Icebergs visibility of


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Alicia Coors

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What we know for sure, if Lightoller's testimony is truthful, is that both he and Smith thought icebergs reflected starlight, and that their white outlines (even of blue bergs) would be visible.

Now I would like to ask everyone who has been in iceberg country on a moonless night: were Lightoller and Smith correct?
 

Dave Gittins

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I'll add a proviso to Alicia's question. We are only interested in a moonless night, long after twilight, in a mid-latitude in mid-spring. All else is irrelevant.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Check out http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/2001/jan-feb/coastguard.html. About iceberg visibility at night, they claim: "Even on a clear, starlit night, a lookout cannot pick up an iceberg at a distance greater than one-quarter mile–not nearly the time or distance needed for a large ship to avoid a collision. It was just such a night in April 1912."
That distance is just over 1500 feet, or seconds 41 seconds at the speed Titanic was making.
 
Aug 10, 2002
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Alicia & Dave:
Interestingly enough I've been there and done that. More interesting the Radar found it so we stayed away. We turned the search light on it from a mile away and it was obvious what the target was. We had been fairly certain since it wasn't showing any nav. lights, but the search light confirmed it. Of course the Titanic didn't have either of those tools to work with.
Regards,
Charlie Weeks
 
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Alicia Coors

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The plot thickens. Should not two officers having the decades of experience shared by Smith and Lightoller have known that "Even on a clear, starlit night, a lookout cannot pick up an iceberg at a distance greater than one-quarter mile..."?

What would explain this apparent gap in their knowledge?
 
Mar 22, 2003
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My guess is that it all depends on what experience they really had in seeing icebergs on a clear dark night without any moon up. I would not be surprised if they were making assumptions as to what was really possible under the conditions. If they had real experience with this, they would have put a lookout on the forecastle head, let alone reduce speed. The forecastle head on the Titanic was about 55 ft above waterline, the bridge was about 70 ft up, and crows nest was the worst place to be, a little over 90 ft up. It should be noted that on the Carpathia, the bergs that they did spot in their race to the rescue did not come from the crows nest. And they did have lookouts posted on the forecastle head. Of course they also had a greater margin in that the Carpathia was making only about 2/3 the speed of the Titanic, which would give them 15 seconds more to react to a berg 1st spotted 1500 feet away.

The senior officers on the Titanic knew they were taking a risk going 22 knots in a region of ice. What they suffered from, in my opinion, was overconfidence in their own abilities. They knew there was no moon and the sea was a flat calm. In this case the risk was greater than they assumed, and they failed to recognize it and take appropriate actions. At the time of the collision, there were only 3 pairs of eyes looking out, Fleet and Lee up in the nest, and Murdoch somewhere on the bridge.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Beware of jumping from an assumption until you have a conclusion upon which to land.

Many ships saw and avoided icebergs that night, the most notable being Carapthia. If icebergs categorically cannot be seen until it is too late, then it follows that Carpathia did not rush to the rescue of Titanic's lifeboats. The truth of the rescue is proof that icebergs can be avoided even on a clear, starlit night with calm seas.

No one doubts that icebergs can be difficut to sight visually or to find on radar. However, the bulk of testimony of mariners who operated on the North Atlantic in 1912 indicated that icebergs were routinely spotted at a range of about 3 miles on the North Atlantic.

There are many possible reasons why Titanic came face-to-face with danger. Most do not rely upon invisibility of the iceberg. To assume that only one possibility was "the cause" of the accident is to eliminate all others..including causes that are more probable.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Alicia Coors

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David,

Did the mariners who testified include a moonless night and dead calm in their parameters?

I'm just trying to work through the difference between their opinion and that on the Coast Guard site.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Alicia-- The quote from the Coast Guard actually comes from a 1909 Hydrographic Office publication. It was later picked up verbatim in all issues of Bowditch until quite recently.

My caution is that the distance at which the fatal iceberg was seen may not be a factor in the accident. As long as you only think along the track of "invisibility," you eliminate all other possibilities. Ships more often run into things they can see quite clearly than to things they cannot see. Same is true of automobiles. Don't limit the scope of your thinking.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Not to limit anyone's scope of thinking, but on another website from Hopedale, on the northern coast of Labrador http://collections.ic.gc.ca/agvituk/iceburgs.htm, they say: "The distance at which an iceberg can be sighted depends on the height of the observer and the iceberg with respect to visibility. On a clear day, an observer can see large bergs up to 30 km away. In fog, one cannot be seen at any safe distance, if it is seen close by, it appears as a dark shape or, if the sun is shining through the fog, it appears as a luminous white mass. With a full moon and favored conditions, icebergs can be sighted up to 5 km away. On starlit nights, they cannot be seen much beyond 400 meters. A ships radar can detect an iceberg in any kind of visibility."

I assume this based on first hand observations from those that live in iceberg country.
 

