Titanic Grim: 1 in 89 Survivors Committed Suicide

Kathleen Minnix recently posted at Book of Odds a grim statistic on Titanic survivors –1 in 89 ended up taking their lives. Some of the more notable suicides are Dr. Washington Dodge, Jack Thayer, and Titanic lookout Frederick Fleet. Dodge shot himself over a lawsuit in 1919, Thayer slashed his wrists and throat in 1945 over a son’s death in World War 11. Frederick Fleet died in 1965 by hanging himself on a clothes line. His wife had died in December and his brother-in-law had evicted from the house.

The earliest suicide was in 1912.  Annie Robinson, who had been a stewardess on Titanic, was aboard the Devonian on 10 October. The ship encountered heavy fog in Boston and she became agitated. Shortly after the fog horn sounded, she threw herself into the water and drowned. The last survivor suicide was on 11 Jul 1989 by Phyllis May Quick. She shot herself in the head at her home in Detroit.

A grim statistic indeed.

Tacky Titanic: Flamed Iceberg Desert

Britain’s finest chef is under fire for a Titanic meal that includes a desert called flambéed iceberg (flamed iceberg). According to the Daily Echo, Heston Blumenthal will be serving up the ““greatest feast never eaten: the last meal on the Titanic.” That flaming iceberg bit has caused an uproar from Titanic enthusiasts and relatives of survivors and victims.

Titanic historian Brian Ticehurst described the flamed iceberg dessert as “tacky”, while Terry Yarwood, from the Tug Tender Calshot Trust, said it was “sick”. “I know Heston’s considered a great chef, but this seems to be in the worst taste possible. It’s quite appalling,” Mr Yarwood said.

Indeed. One giant thumbs down for Heston Blumenthal. In a word, stupid.

Titanic 2010

Titanic still draws people to her long after she sank in 1912. There are the usual memorials in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax and other places. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard flies over the area Titanic sank to drop a wreath. Other less noticed things occur as well. Titanic themed meals are in vogue. People dress up in period outfits, attend a dinner that approximates meals served aboard ship, and learn some Titanic lore from enthusiasts. Titanic documentaries are often shown around this time along with showings of A Night To Remember (1958), a fondly remembered movie based on Walter Lord’s book. The more recent Titanic is not history but does recreate the ship wonderfully along with rich period look and feel.?

Titanic is not unlike a Greek tragedy. Such tragedies always depict the outcome as avoidable. Not so far off in Titanic’s case. Her demise was avoidable and arguably predictable. Walter Lord summarizes it as complacency on all levels: government, the ship owners, and those commanded them. No one seemed overly concerned with the lack of lifeboats. Ship owners, for reasons of economy and aesthetics, did not want too many. They knew their presence comforted passengers. The Board of Trade considered passengers cargo and cargo equals space. So lifeboats were tagged to the amount of space one took, not on the total number of passengers and crew aboard ship. Fine in small vessels but inadequate when the numbers exceeded the total capacity of lifeboats available.

Major shipwrecks were rare but not uncommon. Most ship owners believed the risk was minimal. They also believed passengers carried the risk as well. It was always a possibility, however remote, that something would go wrong resulting in injury or death. Strict liability laws made it difficult (but not impossible) to obtain judgments against them. Many became complacent about the danger of a major catastrophe. They believed in all the wondrous new technologies that made ships stronger and safer. A ship might be wounded, scraped, and battered but would remain afloat. Titanic was designed with that in mind.

Even with lifeboats, it required a trained crew to work them. And on Titanic, that was a problem. Too few were experienced in this task. Smith never had a boat drill. Boat assignments were posted after leaving Queenstown. Manning was inconsistent. Lifeboat 6 was assigned two while Lifeboat 3 had 15. Worse neither he or the senior officers had any idea how many people each lifeboat would carry. They did not know they had been throughly tested by Harland & Wolff to carry 65 persons without any sign of strain. Harland & Wolff never mentioned it, according to Walter Lord, because they assumed Smith and his officers knew this “as a matter of general knowledge.”

Captain Smith was experienced officer. He was widely respected amongst his peers and passengers who sailed on his ships. Yet like many others he was complacent. Until he commanded Olympic, he never had any major problems at sea. However the incident in New York with a tug and the Olympic’s collision with the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke were warnings about how differently these new large ships operated. And suction from the propellers caused the liner New York to break moorings in Southampton. Independently these events proved nothing but together form a pattern. All of them occurred while he was in command.

