Hard a Starboard by Nathan Robison

Hi Nathan

I really enjoyed reading your article. In my opinion the witnesses accounts are the best sources even for developing theories which are different from the common views.

Your conclusion is that there were only 15 seconds between Fleet´s warning and the collision. We probably can state that he gave this warning nearly at the same time when he saw the iceberg. This would mean, that the berg was only 170-200 Meters (about 1/10 of a nautical mile) away when it was detected by Fleet. This distance seems rather short. However, why not. We should see the following points which are hardly to find in the Titanic literature:

1. We always read about the "moonless night". This is correct. But this does not mean at all that the night was totally dark. The sum of the stars can give enough light even in a moonless night to recognise details in the darkness. But:

2. The naked human eye needs about 30-40 minutes to get the full darkness adaption. If you look even for a few seconds into an artificial light, your eyes need another 30-40 minutes to get fully adapted. These figures you can read in many books about astronomy. The only light that does not cause another adapting in the darkness is the red light (That´s why astromomers use red light during observations).

I do not know whether there were some electric (white) bulbs burning on the ship in front of the lookouts. On the one side I am sure, in 1912 they knew about that question of adapting. On the other hand I cannot recall any account concerning this point which should be a leading point in discussing the visibility in the darkness.

But even if the ship in front of the lookouts was totally dark, we don´t know whether the lookouts maybe turned their heads to any light behind them - just a few seconds would be long enough to get nearly blind eyes in the darkness for a pretty long time...

Regards Henning
Hi Nathan!

I'd like to reiterate Henning's comments. I found your article an excellent read, certainly you have taken a radical, bold look at the collision and the events leading up to it.

Your emphasis on the "icefield" as opposed to "The Iceberg" is well-placed.

I also found it pleasing that you explored the long-time puzzle of Boxhall and Olliver's entry onto the bridge at the time of the collision -- I know many people, I for one, have been puzzled by their testimony, both "singular" and "combined".

Groves' observations were good at tracking Titanic's movements leading up to, and including the collision, although I feel that some researchers will look elsewhere; the contentious issue of whether or not Californian saw Titanic is still very much alive and I won't comment on it here. Personally, however, I do think that it would need to have been a *major* coincidence for the Californian to have seen what she did had it not been Titanic.

One observation, regarding the "coal shortage." Citing Pitman's testimony, you conclude that there was a shortage and that it would have been inadvisible to burn more than was necessary. Now, I agree with the latter point, but regarding the supposed "shortage" I have to differ. Titanic departed with 1,000 tons of coal more than her sister did on nher 1911 maiden voyage, and Olympic herself arrived just after 2 a.m. Wednesday at Ambrose with *1,300 tons of coal remaining.* Bruce Ismay's testimony agrees that there was a two-day *reserve* and detailed calculations -- some briefly presented in the 'Titanic's Proposed Caol Consumption thread in Technical... -- seem to hold true with that assertion. In fact, steaming at 21 knots Titanic's coal supply would have sufficed for 9.5 days after leaving Southampton; even an average of 22.5 knots for the entire crossing would have left a reserve, although Pitman was correct in saying that there was not enough coal aboard to drive the ship at *24 knots all the way across.*

That's only a very minor point, it was a well-researched and enjoyable article. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future and I am sure that with the members available on this board a good, balanced discussion of your thesis will result in this thread.

Best regards,

Re the possibility of electric lights in front of the lookouts: I can't vouch for the positioning of electric lights, but I believe that Titanic's officers were aware of the dangers of the lookouts' night vision being disrupted. Didn't Murdoch order Trimmer Hemming to shut a hatch forward just before Hemming went off watch so that light escaping from the hatch wouldn't interfere with the view from the crow's nest?

Jim Smith
I must say that this was a most interesting article to read. Of course as I am sure that most who know me well are well aware of what about to say.

