Hindsight


This week marks the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and many facts around that horrific event have been discovered. I think we all know about the iceberg and the band playing on the deck, while Leonardo DiCaprio was in the water, but there are a few facts, which may have been suppressed from most historic dissertations.


Captain Edward J. Smith followed a normal Sunday routine and inspected the ship, but decided to forego a scheduled safety drill. The sun began to set and the temperature dropped, causing the sea’s surface to shine like glass. This made it difficult to spot icebergs, which of course were common to the North Atlantic in the spring.


By 7:30 p.m., the Titanic had received five warnings from nearby ships, but Captain Smith kept the ship at full speed. He believed the crew could react in time, if any were sighted.


At 10:55 p.m., another ship, the Californian, radioed to say it had come to a full stop amid dense field ice. Neither of these messages began with the crucial code that would have required Marconi wireless operator Jack Phillips to show it to Captain Smith. The Californian’s electric signal was so close it nearly deafened Phillips. “Shut up, shut up!” he radioed back. “I am busy!” A while later, the Californian’s radio operator shut down for the night.


Lookouts noticed something black lying directly ahead. As the ship drew closer, they rang a warning bell three times and phoned the bridge. First Officer William Murdoch yanked the handle of the engine room telegraph to ‘stop’. They thought they had escaped the near collision, but icebergs tend to hide most of their mass below the water. It punched into the Titanic’s starboard hull plates.


Twenty year out-of-date, yet still standard regulations, stated all ships exceeding 10,000 tons, had to have at least 16 lifeboats. The Titanic, however, weighed more than 46,000 tons, so 16 boats would not even hold half the 2,200 passengers. Ironically, the regulations had not been changed because The Board of Trade believed ‘ships of recent construction likely could not sink’.


Each lifeboat was capable of holding 70 passengers, but the crew did not believe the mechanisms could bear the weight, so the boats were only filled to half capacity. As if that was not enough, one fell upside down and another was swept away by a wave. All told, lifeboats left the Titanic with more than 400 empty seats.


It took two and a half hours to sink from the time the iceberg struck, and fortunately, while it was descending, the Titanic managed to contact the R.M.S. Carpathia, which arrived two hours later. They were able to rescue 705 survivors.


A lesson learned: never let arrogance or complacency stand in the way of safety and common sense.


Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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