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Fleet's 'Haze'

Discussion in 'Collision / Sinking Theories' started by Arun Vajpey, Apr 12, 2015.

  1. Arun Vajpey

    Arun Vajpey Member

    I have read a few accounts with state that Frederick Fleet in the Crow's Nest saw a "haze" in the horizon a minute or so he spotted the actual iceberg and rang the warning bell. Does anyone know if that was a verbatim quote by Fleet or Lee or assumption by a writer based on statements by either or both lookouts during the subsequent investigation?

    If Fleet did see a haze in the horizon at, say 11:39pm, would he have been able to identify the berg if he had binoculars?

    PS: I know that the subject of binoculars in the crow's nest has been done to the death. I fully agree that naked eyes are far better to spot a large object in the ships path but would binoculars then be useful to identify that object, perhaps before it got too close? After all, they usually did have binoculars in the crows nests and would not have done so if they were completely useless. More to the point, Fleet would not have asked Lightoller about their absence.
    Ajmal Dar likes this.
  2. It was Lee who came up with the haze (It was a dark mass that came through that haze...) and it seems Fleet jumped up on that train too. At the American Inquiry he did not mention anything of a haze and the British he suddenly came up with a slight haze.

    He would have been not able to identify it with binoculars.

    It was actually Symons who asked Lightoller for the binoculars and not Fleet.

    Do not know about the one minute and Lee claimed that haze was still there during the complete sinking (no one else seems to have noticed that haze).
  3. Seeing on a dark night is a learned art that often requires observing what’s not visible instead of what can be discerned. Part of the skill is learning to look slightly away from what you want to see. This takes advantage a quirk in the design of the human eye. The center portion of our vision sees color, but is less sensitive to dim light. The outer black-and-white receptors are more receptive. But, it takes training and “eyeball discipline” to not look at what you need to see in order to see it. It is this nature of human vision which erases my doubt that Titanic’s lookouts saw something they later called “haze.” Of course, it wasn’t meteorological haze. They simply used the word “haze” as a sort of code for what they really saw – ice blink.

    “Blink” is an unique phenomenon associated with ice. It was first defined in 1821 by Royal Navy Captain William E. Parry who wrote, “Blink. – A particular brightness in the atsmosphere, often assuming an arch-like form, which is generall perceptible over ice or land covered with snow.” Some 90 years later the American Practical Navigator (Bowditch) warned mariners, “Before field ice is seen from the deck the ice blink will often indicate its presence. ...On clear nights, especially when the moon is up, the sky along the horizon in the direction of the ice is markedly lighter than the rest of the horizon.”

    With that in mind, let’s examine what lookout Lee said in his testimony to the British inquiry. He said the alleged haze was “not so distinct” when he came on duty, “Not to be noticed, you did not really notice it then, not going on watch.” Of course, that described the situation four hours earlier when Titanic was still more than 90 miles distant from the ice field which lay across its path. Lee went on to say that later, “...we had our work cut out to pierce through it just after we started. My mate (Fleet) happened to pass the remark to me, he said, ‘Well, if we can see through that we will be lucky.’ That was when we began to notice there was a haze on the water.”

    Lee’s testimony is exactly what we would expect from someone in the crow’s nest of a ship approaching an ice field. There would be no blink visible at 90 miles distant, but gradually the horizon would grow lighter. The last part of Lee’s testimony – that it would be difficult to “pierce it” and Fleet’s rejoinder about needing “luck” is a strong indicator that later in the watch they actually began observing the ice field directly. Whether they saw the field of ice or not, there is no doubt that their first observation of the fatal berg was a silhouette against the lighter horizon in the direction of the ice field.

    Fleet’s description of his initial observation was a “black mass.” This is totally believable to me because over a lifetime in boats and small ships I’ve many times been able to identify dangers by their silhouettes against a lighter horizon. In Titanic that night the two lookouts obviously first observed what Fleet called a “black mass.” Experience had taught them that anything that is substantial enough to create a silhouette of itself is also a danger to the ship. So, they rang three strokes on their bell, the accepted warning signal for an object dead ahead. Note that they observed this danger not be seeing it directly, but but observing what was not there – the blocked out light of the background caused by the berg’s silhouette.

