Lee Gilliland

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Feb 14, 2003
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There were many who feared the lifeboats would be pulled into the Titanic when the ship sank, and yet all agree there was very little suction compared to the size of the ship. Was this because the forward part of the ship had already filled with water? The stern went down with its compartments still full of air; could this be why Lightoller experienced the suction others never felt?
 
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Lee S.Everitt

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Lee -
When 4th Officer C.H. Lightoller felt the suction, it was due to his being pulled up against a grate that led down to the boiler rooms. I believe that it was an air intake vent located in front of the first funnel. When the water was pouring into the vent he was pulled along with the water and was pinned to the grating. Thank goodness the grating was there or he would have been pulled deep into the heart of the ship.

Two theories have surfaced regarding how "Lights" escaped. One is that an air bubble came up from the vent as the grate was pulled under the water and pushed him away, and second, that it was steam that was released when the cold waster poured down the vent and flashed against the hot boilers and the steam and pressure pushed him away.

You can read his personal account in "The Story of the Titanic (as told by its survivors)" - Edited by Jack Winocour

Hope this helps!

Lee Everitt
Curator - Titanic~The Exhibition
 

Lee Gilliland

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So there was no real suction at all? I'm asking because it is my understanding that suction usually occurs when a ship goes down, and the people in the lifeboats were correct in being wary of it - yet the eyewitnesses agree there was almost none. I was curious about the reasons for this.
 
Mar 18, 2000
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Both Lightoller and Gracie reported being sucked down, so I don't think we can say there was 'no' suction. I also expect, though I can't prove it, that quite a few people, especially toward the bow, got sucked down, but didn't live to report it.

Baker Joughin reported no suction at the stern of the ship, when he stepped off into the ocean.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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A book was written during WWII called "How To Abandon Ship." Paul Richards and John J. Banigan collected the experiences of men whose ships had been bombed, torpedoed, or shot from under them. The goal was to help sailors survive such unpleasantries.

On Page 20 it says, "A slowly sinking vessel may submerge without creating a suction." But, a sentence or two later cautions, "Few men caught within the suction area of a swiftly sinking ship...have survived."

-- David G. Brown
 

Inger Sheil

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A sample of the range of testimony on this point:

Olaus Abelseth, Senate Inq:

quote:

My brother-in-law took my hand just as we jumped off; and my cousin jumped at the same time. When we came into the water, I think it was from the suction - or anyway we went under, and I swallowed some water.

(Note: says that when in the water there was no suction at all).

Affidavit of Weikman:

quote:

Did you see the ship go down? I mean the Titanic. Yes; I was afloat on chairs about 100 feet away, looking toward the ship. I seen her sink. Did you feel any suction? No; but there was some waves come toward me caused by the ship going own, and not enough to knock me off of the chairs.

John Collins (Senate Inq.)

quote:

Senator BOURNE. How do you account for this wave that washed you off amidships?

Mr. COLLINS. By the suction which took place when the bow went down in the water.

A search of the ET site reveals that August Wennerström, although near A, detected no suction.

Jack Thayer is quoted in Logan Marshall (1912) as saying:

quote:

'This time I was sucked down, and as I came up I was pushed out again and twisted around by a large wave, coming up in the midst of a great deal of small wreckage

Gracie testified at the Senate Inq:

quote:

Senator SMITH. No; I am not particular about that. I would like to know specifically whether, while this ship was sinking, and you were in close proximity to it, you noticed any special suction?

Mr. GRACIE. No; I noticed no suction, and I did not go down so far as that it would affect my nose or my ears. My great concern was to keep my breath, which I was able to do, and being able to do that was what I think saved me.

Bride (Senate Inq.)

quote:

Senator SMITH. The fact that so few of the passengers and crew were picked up by the Carpathia with life preservers on would seem to indicate that they were sucked under these waves or this water as the ship disappeared. What is your judgment about that?

Mr. BRIDE. I estimate I was within 150 feet of the Titanic; I was swimming when she went down, and I felt practically no suction at all.

