Lightoller at the helm


Aly Jones

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Lightoller had been known for going through ship wrecks during his sea career, what do you think his reaction would be towards the berg? Would you think he would try a head on? Murdoch and lightoller have different personalities.
 

Tim Gerard

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I don't think things would've been much different if LIghtoller or even Wilde were on watch. I can't imagine any officer willingly ramming the ship head on into an iceberg, when he can turn and have a chance of missing the danger entirely.

If everything else played out the same, including Lightoller surviving, his testimony at the inquiries as senior officer on watch during the iceberg collision would have been very interesting.
 

Julian Atkins

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Hi Aly,

I've stated this before elsewhere, but at the relevant time Murdoch was the only Officer on the bridge - Moody being with Hichens in the wheel house and the other Quartermaster Oliver being on the compass platform further back, and Captain Smith had retired to his quarters for over 2 hours 15 minutes if not longer. And they were racing along at 22 knots or more.

Compare this to The Californian going at 11 knots per hour with Captain Lord on the bridge with Groves. 2 Officers watching out on the bridge; Captain and 3rd Officer and with extra lookouts.

Other ships took a course to avoid the ice such as The Mount Temple and the Carpathia, and there are other examples.

As to your direct point, if Lightoller was alone on the bridge as Murdoch was, and unless his eyesight was a great deal better than Murdoch's, I doubt if anything would have panned out differently. If anything, it might have been worse as Lightoller via his attempts to fail to answer questions truthfully at the USA Inquiry exhibited a degree of complacency, and a marked ambivalence with the truth.

The only difference Lightoller could have made was to reduce the speed and post more lookouts, and veer to the south on a different course; and the reduction of speed and veering off course was only something Captain Smith could sanction.

When Moody went off the bridge there is a good case for arguing Murdoch ought to have asked Captain Smith to come on the bridge - or at least require Boxhall to assist him, if it was not already known that Boxhall was on 'light' duties being already not quite well, and so useless for this purpose.

Again compare this to what Captain Lord and Groves did on The Californian and other ships did.

Cheers,

Julian
 
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Aly Jones

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Hi Julian,
Yeah they were not being careful, were they? It seems they had this unsinkable crap in their heads believing that nothing could sink this ship. Like you mention all other ships were taking it easy that night.
Since lightoller had been shipwrecked many times before, (and none of the others haven't) I just thought he might had known their was no escaping the collision and may stop the ship and let her hit berg head on softly. It's just a thought, not stating facts.

Was Boxhall on light duties that night directed by Smith or any senior officers?
 

Tim Gerard

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Hi Aly,

Captain Smith's order was to maintain speed and heading and to get him if things get questionable, or some wording to that effect. Lightoller having previously been shipwrecked, I can see him getting the captain and telling him visibility conditions are not good and talking Captain Smith into letting them slow down a few knots. I know Lightoller testified at the US Senate inquiry about not being apprehensive about visibility conditions, but I'm not sure how much I actually believe that.

If the ship does maintain speed and heading, I don't think much would change if Lightoller was on watch instead of Murdoch. Maybe he manipulates fhe engines differently, but in the short time between "iceberg right ahead" and the collision, I don't know how much of a difference it makes.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Visibility was perfect that night. You couldn't ask for better conditions. It's like driving a bus on an open road at night with unrestricted visibility. Only difference is that you were told there were problems in the road ahead and would have to slow down if you continued on the same road. Instead of taking an alternate but longer route to avoid any of the problems reported ahead, Smith decided to remain on the planned route. So if you are the driver, when do you start to slow down? When it gets to be about the time that you expect road conditions to worsen, or when you actually start to see something that requires you to slow down or turn off the road you are on? That is what they faced.
 

Julian Atkins

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Hi Sam,

I know you take the view Captain Smith would have carried on regardless had he been informed of the unposted ice warnings and Marconigrams pilling up on Phillip's and Bride's desk, but surely had they been taken to the bridge and posted in the chart room they might have had some influence?

Cheers,

Julian
 

Tim Gerard

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You could say conditions overall were too perfect, flat calm sea with no wind. There was no moon, no light from the moon to bounce off any icebergs. And there was no wind or waves to cause water to break at the base of icebergs, which would have made them easier to see. Normally a sailor would love when there's no wind and the sea is that calm, but in the Titanic's case it ultimately ended up working against them.
 
