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Boating: The men who saved the Titanic

April 25, 2012
By boatguy Ed , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

"I am sick of all this Titanic stuff," shouted Boston Bob from his lanai. "It all comes down to British arrogance!" Boston Bob is Irish/American.

The sentiment echoed down the canal and was met with more than one, "here, here!" The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic has been way overblown. Still this obsession continues with an ever-increasing tempo.

Later that day at the afternoon informal "Dead End Canal Yacht Club" meeting, around my pool, we continued the discussion. Boston Bob was off to the airport to pick up a passenger in his van. "Them 'furners' can't run a boat," said Kentucky Tim.

"Appears so," said Run-aground Ralph, "hitting an iceberg is inexcusable!" Captain Crunch agreed heartily, and we all chided him. He corrected us by pointing out that he had never hit a berg. "Only because Florida doesn't have them," we all said.

I was never very interested in the sinking. Never saw the newest movie about the Titanic which 90 percent of the world has. I saw an older version years ago, and I'm sure neither one was completely accurate. Suddenly, I wanted to know the truth and I became addicted to the search. I was astounded at the volume of research and opinion on the Internet.

I don't have space to acknowledge every source so I will summarize. The most interesting, by far, was the PBS show, 'Saving the Titanic' about the black gangs, engineers and electrician who worked in the bowels of the ship. Obviously, they didn't save the Titanic but they kept the lights on and electricity flowing to the lifeboat winches until the last minute. This is a fictional account of actual events.

Why the Titanic sank is not in dispute, the Iceberg did it! Why the unsinkable sank? Everyone has a different opinion but everyone agrees the ship wasn't ever unsinkable. So it was the arrogance of the designers and the White Star line that designated the ship so. Under ideal circumstances, the ship should have survived but, as in most disasters, there are many minor mistakes that add up to a disaster.

The ship was designed to withstand a head-on collision but the natural instinct is to try to avoid a collision. If the skipper had kept the starboard engine engaged and reversed the port engine instead of stopping both and then reversing both, the ship would have turned to port quickly, possibly missing the berg. The helmsman had little training in wheel steering; survivors report that he had been proficient in tiller steering and turned the wheel the wrong way when ordered, "Hard to Port!" With a tiller, turning left meant pushing the tiller to the right, with a wheel it is turning the wheel to the left.

What if, if, if That game can be and has been played for more than 100 years without changing a single aspect of the tragedy. What hasn't been scrutinized was the bravery and heroism of the crew. There were mistakes by the captain and topside crew. The first lifeboats were launched partly full because of the delay of the "abandon ship" order but after it was given, the topside crewmembers were efficient and heroic.

Titanic carried all the lifeboats that the law required but only a third of what was actually needed. The bilge pumps were inadequate for such a catastrophic collision. In a simulation, the ship sank much quicker than in real life. The engineers jury-rigged ballast pumps to pump water overboard instead of side to side.

As the sea rushed in, the boiler rooms began to flood and the struggle to maintain electrical power became the number one priority. The black gangs, coal stokers and boiler maintenance personnel were given the option to go topside and take their chances. Many went but many stayed and fought until the last. Power to the lifeboat winches was absolutely necessary, and they achieved the nearly impossible!

Survivor accounts confirm that the ship was fully lit until it broke in two and sank. The PBS story tells how and why it was so important. In a way they did save the Titanic or at least could have saved it under other circumstances. Sure it is fiction, but I have to believe it is true. The ship should have sunk quickly after the boilers exploded but they didn't, and the generators would have stopped if the boilers were left unattended. Keeping the lights on was a lot more than throwing switches. There wasn't any way to save the ship but they tried.

I've asked our club members to watch the show but they are as burned out as I was. I especially wanted them to see the reference to King Canute. As a junior engineer lay dying in the boiler room, he said he felt like Bloody King Canute who tried to order the tide to reverse and nearly drowned trying.

"A lot of people think old Canute was just arrogant," said the Chief Engineer, "but I think he was saying that the sea cares little for kings. This ship has a gymnasium, a library, a swimming pool for God's sake but what is she compared to the sea, nothing!" And still they fought on!

Visit PBS.org to view the entire one-hour show. I know you'll see this story in a new light.

Boatguy Ed is a retired marine manufacturer, past Commodore of the "Dead End Canal Yacht Club" and an avid boater. Send comments to boatguiEd@aol.com or go to the "Dead End Canal Yacht Club's" Facebook page or www.supershipbottom.com.

 
 

 

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