Hard a Starboard by Nathan Robison

Given the layout of the icefield and icebergs from the 1912 maps, it seems likely that Murdoch, Boxhall and Smith realized that they were surrounded by ice after the "hard a-port" order.

In addition to bringing his ship closer to the usual shipping lanes, Smith may have driven Titanic northward so that any rescue ships would have a clear(er) path to the sinking liner.

Nathan R.
I don’t think the question is was there ice or even it’s location. If it was then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But rather my question is if the ship steered away from one object only to hit another in order for this to happen the distance of ¾ of a mile doesn’t fit the way a ship of that size handles. Meaning I don’t think it would have been possible for those onboard not to see the first object (the one that Titanic didn’t hit). That is taking into account that Titanic sees and reacts via course change to a object in front of them and that it is roughly 2500 to 4500 yards away.

In a course change situation a ship is more likely to handle like a bus. A big wide turn. I think it is suggested that Titanic made for a southerly track upon realizing the danger in front of them the stern would continue to go on the orginal course and would slowly continue to move forward and eventually would pivot to the new course heading (following the bow) this forward momentum would be keeping the stern sort of in one place as the rest of the ship turned. We have discussed pivot points on the bow when it makes contact with an object in another thread, during an at sea turn the pivot point is slightly in front of the stern (a rough estimate would be the aft well deck) the momentum actually moving the ship stays the same. With the rudder in one direction or the other the screws are pushing the ship forward while the rudder is turning the bow and eventually the stern. What I am saying is that if the ship is moving at 22 knots and makes a course change of around 2 points the helmsman would have or could have used up to 10 degrees of rudder with out it really being noticed. The bow will move very slowly at first to the direction desired. Then as the momentum of the ship catches up with it the swing picks up and the stern eventually passes the bows location before the turn. So in my twisted little way of seeing things if the object is3/4 of a mile away if the ship doesn’t hit the other object it will most likely come very close. Close enough for at least Rowe on the stern or those in the Parisian Café to see it as it passed by. Night vision may have played a role to some but not to all.

I just realized that sometimes it takes me far to much verbage to explain things. I need to take an English class.

As I have said before the part that I don’t really understand is the difference in time and distance and how the two exactly relate to how the ship made the course change. I don’t doubt that the course change occurred, it is more then likely that that is what happened rather then the traditional thinking of a “hard a starboard” that everybody knows.

Nate wrote a good paper. This old salt just doesn’t understand all of it. Which shouldn’t be surprising as my wife can tell me to do something and I will nod in compliance but 30 seconds later will completely forget what it was that she said or that she even talked to me.

I guess that in dealing with Titanic *witnesses* two-thirds of those who sailed on the ship died; and even all of those survivors didn't give public accounts. I bed there are still some accounts undiscovered that are in private hands.

Just a thought.

Best regards,

Hello Mark,

The thing that is interesting about time, the more of it that goes by, the more people come out with things about or of Titanic that we had no idea exsisted.
Know anyone in particular that may have a story that hasn't told it?


Nathan: I'm very late to the party here, but I wanted to commend you for this *highly* thought-provoking, very professionally compiled article. I'd meant to review it when it first came out, but was having some difficulty connecting to ET at the time, as I recall.

I'm not sure I'd agree with some of your conclusions or the overall suggestion that the "hard a'starboard" order may have been a myth, but you've provided an exceptional analytical framework here, with a great deal of substance and very little fluff! It's definitely on my re-read list, right up there with Leslie Reade. Superbly well-done!

My only side-comment at this point would be regarding that "eloquent look" -- literally, 'a look that speaks out'. I'd encountered that section of testimony independently a while back, and have the very strong suspicion, especially from the surrounding context, that the term may be a colloquialism that actually alludes to Fleet "making a face", or displaying "dagger eyes", or similar. (Whatever the look was it obviously spoke, judging from the ensuing uproar, but I truly have to wonder whether it addressed anything other than Fred's growing impatience.) ;^)

High praise,
John Feeney
John -- Nathan is somewhere in Arizona surrounded by dry timber. So, he may not be able to respond as he would under more normal circumstances. Nate flew into Cleveland last weekend to attend the Great Lakes Titanic Convention. We joined forces to explain the difference between primary and secondary resources when it comes to researching history. For the moment, though, his summer job is somewhere so far inland that the Atlantic Ocean is only a rumor.

