the three turbo-alternators supplied the electricity for the Wahine's domestic needs - the lighting and power for her passenger accommodation, crew's quarters, galley, winches, pumps, ventilation fans, bridge, vehicle decks and so on. The third was used when manoeuvring in harbour to power the bow thrusters, which were larger than those at the Wahine's stern and required their own dedicated turbo-alternator. In addition to her thrusters, the Wahine was fitted with a bow rudder to assist with steering when the ship was being reversed into her berth at the interisland terminals in Wellington and Lyttelton.

The next compartment aft of the auxiliary turbo-alternator room was the main turbo-alternator room. This was the largest and foremost of the Wahine's engine spaces for it was where the two big turbines, supplying power to move the ship, were located. Each turbine received steam from the boilers and could produce a maximum 9,000 shaft horse power (shp) at 3,080 revolutions per minute (rpm). Cruising speed for the turbines was 6,000 shp at 2,690 rpm. As with the much smaller units in the auxiliary turbo-alternator room, each turbine was coupled to an alternator and these each generated 6,900 kW of electricity. Access to this room was by ladder from the main vehicle deck directly above.

The aft-most of the engine spaces was the compartment known as the propulsion motor room. The electricity produced by the turbo-alternators in the main turbo-alternator room was delivered to the two electric motors in this compartment, each of which drove one of the Wahine's two propellers. The electric motors each had a maximum rating of 9,000 shp at 220 rpm. The propellers they turned were four-bladed, 12 feet (3.55 metres) in diameter and weighed about 5 tons. In service the Wahine travelled at an average speed of 17 knots (31.5 kms per hour), giving her a large reserve of speed to compensate when needed because of holdups from adverse weather or a late departure from port. Although designed to make a top speed of 22 knots, during her short life the Wahine never exceeded the 21.7 knots she achieved on her trials.

The Wahine's machinery was intended to give her the high manoeuvring ability and high astern power needed when turning and reversing each morning into the inter-island terminals at Wellington and Lyttelton. Her engines were controlled by the ship's engineers from the engine control platform, which was located in the main turbo-alternator room. It was to here that all orders for engine speeds were communicated from the Wahine's bridge. Fully enclosed and positioned near the centre of the ship, the bridge was designed to give maximum visibility forward and aft in all weathers.

On her boat decks the Wahine was equipped with eight lifeboats each made of fibreglass and capable of between them holding a maximum of 694 people. At 26 feet (7.9 metres) in length the two forward lifeboats, mounted on their davits just abaft and below the port and starboard wings of the bridge, were smaller than the remaining six. Known as the "accident boats", their purpose was recover anyone who fell overboard and, in an evacuation of the ship, to tow the other lifeboats and their passengers to safety. For these purposes they both were fitted with a 15 horse power diesel motor. When loaded, the accident boats could each take up to 50 people.

The other six lifeboats were 31 feet (9.45 metres) long and designed to hold up to 99 people each. They were equipped with hand-propelling gear comprising a series of vertical levers connected to a shaft in the bottom of the boat. When moved from side to side by the boat's occupants, the levers cranked the shaft which in turn drove a propeller at the boat's stern.

In addition to the eight lifeboats, the Wahine was the first ship on the Steamer Express service to be equipped with inflatable life rafts. Thirty-six were carried aboard the ship, stored under large double-backed wooden seats at the forward and after ends of A Deck. Each life raft could accommodate 25 people or a total of 900 between all 36 of them. They were lowered into the water from the ship by means of four small cranes positioned forward on A Deck under the bridge wings and aft on A Deck outboard of the General Lounge.

On C Deck right at the stern of the Wahine were four timber flotation rafts, each with a 20 person capacity. These four rafts plus the eight lifeboats and the 36 inflatable life rafts could accommodate a total of 1,674 people. The Wahine's total passengers and crew by comparison numbered 1,052. A total of 1,224 lifejackets were provided for use in an emergency. One hundred of these were specifically for children, the remainder were for adults weighing 70 pounds or more.

Captain Meatyard remained in command of the Wahine for her first three months on the Steamer Express service. His tenure was marred by a series of engine breakdowns and, on the evening of 24 September 1966, a major incident when the Wahine was blown away from the wharf by strong wind gusts while at Lyttelton embarking passengers. Three people fell from a gangway and had to be rescued out of the sea. A month later 63 cabins on C Deck, many of them occupied by sleeping passengers, were flooded when a hot water line broke. Captain Meatyard retired on Sunday 30 October 1966, handing over command of the Wahine next morning to her second and final Master. His name was Captain H G Robertson.

