Crows nest - Was it Really Possible to see the Iceberg?


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Aaron_2016

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The British Inquiry asked Ernest Shackleton if icebergs were easier to detect from the crows nest. He said:

"....from a height it is not so easily seen; it blends with the ocean if you are looking down at an angle like that. If you are on the sea level it may loom up." "Better, the nearer you are to the waterline."




Titanicviewiceberg.png




Was it really possible for the lookouts on the Titanic to see the iceberg from that tremendous height? Captain Passow said - "We always see everything first before the look-out men do." There were smaller ships approaching the ice that night and despite their lookouts being told to stay vigilant the icebergs were seen on the bridges of those ships before the lookouts. Captain Lord of the Californian stayed vigilant and doubled his lookouts and yet he said: "I think I saw the ice myself before they did. They asked him: Q - Did you have glasses? A - I was not using them at the time. I looked through glasses after I had first seen it and could not make anything of it.

They asked Captain Rostron of the Carpathia who was also vigilant and passed many icebergs that night. He said: "We saw all the icebergs first from the bridge.....Either one of my officers or myself, before the look-outs."

They asked him to explain how that was possible.


Q - Your two men were on the look-out then in the eyes of the vessel?
A - Yes.

Q - No report had been made to you?
A - No.

Q - Who was it saw it first, do you know?
A - Yes, I saw it first.

Q - Before the look-out men?
A - Yes, we saw all the icebergs first from the bridge.

Q - I do not understand that. You were on the bridge with your officers, I presume?
A - Yes, the whole time.

Q - And each time, if I follow you, that an iceberg was seen, you picked it up first on your bridge?
A - Either one of my officers or myself, before the look-outs.

Q - Did you pick it up by sight, or by naked eye, or with binoculars?
A - At first with the naked eye.

Q - Do you find that you pick them up better with the naked eye than with binoculars?
A - It all depends. Sometimes yes, at other times not; it depends.

Q - How was it neither of the look-out men saw it or reported it to you? Why did not they see it before you?
A - Well, of course, they had all had warning about keeping a look-out for growlers and icebergs, previous to going on the look-out, and on the look-out also. You must understand, unless you know what you are looking for, if you see some very dim indistinct shape of some kind, anyone could take that as nothing at all, merely some shadow upon the water, or something of that kind; but people with experience of ice know what to look for, and can at once distinguish that it is a separate object on the water, and it must be only one thing, and that is ice.

Q - So that what it really comes to is this, if I follow you correctly, that it requires a man with some knowledge of icebergs, some experience of picking them up before he can detect them at night?
A - Precisely.



Does the above testimony suggest that the lookouts on the Titanic (who were significantly higher) did not see the iceberg until it was immediately ahead of the ship and perhaps illuminated by the lights of the Titanic? The lookouts on the Californian and the Carpathia could not see the icebergs as they were much higher than the bridge, but if the Titanic's lookouts were significantly higher than their lookouts then does this mean the lookouts likely did not identify or report the iceberg to the bridge before the collision? Fleet may have seen a cluster of stars disappear at the horizon but this could easily have been mistaken for a cloud on the horizon. If the other lookouts did not report the icebergs that they encountered does it explain why Fleet was so reluctant to say how far away the iceberg was when he rang the bell and how long it took to reach the ship?

Lookout Fleet

Q - How long before the collision or accident did you report ice ahead?

A - I have no idea.

Q - About how long?

A - I could not say, at the rate she was going.

Q - How fast was she going?

A - I have no idea.

Q - Would you be willing to say that you reported the presence of this iceberg an hour before the collision?

A - No, sir.

Q - Forty-five minutes?

A - No. sir.

Q - A half hour before?

A - No, sir.

Q - Fifteen minutes before?

A -No, sir.

Q - Ten minutes before?

A - No, sir.

Q - How far away was this black mass when you first saw it?

A - I have no idea, sir.

Q - Can you not give us some idea? Did it impress you as serious?

A - I reported it as soon as ever I seen it.


Does this suggest that he only rang the bell when he actually saw the iceberg? i.e. When it was illuminated by the ship's lights, and not before this when it only appeared to him as an unidentifiable black mass which could be mistaken for anything? When it approached and dived below the horizon it would have disappeared until it was right against the ship. I wonder if he hesitated or took a moment to try and identify what it was.


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Rusty_S

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Hmm thing is though one has to take into the account the curvature of the earth. If you are on the ocean in a life boat for instance the first thing you see of a ship is the top of its masts then you see more of the ship as it crests the curvature of the earth.

