Marine Institute research dispels some Titanic myths

Steve Bartlett
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Creating the Titanic simulator gave the Marine Institute unique insight into some of the myths about why the luxury liner sank.

Capt. Chris Hearn, who recently gave a talk on those findings, explained in a follow-up interview that he was exploring a couple of myths in particular.

The first was that the Titanic had an inadequate rudder and couldn’t steer well.

“A lot of people seem to have that in the mind. Really, that’s not the fact. The Titanic could actually (steer well). It was very well-built for its time. Its rudder was designed for the type and style of the ship. It worked very well for the sister ships, the Britannic and the Olympic.”

Another topic Hearn tackled was the Titanic’s lookouts and what crew in the crow’s nest saw that night.

“We did some calculations, and based on the conditions, we thought they should have had a pretty good visibility, anywhere from five to 10 miles, for sure.”

However, Hearn says the lookouts were hampered by the fact there was no moon, which is important for detecting bergs.

“To visually see an iceberg (at night), you get wash around its base and this is lit up by moonlight.”

Combining the lookout information with the bridge’s attempt to avoid the berg, Hearn believes no one saw the ice until it was less than a minute from collision.

“They were literally a couple of ship lengths from it when they saw it. They were literally on top of it. Their avoiding action was to try and turn, and they struck even after clearing the bow.”

Hearn also talked about the Californian in his presentation. That was the nearest vessel to the Titanic on April 14-15, 1912, and there’s been some debate about whether or not it was close enough to respond.

After reviewing the data, Hearn thinks it was.

“I think she was actually within 11 to 12 miles of the Titanic and she was just on the edge of visual range and she could see a ship.”

The problem, he suggests, is that the Californian didn’t understand what was going on.

“Now maybe she couldn’t have, because it was in the night and she was in ice, and for her to try and pick her way through and come down …”

Hearn says there’s been a lot of conjecture about the number of lifeboats onboard the Titanic.

“Yeah, there was enough, but I’ll say that there was enough for the standards (of the day) and that is the cold, hard fact of it.”

He explained that the Titanic was actually fitted with more lifeboats than were required, however, those requirements were drawn up a decade or two before the Titanic was built and the rules governed ships that were much smaller.

Hearn says the Titanic’s sinking remains a backdrop to many things taught at the Marine Institute, particularly at its Offshore Survival and Safety Centre.

For example, he says the drills and methodology for launching lifeboats are in place because of what happened a century ago.

And on the sea, Hearn says a lot of changes were implemented because of the Titanic, from flares to structural design.

He notes the International Ice Patrol and other safety organizations were created in wake of the sinking.

“I think the legacy of the Titanic, outside of the regulatory changes, is (that) it’s something that’s transcended generations.”

He notes there have been bigger marine disasters, but the Titanic’s legacy remains strong. He offered a historial theory about why.

“The idea (of Titanic) was conceived in one age, but I think its sinking and what happened as a result kind of was the herald for another age that came in,” he says, noting that the First World War, Spanish flu epidemic and Great Depression followed the disaster.

“Up to (the Titanic), everyone had unbridled confidence in technology and our ability to overcome things.”

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Marine Institute, Britannic

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