William Ward (Senate Inq.)

quote:

Senator FLETCHER. Was there any suction when she went down?

Mr. WARD. Yes, sir; a little, I think. It seemed to us there was, in the boat. I could not swear that there was.

This is by no means exhaustive, but I'm running late for a day at the British Newspaper Library...!

A good start to get a feel for the information extant on a topic like this is to go to the Titanic Inquiry Project site and enter the term in the search engine. Also, utilising the search engine on ET (both for the main site and also for the messageboard) will give an idea of both sources and directions this discussion has taken before.

'Suction' turns up a good many results, but quite a few of these are from people in boats who spoke of the fear of suction. Very few actually testified to experiencing it themselves, and some who might have been expected to do so stated categorically that they did not. However, as Bill and David point out, one possible reason for this is that those caught in a similar situation to Lightoller might now have been as fortunate to survive to tell about their experiences. It was a narrow thing for Lightoller - the Boxhall family have told me that according to JGB, Lightoller was never quite sure at the end exactly how he did break free and regain the surface the second time.

One minor point - I'm sure it's just one of those typos that slip in, Lee, and you know that Lightoller was of course the 2nd Officer, not the 4th.​
 

Dave Gittins

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In my opinion, suction is not really the term to use. It's not as if there's a big vacuum cleaner in the ship, dragging everything in. What really happens is that if a ship sinks before large parts of her interior, such as holds, are empty of water, the sea makes a sudden last rush into them, carrying with it nearby objects and people.

This is what happened to Lightoller, who was stuck in front of an opening leading to a stokehold. Somehow he got away, perhaps by water entering by another route forcing air out from below.

"Suction" was widely feared but it doesn't always occur. However, like "the boilers exploded" it became a cliche of sea stories. The classic example is at the end of Moby Dick. It's evident from Senator Smith's obsession with "suction" that he had been reading up on the subject, as he did on other marine matters.

When "suction" happens on the grand scale it can be very deadly. There are authenticated examples of boats being swept into sinking ships and taken down. In the case of Titanic, those who survived generally noticed little suction. Those who did not might have told another story.
 
Mar 18, 2000
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I'm glad Inger mentioned Gracie's testimony, as I had remembered he had said he was sucked down. I did check his own book, and his account there is a bit different.

At first, he states "I was in a whirlpool of water, swirling round and round, as I still tried to cling to the railing as the ship plunged to the depths below". A bit later, he adds "My being drawn down by suction to a greater depth was undoubtedly checked to some degree by the life-preserver I wore".

This would have been written months after the fact, and explains my memory of it (at least my memory isn't *that* bad!), while his statement at the US Inquiry was only weeks later.
 

Inger Sheil

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Yah, I reread that too, Bill, as I seemed to have a recollection of him mentioning being drawn down by suction and so looked first in 'The Truth About The Titanic'. I tossed up adding it in the mix but didn't have time to retype it, and I found it a bit ambiguous - it almost sounds as if he was being drawn down because he had a hold of the railing, and he attributes the lack of suction pulling him down to a greater depth to the life-preserver. I wonder if perhaps it is not necessarily incompatible with the 'no suction' statement of his Inq. testimony. He does, however, directly contradict his Senate testimony when he writes "There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears, though there must have been plenty of air that the ship carried down with it." In the passage quoted above, he categorically states that neither his nose nor ears were affected.
 
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Lee S.Everitt

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Inger -

Yes I made A BIG mistake on that one. I am of the "hunt and peck" group of keyboard users that inhabit this planet, but I think this was just a momentary loss of brain power. Sorry about that. It should have been 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, 4th in command, R.M.S. Titanic. "Lights" is probably "spinning" mad at me right now.

Sorry for the mistake!

Lee S. Everitt
Curator - Titanic~The Exhibition
 
Mar 18, 2000
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Inger - I found Gracie's two statements, taken together, to be fairly ambiguous as to what he *really* saw and heard. Maybe suction, maybe not. As you say, he does contradict himself re: the pressure. Ah, well.