-- David G. Brown
David: Thanks. If you're getting at what I think you are, is that rightly "timber" or "tinder"?

(Good luck to him, either way. Hope he catches this, too. )
Thanks for the praise John. I am indeed surrounded by the desert and haven't been thinking much about Titanic. Thankfully, it has rained here the past few days, so I do get to see some water to remind me of the Atlantic Ocean.

I should be back to school and civilization in the fall when I start working on my (Titanic) senior project.

Thanks to everyone who read the paper!

(This posting derives from arguments developed in "Ships that may have stood still: Professional California Consensus?" and therefore may contain references not readily relevant here.)

I dutifully scanned the article "No Hard A-starboard" by Nathan Robison to which I was referred. (Incidentally, I have always had difficulty with "iceberg right ahead!". Surely it should only ever be "iceberg dead ahead!"? But then Fleet was out of Southampton.)

Of the substance of the article, I'm afraid that after due consideration I was unable to come to any conclusion other than that it was an unsustainable conspiracy theory.

True, there is a tendency among lawyers to synchronise depositions; it makes for tidier presentation in court. But in vigorously contested matters it also invites the risk of having one's case disastrously riven by an astute cross-examination. In the present case I cannot see the principal protagonists – certificated deck officers, career barristers, attorneys etc – risking their reputations and careers by engaging in or conniving at a conspiracy to suppress the true facts. It would be tantamount to obtaining a judicial decision on perjured evidence; evidence subject moreover to constant reiteration and re-examination in the entrained personal litigation. Bear in mind also that this alleged conspiracy had to hold together for two very public inquisitions months apart and across an ocean. Thin ice indeed!

This is not to say that 'miscarriages of justice' are not returned by such inquisitions; only to say that any such miscarriages were not returned via the route postulated in this article.

There are testamentary conflicts in the text, viz.:

Though Titanic was not turning away from the iceberg when the collision took place, she did not strike the above-water portion of the berg. Titanic cleared the portion of the iceberg above the water. This lies uneasily with:-

However, when he returned to the open deck, Scarrott saw ice on the starboard side of the [for'd well deck]

As for:

His (Fleet's) verb tense implies that the turn to port had already occurred ("she WENT") and was not occurring as Titanic struck the berg.

I detect no tension in the tense. Clearly Mr Robison has yet to have the pleasure of sailing with a Southampton crew. He is on thin ice himself when he attempts to dissemble the local vernacular to support his theory.

re QM Hitchens:

To complete the course change, Hichens (sic) would have applied opposite rudder to stop the swing of the stern and steady the ship on its new course. Reverse rudder is implied in a course change; Murdoch would not have given a direct order for Hichens to do so.

Mr Robison is in error in that any helm order given by the officer of the watch must necessarily be followed up by such as 'meet her' or 'steady on that' or a specific heading. If she goes round in circles for evermore for want of a countervailing order, so be it. It is not for the helmsman to decide when an ordered deviation is to terminate.

As for the Lookout:

Lookouts Fleet and Lee were entrusted with the duty of spotting and reporting any dangers in the ship's path. It is possible that the iceberg had been spotted by the lookouts, but it was far enough off the liner's course to go unreported.

Ice conditions notwithstanding, the remit of the lookout at all times is to report all objects and other vessels which, however remotely, may pose a threat to the safety of the vessel. This necessarily entails an arc ranging from dead ahead to two points abaft the beam. The berg as conjectured on the starboard bow should have been so reported by one strike on the bell. It is preposterous for Mr Robison to postulate that the berg should only have been reported when a contingency course alteration brought it dead ahead. That would be the very negation of the lookout's function.

As for Motion Parallax:

Far be it from me to take issue with Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., but I don't recognise motion parallax in this context. Nor can I accept Mr Robison's interpretation of it. My instinct and spatial awareness tells me that an observer on the extremity of the bridge wing views an amorphous object dead ahead of the vessel with a better perception of distance than an observer on the centreline.

