The deck chairs

Ada

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Thomas Whiteley managed to stay afloat and relatively out of the water, clinging to a large oak armoire. Whiteley still was not entirely dry and started getting hypothermia, so when he saw a collapsible he decided to swim for it rather than stay with that armoire. There were also other men who initially stuck to that armoire with Thomas, but then they perished and Whiteley recalled watching them die and roll off into the water.

My impression is that a small raft made of steamer chairs would end up functioning much like that oak wardrobe - yes it would prevent drowning and yes it would increase the time you could survive, because only a part of you would be exposed to the water. But it wouldn't likely be enough to survive until the Carpathia arrival. The underlying problem was simply that the water was too cold even if only a part of your body was submerged or got wet. For each person who like the baker survived for some 30 minutes in the water, there were hundreds who died within the first 20 minutes.


Having said all that, we should offer kudos to the people who tried to build a raft under those circumstances. Under a situation of increasing panic they actually tried to do something reasonable to increase their chances. In milder conditions this may have proved the difference between life and death. But on that April night in the north Atlantic, the conditions were simply too unforgiving for such a measure to be effective.

Regardless of whether we are talking about a luxury liner like the Titanic or a small freighter like the Californian, all ships lifeboats needed oars, sail, mast, rudder, compass, sea anchor and ropes not just for a potential evacuation but also for the following occurrences that could feasibly occur in their service lives such as - picking up people gone overboard, shuttle people back and forth, rescue shipwreck survivors who are not in boats but swimming in the water.
I strongly agree. The sinking of the Titanic was not really all that typical of a sinking scenario. Yes the water has been very cold, but on the other hand the sea was calm and the rescue ship arrived within a few hours.

The lifeboats were designed to handle very different scenarios as well - rough weather, high seas, or the prospect of being on the ocean for a day or two before the rescue arrived.
 
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Nov 30, 2019
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Rereading "The Plan" I think the scheme is to have the 25' Cutters towing the loaded lifeboats out to the raft location. The big question I have is with 143 men standing, sitting or crouching, you've still got 22880 pounds of people to tow. Rowing as hard as they could, is this still physically possible? It would seem that some sort of lighter loading and raft location mid-ocean transfer of evacuees would be needed. Still it is an ingenious idea.

Time is another factor to consider. On another thread, I saw a summary that suggested that the collision happens at 23:40; at Midnight Captain Smith likely knew the ship was in serious trouble, and by 0:15 the first boats are getting loaded. Since the Titanic's end came at 2:20, and the final half hour probably wasn't pretty, there is not much more than 90 minutes to effect any kind of evacuation plan. Even assuming that the crew had the plan rehearsed, could you move 2000+ people in under 2 hours? Even my 'removal and launch' of any float-able stuff plan would have been hard pressed - there just wasn't enough time.
 

Dave Gittins

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Years ago I subjected a large Titanic lifeboat to modern SOLAS rules. The capacity worked out to be 24 persons. With a small breach of the rules it would be 32. Even in 1912 it was realised that the supposed capacities were unrealistic. One White Star official said 40 was more likely. Lightoller said the capacity only applied in perfectly calm conditions.

The supposed capacity of the rescue cutters was plain silly. There are plenty of trailer sailers that are bigger. Have a look at one and try to imagine 40 people on it.
 
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Mike Spooner

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Hi Dave,
I to have come to that conclusion the figures quoted for the lifeboat capacity have two different meanings.
1. The load capacity of numbers on board as a floating vessel. As quoted for each type of boat 65, 47 and 40.
2. But If you want as a working lifeboat with them rowing you need to reduce the numbers so they have room to work the oars.
 

Scott Mills

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Is there information available concerning other attempts to get floating
furnishings into the water? Judging by my reading, I would suspect that
officials would have attempted to prohibit this. White Star Line charged
the surviving band members for lost instruments, after all!
Frank Prentice in an interview he gave in the 1970s claimed that, after he and a fellow crew member jumped in the water together, he saw a crewman on a piece of floating debris. According to Frank, that crewman was very close and they 'chatted' briefly--as best as you could floating in below freezing water. That crewman told Frank that he was going to paddle in the direction of the ships' lights that had been seen, and swam off atop the debris never to be seen again.

Whether that debris was deck chairs, or frankly whether the whole incident actually happened at all, I could not say.
 

Seumas

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Frank Prentice in an interview he gave in the 1970s claimed that, after he and a fellow crew member jumped in the water together, he saw a crewman on a piece of floating debris. According to Frank, that crewman was very close and they 'chatted' briefly--as best as you could floating in below freezing water. That crewman told Frank that he was going to paddle in the direction of the ships' lights that had been seen, and swam off atop the debris never to be seen again.

Whether that debris was deck chairs, or frankly whether the whole incident actually happened at all, I could not say.
Considering Prentice's record for tall tales, I'm quite sceptical about that one.