    The silhouette effect does not last. It gradually disappears as the vessel nears the danger and ambient light (star light, the ship’s own masthead light, etc.) allows the human eye to pick out some details on the surface of the danger. The duration of this transition is largely determined by the speed of the ship. While Titanic was a “fast” ocean liner, it was still only moving about 37 feet per second. Put into perspective, that’s the equivalent of a human runner doing the 100-yard dash in 8.1 seconds. (The current world record is 9.58 seconds, just a half second or so slower than Titanic.)

    We can get an idea of the duration between when the lookouts first reported that “black mass” and impact from the testimony of seaman Joseph Scarrott. He said that “five to eight” minutes passed between when he heard the lookouts’ bell and when he felt the ship strike. If we take six minutes as the midpoint of his observation the mental math is quite easy. Six minutes is 1/10th of an hour. In that time at 22 knots Titanic would have covered 2.2 miles, which is a rough approximation of the range from the crow’s nest to the silhouette on the horizon. At that point the “black mass” would have materialized into a distinct iceberg.

    For lookout Fleet, it was time to reach for the telephone.

    -- David G. Brown
  4. Arun Vajpey

    Arun Vajpey Member

    Thank you Mr Brown. I have taken the liberty of picking out a few sentences from your post that might be relevant to the second part of my question.

    In your opinion, if after observing the aforementioned 'black mass' with his naked eyes, Fleet had picked-up his binoculars (in the hypothetical event that he had one) and looked at the mass with them, could he have immediately identified it as an iceberg and reported it to the bridge? If so how many seconds/minutes earlier would awareness of the iceberg ahead come to Murdoch and could he then have had time to take action that would have avoided the collision?
  5. ‘Code word’ for ice blink? Ice blink is a brightening seen near the horizon on the underside of low lying clouds resulting from reflection of light off a field of ice immediately beyond. Ice blink can be seen in the following photograph: http://www.naturespic.com/NewZealand/image.asp?id=29249.

    The sky on the night of 14 April was perfectly clear. There were no clouds and therefore no ice blink. Fleet and Lee had very different versions of the so called haze that they claimed to have seen. When confronted by the commission of Lee's claim that they had all their work cut out to pierce through it, and that Fleet happened to pass the remark to Lee, “Well if we can see through that we will be lucky,” Fleet's response was, "Well, I never said that."

    What Fleet did claim is that “a sort of slight haze” was seen on the waterline extending from about 2 points to each side of dead ahead somewhere near seven bells, about 10 minutes before the ship struck the iceberg. As he put it, “it was nothing to talk about” and it had no effect on their ability to see any object ahead.
    From the crow’s nest, at a height of about 90 feet above the water, the horizon could be seen out to about 11 miles. At 7 bells the berg was less than 4 miles ahead of the ship and the pack ice some 5 miles beyond where the berg was based on what was seen the next morning after sunrise.

    As far as AB Scarrott hearing 3 bells from the lookouts 5 to 8 minutes before the ship struck, that is pure rubbish. It is very clear from reading what Scarrott actually said that he “did not take much notice of the three strikes on the gong, I could hardly recollect the time.” What seemed to be etched in his memory was that those 3 bells came “round about half-past eleven.” That is when seven bells were struck, about 10 minutes before the collision. All other witnesses place the 3 bell warning from the lookouts within less than a minute of the ship striking the berg.
  6. Arun Vajpey

    Arun Vajpey Member

    Thank you Mr Halpern. Taking those points into account, was Fleet's "haze" the first sighting of the iceberg then (even though it was not recognised as such)? And if this happened somewhere around 11:30 pm (7 bells), could Fleet (or Lee) been able to look closer at the 'haze' if they had binoculars and identify it as an iceberg in their path a minute or two before they actually did on that night?
  7. >>was Fleet's "haze" the first sighting of the iceberg then <<

    No, it wasn't the iceberg. If that 'haze' was even there at all it would have appeared as a very slight brightening on the horizon extending over an arc of about 1/8 of a circle. The brightening would be reflected starlight off the ice field. Although described as a black mass, the berg itself would reflect the same starlight as the field ice, after all, it is also made up of ice. As it got closer it would be seen as a dark object against an even darker, black sea. The ship's 1st officer did have binoculars, and probably was looking through them from time to time. He was fully aware that the ship was headed toward a region of ice, and expected to be up to it during his watch. But binoculars are only of value when you know exactly where to look. Reliance was, and still is, placed on spotting something first with the naked eye, which has a relatively wide field of vision, and then to look at any suspected object through glasses to identify what it is that may have been spotted. Also, back then, the glasses were not coated as they are today, so a pair of binoculars had fair amount of light loss making them less effective at night. If that berg was capable of being spotted earlier with glasses, you could be sure that the 1st officer on the bridge would have done so. On a clear, dark, moonless night, a medium sized berg the size the ship struck could at most be seen perhaps about 1/2 mile away when it would appear as a very dim, dark mass against a pure black sea.
  8. dazjstuart