The bridge-wing observer's advantage would derive from a lateral monocular range-finding arm referenced to the vessel's structure whereas the centreline observer's perception would be restricted to narrower triangulations in the vertical plane. Obfuscated moreover by the interposed foremast and stemhead; and if the stemhead is to provide a point of vertical reference its perspective parameters necessarily must be known by the notional observer. Which I doubt would be the case. For Mr Robison's sake I look forward to being educated otherwise.

As for the Californian:

The execution of a 'port around' manoeuvre by any vessel on a true westerly course is inevitable going to tend her towards a north heading. Nathan Robison could not resist the temptation to adduce this tendency so as to encompass the Californian in an incriminating mode, notwithstanding that odium already accrues via the conventional account.

On reflection, my idea of feeding an infinitesimally small angle of heel into the requisite equation would only result in an infinitesimally large tactical diameter! Since we're hurling conjectures to all points of the compass I'd like to weigh in with a few of my own.

My feeling is that Mr Murdoch swiftly concluded that maybe a dozen fractured shoulders, two cardiac arrests, £3,000-worth of breakages and a late breakfast was a small price for the passengers to pay for him keeping the vessel on the surface. And that the laterally-vectored energy latent in any incipient angle of heel was almost totally expended against the berg. And that the underwater rams of the berg were sufficiently abraded by the vessel's entry that her run was spared any damage, the berg being en débí¢cle and the 'port around' not being executed. And that, assuming a true west course, the vessel fetched up prosaically aspected west south west or thereabouts, not sensationally aspected north towards the Californian's position.

All things considered, I am inclined towards David G.Brown's exposition that such evasive action as was instituted was commenced from her prevailing east-west course and was uncomplexed by any prior manoeuvre relative to field ice or any previously encountered berg.

Regrettably I have to conclude that the truer narrative of events probably still rests with the sensationalists we have come to know so well. Unfortunately, by his reference to "the allegedly unsinkable Titanic" I'm afraid Nathan Robison seems to have placed himself among those same sensationalists.

I am unable to resist facetiously adding that one of Mr Robison's protagonists in this conspiracy theory, the QM Olliver, was at the critical time servicing the binnacle between the funnels and was therefore excellently placed for both mirrors and smoke.

Noel-- Nathan is pretty much taken up with his studies these days. I won't presume to answer for him, but I will write about his theory.

In my opinion, Nathan correctly realized that Titanic did not make a 2-point, hard-over turn to avoid the fatal iceberg. Some of his arguments have not held up well to scrutiny, but his conclusion does appear sound.

First of all, a 2-point, hard-over turn would be excessive in the extreme if a "port around" maneuver were being attempted for a close-aboard object. The maneuver requires moving the pivot point of the vessel to one side of the danger. In theory, that sideways movement only needs to be 1/2 the vessel's beam. Once that movement has been achieved, the stern must then be swung out of harm's way. The first turn--to move the pivot point--must be kept as small as possible in order not to expose the ship's side or stern any more than necessary. The second turn can be hard over because the stern must be swung away with maximum authority.

The lookouts did not report the kind of motion of the bow that would have come from a 2-point, hard over turn. Rather, they had the impression the ship was steaming straight at the fatal berg and that the bow only began to swing at the last possible moment. What the lookouts saw indicates to me that Murdoch made a conscious decision to take the berg head-on. When that did not happen (for whatever reason), he immediately reacted by calling for port helm (right rudder) to swing the starboard side and stern clear of the berg.

Thus, it appears that Nate Robison was correct in saying there was no "hard a-starboard" maneuver used to avoid the fatal iceberg.

What about Hichens? He claimed that his only helm command PRIOR TO the accident was "hard a-starboard." After studying the testimony, I have come to the conclusion that Hichens may have exaggerated slightly, but he was correct. He was told to turn Titanic two points to starboard prior to the accident -- but that maneuver was not an attempt to avoid the fatal iceberg.

