How many of the Titanic's passengers could the Californian have picked up?


badbriar

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May 6, 2012
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I have tried Googling this, but all I've found is that the Californian had room for 47-55 passengers (numbers differ between sources). But what I'd like to know is, how many of the Titanic's passengers could the Californian have realistically brought on board, before it just got too crowded or too heavy from the weight of additional passengers? I'm not posting this an a pro/anti Lord topic, I'm just genuinely curious.
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Well, Daniel Butler's book, "The other side of the night" suggested that if they got there in time, they could have plucked a couple hundred from the water. From Lord's testimony at the AI/BI hearings, he stated the Californian only had 6 lifeboats (interesting), even though it's a ship of 6220 tons. I would suspect the ship should have more then that.

In any case, Titanic's 20 boats, plus Californian's 6: I'd have to say they'd been able to save considerably more, if not all of the 1500 that died.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Realistically, they probably could have taken most if not all of them onboard and any which couldn't be taken on could have remained in the boats until another ship arrived. It wouldn't have been comfortable and a lot of people would have had to go into the cargo holds or remained out on deck, but it could have been done.

The problem is that no matter which "side" your on, there's really no way the ship could have arrived on time to effect a transfer of all aboard. The only way it could have been done safely would be by boats powered by muscle, and this would have taken half a day to accomplish. No matter how you reckon it, the clock was the enemy. They needed time...LOTS of it...and they didn't have it.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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There is an understandable human desire to want to change ugly moments in history. Doubtless everyone on this board has had an “only if” thought from time to time. However, as I have said so often before – history does not reveal its alternatives. Wishin' and hopin' won't change what took place when Titanic foundered.

Most “what if” schemes to prevent those deaths sound pretty damned good until you begin to examine them in the harsh light of 1912 reality. For instance, any what if scenario involving Californian usually assumes the ship arrives “in time.” What does that mean? Before Titanic sank? As the taffrail was going under? Or, when only swimmers and flotsam remained?

Another easy mistake for inexperienced people to make is that some desired action would have been easy and effective. In this thread the assumption is that Californian's lifeboats would have been able to pluck large numbers of people from the sea. Perhaps in wishful thinking, but not in reality. I know. Over my career I've rescued nine human beings from drowning and hold the U.S. Sailing rescue medal for rescuing four men from a swamped sailbot in rough seas.

Rescuing people from the water is not easy. First, it's hard to keep track of a human head bobbing in waves during broad daylight. I have been less than 30 feet from a struggling man and not been able to see him in broad daylight – not once, but on each rescue. At night with no moon I cannot see the outcome being any more successful than would be predicted by random luck.

So, Californian's boats would have to arrive while the ship was still afloat and stable to have any chance of rescuing large numbers of people. But, how do you get landsmen from the decks of a liner into already floating boats? You dare not let anyone jump as the weight of a falling human could easily cause serious damage to a wooden lifeboat or capsize it. Women in skirts present another problem. The fashions of 1912 hobbled the fair sex and would have seriously inhibited any large steps from ship to lifeboat.

Then there is the problem of getting waterlogged, hypothermic, and possibly panic-stricken individuals up out of the water and into the boat. This is the most daunting part of a rescue. At best, only two potential rescuers in the boat can actually grab the victim and pull him upward to the gunwale. This is a deadweight lift with only the arms as your feet have to be braced to keep you from tumbling overboard yourself. Forget ladders. People who have been in cold water lack the coordination to climb one. Each time a victim is pulled into a boat takes time. And, every second counts when lives are at stake.

Rigging the accommodation ladder might be an answer. Actually a stairway, this ladder would have allowed third and second class passengers to walk down into a waiting boat. But, rigging the ladder would have taken trained seamen some time. If four men were sent to do the work, that would have taken the crew away from at least one set of lifeboat davits – decreasing the number of boats launched by 25%. Fair trade? What would the death toll have been if only 12 regular boats had been launched?

The bottom line is that there was no way to prevent death that night other than to not damage the ship in the first place. Once it becomes a “given” that Titanic must sink, then it is also a “given” that lives will be lost.

The price of safety at sea is eternal vigilance.

– David G. Brown
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Hi David;

That was very insightful! A good read. To be fair, even Butler claimed not all would be saved, but a good few hundred or so might. Knowing what we know now about Carpathia, it sounds like it was a generally peaceful rescue, with boats rowing towards the ship, docking, and unloading. It took THEM four hours just to do that, granted, in pitch darkness to breaking daylight. The passengers came on, were handled in an assembly-line fashion, until they were able to get their thoughts straighten out in a make-shift room. Their might have been a few panics (The lady who was the last passenger (J. Douglas White?) along with Lightollor, was it?, freaked out and claimed Titanic had gone down with all aboard)

So, let's assume that the Californian got there around 2 a.m. (I think that's a reasonable time estimate. 1st rocket goes up, they don't know what it is, a second comes up, they inform the captain, who gets the wireless guy on the line, and they start making way. That might take an hour (12:45-1:45?)

They'd show up just as Titanic was within it's last 20 minutes of life, and, depending on when certain events took place, might also have witnessed the breaking up of the ship, and all the horrible rumblings.

How would this have affected them? We know many survivors later committed suicide. What might have happened if Californian and her crew were on the scene? Would it have been a more hectic, panic-stricken environment?

Just something to think about...
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Iowa, USA
Just got done reading the chapter on Californian in the Halpern book. I like the hypothetical situation of Californian coming to the Titanic's rescue. I don't know how effective a crew of 5 in 6 boats would be for trying to pick up nearly 1500 in the waters. I feel that if Lord and his ship had been on scene, it would have encouraged the 20 other boats in going back, since if any thing went wrong, there'd be a ship nearby.

whereas, in reality, if something HAD gone wrong, while the 20 boats were picking up people in the water, there'd be no way to do anything until a ship arrived, and by then, it'd be too late, since, as we see, it took Carpathia 4 hours to gather all the boats themselves.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Thanks for the answers, guys! And Michael, I happened across the article you co-wrote, and enjoyed it very much. <<

Much appreciated. I'm sure that Tracy and Captain Erik will be happy to hear that as well.
 

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