Iceberg as life raft

Hallo Mark -

Apologies - I do recall getting an second email response from you. Has been a hectic couple of weekends, and I haven't had the chance to get back into my 'stockpiled' longer emails. I'll try and answer today or tomorrow.
>>Objects that went higher than the horizon line from the viewer's vantage point would have obscured stars behind them (it was such a clear night that observers could see stars vanishing on the horizon).<<

Yeah, I can visualize that. Of course the mast-light probably did illuminate a few close by. I am curious as what the range of that light was. Still, I'm that visual ability was extremely limited that night. Quite scary for those who knew icebergs lingered about and had no idea where they all were. Seeing silhouettes no doubt added to apprehension.

Thanks Inger!
No problem. It has been a while since I received a response. I knew you're busy, but wasn't sure whether or not you had a desire to continue correspondence. When you're just getting to know someone, you can't always be sure. Didn't mean to push, if it appeared that way. By the way, how goes the book? I guess I can ask that through email.
G'day, Inger!

>>I'm very fond of seals (if only because they often attract Great White Sharks), but have no real idea - and have often meant to ask - whether one could expect to find them in any numbers around the area where the Titanic sank.

Again, not speaking as an authority, I would think it would depend on the type of seal. Some of those little Northern critters migrate thousands of miles between warm and frigid waters at different times of the year. I can't say I was surprised by Lord's presuming the figures he saw climbing onto the ice were seals. It seemed quite logical to me, particularly if he didn't wish for them to be anything else.

>>I can't even recall the author who raised a skeptical eyebrow at the reports that the Samson was purportedly sealing anywhere near the site, given that it was the open sea (don't think it was Reade, but I haven't checked yet).

Yes, it was Reade who demolished the Samson "theory." Did you ever locate a copy of his book, by the way? I found mine through the internet at a shop in Hampshire, England.

>>Very interesting accounts and comments you make about the severity of the weather.

Don't know what it was that got me curious about the 1912 weather. I remember making some offhand crack a few years ago to the effect that "El Nino" sank the Titanic. As it turns out, conditions that year were just ghastly. Even Gracie commented on the sheer volume of ice in the North Atlantic. I've in my possession a couple of articles that break down into dollars the awful damage inflicted on Atlantic shipping, of which the Titanic was merely the last straw. Enquiries and transcripts aside for a moment, if you were in the merchant marine and you saw that virtually every ship was coming into port with significant ice damage, wouldn't that be a topic you might want to discuss a bit amongst your mates? I find it hard to accept that the Titanic officers existed in a protective bubble.

Below are just some headlines, covering about a week's time, that I collected from one of our local newspapers. I think even these offer a pretty good picture of what weather conditions might have been like that winter.

Best wishes, Inger!



January 3:

“Cold Snap Stiffens Local Market”
“…celery beds in some portions of California have been frozen”
(Great Bend, KS) “Four Frozen to Death”
“Snowbound Brakemen Live on Jackrabbits”
(Walla Walla, WA) “Snow Pleases Farmers”
“Four-Inch Blanket Expected to Help Wheat Crop”

(Cordova, AK) “…blinding snow storm…”

January 4:

“Nome Coal Runs Short”

January 6:

“Cold Weather Forecast Today”
“Records Broken”
“Temperature of 35 Below Zero in Duluth Expected to Be Lowered”
“Suffering Is Intense”
“Wave Extends From Great Lakes to the Rockies, South to Kansas and North to Montana”
“People Living on Short Rations Appeal for Help”

January 7:

“Cold Wave Causes 12 Deaths and Suffering Throughout Country”
“Eleven Are Dead in New York City--38 Below, Record”
“Country Is Swept By Wave of Intense Frigidity--No Relief in Sight”
“One Dead in Chicago”
“Amarillo, Texas, Reports 10 Below--Lodging Houses and Shelters Crowded--Street Car Traffic
Demoralized and Trains Are Late”

January 11:

“Cold Wave Again Grips Northwest”
“Train Schedules Are Demoralized”
“23 Below in Minneapolis”
“Butte remains today an oasis of warmth in a desert of frigidity. The temperature there was 33 degrees above zero.”
Roy, I feel like a ning-nong - I knew your name was familiar, but I'd forgotten that it was you that helped me years ago try to track down a copy of Reade! After chasing it on Ebay and the ABE for some time, a very dear and generous friend bought me a copy quite a while back.