In theory the look outs on the crows nest being half way up the mast in theory should see the ice berg starting to block out stars on the horizon before the bridge as they would be able to see past the curvature of the earth before the bridge.

Now considering the fact it was pitch black dark that night with no moon and it was a very calm ocean at the time it would make it significantly harder for the lookouts to spot something in these extreme range conditions. But they should still spot them before lookouts posted on the bridge or even the forecastle deck just because by time the ship is close enough for those decks to be able to spot the iceberg over the curvature of the earth it should be quite obvious to those on the crows nest.
 

jeffjenlucas

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Walter Lord stated that complacency was everywhere. Could it also have been in the Crows Nest then? Could the Lookouts have been cold, distracted, and "daydreaming", or just staring out and thinking of something else?, which cost the ship precious minutes and seconds.
 

Rusty_S

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Its very possible. It is possible that just like a driver driving down the highway listening to the drone of their tires on the road will cause one of two things either cause the driver to just become hypnotic and just stare off out the windshield not comprehending what is happening or will actually put the driver to sleep.

I am sure staring forward for hours on end with the same steady tone of the bow cutting through the ocean would cause something similar to happen.
 
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Mar 22, 2003
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A little known quote from Frederick Fleet taken in an interview with Leslie Read:

“It was the beautifullest night I ever seen. The stars were like lamps. I saw this black thing looming up; I didn’t know what it was. I asked Lee if he knew what it was. He couldn’t say. I thought I better ring the bell. I rang it three times.” – Frederick Fleet, Lookout, SS Titanic.
 
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Jim Currie

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Here is a a rock which, in the words of AB Scarrott:

" - Well, it struck me at the time that it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar looking at it from Europa Point. It looked very much the same shape as that, only much smaller.... As you approach Gibraltar - it seemed that shape. The highest point would be on my right, as it appeared to me."
PA220088.JPG

It is exactly 75 feet high and I photographed it from a walkway which was about 300 feet from it if I had been 70 feet higher, it;s tip would have been below my horizon,
 

John Jaeger

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Walter Lord stated that complacency was everywhere.

This only adds to the culpability of Captain Smith, who obviously permitted such complacency "everywhere," resulting in this most unlikely catastrophe.

As does the following observation:

Aaron_2016: Was it really possible for the lookouts on the Titanic to see the iceberg from that tremendous height? Captain Passow said - "We always see everything first before the look-out men do."

That being the case, as asserted by Captain Passow, Titanic's captain should have stationed an additional two lookouts at the bow of the ship. He did not.
 
Mar 5, 2017
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I found this documentary most insightful on the subject of why the Titanic hadn`t detected the ice berg in time, if you have the time to watch the whole thing:

They talk about the height factor, the cold, the atmospheric conditions and many things that could have caused the Titanic lookouts not to spot the ice berg until it was too late, and they also theorize on how the crew of the Californian could have mistaken the size of the Titanic, because of distortions caused by a combination of weather phenomena (still doesn`t excuse why they didn`t help, but that`s a different discussion).
 
Nov 19, 2016
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A little known quote from Frederick Fleet taken in an interview with Leslie Read:

“It was the beautifullest night I ever seen. The stars were like lamps. I saw this black thing looming up; I didn’t know what it was. I asked Lee if he knew what it was. He couldn’t say. I thought I better ring the bell. I rang it three times.” – Frederick Fleet, Lookout, SS Titanic.

I have read this book, and also seen reference to this quote elsewhere. I think this is a major source of Frederick Fleet's guilt.....every second counted, and I think he did pause a few seconds trying to identify the smudge on the horizon. But I don't fault him for it, all of the weather conditions present that night added up to his puzzlement. I am writing a book based on the life of Frederick Fleet. The title is,"An Ocean of Blame."
 
Mar 22, 2003
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all of the weather conditions present that night added up to his puzzlement.
The weather conditions that night was a case of "severe clear" as we call it in aviation circles. The iceberg was sighted about 1/3 mile ahead as some dark mass against a darker watery background. From the crow's nest its peak would have been below level of the horizon when first seen. It was about 1/3 to 1/2 a minute after the 3-bell warning was given when orders were given by Murdoch to turn away.
 
Nov 19, 2016
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Yes, in my research I have read this about the level of the horizon, and I know you wrote it and I have been thrilled reading it!!! I don't blame Fred at all for not seeing the iceberg sooner, and realizing the identity of the smudge. But of course the poor man didn't have the insight you have, and so he did blame himself for the hesitation to ring the bell. As I recall, maybe it's in the Senate hearings, Lightoller said the role of the lookout is, ring the bell instantly, and let us know you think you see "something." If you are wrong, no one will fault you." But, at the moment he saw the smudge, I think Fred was confused by what he saw.........and so he paused........of course, the few seconds that ticked off the clock may NOT have made a difference, only Fred might have known the answer to that. He lived such a tragic life, from beginning to end.
 

