Howard Hounsell was working as a seaman when his friend asked him to swap shifts.
Hounsell wasn’t keen as he had already served on board a Wahine that ran aground two decades earlier while carrying Kayforce troops to the Korean War.
He thought risking a trip on another Wahine might be pushing his luck.
Hounsell’s fears later came true when, almost 17 years after the demise of turbine steam ship (TSS) Wahine, a worse fate befell its namesake.
Hounsell was one of the 53 passengers who died on April 10, 1968, after the TEV Wahine ran aground at the entrance of Wellington Harbour, listed, and sank.
His niece Wynne Garrick said his Marlborough family did not know he was aboard the ship, as he had swapped shifts.
“We found out through the police, who had initially reached out to my grandmother and told her they suspected her son was missing,” Garrick said.
“They then called her up again, later on, to say that he was off the missing person’s list because they’d found his body.”
Hounsell’s body was found on the coastline near Eastbourne, where 47 of the 51 people who died at the scene lost their lives.
His body was later identified by his father.
Garrick said Hounsell, who could not swim, was thought to have drowned at sea.
“Seamen weren’t required to know how to swim back in those days,” she said.
“He was provided with a lifejacket, but it can only do so much; especially in a storm as terrible as the one the Wahine was subjected to.”
Garrick said her uncle’s death made her a strong advocate for swimming lessons.
“I feel like if he’d known how to swim, then maybe it would have saved his life,” she said.
Before his death, Hounsell served as a seaman in the deck and engine departments of several interisland New Zealand ships, including the Aramoana, Aranui and Katea.
He also served on board TMV Māori, the partner ship to the TSS Wahine.
Hounsell was working on the TSS Wahine when it ran aground on Masela Island Reef, north of Australia, in the Arafura Sea on August 15, 1951.
While there were no fatalities, the ship was declared a loss and abandoned.
This brought to an end the TSS Wahine’s 38-year illustrious career, including three decades on the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry run and service in two world wars.
Hounsell and his fellow crew members were flown to Darwin, before being flown in relays back to New Zealand.
Following the incident Hounsell wrote to his mother and told her he was “finished with the sea”.
This later proved untrue as Hounsell remained a seaman until his death in 1968.
“His passing was hard on all of my family, but especially on my mum, who was his sister,” Garrick said.
“He used to turn up out of the blue at our door with a box of groceries for tea and it used to make mum so happy. It was like she’d won the lottery.”
Garrick said she would be attending the reunion lunch on Tuesday with one of her sisters, who lives in Wellington.
She planned to take memorabilia from her uncle’s life for display at the Wellington Museum.