I have along with Dave Brown have been looking into the possibility of Titanic steering out of one danger and straight into another. About 6 months ago I suggested that I would have more likely altered my course rather then make some evasive manuver. No mater how you slice an evasive type manuver can be tricking if you don't have a expert helmsman. I would have to agree with Nathan that Murdoch most likely saw the icefield before the lookouts did and altered his course probably up to about 20 degrees (hence the 2 points quoted by Fleet and Hitchens).

The problem I have encountered in trying to reconstruct the events that night is brought to light in Nathans work. If Murdoch and Smith had survived the sinking there license wouldn't. Whether or not the object was dark or somewhat obsecured in any way shape or form the fact that the ship was steaming at 22 knots and chose to avoid on danger but put herself square on with another shows in extreme amount of neglegence. I don't believe the parralax had anything to do with Murdochs decision to change course. I also don't think that Murdoch was neglegent.

He was an expereinced officer who knew how to handle a ship. He would have known that at 22 knots a 10 degree course change would have been made a lot faster then an attempt to get out it once the helmsman had commited to it. I have offered to Dave Brown that Murdoch altered course to avoid an icefield just as Nathan has suggested which I must tell you takes a lot of guts to proclaim as he did and he deserves praise for it. But what doesn't make sense to me is why would Murdoch change course only slightly regardless of how it might impact the passengers. If the danger was there one would think that he would want to put the icefield on his beam and travel south along it until either daylight or until he could find an opening. A "slight course change" doesn't seem to fit the urgency of the situation. There are many unanswered questions which fit along the same line. As Mark said there was enough Coal do go south for at least a day if needs be. Plus we have the math of the ships turning circle as well as the course change. A ship doesn't turn like a car. More like a bus on ice.

When I read the testimony of other Master Mariners that night I can't help but get the feeling or impression that they think that Titanic is steaming blindly into a death trap that they couldn't escape.

Nathan quoted a Captain who said that he thought Titanic had sufficient lookouts. The way I view things he was right. As Mark I think allueded to I find it very odd that Oliver and Boxhall just happened to be elsewhere at the exact moment of impact. The second most Senior Officer on the bridge wasn't on watch that night, and the other quartermaster both where not there and surprise surprise both have a different story.

There is a quoted 2/3 of a mile that Nathan uses. That is 2/3 of a mile from the ship as she was sailing on her orginal course before a course change. Hitchens after recieving the course change order (assuming that the course change was about 10 degrees) would have made the correction within about a mile. More then likely a mile. Unless Hitchens put on to much rudder he wouldn't have needed to apply oppisite rudder to stop the swing of the ship as if he did it correctly there shouldn't have been a swing of the ship. He should have used about 3 to 5 degrees of rudder and once the rudder was actually at the 5 degrees at 22 knots it should have taken about a 30 seconds for the ship to get to the knew course. All he would have had to do is put the rudder amid ships once he was half way there and the ship would have stopped turning.

Keep in mind that my version of "swing" is the one I was taught at Kings Point which is the rapid turning of a ship of more then 10 degrees every 10 seconds.

With all fairness it is possible that Hitchens would have applied oppisite rudder but not more then 5 degrees if the turn was about 10 degrees true.

There are several things missing from the tradional story that most of us don't understand. Especially from a sailors point of view. Nathan wrote a really good paper which takes a radically different (radically in a good way) approach at explaining how it could have happened.

Interesting paper Nathan.

Parallax was not the primary reason why Murdoch decided to change Titanic's course. The icefield was the primary reason.

Once the course change was underway and the berg spotted, parallax might have become a factor. Murdoch would have thought they had more room to clear the iceberg. It is also very likely that he thought the ship would turn farther to port than she really did. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.

Lights blinding the lookouts...

One could argue that Murdoch ordered the hatch to be shut for his own benefit, not the lookouts'. It was frequently documented by officers (especially at Mersey's inquiry) that no particular faith was placed in the lookouts. Many were adamant that they saw "everything" before the lookouts.