    dazjstuart Member

    Do we know how tall the iceberg was? The crows nest was about 90 - 100ft out of the water, so if the berg was less than that then the lookouts would have been looking down at it, therefore the background to the berg would have been water rather than sky, surely this would have made it much harder to spot than from a lower level, i.e. the bridge or even right at the bow. Did they have lookouts posted right at the bow?
  9. Most survivors claimed that the iceberg was as tall as Titanic's boat deck (ca. 60ft above waterline).
    I'm not sure if this given fact makes the difference between sky background and water background, but would the type of background really matter that much?

    We had a sky full of stars. At a sky background Fleet's 'black mass' would be a gap in the sky, a small area with no stars which slowly moves.
    The sea was incredibly calm. Lightoller said that night only happened once in 100 years. At a water background Fleet's 'black mass' would be a small area where the reflection of the stars was absent, and that area was slowly moving towards the ship.

    So both the water and the sky were pitch black, but full of stars, so it was possible to observe a 'black mass' with the naked eye. There was literally nothing else the lookouts cloud do to distinguish a 'black mass' of an iceberg in the given conditions.

    James Cameron's movie places somebody right at the bow, and he says "It's gonna hit!" just a second flat before the actual collision. I have to admit I have no idea who that man was. Was it a seaman? An officer?
    Anyway, on the actual Titanic there was nobody right at the bow to say "It's gonna hit!"
  10. Mila

    Mila Guest

    Well, I often see "haze" at the horizon, when there's a mirage present. The sky is absolutely clear, and yet there's that "haze". Actually it is not really a haze. It is a duct, but it does look as "haze". As Dr. Andy Young explains Atmospheric Optics Glossary:

    Here's a video I filmed a few days ago

    It shows Fata Morgana of distant islands in the duct. The only problem with Titanic "haze" is that the only "haze" associated with mirages that I've ever observed was located at the horizon.

    But here's a narrative by By William Scoresby about low fog often present in polar seas.

    Although Titanic sank in April, and shouter than Polar seas, that low fog under clear sky could have been present.
    Georges G. likes this.
  11. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

    If readers will indulge me, I'll tell a few personal tales about haze and other strange things seen at sea.

    Last summer, I crossed the southern end of Spencer Gulf, SA, a distance of around 50 miles. South of my course lay Thistle Island and Wedge Island, both well over 180 metres high. Both islands were completely hidden by a strange haze. Behind me, there was real fog, which closed the Port Lincoln airport, but where I was visibility was always at least one mile and I was in no danger from other vessels or a big reef near my course. (I was motoring most of the way). Late in the day, a breeze sprang up and Wedge Island became visible, until it was covered in cloud caused by moist air rising over the high cliffs.

    In summer some years ago I saw a similar image to the one Mila supplied. A low, rugged island, a few metres high, appeared as a tall tower, with vertical sides. It was many miles away and would normally have been invisible.

    I have seen lighthouses appear at night long before they should have, thanks to refraction on a hot night. They vanished as the night cooled down and later reappeared at about their normal range.

    My point in all this is that strange things are indeed seen at sea, but that doesn't mean they should be invoked to explain any odd bit of testimony, or to push a personal theory. In my view, the events of the night to remember took place in very ordinary conditions for the open ocean. It was cold, clear and extremely dark. The berg was not very big and by the time it was close it was below the lookouts' horizon and was lost against the dark sea. I'm not surprised they didn't see it in time to avoid it.
  12. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    I completely share your point of view, Dave. I argued that very point with Tim Malten but my protests fell upon deaf ears.

    There is a simple experiment anyone with a pair of compasses. a ruler and a protractor can do. It will show the what the 'haze' seen by the lookout really was...star-light reflected off the surface of the long, low ice barrier across the path of Titanic. It will also tell how far away the ice barrier was when the lookouts first saw the 'haze', the time they saw it and
    how far away the ship was from disaster.

    "17250. After the first part of the watch what was the change if any? A: - A sort of slight haze.
    17256. Was it only ahead, did you notice? A: Well, it was only about 2 points on each side.
    Sir Robert Finlay: Mr. Wilding has just verified it again, and finds it was 55 feet above the waterline.
    The Attorney-General: I think the crow's-nest is about 40 feet above the deck.

