This week marks the 105th anniversary of the ill-fated voyage of RMS Titanic. When I went on my cruise around the British Isles in 2015, we visited at three of the Titanic cities: Belfast where the ship was built, Southampton where the voyage began, and Cobh/Queenstown where the ship made it’s final stop before meeting its fate.
Belfast now hosts the Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre at the location where the ship was built. The design of the museum reflects the bow of the ship, making it architecturally interesting. We could see it in the distance as our bus left the docks for the drive to Londonderry. If I ever make it back to Belfast for more than a day, I’d like to tour the centre.
The Titanic was launched from the Belfast docs on May 31, 1911, and towed to a fitting-out dock for interior construction. It was the largest passenger ship of its day, but as we know now, had some fatal defects. One was in the construction of the supposedly water-tight compartments that made the ship almost unsinkable, according to the White Star Line. Obviously they overestimated the efficacy of the design. The other fatal flaw came from the fact that the ship carried only enough lifeboats to accommodate 1/3 of the passengers and crew.
The plaque on the memorial reads:
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN
THIS. THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS
LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS
ST. JOHN 15TH CH. 13TH V
TO THE MEMORY OF THE ENGINEER OFFICERS
OF THE R.M.S “TITANIC” WHO SHOWED
THEIR HIGH CONCEPTION OF DUTY AND THEIR
HEROISM BY REMAINING AT THEIR POSTS
15TH APRIL 1912.
ERECTED BY THEIR FELLOW ENGINEERS AND FRIENDS
THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
Our 2015 cruise on the Royal Princess started from the English port of Southampton, as did the Titanic’s inaugural and only voyage. Passengers began boarding the Titanic on the morning of Wed. April 10th 1912. There were three classes of accommodations: First, Second and Third classes. The First Class cabins were full of wealthy and famous people, including John Jacob Astor IV and his young second wife, Isidor Straus (owner of Macy’s Department Store) and his wife, Benjamin Guggenheim and the famous Molly Brown of musical comedy fame.
That evening, Titanic docked briefly in Cherbourg, France to pick up more passengers. (Unlike a cruise where such a short stop would accommodate passengers eager to explore every possible port.) At 9PM Titanic sailed again for its final port stop.
On Thursday, April 12th, Titanic arrived in Queenstown (now Cobh) in what was then part of the United Kingdom, but is now the Republic of Ireland. Cobh was one of our port stops, and I found it a charming and picturesque city, despite the gray skies that greeted us.
Reminders of the Titanic are numerous in the docks area of Cobh, despite the fact that the ship docked for only an hour and a half. The final group of doomed passengers boarded the ship that afternoon. I imagine most were never seen again, since they were unlikely to be among the wealthy in First Class.
The Titanic’s passengers had two mostly uneventful days (unlike the James Cameron movie, which was full of drama) at sea. Then on April 14, at approximately 11:30PM, Titanic side swiped an iceberg and the unsinkable ship started to fill with water. The ship sank around 2:20AM on April 15, taking all but 705 of the souls on board down with it.
In the aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking, maritime laws changed, requiring passenger ships to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board, changing the shipping lanes southward to avoid icebergs, and setting up the wireless distress call of SOS.
Side note: the wireless was a new, sexy technology, and the operators were kept busy sending personal message for the wealthy passengers. Later, wireless communications were reserved only for ship business, such as weather reports.
Even after more than a hundred years, the story of the Titanic continues to fascinate us. If you’re interested in more details, I recommend the extensive Wikipedia page on the Titanic and the book A Night To Remember by Walter Lord, which I reviewed on this blog. The book was written in the mid-1950s and much is based on the memories of some survivors.
The sinking of the Titanic is an epic human tragedy, a tale of greed, hubris and incompetence, cowardice and courage, and of love and sacrifice. No wonder it still fascinates after all this time.
Will you be watching the movie Titanic this week? I haven’t decided.