Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Titanic and Lifeboats

Women and children first

This was the cry heard on that cold, bitter night of April 14, 1912. Earlier that Sunday morning passengers of all classes had attended divine services and offered prayers for a safe crossing.

At 11:40 pm the Titanic struck an iceberg and she was sinking fast.

Everyone scrambled to get to the lifeboats.

"Women and children first," called out the ship’s officers.

Why then, when lifeboat number 5 was lowered (capacity 40), were there only 2 women and 10 men aboard?

If the call was for women and children first, why were gentlemen permitted to get into the boats on the starboard side?

While no male passengers were allowed to enter a lifeboat on the port side of the ship when there were women and children about?

And who can forget the look of pain on faces of the Irish family--the da, mum and three children--who fought their way up from the bowels of the ship only to discover there were no more lifeboats?

No more lifeboats.

With only a rosary and prayer and their arms wrapped around each other, they faced the end bravely.

Still, the question, persists, why were there not enough lifeboats?

Some put the blame on J. Bruce Ismay, the Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line, who insisted the number of lifeboats be cut from 48 to 16 (in addition, 4 Englehardt or collapsible lifeboats were stored on the Boat deck) because they "cluttered" the deck.

For the record, Mr. Ismay escaped the sinking in collapsible lifeboat C.

The White Star Line argued that it had followed the British Board of Trade regulations that dictated for a liner the size of the Titanic (using a specific formula based in tonnage), sixteen lifeboats was more than the number of boats required.

This rule was hopelessly outdated when the Titanic was launched.

But no one seemed to notice.

Until it was too late.

It does me heart in, as my heroine Katie O'Reilly would say, to write this post, knowing so many more passengers could been saved if they'd had more boats. As it was, several lifeboats were lowered half full or less. (The first lifeboat left with only 28 people--it could hold 65). Again, there is some confusion as to why this happened. The lifeboats had been tested and could hold forty to sixty-five people, but the captain decided to lower them half full, then fill the boats with passengers from the lower gangways.

That never happened. The doors were never opened.

As the lifeboats rowed away and the horrified passengers in the lifeboats watched the horrifying scene. I wrote about it in Katie O'Reilly:
The Titanic sinking into the black, calm sea as smoothly as if a Divine hand parted the waters to ease its descent into a lasting grave…the wild explosions shattering the quiet night… then the harrowing distress calls…the unbearable moans in a chorus of shouting and cries that lasted more than an hour then became feeble until they died out…then silence. As cold and still as the sea surrounding them.
God rest their souls…


Michelle Polaris said...

So clearly a tragedy. Another WHAT IF.... to put on the list.

Wynter Daniels said...

So sad. The unthinkable always happens eventually. It's such a tragedy that priorities were so out of whack.

Callie Croix said...

Can you even imagine how horrific that must have been? Especially seeing the children so frightened and cold...breaks my heart. It's all the more haunting because it was avoidable.
I said before I'd never forget the scene in Titanic where the Irish mom tries to comfort her frightened children. I still can't think about that scene without tearing up.

Jina Bacarr said...

Michelle, thank you for your thoughts. Titanic will always remain in our hearts, esp. with the difficulties we face today. When you think about the courage these people had, it gives us courage to carry on.

Jina Bacarr said...

Wynter, you're spot on re: priorities. What they went through makes us think about what's really important to us. Keeping family and friends safe remain at the top of the list.

I tweeted today about a telegram sent from a Titanic survivor to his family that he was safe. It's coming up for auction and there's a photo of the original telegram in the story--check out my tweets for the link (I tweet every day about Titanic):

Jina Bacarr on Twitter

Jina Bacarr said...

Callie, I'm with you re: the Irish mum trying to comfort her children.

There's also the story of the first class passenger who looked in vain for her baby (he had been taken off the ship by his nanny)--she died along with her husband and little girl.

I wanted to mention that scene in my blog as a tribute to all the mothers who died on the ship trying to save their young ones.