So his lack of action on lifeboat organization is not the work of a lazy or incompetent ship master. It is of someone who believed they would never be needed except in very rare circumstances. Unlike the depiction in A Night To Remember, Smith was not decisive and barking out orders when the crisis hit. Instead he had to be asked by his officers about lowering lifeboats and other orders like firing distress rockets. Which is why things were confusing on that night. Passengers did not know where to go and had to wait for instructions on deck. Lightoller and Murdoch operated inconsistent policies in their respective lifeboat operations. Lightoller was strict about women and children first while Murdoch allowed men on lifeboats. Smith was likely in shock about Titanic sinking and the terrible loss of life about to happen.

It was not long after Titanic’s sinking that every passenger liner put lifeboats for all and pronounced it in advertisements. No longer was it an issue of money but one of safety. The shocking numbers of those saved to those lost were the new mathematics. And ship owners complied and later maritime laws would make it mandatory along with boat drills for crew. Today most cruise passengers have to practice putting on life jackets and assemble at designated points not long after sailing. While no one crashes into icebergs these days, very rough seas can tumble ships as recent stories indicate. Complacency was certainly major element to the Titanic disaster, which is why one must never become too comfortable for the unexpected happens more often than we like to admit.

Destination Titanic: Big Ship, New Problems

On this date in 1912, Titanic departed Southampton on her maiden voyage. As she was leaving, suction from Titanic’s propellers caused a nearby ship, the New York, to loose its moorings. Quick action by a tug and extra speed from Titanic averted a collision. This incident confirmed a theory put forth by the British Navy in legal action against White Star about such suctions. Ironically the captain of the ship involved was Edward J. Smith.
In 1911 the Olympic had two such incidents. The first, according to Walter Lord, occurred on 11 June as Olympic was docking. The tug O.L. Hollenbeck was near the stern when a sudden burst from Olympic’s starboard sucked it against the ship. Hollenbeck’s stern frame, rudder, and wheel shaft was cut off. The press played down the incident but the tug owner sued White Star for $10,000. White Star countersued but the legal action was dismissed for lack of evidence. Lord writes: “No one saw the incident for what it really was: a disturbing lesson in the difficulty of managing a steamer of the Olympic’s unprecedented size.”

A few months later a more ominous event occurred. Olympic and the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke collided in the Spithead, a body of water near Isle of Wight. Hawke was running parallel to Titanic, several times her size, and both ships were at 15 knots. Suddenly Hawke veered to port and headed straight for Olympic’s starboard quarter. The cruiser rammed the liner’s hull and fortunately no one was killed. Hawke’s bow was badly crumpled. Olympic had a double gash in the stern and two compartments flooded. Olympic’s passengers were taken off by tender and the ship limped back to port in Southampton and then to Belfast for repairs.

Everyone thought Hawke was at fault. After all, it had suddenly rammed Olympic. Interviews in the press praised Captain Smith and laid blame on the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy (RN) was not amused and sued for damages. Here is where it gets interesting. Normally the argument is over who had the right of way. Instead the RN argued that suction from Olympic’s propellers had drawn Hawke in. Using models to show how displaced water works, they argued Hawke was the victim and not the aggressor. The court ruled in their favor to the displeasure of many maritime experts. The use of models was dismissed along with the theories used. The ruling stood and White Star had to pay damages.

The findings were dismissed by many since it relied on models. White Star must have agreed since it kept Smith on and made him captain of Titanic. The incident with New York, which matched what happened with Hawke, suddenly made the theory of hydrodynamic forces acceptable. The theory was that a ship moving forward displaces water on either side of the hull. This displaced water then surges back to the stern and into the vessels wake. Any small object that is afloat nearby will be sucked in. The pull increases with the size of the ship, its speed, and proximity. Olympic was a 45,000 ton ship and much too close to Hawke (200 feet) considering her speed against the 7.500 ton Hawke.

Smith likely did not realize this. His experience was on smaller vessels for his entire maritime career. Ships like Olympic and Titanic were totally new to him and everyone else. After the incident with New York, Lord notes Captain Smith did something odd. After leaving Cherbourg, he ordered practice turns for the ship. He apparently realized he needed to find out more about Titanic. Sadly, of course, Smith perished when Titanic went down on 15 April.

Not A Prank: Titanic Yacht Sinking!

Here is one for the books. While out shopping the phone rings and the caller tells you his ship is sinking. Oh and it is named Titanic! In the case of Alex Evan, a lifeboat volunteer with Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), it was his friend Mark Corbett. At first Evan thought it was a prank but was convinced it was a real emergency.

Corbett really was on a yacht called Titanic and was calling 4,000 miles away in the Caribbean using a satellite phone to reach him.

According to The Guardian, the yacht was too far from Grenada. listing badly, and short of power. Luckily Corbett remembered the number of his friend in RNLI. Evan took down information about the ship’s position and relayed it on. An hour later a French spotter plane located the yacht and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter arrived later to tow the damaged vessel to port.