Nathan R.
To me parallax equals neglegence and incompetence. Niether of which I think where the determing factors of the accident. I think that it would be more accurate to state that the technogy of ships had out grown the knowledge of those who sail them. Technogy had grown faster then it could be taught. Much like is the situation with todays 1000+ft cruise liners of today. If I where to use that as the reason why I hit something I wouldn't have a license. Murdoch was an experienced officer and for some reason that kind of mistake (a rookie mistake that I have made in a simulator)doesn't fit his profile.

The main problem that I have with turning (whether it be course change or evasive manuver)away from one object and into another means that at the very least the three people whos attention should have been devoted to looking forward obvioulsy weren't looking forward. The ships turn (if it was a 10 degree change which I think we can safely assume it wasn't. Fleet and Lee both say that the ship was moving to the left BEFORE they rang the bell) should have been more then completed by the 2/3rds of a mile that Nathan suggests. I guess my main trouble is understanding the distances. I am using my "fly wheel" to understand speed and distances. I keep getting the same result. Not enough distance and not enough time to get the same result.

I really like this conversation. Nathan has introduced us to a theory that is revolutionary when compared to the traditional theory and he has opened a conversation that I am sure will provide some interesting results.

Parallax is just one of the many factors that might have played a part in the accident. The conditions that night were very unusual and deceiving.

Erik's defense of Murdoch is well-grounded. Any argument that Murdoch was incompetent and/or negligent is foolish. The man was a well-respeced shiphandler. He was perhaps THE most experienced 'Olympic-class' shiphandler in the world. Thus, it is simply astonishing that such an accident could have occurred under Murdoch's watch.

Nonetheless, he was human. People make mistakes. The seeing conditions that night were very unusual. There was nobody standing in the port bridge wing. These are all unfortunate circumstances that resulted in tragedy.

Parallax may only have convinced Murdoch that the ship was going to comfortably clear the berg. That could be one reason why no helm order was issued right after Fleet's warning. Titanic did in fact clear the above water portion of the berg. The ship probably only came a few feet closer to the berg than Murdoch initially thought they would.

Nathan R
That makes sense. It also backs up part of Dave Browns grounding theory. A couple of the things that still don't understand is the distance of the turn, the difference between the new course and the old one and how far away the ship was from the icefield when they turned and how close to the icefield was the berg??

I talked I think in a different thread regarding this very thing. The distance and time factors that play a very big part in the actual manuver that Murdoch made but more importantly the distance between the berg and the icefield.

This in and of itself is something that I am still in the research phase of going through but I can say with some certainty that if they where close to a mile (or a mile at most)meaning the berg was about a mile away from the main icefield or nearer to Titanic then technically on Titanics spin the ship should have come into contact with the icefield as well as the iceberg. But again I stress that I am still in the research phase. My DC computer tells me that is what should have happened but I am still not sure about the distances.

Hi, Erik!

>Fleet and Lee both say that the ship was moving to the left BEFORE they rang the bell

Could you direct me toward the specific testimony where Fleet and Lee each made this claim? Thanks very much.

All my best,

My mistake George they say that while they where on the phone they noticed the ship moving to the left. I am a little busy but I will give you the passage by the begining of next week.
Hi, Erik!

Thanks very much. I'm familiar with the testimony that the ship had begun turning just as Fleet hung up the telephone -- it was your statement that the turn began *before* the phone call occurred that had me puzzled.

Hope all is well with you, old chap.

All my best,

Nate's paper addresses two key issues in the Titanic story: 1. Why was the iceberg dead ahead? and, 2. Did Californian see Titanic?

On point #1, although I find fault with some of his shiphandling suggestions, Nate has produced some remarkable evidence that there was no "hard a-starboard" command ever issued. His arguments are based on a solid historical foundation taken straight from the official transcripts.