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Mar 22, 2003
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All of what you point out were well known and discussed that night between Smith and his OOW. All the officers and Capt. Smith expected to come up to ice that night. One estimate expected ice to be seen by around 11pm. Capt. Smith did not order any additional steps to be taken. He did not change course. He did not lower speed. He did not order the posting of additional lookouts. He did not place the engine room on standby in case last second engine orders had to be given. He did not remain on bridge along with his OOW, instead going inside to his quarters. He treated the expectation of meeting ice ahead as no big deal despite discussing the implications of a clear, calm and moonless night on their ability to spot ice in sufficient time to avoid. His only concern was the development of reduced visibility which occasionally happened as one approached regions of ice.
 
Hello everyone,

Let me just add my grain of salt over your many answers to Aly.

First of all, I'm a harder believer in the view of Tim Maltin with whom I had chat 2 years ago, and I think that this is a thermal inversion that prevented Fleet and Lee from seeing the iceberg in time to avoid collision. Lightoller himself had said that there were something strange :

"(...)extraordinary combination of circumstances that existed at that time which you would not meet again once in 100 years ; that they should have existed just on that particular night (...)"

Boxhall took the same view :

"I do not know why we couldn't see this iceberg, I do not know what it was about ; I could not understand".

But I think that this is the view of Lawrence Beesley that reflects most what actually happened :

"(…) The complete absence of haze produced a phenomenon I had never seen before: where the sky met the sea the line was as clear and definite as the edge of a knife, so that the water and the air never merged gradually into each other and blended to a softened rounded horizon, but each element was so exclusively separate that where a star came low down in the sky near the clear−cut edge of the waterline, it still lost none of its brilliance. As the Earth revolved and the water edge came up and covered partially the stars, as it were, it simply cut the stars in two, the upper half continuing to sparkle as long as it was not entirely hidden, and throwing a long beam of light along the sea to us. (…) And next the cold air! Here again was something quite new to us. (…) it was just a keen, bitter, icy, motionless cold that came from nowhere and yet was there all the time;(…) the stillness of it if one can imagine cold being motionless and still was what seemed new and strange. And these the sky and the air were overhead; and below was the sea. Here again something uncommon: the surface was like a lake of oil, heaving gently up and down with a quiet motion that rocked out boat dreamily to and fro (…).

A little further he said that there was something he couldn't understand, but that science will explain someday.

That was my first point.

Secondly, I don't think that Captain Smith would have done better than Murdoch did (o.k, I admit, I'm having a little crush on him and the opposite for Lightoller who had increased the casualties by not filling the boats with people and ordered the doors being open, a very "fine welcome" for the sea water that had sunk the ship faster) even if he was present on to the Bridge for he smashed over eight ships during his days at sea : here is an extract of the book by Commander Richard L. Patton "The Final Board of Inquiry : A Cold Case Investigation Into the Loss of RMS TITANIC" at page 33 :

" (...) Captain Smith was directly involved in at least ten prior significant maritime incidents while sailing under authority of his certificate and while in command of several different White Star Line ships. Captain Smith was in command during four groundings of various ships including RMS OLYMPIC, one serious collision while commanding TITANIC sister ship Olympic with HMS HAWKE in which the Admiralty Court found White Star to be at fault, another two near-miss collisions, one involving the damaging and near crushing of a tug while docking OLYMPIC in the Port of New York and the other while commanding the TITANIC when it nearly collided with the docked liner NEW-YORK, caused by TITANICs excessive speed in a shallow channel while departing the Port of Southampton on 10 April 1912 (...)".

We easily can conclude that if he had survived the wreck, he would have lost his Master and his job as well like the Rules allowed the Board of Trade to do so. And for me, they should have done it just after the smashing of the OLYMPIC in 1911. It could have changed nothing for the TITANIC's faith, but from the moment you introduce a new variable, things are different -- but how much, that is the question.

Furthermore, there was a crucial factor not to forget in the cause of accident : the Senior Officers had learned their trade on sailing ships, which had short Length over All (LoA) and lack of any technology (electricity, coal, on-board compasses, telegraphs, Wireless, etc.). And while they were at ease with something they knew well, technology came up and ships built happened to be 5 or 6 times much longer than all they knew until then. For they didn't had continuing training just as the officers today, they didn't have any idea how to pilot big ships like OLYMPIC' s class. It makes me think of the Sea Shanty named "A Sailor Ain't A Sailor Anymore"
(If you like Sea Shanties, you will love them !)

The main point I want to get at here is the following : imagine if your great grand-parents which only had a buggy and an old horse to travel, were being given today's car that "talk" to you every time you cross the white lane without flashers ; that turns the wheel by itself ; which has a GPS and able to tell you when you need to buy some gas, and so on. First time your grand-parents sits in this car, maybe they wouldn't be able to know how to start it and how to move it as well. The same thing happened with the Officers : the technology and LoA of the TITANIC contributes to the accident for the Officer have no clue on how to manage it.

