Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Titanic and Icebergs

Iceberg right ahead.

When we hear those immortal words in a film about the Titanic, we stop munching our popcorn and hold our breath.

We know what's coming. The Titanic is about to hit the iceberg and from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same on that grand ship.

Passengers play with the ice chunks fallen on deck; third class cabins on F deck start to flood, while mail clerks scramble to save the sacks of mail.

In first class, passengers feel a "jar" in their staterooms and wonder what the fuss is all about.

The fuss is all about an iceberg four times the size of the Titanic.

Captain Lord Jack Blackthorn, the hero in my novel, Katie O'Reilly, was aware of the danger:
He opened the porthole in his cabin to get a breath of fresh air and a cold breeze blew in, making him shiver. A strange, clammy smell shot up his nostrils.

Over the years, scientists and historians have speculated how the iceberg damaged the Titanic. Was it a growler? (A smaller iceberg--melted and mostly underwater.)

Did Captain Smith ignore the iceberg warnings? Iceberg warnings were not unusual in spring, but why did the captain cancel the lifeboat drill? No answer was ever given.

Did Bruce J. Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line, encourage the captain to put on more speed to reach New York a day earlier?

All of these questions have been studied and written about in books, essays, and commentaries, but that's not what we're about here today.

I find it fascinating that a series of weather events played a crucial part in Titanic hitting that iceberg.

According to the testimonies given by the surviving crew, here's what we do know about what happened in April of 1912:

The captain was continuing at full speed that Sunday night in spite of the iceberg warnings. This was not unusual. For example, if he believed a fog was coming on, according to the thinking of that time, the captain was justified in getting through the ice region as quickly as possible.

We know the ship was heading away from what the captain believed was the iceberg field when he changed course from south to west; but he delayed the change by twenty minutes to travel farther south.

So instead of traveling away from the iceberg, that put the ship on a direct collision course with the berg, a huge mass of ice that had traveled farther south than was ever thought possible.

The cold Labrador Current swirled around the iceberg to form a protective layer, which insulated it from the warming effects of the Gulf Stream and prevented it from melting.

Pushing the iceberg into the shipping lanes.

When the Titanic hit that iceberg, a way of life changed forever.

And 1,517 people lost their lives.

We must never forget that.


Callie Croix said...

I love that you do your homework on this! I remember reading A Night To Remember for a history class when I was in high school. Titanic fascinated me even then, way before the movie came out :)

I have relatives that were originally slated to be on Titanic during that fateful voyage, but were unable to get tickets. For the best all around, as they were poor immigrants and would have been locked away down in steerage.

Jina Bacarr said...

Callie, thank you so much for your wonderful comment and your personal story! Have you read "The Night Lives On"--it's Walter Lord's follow-up to his first book after the Titanic was discovered in 1985. He answers a lot of questions.

Your relatives were so lucky!! So many in steerage didn't make it to the lifeboats. I wrote about a woman in 3rd class who died along with her five sons in an earlier post. [check June 22, 2011 for the info]

Wynter said...

Great info that adds to the Titanic mystique, Jina. I love that you do so much research, too. That adds so much to your books!

Jina Bacarr said...

Thanks, Wynter. So much about the Titanic is fascinating--from the people aboard to the weather.

Heads up re: another mini-series being planned for 2012: the story behind the building of the Titanic is starting to film in Serbia.

Michelle Polaris said...

I find discussion about weather conditions and disasters especiallly apropos given how prominent changing weather and these disasters are in the news now. And with Irene just finished, I think this topic of how natural phenomenon affect people is on everyone's minds. Good job as always.

Jina Bacarr said...

You're so right, Michelle. The Titanic sinking was a combination of many things, but no doubt the weather played a part in it.

Most Titanic exhibits feature an "iceberg" you can touch--it's unbelievable how cold it is!! Gives you a good idea what the passengers faced that night.

Callie Croix said...

I didn't know about Lord's other book. So interesting!

In the movie Titanic, that scene down in steerage with the Irish woman and her young children just about killed me. I was a sobbing wreck and still can't get it out of my head.

Jina Bacarr said...

Lord's second book is also amazing--I know you'd enjoy it!

I imagine that was supposed to be Mrs. Rice and her children. All lost...

Some steerage passengers did survive. The Titanic was a maze of deadends and companionways that made it difficult for anyone to find their way up on deck. My hero finds this out when he's trapped on E deck trying to save two Irish girls...