TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic and Other Ships By Charles Herbert Lightoller

Chapter 30 LOSS OF THE "TITANIC"

 

From the Oceanic as First, I was appointed to the Titanic of tragic memory, as First, and three very contented chaps took the midnight boat for Belfast, where she was completing. Murdoch, Chief, your humble, First, and Davy Blair, Second; Captain E.J. Smith, Commodore of the Line came over a little later on. Captain Smith, or "E.J." as he was familiarly and affectionately known, was quite a character in the shipping world. Tall, full whiskered and broad. At first sight you would think to yourself "Here's a typical Western Ocean Captain." "Bluff, hearty, and I'll bet he's got a voice like a foghorn." As a matter of fact, he had a pleasant quiet voice and invariable smile. A voice he rarely raised above a conversational tone--not to say he couldn't; in fact, I have often heard him bark an order that made a man come to himself with a bump. He was a great favourite, and a man any officer would give his ears to sail under. I had been with him many years, off and on, in the mail boats, Majestic, mainly, and it was an education to see him con his own ship up through the intricate channels entering New York at full speed. One particularly bad corner, known as the South-West Spit, used to make us fairly flush with pride as he swung her round, judging his distances to a nicety; she heeling over to the helm with only a matter of feet to spare between each end of the ship and the banks.

For some time previous to being appointed to the Titanic "E.J." had been command of the Olympic--since she was launched in fact. Murdoch also came from the Olympic, whilst Blair and I were from the Oceanic.

It is difficult to convey any idea of the size of a ship like the Titanic, when you could actually walk miles along decks and passages, covering different ground all the time. I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat, from a battleship and a barge, but it took me fourteen days before I could with confidence find my way from one part of that ship to another by the shortest route. As an instance of size, there was a huge gangway door through which you could drive a horse and cart on the starboard side aft. Three other officers, joining later, tried for a whole day to find it. No doubt with the help of a plan, it would have been fairly simple, but a sailor does not walk round with a plan in his pocket, he must carry his ship in his head, and in an emergency such as fire must be able to get where he wants by sheer instinct--certainly without a chance of getting lost on the way.

Touching on fire, the modern ship's equipment is such that it is almost impossible, with fair play, for a fire to get a serious hold. I say this, despite the fact that quite recently no less than three modern liners have been burned out. Generally speaking, the fire-fighting equipment is based on something like these lines. Close adjacent to the bridge is the Master Fire Station, where a Fireman in full regalia is on duty night and day, and must never be more than six feet away from the door of his station. In his little cubby hole, he is surrounded with instruments which keep him in close touch with secondary Fire Stations situated in commanding positions throughout the ship. In front of him, in the Master Station, on the bulk-head, is a glass fronted air tight case, into which are leading numbers of little tubes, coming direct from the Secondary Fire Stations. By suction a current of air is drawn through these tubes and into the case. As the air comes through the tube it impinges on a filament resembling tinfoil, causing this to vibrate, and therefore proves that a current of air is actually passing through. If the other end of this tube should be blocked, or stuffed up by some unconscious humorist, this filament at once becomes stationary.

Now if anyone were to stand close to the other end of the tube, say smoking a cigarette, the smoke would be drawn into the tube, passed up to the Fire Station, and strike this filament. The smoke would then become exaggerated until it resembled a ball of wool, and would immediately catch the notice of the man on duty. If he wishes he can ascertain for his own satisfaction whether it is just tobacco smoke, or something more dangerous. Probably if he finds it is merely tobacco smoke he will conclude that someone is standing nearby the tube smoking, and may wait a reasonable time for it to disappear. If he is not satisfied he will telephone down, calling that Station; and, the man on duty replying, he will ask, more or less politely, if anyone is smoking near that detector: Probably the man on the Secondary Station will find that it is just tobacco smoke and report it. If, on the other hand, it were, for instance, the result of some careless fool throwing a cigarette down on the carpet, and setting it alight, very few moments would elapse before it was known on the bridge, and communication made to the necessary points.

Hoses are always ready, rigged in readiness and attached to hydrants, so that even in the case of a really serious fire suddenly breaking out, it would be known at headquarters within a very few seconds, "fire stations" signalled, and A Fire Party with hoses buckets and blankets would be on the spot within three minutes.

In these circumstances it is extremely difficult to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to how, with fair play, a fire could break out on a modern ship, like say the Atlantique with out being instantly detected. Admitted there were no passengers on board, yet the ordinary fire precautions would still be in operation. With the Europa it was different; she was still in the builders' hands, but judging by what one knows of builders, the fire precautions are just as stringent whilst the ship is being built as they are when she goes to sea; in British shipyards, anyhow, and I don't suppose the Germans are a whit behind us.

But to return to the Titanic. Putting a new ship in commission is, at the best of times, a pretty strenuous job. With the Titanic, it was night and day work, organizing here, receiving stores there, arranging duties, trying and testing out the different contrivances, makers of the hundred and one instruments with their chits to be signed certifying that this, that, and the other was in perfect working order. All the navigation instruments fell to my lot, as also did firearms and ammunition.

These latter are looked on mostly as ornaments in the modern ship.

Revolvers, rifles and bayonets in the Merchant Service, are rather superfluous. A man governs by accepted discipline, tact, his own personality, and good common sense. We have no King's Regulations to back us up; neither do we need them; nor yet do we require firearms, except on the rarest occasions. Curiously enough, the Titanic was to prove the only occasion at sea that I have ever seen firearms handed out, and even then it was not Britishers they were used to influence.

After running our trials we finally took over from the builders and proceeded round to Southampton. It was clear to everybody on board that we had a ship that was going to create the greatest stir British shipping circles had ever known. For one thing she was the first ship to be fitted with a third screw, driven by a low-powered turbine. For manuvering, the two wing screws alone were used, but once clear of the land, steam from low pressure cylinders was turned into this turbine, and undoubtedly gave her a wonderful turn of speed.

Unfortunately, whilst in Southampton, we had a re-shuffle amongst the Senior Officers. Owing to the Olympic being laid up, the ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic, just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion. Murdoch, from Chief, took over my duties as First, I stepped back on Blair's toes as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he,--luckily for him as it turned out--was left behind. The other officers remained the same. However, a couple of days in Southampton saw each of us settled in our new positions and familiar with our duties. Board of Trade surveys were carried out to everyone's satisfaction. Lifeboats and all life-saving equipment tested, exercised and passed. "Fireworks" (distress rockets, distress signals, blue lights, etc.) examined, tried and approved. All these and a hundred and one other details pertaining to a crack Atlantic Liner preparing for sea were gone through. Being a new ship, and the biggest in the world, even more scrupulous care was exercised than is usual, or applies to a ship on her settled run. The Board of Trade Surveyor, Captain Clark, certainly lived up to his reputation as being the best cursed B.O.T. representative in the South of England at that time. Many small details, that another surveyor would have taken in his stride accepting the statement of the officer concerned was not good enough for Clark. He must see everything, and himself check every item that concerned the survey. He would not accept anyone's word as sufficient--and got heartily cursed in consequence. He did his job, and I'll certainly say he did it thoroughly.

At last sailing day arrived, and from end to end the ship, which for days had been like a nest of bees, now resembled a hive about to swarm.

As "zero" hour drew near, so order could be seen arriving out of chaos. On the stroke of the hour the gangway was lowered, the whistle blew, ropes were let go, and the tugs took the strain.

She was away.

Chapter 31

 

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