And fourthly, Sam was right (his book is my "Bible" that I keep near me every time I need information about TITANIC -- a scientific monographs you can absolutely relie on) in saying that officers were educated to avoid obstacles, not to ram on them. If you have already drive a car, imagine you hit the road and see upon it let's say a fallen tree, what are you going to do ? Tell yourself that you should collided with it for you don't know what is in the ditch that are each side of the road, or are you going to hit the wheel hard to turn left of right to avoid the tree ? Asking the question is answer to that question, I think.

And as far as Lightoller is concerned, I think he would have done the same thing as Murdoch, for they had the same abilities and the same maritime education.
 

Georges Guay

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Visibility was perfect that night. You couldn't ask for better conditions. It's like driving a bus on an open road at night with unrestricted visibility. Only difference is that you were told there were problems in the road ahead and would have to slow down if you continued on the same road. Instead of taking an alternate but longer route to avoid any of the problems reported ahead, Smith decided to remain on the planned route. So if you are the driver, when do you start to slow down? When it gets to be about the time that you expect road conditions to worsen, or when you actually start to see something that requires you to slow down or turn off the road you are on? That is what they faced.

You’re the driver a fully packed tourist bus. You travel through a pitch dark night but the visibility is perfect. You roll on a zigzagging mountain damp road and while climbing the temperature drops down. You have summer tires and your brakes are believed to be so so. You fly at maximum speed on the cruise control. Your GPS is out of order.

Then, you’re advised that there is a log train stuck across the road somewhere not too far ahead. You guess that the train will show some emergency lights well in advance but a seated close by passenger who is a retired railway worker, doubt that you will be able to see the stop train in time in that remote area.

When do you start to slow down; when it gets to be about the time you expect road conditions to worsen, or when you actually start to see something that requires you to slow down, or turn off the road you are on? :)
 

Jim Currie

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Lightoller had been known for going through ship wrecks during his sea career, what do you think his reaction would be towards the berg? Would you think he would try a head on? Murdoch and lightoller have different personalities.
Standard reaction, Aly..... Avoid it by turning toward clear water! That would apply to whoever was on the bridge at the time. Evidence tells us that Murdoch did exactly that.
I suggest everyone places themselves in Murdoch's shoes .

When the three bells went, Murdoch, like any other bridge officer, would look ahead...see nothing or a vague shape and raise his binoculars. He must have seen the dark form of the berg. IF the berg was as AB Scarrot described it....a high side to the left tapering down to the right and the left side of the High side was sheer, then the Murdoch or any other officer would automatically head for the open water to the left....hence the helm order.
According to the evidence, he was going to port around it. This is where interpretation comes in...Was he going to port ...or going to port.? One is a noun and the other is a verb. Whatever he was going to do, he didn't have time to do it and there is evidence somewhere pointing to that very fact.
 
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Georges Guay

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Who told you that the water on the starboard side was not as clear as on the port side? If the berg would have been sighted fine on the port bow, Murdoch would have ported the helm whereas fine on the starboard bow, he would starboarded the helm. If the berg was sighted dead ahead, he would have starboarded the helm.

As a real seaman not a hoax, Murdoch certainly knew the meaning of propeller transverse thrust (also known as propeller walk, propeller effect, propeller asymmetric thrust, asymetric blade effect, ...) which is the term for a propeller's tendency to rotate about its vertical axis. A propeller is called right-handed or outward turning if it rotates clockwise in forward gear when viewed from the stern. Such a propeller configuration will push the stern to starboard, thereby altering the bow to port and consequently, turning the vessel counter-clockwise to port. A left-handed or inboard turning propeller acts analogically to the right-handed but with all rotation directions reversed. Titanic had a right-handed starboard and a center propellers and a left-handed port propeller. As a result, the right-handed propellers transverse thrust superseded and Titanic was turning faster and shorter to port than to starboard, as any other right handed propeller vessel would.

Therefore, if Murdoch sighted the berg dead ahead, he would intuitively order the helm to be starboarded by taking advantage of the outward turning propellers transverse thrust.

Deuxio, Murdoch who was an authentic seaman not a practical joke, knew very well that if he kept the helm hard-a-starboard, Titanic would crush the berg all along the starboard side and risk to amplify damages. As soon as it became apparent that the vessel would not clear the berg, he ordered the helm hard-a-port like any other clever deck officer would. The stern got around the berg and Titanic finished her course, miles away on a northerly heading, on the surface and partly buried in the mud of the abyss.
 

Jim Currie

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I take it yur ship-handling lessons are for the benefit of non-seafaring members. Because as you know, your dissertation concerning the operation of a ship's propelles ar common knowledge to a 4th year Cadet.