    Using the foregoing evidence, try the following.

    At the center of a clean A4 sheet of paper (or similar), make a mark to represent Titanic. From the mark, draw a vertical line to the top of the page to represent the planned course of the ship.
    With the protractor, draw two lines 22.5 degrees on each side of the planned course ( 2 points on each side of right ahead)
    Next, with the compasses set to exactly exactly 11.5 units, and the point located at Titanic, inscribe an arc cutting the lines representing right ahead and two points on each bow. This represents the arc of the horizon of the two lookouts at a height of a hundred feet above the sea.
    Join the points where two points on either side lines cut the arc of the horizon . This represents the ice barrier.
    From thje evidence of Captain Rostron of Carpathia, we know that the iceberg was about 3 miles east of the barrier. You can plot that too. The finished article should look better than the following:
    If the above is true and Titanic was making 22.5 knots before she hit the iceberg, then the lookouts saw the 'haze' 28 minutes before impact with the iceberg and the ship hit the ice 20 minutes after they first saw the haze.
  13. What I find strange about this haze business being attributed to reflected starlight, is that the ice field, which was from 3 to 5 miles from where Carpathia picked up the boats as seen in the morning after the sun came up, could somehow show up as a 'slight haze' 11 miles in front the ship (about 1/2 hour of steaming at 22 knots) yet be completely out of sight after the ship came to a stop after striking the berg when it was only 3 to 5 miles away? There were no clouds in the sky, so that rules out ice blink. And from what Capt. Lord wrote, the ice filed which blocked his path was first seen as a brightening near the horizon when his ship was only about 6 minutes away, or a little over 1 mile. The visible horizon to someone standing on the bridge of his ship would have been about 8 miles out.
  14. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    I found it strange too, Sam, but unless you can conjure-up another explanation such as the formation of sea-smoke over the ice or prove the lookouts were lying, it's the best option. However, neither Captain Lord of the Californian or his men had the luxury of such a forewarning. The Califorian was into it before she could be turned away.
    On the other hand, Captain Rostron saw an iceberg by the reflected light of a star.
  15. Aaron_2016

    Aaron_2016 Guest

    Fascinating video and diagrams. I am under the impression that the Northern Lights caused the ice around the Californian to illuminate. Mr. Buley - "The northern lights are just like a searchlight" Major Peuchen - "...right directly north, I think it would be, because the northern lights appeared where this light we had been looking at in that direction appeared shortly afterwards......I did not think, from my knowledge of yachting, that it was a boat light. I think it was one of those reflected lights. The northern lights were very strong that night. It might have been some reflection on ice. I was not satisfied it was the light of a steamer, by any means."

    Mr. Stengel gave an interesting description of the illuminated ice. He said: "We followed a light that was to the bow of the boat, which looked like in the winter, in the dead of winter, when the windows are frosted with a light coming through them. It was in a haze. Most of the boats rowed toward that light, and after the green lights began to burn I suggested it was better to turn around and go toward the green lights, because I presumed there was an officer of the ship in that boat, and he evidently knew his business."

    Lawrence Beesley
    "I see now that we must have been pointing northwest, for we presently saw the Northern Lights on the starboard, and again, when the Carpathia came up from the south, we saw her from behind us on the southeast, and turned our boat around to get to her.....Towards 3.00am we saw a faint glow in the sky ahead on the starboard quarter, the first gleams, we thought, of the coming dawn. We were not certain of the time and were eager perhaps to accept too readily any relief from darkness--only too glad to be able to look each other in the face and see who were our companions in good fortune; to be free from the hazard of lying in a steamer's track, invisible in the darkness. But we were doomed to disappointment: the soft light increased for a time, and died away a little; glowed again, and then remained stationary for some minutes! "The Northern Lights"! It suddenly came to me, and so it was: presently the light arched fanwise across the northern sky, with faint streamers reaching towards the Pole-star. I had seen them of about the same intensity in England some years ago and knew them again. A sigh of disappointment went through the boat as we realized that the day was not yet;"

    What is interesting is that Alfred Shiers saw the iceberg pass the stern and he said the haze was behind the ship and there was haze on both sides of the iceberg which made it difficult to see the iceberg, because only the outline of the iceberg was visible passed the haze. I wonder if the iceberg could produce a localised haze and if the field ice (miles wide and long) created a string of haze on the horizon and intensified when the Northern Lights appeared.