Captain Erik's comments do not weaken the basic argument that no "hard a-starboard" order was given. However, they do point out that Nate is not experienced in handling ships. I have discussed this with Nate and, if his personal schedule allowed, I think he would make certain improvements in that regard.

Right from the start of my book, "Last Log," I felt some uneasyness about the conventional story. It was obvious that the ship was not turning left at the time of the impact. The laws of physics cannot be violated. A left turn (starboard helm in 1912) at impact would have produced a completely different accident than what happened. My way out of this dilemma was to assume Murdoch attempted a true "port around" maneuver that first involved swinging the bow to port (using starboard helm) and then reversing the rudder (applying port helm) to swing the bow toward the berg in order to swing the stern clear. In my version, impact occurred after the helm had been put "hard a-port." Well, I now have to admit that I had the right idea, but Nate has come closer to what actually happened.

This double turn "port around" maneuver is theoretically possible, but leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The biggest is whether the steering engine could have responded quickly enough. Nate's research eliminates the problems of the turn left, then right scenario. I have a penchant for finding the simplest answer because that's normally what happened.

Simplifying Nate's paper to the very basics, he is saying that Titanic made a course change to the south, using starboard helm. This course change had the unfortunate result of aiming the ship directly at the deadly iceberg.

In reading the testimony of the lookouts, particularly Fleet, I was struck by two things. First, he seems to say that an iceberg warning was sent to the bridge shortly after 7 bells, which was 11:30 p.m. However, the accident was almost ten minutes later. Both Fleet and Lee were adamant that only one warning was sent to the bridge of the deadly iceberg. Using only Fleet and Lee's testimonies there is no way to explain the paradox of an 11:30 p.m alarm and the claim that that the only warning of the deadly berg came moments before the accident.

But, completely overlooked with regard to ice warnings are the testimonies of Scarrott and Olliver. Both men reported hearing 3-bell alarms (3 bells meant an object dead ahead) from the crow's nest several minutes prior to the accident. "As I did not take much notice of the three strikes on the gong, I could hardly recollect the time," testified Scarrott in London. "But I should think it was -- well, we will say about five or eight minutes (before the accdent). It seemed to me about that time."

Olliver, the relief quartermaster, said that he heard a 3-bell alarm from the crow's nest as well. Most historians (including myself) have assumed he heard the warning for the deadly iceberg. However, at the time he heard the 3 strikes on the lookouts' bell, Olliver was atop of the standard compass platform between the 2nd and 3rd funnels. He apparently completed the trimming of the lamp in the compass binnacle, secured the compass and then came down the 15-foot ladder to the roof of the 1st class lounge. From there, he had to walk about 200 feet forward, coming down off the roof at one point, to reach the ship's bridge. All-in-all, this took the same five or eight minutes that Scarrott recalled between hearing the 3 bells and the actual accident.

So, Fleet and Lee told the truth. There was a 3-bell warning shortly after 11:30 p.m. but it was not for the fatal iceberg. The warning of the fatal berg occurred only a few moments prior to the accident. The testimony of Scarrott and Olliver confirms that of the lookouts. And, taken altogether, the testimonies of both lookouts, Scarrott, and Olliver are consistent with a scenario in which Titanic turned left to avoid one danger only to run into another.

Coming back to Captain Erik's concern of negligence on the part of the ship's officers -- the fact that Titanic struck and iceberg and sank is proof of negligent operation. Even those of us who are sympathetic to Captain Smith, Murdoch, et. al. must admit this is true. The real question is the level of the negligence. Was it just the ordinary failing of human beings who are not infallable. Or, was it worse?

I believe that White Star and the surviving deck officers realized that any admission Titanic was dodging ice prior to the accident was tantamount to admitting gross negligence. After all, if the ship had to make a course change because of the ice, why was it still steaming at 22+ knots? And, if the officers knew ice lay ahead--and they had spotted ice earlier in the watch--why did they wait until there was so much ice around the ship to make their course change? I am sure the attornies out there could use such questions to great effect against the company.