Dave Gittins

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"However, the bulk of testimony of mariners who operated on the North Atlantic in 1912 indicated that icebergs were routinely spotted at a range of about 3 miles on the North Atlantic."

Who were these mariners? IMM employees specially selected by counsel for White Star, that's who. White Star, using flim-flam produced by Lightoller, tried to prove that the night of 14/15 April was special.

Witnesses called by the plaintiffs in the US civil court told another tale.
 
Feb 13, 2003
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The quote from the Coast Guard actually comes from a 1909 Hydrographic Office publication. It was later picked up verbatim in all issues of Bowditch until quite recently

1995 Edition Bowditch, page 469:"On dark, clear nights icebergs may be seen at distance of from 1 to 3 miles, appearing either as white or black objects with occasional light spots where waves break against it.

I assume this based on first hand observations of US Coast Guard observations.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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And I see it is also in the 2002 BICENTENNIAL EDITION as well. So what we have even today is a mixed bag when it comes to iceberg visibility on a clear night, from 1 to 3 miles to a low of 400 meters. Capt. Weeks, if I read your post correctly, the berg you found was at a distance of 1 mile and visible only when you turned a searchlight on it. Can anybody address the issue of seeing with non-reflective binoculars Vs. the naked eye? I don't believe this was mentioned at all in any of these sources.
 
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Alicia Coors

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I wonder what Bowditch means by "dark, clear nights." And how the language "may be seen" was selected. And how a black object can be visible if the only ambient light is starlight.

I still would like to hear personal observations from people who have been there.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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I recently received the following email response from one of the IIP: "On and off over the years, I've spent some time studying the movement and deterioration of icebergs at sea. Although I am aware of the reported weather conditions on the night the Titanic struck the iceberg, I can't remember very many clear, starlit nights. It seems that every time I came upon an iceberg it was snowing or foggy, mostly foggy. As you probably know, we rely heavily on radar, both in our aerial reconnaissance on the rare times we are on ships...Our expertise is in airborne surveillance, mostly using radar." They did suggest contacting some of the Masters of the
ships that provide support for the oilfields off Newfoundland.
 
Jun 10, 1999
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And here is what Sir Ernest Shackleton had to say about all that...

SEEN BEST FROM DECK

Shackleton Says Iceberg Blends with Sea if Viewed from Height.

LONDON, April 25. Speaking at Falmouth to-day, Sir Ernest Shackleton referred to the loss of the Titanic and expressed the hope that those who conduct the British inquiry will be experts in their own particular knowledge. For instance, the question as to the visibility of ice at night time was most important.

Many sailors, added Sir Ernest, especially those who were accustomed to navigation in ice-laden seas, knew that the higher above the deck a man was the less competant he was to judge of the approach of ice. He himself had his men as close to the waterline as possible.

In misty weather and at night time, said Sir Ernest, when one was traveling near an iceberg, if it were viewed from a high angle it would blend with the sea, wheras from the deck of a liner it would loom up on almost the darkest night.

Compliments of the *PRETIGIOUS* N.Y. Times...:)

Michael A. Cundiff
USA
 
Oct 28, 2000
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The evidence is perfectly clear--icebergs may or may not be visible, depending upon circumstances, at varying ranges. On the night in question, Captain Rostron proved it was possible to successfuly avoid icebergs despite the dark and calm conditions. Titanic, of course, proved it was equally possible not to avoid at least one iceberg. So, the facts support the suppositions that icebergs may or may not be difficult to spot.

Something more important is totally missing from this discussion: perception. Rostron and the Carpathia crew knew exactly what they faced. As a result, any darkness or object in front of their ship was perceived as an iceberg and avoided. Titanic's crew seems to have had a perception problem, which is really the heart of Captain Collin's arguments. How human beings perceive their surroundings explains their actions (or lack of action) in the face of danger.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Alicia Coors

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Perhaps most important, Carpathia was making 14-15 kts tops, so the time they had to avoid ice spotted at the "Coast Guard limit" of 1/4 mile would be 60-64 seconds. This, of course, assumes that their visibility wasn't hindered by other factors.
 
Feb 13, 2003
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On the night in question, Captain Rostron proved it was possible to successfuly avoid icebergs despite the dark and calm conditions. Titanic, of course, proved it was equally possible not to avoid at least one iceberg.

On that clear dark night the only thing seen by Titanic's lookouts, from 11:30 to 11.39, was arctic pack ice, which was miscontrued as haze. Shortly after 11:39 (approx) Titanic was steaming forward at 22 knots (37 feet per second). Due to atmospheric distortion, an illusory iceberg was sighted, less than 1500 feet, right ahead. The rudder was put hard-a-port (helm hard-a-starboard), engines ordered FULL ASTERN, ship's head turned two points to port and a very slight contact was made with ice .

Because Titanic sustained so little ice damage and stayed afloat for two hours and forty minutes, thereafter, a collision with a real iceberg would defy the laws of hydrodynamics and, therefore, is out of the realm of possibility.

L. M. Collins
 
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