Go back to approximately 7 bells, or 11:30 p.m. The lookouts are now seeing that famous line of "haze." More than likely, Murdoch saw it as well. What was that "haze?" Substitute the word "ice" for "haze" and you get a precise picture of what lay across Titanic's bow--a field of ice.

At about 11:32, seaman Scarrott heard three strokes on the lookout's bell. This was for an object dead ahead. Immediately following that we have an interesting situation develop on Titanic's bridge. Boxhall leaves, Olliver leaves, Moody supervises Hichens inside the closed wheelhouse. Only Murdoch remains alone on the bridge.

Lightoller gave us a reason for the vacant bridge during the U.S. inquiry. Cosider the following testimony: "...We have a standard compass and a steering compass. The standard compass is the compass we go by. That is the course that is handed over from one senior officer to another, the standard course. The junior officer goes to the standard compass which is connected with the wheelhouse by a bell, or by a bell push wire and bell, and when she is on her course he rings that bell continually, showing the ship is on her course with the standard compass. The other officer takes her head inside the wheelhouse from the compass the quartermaster is steering by. The standard course is on a board and the steering compass is also on a board. Therefore, the quartermaster uses the board that is there for the steering compass. The senior officer of the watch looks to the standard compass board and passes that course along."

It is my contention that Boxhall and Olliver visited the standard compass platform in order to effect a 2-point turn to port (using Hichen's starboard helm). That turn was a course alteration designed to take Titanic south of the line of "haze" (read "ice") across the ship's path.

It was this course alteration that put the fatal berg dead ahead at a range too short for evasive action.

Circumstantial evidence that the method of changing course was part of the reason for the loss of Titanic comes from alterations made to the older sistership, Olympic. There is evidence that in 1913 (following Titanic) the standard compass of Olympic was moved to the top of the wheelhouse. From photo analysis, the standard compass on Britannic was apparently never installed in the platform between the funnels, but was located on top of the wheelhouse. Interestingly enough, it seems to have been Cunard's practice to always place the standard compass on top of the wheelhouse.

Hichens appears to have been correct in saying that starboard helm (and possibly lots of it) was used prior to the fatal iceberg encounter in an attempt to avoid ice. Boxhall was part of that course alteration, so naturally concurred that starboard helm was used. He probably got the "hard a-starboard" in conversation with Hichens, but did not doubt the claim because that is the direction he saw the ship turn.

As Nate Robison pointed out, however, neither Fleet nor Lee reported anything more than a slight swing of the bow to port just prior to impact. More important, both men seem to have thought that the ship aimed for the iceberg even after their 3-stroke bell warning. Proof of that comes from Fleet's using the phone to the bridge--something lookouts were not supposed to do except in dire emergencies. It was only as Fleet began that phone call that they saw the bow swing. Such a small rotation so close in time to the impact does not match the hard-over maneuver under starboard helm claimed by Hichens.

As stated above, my impression is that Murdoch intended to hit the berg head-on. Naval architect Wilding suggested that most of the people sleeping in the bow would have been killed as the prow crumpled in such an accident. Lacking an Olympic-class ship to use in an experiment, I looked up photos of the 1,000-foot ore carrier Buffalo. This ship hit the Detroit River Light at speed a few years ago. The impact took out the shell plate of the bow in an area equal to the size of the lighthouse which sits on a man-made island. However, the crumpling and other damage was less than I expected to see. Buffalo is made of modern steel and is welded construction, but the photos indicate that Wilding may have over-stated the case regarding damage to Titanic from striking the berg head-on.

--David G. Brown
Correction: -

On re-reading my post of October 19: it could so be I have adversely misinterpreted Mr Robison as to helm orders. He would of course be entirely correct in stating that corrective rudder is implicit in a specific course change whereas I was presuming a non-specific 'hard a-port/starboard'. That being so, I retract the point with due contriteness and promptitude, Mr Robison being over-extended enough as he is.

In reading your article it is not clear sometimes who is speaking when you quote and when you return to your commentary.

Maybe you could clarify this with quotation marks, the names of the speaker ahead of each comment, or different colors of text.

Thanks for the excellent info.