Titanic still captures our imaginations after 85 years because her story is like a great novel that really happened. The story couldn’t have been written better…the juxtaposition of rich and poor, the gender roles played out unto death , the stoicism and nobility of a bygone age, the magnificence of the great ship matched in scale only by the folly of the men who drove her hell bent throughout the darkness. Above all the lesson: that life is uncertain, the future unknowable…the unthinkable possible. 2,227 souls aboard. 1522 dead. Only 705 were saved, when 1360 or more could have been. Discover what happened that fateful night, hear how Dr. Ballard discovered the ship in her final resting-place.
Journey back now, to TITANIC. The Royal Mail Ship TITANIC was the last grand dream of a Guilded Age. It was designed to be the greatest achievement of an era of prosperity, confidence, and propriety. Although no one knew it, the world was about to change drastically. Radio had been invented in 1901. The Wright Brothers’ first successful flight was in 1903. The old presumptions about class, morals, and gender-roles were about to be shattered. If the concept of Titanic was the climax of the age, then perhaps its sinking was the curtain that marked the end of an old drama and the start of a new one . The intensely competitive transatlantic steamship business had seen recent major advances in ship design, size, and speed. White Star Line, one of the leaders, was determined to focus on size and elegance rather than pure speed. In 1907, White Star Line’s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, and Lord James Pirrie, a partner in Harland & Wolff conceived of three magnificent steam ships which would set a new standard for comfort, elegance, and safety. The first two were to be named Olympic and Titanic, the latter name chosen by Ismay to convey a sense of overwhelming size and strength.
Titanic was 883 feet long, 92 feet wide, and weighed 46,328 tons. She was 104 feet tall from keel to bridge, almost 35 feet of which were below the waterline. Even so, she stood taller above the water than most urban buildings of the time. There were three real smokestacks and a fourth, a dummy, added largely to increase the impression of her gargantuan size and power, and to vent smoke from her kitchen and galleys. She was the largest moveable object ever made by man. The ship’s immense size and complexity is demonstrated by an incident recalled by Second Officer Lightoller. There was a gangway door on the starboard side aft. Moreover, she was designed to be a marvel of modern safety technology. She had a double hull of one inch thick steel plates and a system of 16 water-tight compartments, sealed by massive doors which could be instantly triggered by a single electric switch on the bridge, or even automatically by electric water sensors. The original design called for 32 lifeboats. However, White Star Management felt that the boat-deck would not look cluttered, and reduced the number to twenty, for a total lifeboat capacity of 1178. This actually exceeded the regulations of the times, even though the Titanic was capable of carrying over 3500 people. The journey began at South Hampton on Wednesday, April 10, 1912 at noon. By sundown, Titanic stopped in Cherbourg, France, to pick up additional passengers. That evening she sailed for Queenstown, Ireland, and at 1:30 PM on Thursday, April 11, she headed out into the Atlantic. The seasoned transatlantic passengers were deeply impressed by the new ship. She was so massive that they barely felt the movement of the sea at all. Her huge, powerful engines produced almost none of the annoying vibration common to other steamers, and their noise was barely perceptible. In addition, she achieved this extraordinary level of comfort while traveling at 22 knots, not the fastest boat on the route, but certainly one of the top five.
Titanic was equipped with Marconi’s new wireless telegraph system and her two Marconi operators kept the wireless room running 24 hours a day. On Sunday, April 14, the fifth day at sea, Titanic received five different ice warnings, but Captain Smith was not overly concerned. The ship steamed ahead at 22 knots, and the Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay of the line relished the idea of arriving in New York a day ahead of schedule. On the night of April 14, wireless operator Philips was very busy sending chatty passenger’s messages to Cape Race, Newfoundland, whence they could be relayed inland to friends and relatives. He received a sixth ice warning that night, but did not realize how close Titanic was to the position of the warning, and put that message under a paperweight at his elbow. It never reached Captain Smith or the officer on the bridge.
By all accounts the night was uncommonly clear and dark, moonless but faintly glowing with an incredible sky full of stars. The sea was, likewise, unusually calm and flat, “like glass” said many survivors. The lack of waves made it even more difficult to see icebergs. At 11:40 PM, a lookout in the crow’s nest spotted an iceberg dead ahead. He notified the bridge and First Officer Murdoch ordered the ship to turn hard to port. He signaled the engine room to reverse direction, full astern. The ship turned slightly, but it was much too large, moving much too fast, and the iceberg was much too close. During the night of heroism, terror and tragedy, 705 lives were saved, 1522 lived were lost.
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