Ships Carpenter


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Kate Charlesworth-Miller

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Hi,

We are going to be performing the musical "Titanic", and I am the designated fact finder. There is a line in the show where the captain indicates that the ships carpenter should check to see that the potable water is not freezing. Why would the carpenter be responsible for this, or is this a mistake on the part of the playwright?

thank you,

KC Miller (playing Charlotte Cardeza)
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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It's quite correct. The carpenter tended to have a lot of traditional duties inherited from the age of sail. In the days when the drinking water was kept in barrels they would have been the carpenter's responsibility and this was carried over into steamships. One of his duties that comes into the story later was checking the amount of water that was coming into the ship after the collision. This was referred to as 'sounding the ship'.
 
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Wayne Macdonald

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That's interesting,Dave.I've always kind of wondered why there was a carpenter on a ship constructed of steel. I figured it was just a title,but wasn't quite sure of its meaning.Never thought of the age of sail!
 
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Stephen Stanger

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Also don't forget the panelling all over the ship as well as all the wooden fixtures and decorations in the passenger areas.
The carpenter (J.H.Hutchinson) would have to be there in a trouble shooting aspect as well because there are bound to be small descrepencies that were missed during the fitting out that the White Star Line would have to correct during the voyage.
 

Dave Gittins

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The carpenter was actually John Maxwell. Hutchinson was called the joiner and signed on for less pay. Several writers seem to have confused them. Witnesses often just mentioned 'the carpenter'.
 

Dave Gittins

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Hutchinson was not from H & W, just one of the crew. His last ship will be on this site on the crew list.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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This is interesting. Does the word "sounding" mean that they took a plumb line measure of the depth of the water to figure the rate of water coming in to a specific area or was it some method of sending a signal and measuring it sin/cos waves to determine this.

I had always imagined some bloke with a big board, a hammer and some nails to make a patch as the carpenter....duh,

....and just ignored the sounding part.

Maureen.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Maureen -- Your question sent me on an etymological big game hunt. To "sound" means to measure the depth of water as with a lead line. This is a length of light rope with a lead weight at one end. Various pieces of cloth and leather indicate depths. Titanic had a sounding machine to do this work in deeper water than was practicable with a hand lead.

Logically, the amount of water inside the ship could be measured in the same way. This is the most probably origin of the term "sound the ship." However, sounding the ship is a bit more than just measuring the depth of water in the hull. Generally, it implies checking the vessel for its "soundness," which would include looking for iceberg damage.

According to Robert Hendrickson, the nautical term "sound" comes from the Old English word "sund" which related to water such as an inlet from the sea which is known as a "sound."

I suspect that the denotation of "soundness" may have come from the homonym of "sound" meaning a noise. Much of checking a wooden vessel for "soundness" involves tapping with a tool known as a "sounding mallet." On Titanic, the carpenter would not have been tapping away at the bulkheads, however. He was probably just inspecting the various compartments to see which showed signs of being breached and the depth of the flooding.

Because it will come up, the leadsman's cry of "mark twain" meant that the depth was two fathoms exactly, or on the marker that indicated two fathoms. If the water was deeper than two, but not yet three, the leadsman would have cried, "deep twain." It's easy to see why Sam Clemens picked the former version.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Okay, what exactly was a "sounding machine" and how did it work. Do you know?

And perhaps the "nautical term" for sound was the inlet at sea. But I tend to think that the "soundness" of the ship was more what they were checking for when they were sounding the ship.

Anyway the reason Sam Clemens chose that name was because "Deep" was not a suitable first name whereas Mark fit in just fine. Besides Mark Twain rools off the tongue, but try saying Deep Twain three times fast. hehehehehehe
 
Dec 4, 2000
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A sounding machine was essentially a reel of wire rope with a lead weight. The weight was free to fall to the bottom, but as it did the reel rotated and those rotations were translated into a depth reading on a mechanical dial on top of the machine. It was purely mechanical. The weight was retrieved by hand cranking the reel. While this sounds crude by today's standards, it was a valuable piece of equipment in a fog.

