No, I’m not talking about the children’s books. I’m talking about the Titanic. A hundred years ago Tuesday, the Titanic left port in England and started her maiden voyage across the ocean. A hundred years ago tomorrow, she hit an iceberg just before midnight and sank. Like many people, I am fascinated with the story.
My fascination with the Titanic story started in Grade 3: although the details escape me, I somehow won a book about the Titanic at school. It was a book showing the details of the ship: the size, the building, first class vs third class, and, oh yeah, the unsinkable ship sank. The seed was planted.
Over the years, being the bookworm type, I read a lot of books. And some of them were on the Titanic. I read historical fiction books mostly, books that tried to give readers a sense of wonder felt by those as they left the docks at Southhampton, to the terrifying final moments of the sinking. As the years past, I still held on to my fascination. In fact, just last year I went to the local Space and Science Centre to see the touring exhibit with items recovered from the ship. At the start of the tour, I was given a boarding card for an actual passenger. At the end of the tour, you could see if you survived the disaster (‘I’ survived, along with my husband and child – a few of the lucky ones). I’ve also read the theories as to why the ‘Unsinkable Ship’ sank.
Do I have any great insight? No, of course not. I was born only a few years before the wreckage was finally found and I am simply an armchair historian. All I can offer are my own thoughts based on the books (both fiction and non) and the news articles and stories I heard over the years. And from that info, it seems to me like the Titanic was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
So back to my title – A series of unfortunate events. What do I mean?
First, there were the actions of the White Star Line. From the accounts I’ve read, they were dealing with stiff competition and the Titanic and her sister ships where the White Star Line’s response. My interpretation? They needed a win in the trans-Atlantic passenger ship market and to do that, they cut corners. It’s well known that they did not have adequate life boats aboard, a fact that contributed to the number of casualties.
Second, which is related to the first, the Captain of the ship was tasked with making the fastest time possible to New York. This was because the White Star Line’s main competition, Cunard, had at that time the fastest passenger ships. Titanic was to be the ultimate in comfort and luxury, but that was not enough – they wanted speed too. Full speed ahead, even in the dark.
Third, it appears even the universe was conspiring against the Titanic. One of the reasons there was such disbelief that an iceberg had taken out the ship was that icebergs were not supposed to be in that part of the ocean at that time of year. I wish I had the link to the article, but a recent study looked at the proximity of the moon and its effect on the tides around the time of the sinking, and found that in January of that year, the moon was closer than it had been, or has been, in a long time, which meant larger tides. Which translated to both more icebergs in the ocean, and in areas they were not expected.
Fourth, after the sinking, a trick of light and refraction made it seem like the Carpathia was much closer than it actually was, leading some to suspect that the evacuation, at least in the early part, was not as quick as it could have been. It’s speculated that passengers and crew thought help was much closer than it was in reality.
Fifth is the ship itself. The Titanic was named unsinkable due to the air tight compartments that were designed to keep the ship afloat even if the hull was breached. The problem? More compartments were flooded than designed for the ship to remain afloat. It is believed the steel used to make the outer shell was far too brittle, and so cracked under pressure rather than just buckling. I’ve heard speculation that there may have also been an issue with the rivets on the outer hull, but unfortunately, I don’t have more detail on that aspect.
Whatever the reasons, whatever the cause, the fact remains – of the 2,224 people on board, 1,514 people (over two-thirds) died in the cold ocean water. So many lives lost, so many dreams destroyed and so many families forever changed.
May their memories live on.