Jim Currie

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The weather conditions that night was a case of "severe clear" as we call it in aviation circles. The iceberg was sighted about 1/3 mile ahead as some dark mass against a darker watery background. From the crow's nest its peak would have been below level of the horizon when first seen. It was about 1/3 to 1/2 a minute after the 3-bell warning was given when orders were given by Murdoch to turn away.

In his evidence to the US Inqiry, Fleet stated that the ringing of the bells, turning to the phone and ringing the bridge were almost joined-up events.
Day 4 US Inquiry:
Mr. FLEET.

5230. Can you not give us some idea? Did it impress you as serious?
- I reported it as soon as ever I seen it.

5239. To whom did you report that?
- I struck three bells first. Then I went straight to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge.
Day 5 US Inquiry:
Mr. FLEET....I went up to the telephone as soon as ever I struck three bells.
Day 15 UK Inquiry:
17390. Was this a good night for seeing; would you describe it as a clear night, or a night in which it was difficult to see?
- It was not difficult at all.

The foregoing are not the words of a man trying to cover-up a personal mistake. They clearly describe a Lookouts worst nightmare.

At 22.5 knots, 1/3 of a mile ahead, the iceberg was 53.3 seconds away from Titanic's stem bar, Sam and probably 55 seconds away from the first point of contact. If as the evidence suggests, the moment of impact came about 6 seconds after the first helm order was given, then it was given when the iceberg was 49 seconds ahead of the ship's stem bar. If the above evidence of Fleet is correct, then if they saw that berg 1/3 of a mile ahead of the ship, they were staring at it for well over half a minute...30 seconds...before they rang the bells. That's a long time, given that the lookouts also said:

"5266. I wish you would tell the committee whether you apprehended danger when you sounded these signals and telephoned; whether you thought there was danger?
- No; no, sir. That is all we have to do up in the nest; to ring the bell, and if there is any danger ring them up on the telephone."

5268. You thought there was danger?
- Well, it was so close to us. That is why I rang them up."

When the three bells were sounded, Murdoch would immediately look ahead. If Fleet and Lee could see that iceberg then so could Murdoch. If you remember that Murdoch had binoculars to check, then there is absolutely no doubt that he would have given the helm order between the last bell and the phone buzzing in the wheelhouse.
The lapsed time between the giving of the helm order and the moment of impact is so short, that the ship was almost on top of the icberg before the Lookouts saw it and gave the three bell warning. The highlighted last response from Fleet proves that beyond a doubt.

I am not suggesting that the iceberg could not have been seen 2026 feet ahead of the ship; just that these guys did not see it at that range. Nor did First Officer Murdoch who was also on the lookout for such danger. Reasons why can vary but my best guess is that it simply was a lot smaller than the Arctic monster portayed in films.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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then there is absolutely no doubt that he would have given the helm order between the last bell and the phone buzzing in the wheelhouse.
Senator FLETCHER. Yes. When you gave the three bells did you immediately turn to the telephone?
Mr. FLEET. Yes, sir.
Senator FLETCHER. How long were you at the telephone
Mr. FLEET. I suppose half a minute.


969. (The Attorney-General.) I think we can get at it in this way. What was the first notice to you that there was something ahead? - [QM Hichens] Three gongs from the crow’s-nest, Sir.970. That you would hear in the wheelhouse, would you? - Certainly.
971. And you knew what that meant? - Certainly, Sir.
972. That meant something ahead? - Yes.
973. How long was that before the order came "Hard-a-starboard"? - Well, as near as I can tell you, about half a minute.
 
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Jim Currie

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Sam, I think you will find that the the expression "half a minute" used by these lads did not mean 30 seconds. You are taking things too literally. If I told a friend "hang-on, I'll be with you in half a minute" I don't stand with a stop watch and turn up 30 seconds later. That would be absurd. In fact, I would be tryin to assure my friend that I would be with him as quickly as possible.
In Scotland they the expression: "In a a wee minute" to convey the same thing. In fact the period "half a minute", "half a mo" is simply another way of saying "I'll be with you in a New York minute".
The distributive determiner half is used to talk about a whole group divided in two. Half can be used as a distributive in several different patterns. Other fractions can be used in the same patterns, although they are less frequent. Additionally: Half can be used with measurements preceeded by an indefinite article (a or an). In this usage, it refers to a measurement. There was no "a" or "an" preceeding the word haused here