  16. Such an explanation might explain why it was not seen after the collision. Could it have been local and temporary?
  17. Mila

    Mila Guest

    Hi Sam,

    I am reading your book, and you did write a lot about that haze on the horizon, but why? If the iceberg could not have been spotted before she was as close as half a mile from Titanic, what difference that haze at the horizon would have played anyway? From the lookouts height and maybe even from the bridge height the iceberg located half a mile away would have been completly outlined by the ocean, would it not?
  18. Arun Vajpey

    Arun Vajpey Member

    Reading that same (excellent) book, I assumed what Sam meant was that the haze that Fleet may have seen the very slight brightening of the horizon due to the reflection of the starlight off the (not yet visible) iceberg. If Fleet had interpreted this correctly - or at least suspected that it was something unusual - he could have alerted the bridge right then. Murdoch then is likely to have interpreted the haze for what it really was and started his evasive action a bit earlier than he actually did. Considering the actual events that took place, this earlier action might have avoided the collision altogether. At least that is how I understood it.

    PS: Sorry Sam, I love your book but cannot bear to use that word "allison" even though it is probably more correct than "collision".:)
  19. There is quite a difference between “seeing” in the usual context of human activities and “observing” in terms of a lookout’s job at sea. I believe this difference is quite obvious in the testimony of lookout Fleet.

    On land, we mostly “see” things by reflected light. It is reflected light that gives us color and definition of shape. Our eyes are designed for this type of “seeing” with sharp color sensors in the center of our vision surrounded by more sensitive, but less sharp monochrome receptors. It is in the context of this type of “seeing” that estimates of visibility for icebergs have been developed.

    At sea at night it is necessary to observe and avoid dangers under dim light far below optimum levels for human “seeing.” Note that I used the word “observe” in the above sentence. This was quite deliberate. A lookout does not have to know the shape, makeup, or even what a danger may be. His job is to report that the danger has been observed.

    There are many tricks lookouts and officers use to visually observe what cannot be seen in the classic sense. The best known of these is to look slightly to one side (or slightly above or below) the object. Being more receptive, the black & white sensors often pick out a distinct image of a danger that disappears when the observer looks straight at the object using the center of his vision.

    Another method of observing a danger is to observe how it blocks the light from the horizon beyond. The actual object is not seen in any respect, just its blackness against the less-black horizon. I’ve used this trick on numerous occasions to spot small boats against shoreline lights. Once, I avoided running down a boatload of people enjoying a fireworks display. Their boat carried no lights, but its black silhouette was clearly visible against the reflected fireworks on the water.

    Because of the background that I bring to this discussion, I read Fleet’s words quite differently from most land-bound historians. He said that the first observation of the berg was of a “black mass.” In this case, the word “mass” obviously means something of amorphous or undetermined shape. “Black” describes not the color of the ice (which would have been gray or white in daylight). Instead it was blackness caused by the mass blocking light from the horizon beyond.

    As a seasoned hand, Fleet knew that anything capable of creating such a silhouette had two characteristics – it was large and it was solid. Both of these characteristics by definition made the observed “black mass” a danger to be reported to the bridge. It did not matter a whit the nature of that danger. It could have been a flying saucer taking on ice for refreshments on the way back to planet Venousia. Fleet didn’t care. It was big and solid. Ding – Ding - Ding...object dead ahead.

    How far can a silhouette be seen? We don’t have a clue yet. All I know is that astronomers use this same basic technique to discover new planets tens of thousands of light years away from our home plant. In the case of Titanic, the silhouette could have been seen as far as the curve of the Earth allowed.

    And, when could they have “seen” the berg in the conventional manner? That’s a different story. The distance could have been only a matter of a minute or so’s steaming at 22 knots. In such a case, Fleet was correct in reaching for the telephone to give emphasis to his message about an “iceberg right ahead.”

    – David G. Brown
  20. Mila

    Mila Guest

    Hi Arun,
    I am afraid I did not formulate my question properly. I meant that, if no matter what the iceberg could not have been spotted before she was not more than 1/2 miles from Titanic, it means that 60-80 feet iceberg would have been completely or almost completely outlined by the ocean (not by the sky) looking from the lookouts height. That is why whatever was happening at the horizon did not matter. I doubt that haze. No matter what kind of haze it was it could have not just disappear right after the collision.