This is Rasik Ranchord with his daughter Rameela, a Learning Assistant here at Seatoun School. We were very lucky to have Mr Ranchord come into school last week and talk to many of our students about his experience on board The Wahine, 50 years ago.
Mr Ranchord, then a young man in his twenties, was travelling to Wellington for his brother’s wedding and described how for most of the journey he slept really well! It was only to be disturbed by a huge scraping crunching sound on the bottom of the ship when he woke up to a ship in disarray.
A voice came over the loudspeaker advising passengers not to be alarmed and to put lifejackets on. In all of the times Mr Ranchord had been on a ship, this was the first time he had ever had to put on a lifejacket. A big jolt happened and this created an eerie and almost awkward silence as everyone knew that this had become very serious. “We were ushered to sit and I went over to the side of the ship. I could see a massive heaving, foaming sea beneath us”.
Another voice came over the loudspeaker – “We have slid off the reef and sent for the tug boats which will soon tug us into the harbour!”
“A loud cheer greeted this, the hot tea came out and everyone was happy. Unfortunately, when the tug boats came and the wires were eventually attached, the boat had taken on so much water that they were unable to move us. The ship began to list and twice it righted itself. The third time, it listed and then didn’t come back.”
At this point, as the lights went out, panic started to hit many of the people as shouting was heard and the order came to abandon ship. Wooden boats fixed to the side of the ship were prepared and women and children were told to be ready first, however some people panicked and jumped overboard. Mr Ranchord pointed out that the wind had dramatically died right down, and he firmly believes that had the order to leave the ship come earlier, more lives would have been lost as people would have been tossed from the lifeboats into the incredibly stormy sea.
Mr Ranchord was one of the last people to leave the sinking ship, and he was on an inflatable dinghy which drifted towards the Eastbourne coast for over an hour. Many small boats left Eastbourne to pick up people still in the water.
He and his fellow survivors had to walk quite a distance to the road, where they were picked up and taken to the RSA and given warm food and dry clothes. He was then taken to Wellington Station where families waited anxiously to greet their loved ones.
Mr Ranchord told us how he never felt panic during this whole event, how he felt very peaceful and able to calmly follow instructions, this no doubt helped him to survive and is something to remember if we were to face our own desperate situation.
Mr Ranchord attended his brother’s wedding and returned by ferry back to Lyttleton a few days later, passing the wrecked Wahine on his journey.
The Year 5/6s, who have been learning about The Wahine in the last few weeks, will have benefitted greatly from hearing this eye witness account of such a devastating event in Wellington and New Zealand’s history. Thank you to Mr Ranchord who gave us such an engaging account.
For more images, video broadcast and radio reports about this event you can also look on our blog under Research Help or click here. Photos on this post are from DigitalNZ’s reproduction of photos held in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Of the few fictional accounts based on this disaster that are available for children, No Safe Harbour by David Hill is the best, available from our library.
Seatoun was key to the rescue effort at this time and being so close, the community very much shared in the weight of this tragedy. Seatoun School hosts Seatoun Remembers on Tuesday 10th April.