Thus, we have the invention of the left turn ("hard a-starboard") that never happened. It was a simple answer that the public would readily understand. And, it was repeated often enough that even reputable historians bought the lie and repeated it down the generations (present company included).

Back to Nate's paper and point #2 in my first paragraph, the relationship of Californian to Titanic has always been a bone of contention. Groves did not describe the actions of a ship that made an emergency left turn (hard a-starboard) to dodge an iceberg. Rather, he described a ship that seemed to make gradual course change to the southwest before turning more than 90 degrees to the north in order to present its port bow to Californian.

Previously, the differences between the conventional story of Murdoch's maneuvers around the berg and Groves' testimony raised doubts about what was seen from Californian. Nate puts these doubts to rest. Groves saw exactly the maneuvers Titanic accomplished that night. Californian saw Titanic.

Of course, this does not answer any of the other questions surrounding the Californian affair. Why did Captain Lord not act? Would it have made a difference? There is still much to learn about that night.

-- David G. Brown
As full as my own plate has been, I haven't had a chance to read the completed article, but I was priviledged to see a rough of it two weeks befor publication. I'll have to make time to read the article in it's final form, but suffice to say that Nathan offers a lot of food for thought here. Good Job Nathan!

Michael H. Standart
Captain Dave makes some valid points and while I must admit that I have never really liked the initial maneuver. A course change due south or even remotely south would have still put the ice field or object to the ships stern and beam neither of which is reported by Rowe who seems to be one of the only untampered witnesses and he was in a perfect spot to see it all.

I must agree from reading the testimony that there are some major discrepancies. The time or times of the warnings from the lookouts and the actual maneuvering from 1130pm that night onward. Nate has dealt with a very serious issue. One that basically goes against what 99.9% of Titanic historians have thought and wrote about for the last 90 years. Not to mention if put in the right order he could have the technical data to back it up.

While discussing this with my wife she asked a question that I don't know if I know the answer to. Could Oliver have heard the bell, which would have been more then 100 feet or so in front of him, plus he would have had two funnels in front of him and one right behind him and there associated noise. My gut tells me yes he could have heard them. But if they happened like they are suppose to in rapid succession he may not (or more truthfully) I don't know if would be able to have positively identified them as the bells from the crows nest. If he heard bells at 1130 it could have been the lookouts or the bridge ringing the time. Just a thought.

As I have stated above some of my major concerns are not with the ship setting a course change as I had come to this conclusion on my own about 4 months ago. But with the logistics and technicality of the maneuver. In order for the two to have happened so close together they would have had to have been less then 2 miles apart, so even if Rowe missed the ice field as he passed it the first time, when he passed the berg he would have been anywhere between 50 to a 100 yards closer to the ice field. If you use this then Titanic would have been heading south south west after the course change then during the port rounding maneuver North north west and after the berg it should have had the ice field less then a mile and half off the port beam. Which nobody claims to have seen.

This also means that if Titanic got back underway as purposed she would not have needed to make a big course change. As she would have been heading in the basic direction. Unless the port rounding maneuver only made it half way and the ship was heading west and not north west. Just a couple of thoughts.

Nate seems to be on firm ground that no "hard a-starboard" command was issued. This makes sense, based on the way Titanic approached and rounded the berg. I believe, however, that how the ship maneuvered is somewhat different than what Nate proposes. There were a lot of icebergs around the ship that night. This fact was suppressed by White Star/Lightoller and the others because of its incriminating nature with regard to negligence & liability.

The two bergs of greatest concern were the actual fatal berg, which we will call the 11:40 iceberg. And, another berg was spotted shortly after 7 bells, so we will call it the 11:32 iceberg.