Yes, it was Reade who demolished the Samson "theory." Did you ever locate a copy of his book, by the way? I found mine through the internet at a shop in Hampshire, England.
Apologies, my wording was vague on this point. I know it was Reade who demolished the Samson theory, based on port records and (among other things) the unlikelihood of a vessel in international waters fearing being caught 'illegally' sealing. I was trying to recall the name of an author who raised doubts about seals being in the area that the ship sank - I don't think it was a point Reade made, but I haven't checked.

I've never been a marine mammal person, but am now quite intrigued by what seals might have been sighted on ice flows and bergs in that location. Elephant seals would seem to be the most independant of the land - they go open ocean foraging for up to months at a time, never coming close to shore and sleeping underwater (according to one site). Their dives average 300 m but can apparently be as deep as as 1500 m and stay submerged for more than an hour. Mark Baber posted a report of an elephant seal sighted from one of the mail boats on the North Atlantic run, so it would seem that they weren't seen in great numbers and it was an event of note when they were spotted. I've been looking at other possibilities, such as Grey Seals. In the North Pacific/Arctic waters the Largha Seal (Phoca largha) and Ribbon Seal (Histriophoca fasciata.) do live in pack ice, but their ranges does not include the North Atlantic.

Bearded Seals (Erignathus barbatus) might be a remote possibility - they're circumpolar in Arctic and Sub-Antarctic waters, although their range doesn't seem to normally extend that far south, and they usually inhabit shallow water and moving ice. They also tend to be solitary.

Harp Seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) might be a good candidate - they inhabit the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from northern Russia, to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada. They're closely associated with pack ice, are quite gregarious and cover long distances during migration to more southerly summer feeding zones.

Hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) are also associated with pack ice, and it tends to mark the limits of their range, although some have been found in much more southerly regions. Again, though, they tend to be more solitary.

I remember the 'El Niño' theory in circulation a few years ago...around about the time the world was experiencing its effects again. I haven't come across a mention in any correspodence from the deck officers refering to the problems of ice that year, but certainly they felt it had been an very hard winter on the run - Moody's surviving correspondence in particular springs to mind. He doesn't mention ice among the conditions encountered on the North Atlantic, but even that late winter/early spring in Southampton was miserable - during March when the Oceanic was laid up he made the comment that when it wasn't raining, it was hailing.

Thank you for posting all those headlines - it does look like it was a miserable winter indeed! I wonder what weather stations on both sides of the Atlantic were recording?

All the best -

Hi, Inger!

I seem to recall one of the survivors mentioning that, when their port boat was lowered into the water, they could see the big ice floe and possibly some of the bergs. I meant to look it up last night, but became distracted. I believe it was in Reade.

Congratulations on acquiring your copy, by the way. :)

Best wishes!

Cheers Roy - I was well chuffed! Can't seem to have a discussion about the Californian without some sort of reference to Reade.

I'll have a hunt around too and see if I can find the account to which you rings some vague bell, but I can't recall where I've heard it or how reliable it was. It is possible, as there were certainly bergs around - the people in the Boat 2 could actually hear the water lapping around the base of one, and it was pointed out as a potential hazard.

From Boxhall's US Testimony:

Mr. BOXHALL. I saw nothing; but I heard the water on the ice as soon as the lights went out on the ship.

Senator SMITH. That water, you think, was on the ice, after the boat went down? That is, you could hear something?

Mr. BOXHALL. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. In that vicinity?

Mr. BOXHALL. A little while after the ship's lights went out and the cries subsided, then I found out that we were near the ice.

Senator SMITH. You could hear it?


Senator SMITH. Does your statement also cover the field ice?

Mr. BOXHALL. Yes; it covers all the ice, sir. I heard the water rumbling or breaking on the ice. Then I knew that there was a lot of ice about; but I could not see it from the boat.


Senator NEWLANDS. Just let me ask you one question. You say you could not see any of those icebergs until dawn, but you heard the lapping of the water?

Mr. BOXHALL. Will you repeat that question?

Senator NEWLANDS. I understand you to say that you could not see any of those icebergs until dawn, but that you heard the lapping of the water against the icebergs?

Mr. BOXHALL. Yes; that is what I said.

Senator NEWLANDS. That was a clear night was it?

Mr. BOXHALL. Perfectly clear; starlight. You could almost see the stars set.

Senator NEWLANDS. How do you account for the fact that you could not see the icebergs, if the night was so clear?

Mr. BOXHALL. I do not know. I do not know what it was about it. I could not understand. Of course, sound travels quite a long way on the water, and being so close to the water, and it being such a calm night, you would hear the water lapping on those bergs for quite a long, long ways.

Mahala Douglas reported in her US Inquiry Affidavit:

Several times we stopped rowing to listen for the lapping of the water against the icebergs.