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

The Wahine steaming through the entrance to Wellington harbour at the conclusion of a daytime voyage from Lyttelton. When the contact to build her was signed, the Union Steam Ship Company intended the Wahine to be in service ready for the peak holiday season of Christmas-New Year 1965-66. But the delays in her completion meant this plan was not fulfilled. The Wahine served only two summers on the Wellington-Lyttelton run: 1966-67 and 1967-68. December and January - summer and the long school holidays in New Zealand - was always the busiest time and the normal overnight sailings were supplemented with daytime trips. This superb photo was taken late on one such summer afternoon. Captain Robertson is on the bridge. Pencarrow Head can be seen just above the Wahine's funnel top. Passengers crowd the rails. On clearing Lyttelton harbour that morning the throttles controlling the Wahine's port and starboard main turbines would have been opened and the ship worked up to her full speed of 21 knots. This allowed the ship to reach Wellington with sufficient time to disembark passengers and their cars then prepare for the over-night sailing back to Lyttelton at 8 pm.


These four advertisements were part of a special feature in the The Dominion newspaper on 1st August 1966, welcoming the brand-new Wahine to Wellington.

In 1968 the Wahine's partner on the overnight Wellington-Lyttelton Steamer Express Service was the smaller and older Maori; on 10 April 1968 she was under the command of Captain John Cleaver. TEV Maori is shown in the above photo, berthed at Wellington along with the Wahine. After the Wahine's loss the 1953-built Maori maintained the Steamer Express service on her own with a combination of night-time and daylight sailings. But with just one ship the service was never quite the same. When the Rangatira, built to replace the Wahine, arrived in March 1972 the Union Steam Ship Company decided to continue one ship operations on the Wellington-Lyttelton run. The Maori, only 19 years old, was retired and and eventually sold for scrap in 1974. TEV Rangatira lasted only until September 1976 when mounting financial losses resulted in the ending of the Wellington-Lyttelton Steamer Express service. Stephen Berry collection.

A corner of the port of Wellington on a tranquil Sunday afternoon, with some of the ships involved in the story of the Wahine. In the foreground is the tug Tapuhi. Shortly before midday on 10 April 1968 the Tapuhi attempted to tow the disabled Wahine then at around 3.15 p.m. she returned to the Inter-Island Wharf, at right in this photo, with 174 of the Wahine's 634 passengers and crew aboard. Behind the Tapuhi, on the northern side of the tug wharf, is her sister tug Taioma. Both tugs were steam powered and normally only one of the pair was kept in a state of readiness. The Taioma boilers were cold on 10 April 1968 when, at 6.41 a.m., the Wahine radioed her SOS distress call after striking Barrett Reef. Engineers then attempted to raise steam as quickly as possible, a process known as "forcing the boilers." But by the time the Taioma had built up sufficient steam pressure to leave the tug wharf, she was too late to be of any assistance to the Wahine. The white-hulled vessel behind the Taioma's stern, at far right, is the motor scow Success and behind her is the Wellington Harbour Board's hopper dredge Kerimoana with her tall black funnel and grey-painted wheelhouse. She and the floating crane Hikitia, whose crane jib can be seen above the brown wharf sheds, were employed throughout the cutting up and removal of the Wahine. Also above the shed roof at right of the picture is the tripod mainmast of TEV Maori, with the red flag of the Union Steam Ship Company flying at the mast top. The Maori is berthed at the Wellington-Lyttelton Steamer Express terminal, located on the far side of the brown wharf shed. It was here that the Wahine was due to arrive at 7 a.m. on 10 April 1968. After the Wahine's loss the Maori operated the Steamer Express service until the Wahine's replacement, TEV Rangatira, took up the service in March 1972.


Union Steam Ship Company archives, Wellington Museum of City and Sea

Auckland Star, Evening Post and Dominion newspapers

Private papers of Captain H G Robertson

Shipbuilding and Shipping Record, 4 August 1966

N H Brewer A Century of Style

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

Sam Parker CEng FRINZ

Wellington City Archives

Lindsay Butterfield

Stephen Berry