Scarrott and Olliver heard the lookouts' warning bell for the 11:32 iceberg. This berg was ultimately passed at a "safe distance" so that it attracted little attention other than from the lookouts and bridge watch. It was never really a danger to the ship. The 11:32 berg simply served as the catalyst that caused Smith/Murdoch to order a course change to the south.

Because the phrase "two points" occurrs in so much of the testimony, I suggest the initial course change was two points (22.5 degrees) to the south. This is a shallow turn, which indicates an attempt was being made not to deviate too far from the ship's desired track.

If there was a conspiracy among the surviving officers & White Star during the hearings, it revolved around the 11:32 berg and not the fatal accident. The reason was the legal implication of admitting the ship was running through dangerous ice (the danger proven by Titanic's accident) for some time prior to changing course to the southwest.

The 11:32 berg was most likely just past abeam when the 11:40 warning was struck on the lookouts' bell. The 11:32 berg was far enough away not to have attracted much attention, especially after the fatal berg appeared on the bow. After the sinking, the key members of the bridge watch seem to have agreed not to mention the 11:32 berg. Since it wasn't mentioned directly, none of the questioners thought to ask.

Murdoch may not have paid sufficient attention to the fatal 11:40 iceberg because of the total amount of ice around the ship. The 11:40 berg was only one piece in a lot of big ice. He realized it was there, but could not do anything about it until after he made the course change to the south. Then, if after the course change that piece was a danger, Murdoch planned to handle it. Each danger in its turn.

It just occurred to me...the "seeing" that night was very good...no EXCELLENT. We have all assumed there was something wrong with visibility. No! That was a lie created to cover up what happened. Because of the good seeing conditions, Titanic easily dodged ice up until the 11:32 iceberg. (Rostron repeated this dodging of ice with Carpathia.) Smith, Murdoch, et. al. simply got "fat, dumb, and happy." As of 11:32 p.m. they were confident they could see and dodge any dangerous ice because they had been doing so for more than an hour. What they could not know was that the density of the ice would suddenly increase to the point that no amount of fancy helmsmanship could avoid disaster.

As I see it, Murdoch knew the 11:40 berg was there all the time. He gauged by eye that the ship would pass south of it as a result of the course change requested by Captain Smith. Either Murdoch's eye was off that night or Hichens at the wheel steadied up too early. There is no way to know which. Probably a little of both. Instead of passing clear to the south of the 11:40 berg, Titanic steadied up with only a few feet to spare. Had the iceberg been a vertical wall, the ship could have passed it safely. But, North Atlantic bergs are odd shaped with dangerous underwater extensions called "rams."

Based on the amount of time needed for Murdoch to close the WT doors and ring down to the engine room, the iceberg was no more than 185 yards, or 15 seconds, in front of the ship when Hichens steadied up on the new course.

Murdoch's steady nerves allowed him not to panic. He rode out the inevitable collision because steering either way would have resulted in a sideways body slam against the berg. With extreme coolness he thought to close the WT doors prior to the accident. This tells me that he was totally in command, but the situation was beyond human intervention. Then, he rang down ALL STOP, an order that Captain Smith helped echo on the second set of telegraphs. When the forefoot struck, cool Murdoch ordered "hard a-port" to swing the stern away from danger. No human being could have done a better job.

The "hard a-port" order caused the ship to come off the 11:40 berg in a tight right turn. This is why Captain Smith and Boxhall had to look for the deadly ice from the starboard bridge wing. As Nate says, the ship's superstructure would have blocked any view of the berg from the port side.

The turn to starboard continued as the ship coasted forward because nobody rescinded the "hard a-port" order. Hichens held the wheel against the stop and waited. Later, when Titanic resumed steaming, Captain Smith desired to gain northing to return to the shipping lanes. This accounts for the slightly east of north orientation for the ship...which Groves confirmed in 1912 by noting he could see Titanic's port sidelight...and the wreck on the bottom confirms by the northerly direction of the bow.

-- David G. Brown