Because of its unreliable weather, very strong and variable currents and often violent seas, Cook Strait has always been a hazardous place for ships, especially in the days of sail when the presence of lee shores in most directions and restricted sea room caused many shipwrecks. Among the worst on record were the barque Maria, 23 July 1851, with the loss of 26 lives; steamer City of Dunedin, May 1865, with the loss of 40 lives; ship Lastingham, September 1884, with the loss of 18 lives; ship Zuleika, 16 April 1897, with the loss of 12 lives; steamer Penguin, 12 February 1909, with the loss of 75 lives; and steamer Ripple, 7 August 1924, with the loss of 16 lives.
What could have been a terrible disaster was narrowly averted on Sunday, 6.10 a.m., 2 February 1936, when the inter-Island steamer express Rangatira in a howling southerly gale struck a submerged object off the Wellington Heads and was badly holed. She had 600 passengers on board. A quarter of an hour later she backed off and, although badly down by the bow, managed to enter the harbour. When she finally berthed at Clyde Quay Wharf, she was aground forward. Under the weather conditions at the time, the survival of the Rangatira was due to a combination of good fortune and good seamanship.