Fleet could not determine any passage of time. He was simply indicatimg the fact thast he was a short time at the phone. Nothing to do with when the ship's head started to respond to the helm order which could have been given at the moment he was buzzing the bridge. He could not tell his questioner how long it was between speaking tlo Moody and the moment of impact.
"Senator SMITH: Can you not indicate, in any way, the length of time that elapsed between the time that you first gave this information by telephone and by bell to the bridge officer and the time the boat struck the iceberg?
Mr. FLEET: I could not tell you, sir
."
In any case, He also said that while he was at the phone, his mate told him the ship's head was already moving left.
"Mr. FLEET: No, sir; they did not do it until I went to the telephone. While I was at the telephone the ship started to move.
Senator BURTON: Did you notice that the boat was bearing out to the left from the berg, or was it going right ahead toward it?
Mr. FLEET: It was going right ahead, as far we knew; but when I was at the phone it was going to port.
Mr. FLEET: My mate saw it and told me. He told me he could see the bow coming around."

Fleet was no looking ahead when the bow started to swing left, he was looking down and aft at the telephone unit.

As for the evidence of Hichens: He hadn't a clue about time. and actually said so. his use of half a minute would also be to indicate the briefest of moments. However, he was in the lifeboat with Fleet. What was to stop the two of them concocting a story that would seem that the latter acted in good time but the slow response of the bridge was a problem?
 
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That quote by Fleet about not being able to tell what that black smudge was is interesting. If he had to ask Lee what he thought it was, then how could he ring the bell three times and phone the bridge with "Iceberg dead ahead" if he wasn't certain at the time what that smudge was. I find his comment about being on the phone interesting. What does Fleet mean by, he was at the phone for half a minute. Does he literally mean he was standing at the phone for half a minute. If so, would that be a long time for such a simple and short exchange of words. Unless Jim is correct about the figure of speech in regards to half a minute.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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What was to stop the two of them concocting a story that would seem that the latter acted in good time but the slow response of the bridge was a problem?
Sure, why not?

I suggest that their response was not just a figure of speech but a direct reply to a very specific question asked of each. I'm not suggesting that the time was exactly 30 seconds, but I am suggesting that it was more than just a few seconds. Time at the phone for Fleet would be the time he was away from his normal position on the port side of the nest to Lee's left. The phone was behind Lee on the aft starboard side of the nest. It would include any time for the phone to be answered plus the conversation time itself. According to Fleet his first words were "Are you there?" To me that suggests that Moody was not standing right next to the phone when the phone signal came down. Add it all up and something close to 20 seconds overall, give or take, from three bells to when Moody relays the information to Murdoch seems to fit. Also, if what Fleet told Reade was true, it was somewhere between striking 3 bells and first going to the phone when Fleet realized what that object was in front of him.
As far as Hichens, he was very specific that the phone call came before Murdoch gave the order to turn the ship. If you go over Fleet and Lee's testimony carefully you will see that Lee told him that the ship was veering to port after Fleet put the phone down and was returning to his normal position over on Lee's left side.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Lookout Hogg gave an interesting response to this question which might explain why Fleet and Lee may have delayed in ringing the bell:


Q - As soon as you see anything, you signal the officer on the bridge, do you not?

A - Yes, sir; you would strike the bell. But you would make sure, if you had the glasses that it was a vessel and not a piece of cloud on the horizon. On a very nice night, with the stars shining, sometimes you might think it was a ship when it was a star on the horizon. If you had glasses, you could soon find out whether it was a ship or not.

They may have waited for their eyes to focus on the dark object and made sure it wasn't a cloud on the horizon.

.
 
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Nov 19, 2016
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For me, the key lies in Fleet's comment to Leslie Reade. He is telling Reade that time elapsed after he saw the smudge and before he rang the bell. That's the time interval in question, once he rang the bell it makes sense he would have gone to the phone and rang up the bridge.
On a personal level, I see no reason to believe he gave a 100% true testimony to the U S Senate. When the crew members who would testify were sequestered on the Celtic, Fleet, who was an impetuous man, who often spoke when he should have stayed quiet, told a NYT reporter that the way of the sea is always to be quiet (something he had trouble doing at that precise moment) and wait until the boss tells you what to say. So he's explaining why he will say whatever WSL wants him to say during the Inquiry. Lightoller, after meeting with Ismay on the Carpathia, met with Fleet. If Fleet wanted to continue his career at sea, he had to spout the company line. As a waif and a discard, his job with WSL was his only security. I do think he saw ice earlier and sent a warning that was ignored, but that's a conversation for another thread.....
 

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