Nobody needs to "tell me" Georges... it's common sense coupled with reading the evidence and understanding it.

The iceberg is reported "ahead" by the striking of three bell.. But the Lookout did not leave it at that, he immediately followed that up with a phone warning. As he said:
I reported an iceberg right ahead, a black mass. I struck three bells first. Then I went straight to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge. All we have to do up in the nest; to ring the bell, and if there is any danger ring them up on the telephone. .. Well, it was so close to us. That is why I rang them up.

Murdoch sees the following ahead of the ship:
Europa Point.jpg

AB Scarrott described it as :
" I should say about as high as the boat deck; it appeared to be that from the position of it." ...
He was looking aft along the starboard side and to him it looked like
"As you approach Gibraltar - it seemed that shape. The highest point would be on my right, "

Now imagine the above rights ahead, but with the high point to your left . Then apply to it what you know about icebergs.
What side would you pass it on?
Thereafter, what would you do if you knew a collision was inevitable?
Keep in mind that Murdoch gave his first engine order simultaneously or almost so with his helm order. What do you think he knew at that moment?

Incidentally, Titanic did not have a steering bias, she handled very well.. about a degree each side in calm weather.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I suggest everyone places themselves in Murdoch's shoes .

When the three bells went, Murdoch, like any other bridge officer, would look ahead...see nothing or a vague shape and raise his binoculars. He must have seen the dark form of the berg. IF the berg was as AB Scarrot described it....a high side to the left tapering down to the right and the left side of the High side was sheer, then the Murdoch or any other officer would automatically head for the open water to the left....hence the helm order.

I agree with this. I don't think any other officer would have done things better than Murdoch. There must have been a reason why he decided to hard-a-starboard ie turn the bow to port rather than the other way around and that could have been because he got the impression that there was more clear water on the port side of the ship in relation to the berg.

But I do believe that Murdoch was trying to 'port around' the iceberg and came close to pulling it off. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough time.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Arun hope you are well.

I think we all agree that Murdoch and his colleagues were la creme de la creme of their profession. Consequently, the former would know that to perform such an avoiding tactic, he would need full power and maximum steering capability to pull it off. However he stopped both engines at the time he gave that helm order...why?

I suggest to you and others think about the following:

Murdoch knew the ship was very close to danger and close to an underwater obstruction on her starboard side. He knew that a hard left turn wold cause the stern to swing toward that danger. Consequently, the obvious action would be to stop the propeller nearest to it.
However, by stopping the starboard propeller, this would mean that his efforts to turn left would be lessened due to the thrust of the port propeller pushing the bow back toward the danger. Consequently, he had to stop both propellers. This meant that from the moment the stop order was received in the boiler rooms, pressure for driving the main engines would start to drop rapidly as they used it up. Shortly after that, the engineers would shut the engines down.
My point is that Murdoch like 99% of competent bridge officers would know all of this beforehand,. Consequently why would he attempt that which he knew was most unlikely to work?
 
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Mar 22, 2003
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But I do believe that Murdoch was trying to 'port around' the iceberg and came close to pulling it off. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough time.
I think Murdoch realized that he was too close to port around the berg even if his first thoughts were to attempt doing so. You don't stop the engines if you want to port around. I think he realized he was going to hit and was not going to risk hitting it head on. I furthermore believe the shift in the helm was NOT part of any avoidance maneuver. It happened after the ship struck the berg in an attempt to pull thestern away from the berg to mitigate further damage.
 
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Jim Currie

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Hello Sam. Hope you are OK.

I totally agree with you up to a point. However, if the shift in the helm was meant to do as you say, then Murdoch would have to have applied in good time to be effective. He would be very aware of that too.

We know from QM Olliver and the limit of the damage to the ship side, that contact with the berg was broken just aft of the bridge in way of the forward end of boiler room 5 Murdoch would also be aware of that.
We also know that about 12 to 15 seconds after that, the berg passed QM Rowe at the stern. That would be almost as long as it took to put the helm from hard over to the left to hard over to the right. Murdoch would also know that...better than you or me.

Murdoch also knew the possible consequences of aggravated damage...i.e. .. continuing at speed while the hull might be open to the sea. Consequently, he would, as any prudent officer have done... stop the ship as soon as she was clear of danger and carry out a damage assessment. I know there are examples of ships running ahead (and astern) while holed. But you can be sure that beforehand, an assessment was made of the consequences of doing so. re

My point here is that we both agree that Murdoch was a very competent officer. As such, he was perfectly aware of futility of a second helm order, so why was it given?