James Johnston reports hearing and even seeing the nearby berg:

3513. Did you go back towards the wreck at all? - Well, we might have pulled a little bit back. When we were all quiet he said, "Listen," and what we heard was the swish of the water against another iceberg.


3519. Was there any suggestion by anybody that you should go back in the boat? - Yes; the Officer asked a question as to going back, but at that time we were just close to an iceberg, and the ladies said, "No," I think; they thought it was dangerous.

3520. Did anything more pass in the boat - a conversation about going back, that you heard? - I was not listening. I was told by the Officer to listen, and I heard the swish of the water, and when we looked there was an iceberg right in front of us.

3521. You saw it? - Certainly; we were close to it.

I also wonder about the mysterious darkened boat or ship that Gardiner used to bolster his theory. One survivor purportedly saw it pass close to the lifeboats, a dark shape that he assumed was a blacked out boat. It would make rather more sense if it was an iceberg. Certainly the ice was there, and was seen in the morning, but whether it was actually visible from the ship is another question.

All the best -

It's amazing that Fleet and Lee saw "the berg" at all prior to the collision on that dark moonless night, especially since its top was below the level of the horizon as seen from the nest and non of the stars would be blocked out.
Hi Samuel,

That's right. Also, the berg had recently turned over, so it was a very dark blue when Fleet and Lee spotted it.

Best regards,

Hi Jason: It is interesting that several observers of the iceberg said it was dark in color, suggesting that it had recently capsized. However, we really don't know that for certain. Under just reflected starlight there would not be much color to see in the first place.

The following is what several witnesses said about the color:

QM Olliver (on the forebridge): "It was not white, as I expected to see an iceberg. It was a kind of a dark-blue. It was not white."

QM Rowe (on the afterbridge on the poop): Nothing distinctive about the color, it looked "just like ordinary ice."

Lookout Fleet (up in the crows nest): "Well a black object."

Lookout Lee (up in the crows nest): "It was a dark mass that came through that haze and there was no white appearing until it was just close alongside the ship, and that was just a fringe at the top."

Of course as the berg came close to the ship the lights from the ship would illuminate the berg somewhat and affect the color that one saw. So when QM Rowe saw the berg it would have been in reflected light coming from the ship. Same is true as the berg passed the foremast where the crows nest was. Ahead of the ship, there would be very little light coming from the ship to reflect off of the berg.
Hi Sam,

"Under just reflected starlight there would not be much color to see in the first place."

That's true, as the stars do not reflect a lot of light. I was thinking from the point of view, that perhaps the berg had been under water for sometime and therefore was a lot harder to see.

Interesting accounts from QM Olliver, QM Rowe and Lookouts Fleet and Lee, I had not seen those before, so thanks for posting them. Also that's interesting about how the berg would have been seen from the ship, now you've got me looking at this in a different light.

Best regards,

G'day, Inger!

>>I also wonder about the mysterious darkened boat or ship that Gardiner used to bolster his theory. One survivor purportedly saw it pass close to the lifeboats, a dark shape that he assumed was a blacked out boat. It would make rather more sense if it was an iceberg.

Yes, that's most curious. I've come across a number of comments from people to the effect "she passed right by us", only to find they were actually referring to the ship with the light in the distance. Where in Gardiner is that? I haven't the stomach to shlog through the entire thing again, but I'm curious to see if this is just possibly something different.

I've noticed lately I've been paying considerably more attention to the "ice eclipse" phenomenon than I used to.

Best wishes, ducks!

Roy! You're not going to make me go and dig out Gardiner, are you?
Not sure I even still have that was the second switch theory book, I seem to recall. Will see if I can find it for you, but it's possible you're correct and what gives an impression of closeness means quite a few nautical miles (again, relying on dodgy memory, I seem to recall that this account suggested it was a sailing boat or something along those lines, and it was dark and silent...I could be quite off in that recollection, though). Gardiner's approach to sources is so problematical it's necessary to review everyone he cites in their entirety and their original context - his claims about Boat 14 rescuing passengers from both Collapsible A and a 'raft' are a case in point.

'Ducks' is right at the moment, I'm afraid - it's a drizzly old Sydney week. 'Good weather for ducks', as my Nana would have observed.

Thanks for your posts too, Samuel and Jason - I'm reading with interest, even when I don't have much to contribute.
G'day, Inger!

>>Roy! You're not going to make me go and dig out Gardiner, are you?

Naww, we've been friends too long of a time for me to ask a cruel thing like that of you! '-)

Anyway, I think I might have located the reference. Now, could you please hand me some soap, hot water and a towel??