Stern Suction reported by Boxhall


May 9, 2001
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I'm intrigued by something that Mr. Boxhall said in his testimony after the sinking. He said that after he left Titanic in a lifeboat, he steered the boat around Titanic's stern and over to the starboard side of the ship. While near the stern of Titanic, Boxhall says he noticed a strong suction that was pulling at his lifeboat.
When I read this, my first thought was that perhaps the Titanic's propellers were still turning and causing some eddie currents in the water near the stern. But why would the propellers be turning this late in the sinking?
What else could cause this suction that Boxhall noticed?

Yuri
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I suspect that if there was any suction at all, it was caused by the bulk of the ship settling into the water as well as the huge volumns of water that was flowing into the ship. The engines had long since been stopped.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
May 9, 2001
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The stern wasn't taking on any water. So how could a suction from the bow be noticed all the way back at the stern? And how does a ship's settling into the water cause a suction anyway? I don't understand.
Was Boxhall just imagining the suction because he didn't want to seem like a coward for rowing away from the Titanic instead of pulling up to her hull? (I don't see what good it would have been for him to pull alongside the Titanic anyway. What was he going to do, bang on the door of a sinking liner with his 20 foot lifeboat and tell them "Open up! I'm here to save you!"?)

Yuri
 
Dec 2, 2000
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The stern may not have been taking on water, but unfortunately, the rest of the ship was.
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I suspect also that drift may have been a factor as well since water would move into the areas once occupied by the ship itself. A constant ongoing process albit a very slow one.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
May 12, 2005
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Yuri,

I think Michael is on to something with the "drift". I know not everybody believes that the stern, in its last throes, sort of spinned around but I do and I think it might have been happening gradually before that. As the bow section twisted and slowly pulled apart underwater, it would have had some reaction on the surface, dragging the stern around and causing some minor suction or "drift," as Michael puts it more accurately.

Randy
 
May 9, 2001
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I think you're probably right Randy, but I'm talking about before the break-up had began in earnest. Like maybe 30 minutes before she went down. Boxhall left the Titanic sometime after 1 am and testified that he had his group row toward the stern of Titanic and around to the starboard side of the ship. Then, they pulled away several hundered yards from Titanic before she actually nosed down and broke in two. So I'm figureing that he was in proximity to the stern something like 20 - 30 minutes before the twisting had started.
I'm still fond of the idea that either the propellers were slowly turning for some reason, or that something else was causing eddie currents near the stern. These eddies or "whirlpools" would have made it difficult to row forward and maintain a straight course for the lifeboat. I think that is what Boxhall may have been noticing and just called it 'suction'.
But if the engines were indeed off as Michael said, then what could make the propellers turn?

Does anyone know if Titanic's pumps could suck water into the tankage below the engine room floor? Maybe water was being pulled in to counter balance the flooding up front or something.

Yuri
 
May 12, 2005
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Yuri,

Just a thought - couldn't the exhaust unit or whatever you call that water-spout aft(that nearly swamped boat 13) have caused a sort of eddying or swirling effect? I'm thinking if it drew boat 13 toward it, it might have done the same to boat 2 if it was in the general area. Boat 13 left around 1:30-1:40 AM right? And boat 2 at 1:45-2:00 or so. So if Boxhall rowed swiftly around, might he have been in the vicinity?

Also maybe one of the gangway doors or a row of opened portholes somewhere forward was causing a pull or suction.

Randy
 
May 9, 2001
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Good points Randy! Yes, the expulsion of the pump water could have made odd currents. I'll need to drink more on tap, I mean think more on that.

Cheers,
Yrui
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Well, there's still drifting in the current to take into account. The hull of the ship was not stationary but moved along with it.

It occurs to me that Boxhall may have been having a problem with that. The current was something like half a knot (somebody please correct me if I'm mistaken.) Doesn't sound like much, but if it's backed up by the weight of the entire ocean, it's going to be a force to reckon with.

As to the discharge, if memory serves, that was the discharge for the condensers.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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There may be another explanation, although I don't know if the timing is right on this.

In his 1962 BBC interview, Boxhall described rowing to the gangway doors...and making it there, to find them open. However, there were so many people there, he feared they'd swamp the boat.

So he rowed away.

As I say, I don't know if it's possible in terms of timing - perhaps this was merely memory playing tricks on the mind of an old man who was haunted to the end of his life by what had happened. Perhaps he spent so much time dwelling on what he might have done had he been able to make it to the gangway doors, he began to believe that he had made it, only to have to turn away.
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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I was going to suggest the discharge from the water pumps but was afraid I would come off as a dumb ol' girl by our esteemed colleagues.

Oh, well, sometimes it's worth it to take the chance one might look like a fool.
FWIW
Kyrila
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Not so dumb, Kyrila! Go to the waterfront and check out some of the large ships there. There are overboard discharges in operation all the time for such as the firemain system, cooling systems, condensers and so on. The volumn of water coursing through an overboard discharge can be pretty substantial. Enough so in some cases to swamp a small boat in a matter of seconds.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Jeremy Lee

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Jun 12, 2003
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Box Boxhall in the face! The stern section was heavily pulled down, so much that it split apart when AIR in it escaped. How could there be suction when it is till full of air inside?
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I don't think Boxhall should be boxed in the face at all. It's very easy to judge the man with 90 years worth of Monday Morning Quarterbacking at your disposal, and suggest that you or someone else might have done differently. He was an experienced mariner, and he was there on the night. If you do a search on 'suction' on the Titanic inquiry page, you'll find just how common the fear of suction was among the ship's crew (and there was a reason why this phenomena was feared). Having seen how the Titanic drew the New York into a near collision, I think it's understandable why many on board the Titanic feared something similar happening to their small craft. The sinking of an object that large was unprecedented, and they didn't have the time or experience to ponder how such factors as the ratio of air in the hull, the rate she was settling etc would affect the presence or absence of suction.
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Jeremy - if you want to see suction, when there is still air inside, take a look at the sinking sequences in Cameron's "Titanic". If you have a bottle with two holes in it, and one hole is in the air, and the other below the water, you WILL have suction at one of the holes. But depending on which hole you're at, you may or may not see it.

And, the Titanic had a lot more than two holes - windows, doors, hatches, etc.
 

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