No question about Lightoller though.

One of the 'nice' (not necessarily a good word to use in this case) scenes in Cameron's movie, was seeing people being sucked back *into* the ship, as she went down. Something I had not really though much about before that, but it does make sense as a very real posibility.
 
Jun 19, 2004
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I sometimes watch Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel and they went about testing the myth that a sinking ship causes suction. They also mention in the movie Titanic that the lifeboats had to row away for the suction. I was wondering if this could be true? On Mythbusters after sinking a ship (much smaller of course) they found that a sinking ship would not cause suction. I tend to chalk this finding up to the ship's small size and perhaps some human error in the manual sinking. I would however like to hear other people's views and maybe if someone else saw this same episode of Mythbusters what they think of the finding.

-Shannon
 

Dave Gittins

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Suction is not really the right expression. What really happens is that water rushing into the spaces inside the ship carries nearby objects with it. It's not like a vacuum cleaner. More like the plughole in the bath. I believe some pretty drastic examples have occurred during wartime, when torpedoes or mines have made ships fill rapidly.

There was in 1912 a strong belief in "suction" and many were afraid of it. Maybe they'd read the last pages of Moby Dick too often.
 
Jun 11, 2000
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I fairly hazy on this, but they seem to have been too. Wasn't 'suction' blamed (by the Admiralty) for the Olympic / Hawke collision in 1911? And Smith & Bowyer also underestimated water effects in the Titanic / New York incident. They seem to have seen it where it probably wouldn't be, and ignored it where it most certainly would.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Hydrodynamics were not that well understood in the early 1900s. But in a confined space there is a lowering of static water pressure due to the increase in water flow through the space. The larger the vessel, the smaller is the confined space. And the smaller space causes an even greater flow of water through it thereby lowering the pressure even more. All this was not well appreciated, or understood very well at that time. But it was understood enough in the scientific community to explain what happened. The Admiralty showed that tests with models proved there would be a suction between the two vessels. And this incident was not the first of its kind either. By the way, although Capt. Smith was the commander of the Olympic when the Hawke collision happened, technically the ship was under the command of the channel pilot at the time. So Smith was not blamed. The New York incident at the start of Titanic's voyage was another example of what could happen in a confined space with relative motion between to vessels. Smith and the others were still learning how to handle these large vessels.
 
Aug 10, 2002
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Shannon:
There are two uses of the word suction relative to a ship. One is what my colleague Sam Halpern has so correctly described in the above post. It manifests itself as Squat or Bank Suction. Squat is where the stern sinks deeper in the water as a vessel moves quickly through shallow water. Bank Suction is side ways high and low pressure areas. They can cause a vessel to be drawn towards the bank or another floating body, or pushed away from it. A vessel passing through a narrow body of water, like Southampton could experience this phenomenon.
The other is what may occur as a sinking vessel fills with water. A vessel may still have interior spaces that are empty of water while other parts are flooded. The flooded areas increase the weight of the vessel to where it violates Archimedes' Principle, thus sinks. As it does so the empty areas fill, this causes the suction they talk about with a sinking ship. The more of the volume of the ship that is already flooded when she sinks the less suction.
Regards,
Charlie Weeks
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Wasn't 'suction' blamed (by the Admiralty) for the Olympic / Hawke collision in 1911?"

This phenomenon was first exposited by Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782) by means of his equation which demonstrates that pressure and velocity are mutually exclusive.

A common example of the phenomenon is the venturi (ventori?) device for shifting fluids. Another example is of course the cross-section of an aerofoil whereby the upper surface being greater in the direction of travel has the greater velocity relative to still air and therefore the lesser pressure, the greater pressure on the lower surface thus lifting the payload against gravity.

Noel
 

Paul Lee

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FYI, Boxhall reported suction as he rounded the Titanic's stern. Storekeeper Prentice reported that, as he looked into the water from the stern (before jumping), debris had drifted down to that end of the ship.

Cheers

Paul

 

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