Evan tells The Guardian his friend made the right choice to call him. Thanks to his contacts through RNLI, the report was taken seriously. Corbett and his two crewmen all are safe and back in Wales. As for the yacht, was renamed Titanic after its previous owners transferred its old name to a new ship. There is an old sea superstition that renaming a ship makes it unlucky. Unless, as Evan notes, you swim around the ship naked three times telling why the renaming was required (presumably to appease a water god). Yikes! I would rather just toss bottles of rum overboard to appease the spirits than swim around naked in the cold ocean.

Then again angering a sea god can be risky business. Just ask Odysseus. 🙂

Titanic Cliche: This Ship Is About to Sink!

Titanic has become so common in political/economic conversation these days it now called “T-word.” Kevin Riordan at the Philadelphia Inquirer coined the phrase in a recent column. In reporting his interview with Ken Hartman he writes: “About five minutes into our chat about public school funding, Ken Hartman goes for the T-word.” Not just once but three times in the interview:

1. “They said the Titanic would never sink. That was arrogant – and it’s also arrogant for New Jersey to think we can continue to spend money we don’t have,” says Hartman, still making waves in his final weeks as a Cherry Hill school board member.”

2. “The captain of the Titanic knew he had a gaping hole beneath the water line,” continues Hartman, a telegenic, 51-year-old father of two. “But the reaction was, ‘Strike up the band.’ I’m saying, ‘Guys, we’ve got a hole in the ship.’ “

3. “The water is up to the promenade deck,” says Hartman, who describes himself as a “constitutionalist conservative” and blames both Republicans and Democrats for the “mess” in Trenton. “The ship is sinking.”

Wow. Most commentators just limit comparing to reshuffling deck chairs on Titanic. He cannot resist using Titanic three times to get his point across. Well done Mr. Hartman. Not many can do that. For that we award you the coveted Titanic Cliche of Day Award.

Source:
philly.com,  The Ship Of State Is About To Sink, By This Reckoning, 30 Mar 2010

Uproar Over Entry Fee At Titanic Dry Dock

Anger has erupted over the £50 entry fee to the Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast. The charge is for foot, bus, or taxi. There is also a parking charge. You can avoid the charge by taking a tour bus that prebooks (and thus includes the fee as part of the tour). Many worry it will drive away tourists. The bosses say it is not about making money but safety issues. And that if you take a prebooked bus tour it will not be a problem.

Except if you are on a bus not prebooked. Then you have to get off and line up to pay the entry fee. Those paying gripe about it and of course the cashiers have to deal with long lines of people. So let me get this right. If you prebook through a bus tour than includes the Thompson dock yard, you can go right in. All others, line up and pay.

This is not uncommon. Many attractions and parks here in the United States have entry fees. Bus tours generally include the fees as part of the tour so you do not have to line up to pay. Belfast might want to consider what San Francisco does. There are special passes that allow people to not only travel on city transport but also includes the entry fees for some attractions on Fisherman’s Wharf (and other places). That way people who do not want to take bus tours can purchase those passes (usually good for one or three days). Make them easy to purchase online, at a retail store, or special outlet. Make some family passes as well.

Belfast Telegraph, £50 Titanic Charge: Why It’s Needed, 27 Mar 2010

Titanic Cliche of Day: School Budget Challenge Compared To Titanic

Titanic once again makes an appearance in discussing budget woes. If you are going to use Titanic, please be sure to use the correct term. Titanic was a ship, not a boat!

Assistant Superintendent Mark Hyatt likened the district’s budget challenges to the Titanic. “It’s not that the iceberg’s on the horizon, but there’s a hole in the boat,” he said.

Dallas Morning News, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD  Considers Freezing Teachers’ Salaries…, 27 Mar 2010

Titanic Irony: Thieves Break-In To Lifeboat Station After Crew Raises Money At Titanic Musical

Truth is stranger than fiction. And here is example of it. The BBC reports that after a fundraiser at a Titanic musical, the very lifeboat station involved was broken into. The crew of the RNLI Kessock found that the store cupboard had been broken into but neither the boathouse or lifeboat inside were touched.

Kessock helmsman Stan McRae said: “To think that someone would try to break into a Lifeboat station makes you feel just gutted, especially given how the RNLI is funded with voluntary donations from the public.”

So far no one has been arrested for the crime.

(BBC, RNLI Site Break-In After Titanic – The Musical Effort, 26 Mar 2010)

Titanic Cliche of Day: British Conservative Leader Likens Labour Leadership To Titanic

Things are heating up in Britain these days as Labour decides to go after the upper class with new taxes. This prompted Conservative leader David Cameron to compare Labour leadership to Titanic’s captain.

Cameron said: “It’s like the captain of the Titanic saying “Let me command the lifeboats.”

(Chiltern Debt Management-blog, 24 Mar 2010)

Commentary on Titanic news and other related items.

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