If the weight went down, but never touched bottom, the Captain knew he was "off soundings," or safely away from shore. Once the lead weight touched bottom, the ship was "on soundings" and more care had to be exercised to prevent groundings, etc.

Sam Clemens, I understand, took the name "Mark Twain" out of remorse. As the story goes, he roundly criticised an old man's writings about life on the river. That older writer used the pen name "Mark Twain." In one version of the story the man died (possible suicide) as the result of the criticism...and Sam resurrected him by making his name immortal. Good yarn. Too good to bother checking if its true.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jul 29, 2001
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David,

This is most helpful. I wonder if there was a set depth beyond which "off soundings" would be reached, or would this depend on the ship - or did the sounder adjust the gadget to taste?

bob
 

Erik Wood

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Todays ocean fleets still carry something known as a "lead line" which is essentially the same thing as Captain Dave discussed. The only difference being that this was not mechanical. It had notches in the line which signified depth in feet. Once the lead line was thrown off the bow (using the ships draft) the person doing it would be able to give a rough estimate of how deep the water was. No days a Carpenter has been replaced by the bosun that accutally is responsible for twice the amount of things the traditional carpenter was.

For a good job description and what some are capabible of I would suggest reading "Shackelton". In this book it mentions the ships carpenter a man named McNeish. He made a 20 foot lifeboat into a sailing vessel that beat out two or three gails and crossed the south atlantic from Antartica to St. George.

Erik
 

Remco Hillen

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Jan 6, 2001
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Just out of interest, here is a piece of text about a device onboard Britannic:

quote:

...and the depth of the ocean is sounded by electric machinery...
As Dave discribes sounding machines as being mechanical, does that mean that Britannic had a different sounding machine compared to her sisters?
Just wondering.

Regards,
Remco​
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hey there Erik Wood, Dave Brown, and Dave Gittins, thanks for all you;ve posted and all the information, but I still have some questions.

Okay, in about 1990, I went aboard a small motorboat and it had a "depth finder" and I saw that device in action while the boat was traveling through Aquia Harbour and through to the Chesapeake Bay. That device was used purely to find the distance between the bottom of the lowest part of the little boat (which on a sailing boat can make quite a differnce) and anything between that lowest point and any object or hard surface such as the bottom of the ocean or some other obstruction.

It is also my understanding that this sounding machine was on the front part of the ship and readings would have been taken in a palce where those output devices would have been located...I am guessing a place like the bridge.

So, if that is right (and I am no seaman so please correct me), was Smith attempting to "sound" the distance 1) of the lowest part of Titanic to the bottom of the ocean, 2) see if she had grounded on the bottom of the ocean, or 3) see if she was hitting something beneath the surface?

If Smith was attempting to check the distance between Titanic and an obsticle, if they had "grounded" on an ice shelf would that have shown up in the sounding process?

Another thought, I have heard or seen various wordings of what was said reagding sounding and some have used the terms that the carpenter was to go about the ship and sound her out. If there was one device and it was on the outside of the ship, why was the carpenter told to go about the ship sounding her out?

That is why I asked my question...if the carpenter was to sound the ship and that included figuring out the status of the drinking water to see if it was frozen (wasn;t that a separaet request...I can not remember) anyway, woouldn;t there have been some sort of internal way of sounding the depth of the ship, like how much water they had taken on and the amount of displacement in the water...stuff like that?

Erik, which Shackleton book are you referring to one he wrote himself or one writen about him?

Thanks guys for your patience. I feel like there is something that I am just not getting.

Maureen.
 

Erik Wood

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When Smith wanted the Carptenter to sound the ship, he wanted to know by how many feet the ship was down by the head. By determing this Smith can then do some pretty basic computations and get a rough estimate of how much water has entered the ship in a certain amount of time which in the end will tell him how the long the ship will last.

If you have ever seen the moving the Last Voyage with Robert Stack the carpenter constatnly tells the captain how many feet down forward they are. Meaning how many feet lower the bow is sitting in the water then it was before the accident.

As for the Shackelton book. It was one written about him. The authors name escapes me presently but it is a good book.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Wow, thanks Erik!

Have not seen the Robert Stack movie, but will try to.

