Uh oh ...That old sinking feeling!
Captain Vladislav Vorobyov was a bit on edge. Although he was master of the 20,000 tonne Russian luxury cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, his resplendent floating hotel with its combined muster of 738 passengers and crew was temporarily in the hands of local pilot, Captain Don Jamison.
They'd left Picton at 3pm on February 16, 1986, planning to check out several local attractions in Queen Charlotte Sound for the benefit of their paying customers before heading down the West Coast to Milford Sound on the last New Zealand leg of the trip.
During sight-seeing, the ship twice got far too close to shore for Vorobyov's comfort, but experienced pilot Jamison exuded confidence in handling the ship, and after all, these were his home waters.
A change of watch at 4pm saw two senior officers assume duty on the bridge, and the captain felt it timely to go below to refresh and attend to paper work before evening duties. The wide northern entrance of the Sound was not far off, and beyond that the open waters of Cook Strait beckoned. What could possibly go wrong?
What went wrong was that Jamison had a major brain fade that even he later admitted he was at a loss to explain, putting it down to overwork and exhaustion. At literally the last minute before entering the safe open waters of Cook Strait beyond the Jackson Point lighthouse, he suddenly decided to cut the corner and take the ship through the narrow gap between the lighthouse on its rocky perch and the Port Jackson headland itself, despite his only knowledge of the channel's depth deriving from a few private fishing trips.
The sound of the submerged rocks suddenly opening up the Mikhail Lermontov's ice-strengthened hull like the proverbial tin can was heard 8km away. To say that Vorobyov down in his cabin suddenly had that old sinking feeling would be something of a Titanic understatement.
Such are the vagaries of life, and the Mikhail Lermontov now still reposes in about 40m of water at aptly named Port Gore bay in the Marlborough Sounds.
The original Mikhail Lermontov was a famous Russian writer, sometimes known as the Poet of the Caucasus. From an aristocratic background, he was a highly temperamental youth but later acquired impressive academic, military and artistic credentials before meeting an untimely end in a silly duel at the tender age of 27 in 1841.
His legacy was such that he was one of five similarly illustrious Russian poets after whom a batch of vessels built for the Baltic Shipping Company was named. A spectral Mikhail might have written something suitably ironic about his namesake vessel also meeting an untimely early end.
However, Prime Minister of the time David Lange was up to drolly remarking that, post-World War II, New Zealand was the only country that had managed to sink a Russian ship.
On a broader canvas, the proverbial ship of state is perhaps more accurately described as the ship of Government. A particular Government's demise may not necessarily mean a foundering of the whole state, but at the moment Captain Ardern must also be experiencing a few of those old sinking feeling spasms as damaging allegations rent the air outside the confines of her cabin. Like the hapless Captain Vorobyov, she too may risk being undone through the rash actions of errant staffers.
Older ex-Wellingtonians will no doubt recall appliance retailer Alan Martin exhorting viewers of his TV ads that "it's the putting right that counts". Personally, I would have thought that "it's not having things go wrong in the first place that counts" would be a superior catch-cry, but perhaps a bit wordy for a catchphrase.
It remains to be seen, though, to what extent Captain Ardern is up to putting things right, and thus averting a murky and untimely Lermontovian expiry.