I have a book called Shackleton the Antarctic Challenge by Kim Heacox. I wonder if that is it? I look into it over the weekend to see.

Thanks for your patience in teaching me.
Maureen.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Maureen -- the small boat depth sounder used a sharp pulse of sound to measure depth. The pulse is sent out and the electronics start to measure the amount of time it takes for the echo to come back. That time duration is translated into a depth reading. This is the same principal upon which radar depends, the difference being that radio frequency waves are used instead of sound waves.

The thing that sends the pulses is called a "transducer." It must be in contact with the water to work. Even bubbles from the ship's wake will cause errors in the reading. On sailboats, the smoothest flow of water is forward, so that's the preferred location. On high-speed powerboats the transducer may be bolted to the transom.

Cap'n Erik has pointed out what information the carpenter was asked to provide Captain Smith. The carpenter was sounding the depth inside the ship. The depth of water to the bottom of the ocean was irrelevant as it was too deep to wade home.

Your last question about sounding the drinking water tanks and the ballast tanks...you don't really want to get into ullage, do you?

For a really good "read" about the Shackleton expedition, try the book "Shackleton's Boat Journey" by F.A. Worsley. He was the captain of the Endurance, but earned his way into the navigator's hall of fame by taking the lifeboat "James Caird" from Antarctica to South Georgia Island across the roughest ocean in the world. He made a landfall spot-on despite the fact his sight reduction tables had turned to paper mache. Worsley, Shackleton, and a chap named Crean walked across South Georgia Island, something nobody had done before. As they struggled their way down into the whaling village of Stromness all three men were grateful for the help of a strong fourth man who acted as the anchor to keep them from plunging to their deaths.

There was no fourth man...at least not of this world.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Captain Worsley was an outstanding navigator no question about it. So was Captain Bligh though. Worsley, Crean and Shackleton made the 800 + mile journey in the rickty lifeboat the James Caird as Captain Dave pointed out. Getting that boat ready for such a long trip and with limited resources was a work of magic. Accomplished by the mutinst carpenter McNeish. Luckily for them there was access seal on the Elephant island and he used the blood of seals to fill gaps between planks on the Caird. There is a great PBS documentary on it. I believe there is an upcoming A&E movie as well.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Okay, Erik, thanks for the information. Especially on the A&E movie.

Dave Brown (aka Cap'n Dave), "Cap'n Erik has pointed out what information the carpenter was asked to provide Captain Smith"... And ...."The carpenter was sounding the depth inside the ship." appeared to be two distinctly different things to me. But I think I get it now. (Hey blood is thicker than water and some people are thicker than anything on this earth and I am one of those thick headed folks.

Okay here goes, what I have learned here is that the thing that Smith asked the Carpenter was to sound the ship and the carpenter performed this task by checking to see how far down the bow was in the water at the time after the accident as compared to before the accident (how many feet down by the head).

The carpenter checked the "inside depth", not by checking the depth of the water inside the ship, but by calculating the feet down by the head that the ship was and this computation would produce the likely about of water that was being taken on by Titanic.

" The depth of water to the bottom of the ocean was irrelevant as it was too deep to wade home."

I think that I knew that and that was my point. As I said, I thought the there were two separate issues here the depth issue and the "inside sounding of the ship". So, I could not understand why a device on the outside of the ship was used for sounding the inside of the ship or if it was a spearate thing why they would measure depth when they were in a position outside of sounding where the depth could not be determined because it was too deep.

But there was a logical reason for my asking you (well in my world it is logical...hehehehehe) the reason I asked the question Dave actually was due to your theory on the ice shelf.

If this "sounding" depth to the bottom sort of measurement had been taken and they had been on an ice shelf and the measurement had been taken when the ship was "sounded", wouldn't an ice shelf have shown up?

"Your last question about sounding the drinking water tanks and the ballast tanks...you don't really want to get into ullage, do you?"

Gee, thought so, but then I looked it up and it had the word "bunghole" in the definition and I figured I had best leave it alone. hehehehehehehe
Leave it to you sailors out there.

Thanks for the information everyone.
Maureen.
 

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