This is a man who from the 1960s onward when he became one of the most frequently quoted survivors ...

i) Lied (and that is the right word for it) that he was a pursers clerk instead of a mere storekeeper.
ii) That he helped load gold and silver at Cobh (it's been looked into many times and nobody has ever found any proof).
iii) That he personally witnessed the lowering of the first two boats, that they both capsized and the occupants drowned due the crews incompetence (we know that No. 5 & No. 7 made it safely to the water).
iv) To have been four hours in the water before being picked up (impossible).
v) Curiously told two very different stories about what happened to his friend Cyril Ricks after he found him in the water. One was that Ricks was unconscious and was bleeding from a serious head wound, the other was that Ricks was fully conscious, no mention at all of a head wound but had broken both his legs instead. (It's up to you what to make of that one. I just find something very odd about it.)

He could certainly spin a good yarn, I'll give him that. It's a shame we don't have his official deposition (amongst many others) to compare with his story in later life.
 
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T Gerard

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Even assuming that the crew had the plan rehearsed, could you move 2000+ people in under 2 hours? Even my 'removal and launch' of any float-able stuff plan would have been hard pressed - there just wasn't enough time.
Today's standards, at least as written, even for the giant cruise ships once a captain orders abandon ship, they have to be able to get everyone off in a half hour. But that assumes a muster drill before departure with 100% participation from passengers and crew, and all crew member, even dancers and bartenders, having some role in loading, launching, or operating lifeboats. And I don't know how much of the human element that takes into account.
 
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Scott Mills

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Considering Prentice's record for tall tales, I'm quite sceptical about that one.

This is a man who from the 1960s onward when he became one of the most frequently quoted survivors ...

i) Lied (and that is the right word for it) that he was a pursers clerk instead of a mere storekeeper.
ii) That he helped load gold and silver at Cobh (it's been looked into many times and nobody has ever found any proof).
iii) That he personally witnessed the lowering of the first two boats, that they both capsized and the occupants drowned due the crews incompetence (we know that No. 5 & No. 7 made it safely to the water).
iv) To have been four hours in the water before being picked up (impossible).
v) Curiously told two very different stories about what happened to his friend Cyril Ricks after he found him in the water. One was that Ricks was unconscious and was bleeding from a serious head wound, the other was that Ricks was fully conscious, no mention at all of a head wound but had broken both his legs instead. (It's up to you what to make of that one. I just find something very odd about it.)

He could certainly spin a good yarn, I'll give him that. It's a shame we don't have his official deposition (amongst many others) to compare with his story in later life.
Seumas,

You left out my favorite--he could smell ice, and smelled it all evening that Sunday. :) That said, this is why I qualified the original statement... I cannot promise it is something that actually happened. Frankly, I would not be surprised if he actually saw a fellow crewman floating on a piece of debris, but I always felt the notion of having a conversation other than screaming for help while floating in below freezing water pushes the envelope of believably.

Could it have happened the way Frank Prentice describes it? Yes. Is it likely? No.

Just as an afterthought, I thought I would add: I know the man is known for tall tales, as you point out, but his descriptions being less than accurate regarding what happened in the water wouldn't surprise me if the man had Robert E. Lee's reputation for truthfulness and honorable behavior. This is just because I know a little bit about how memory works, and how memories are formed during traumatic events, and how they are formed when the human body is under stress. For example, there is literally a documented phenomena of hallucination that occurs, first noted in mountaineers, where people under similar stresses have entire conversations with people who are not actually there.
 
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Seumas

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Aye his sense of smell must have been incredible to detect the ice from within his windowless cabin on E Deck deep within the ship. :D

I'll try to be kind to Prentice and offer as a possible explanation for his colourful claim that at Cobh he loaded gold and silver. It was probably something perfectly innocent and unremarkable and his youthful imagination ran away with him. Or else some of his older shipmates may have been kidding the naive young lad that he was loading aboard a fortune.

It's a shame Frank Prentice felt compelled to tell so many of these silly tales because it counts against other parts of his story that just might be true.

This would include
  • Claiming to have witnessed Captain Smith, Ismay and Andrews walking together on deck discussing the damage
  • That contrary to popular imagination (Paddy Dillon, broadly speaking, agrees with Prentice on this), the poop deck did not have that many people on it when the ship plunged.
He told so many easily refutable tall tales that it's hard to tell when he may actually have been telling the truth.

Of course Prentice wasn't the only one. Eva Hart told a number of very dubious stories about the Titanic that raised plenty of eyebrows among researchers. Whilst Edith Russell claimed she actually saw people walking on the deck of "the ship that stood still", sure ......

Now this is most definitely not one of the big mysteries of the Titanic disaster by any means but Frank Prentice's accounts of Cyril Ricks fate really do intrigue me.

When you watch the footage of Prentice being interviewed about Ricks' fate, it's clear that the emotional scars are still there.The otherwise very confident and chatty Prentice has to take deep breaths, long pauses and his voice quivers as he fights back the tears. My interpretation of this suggests that Prentice was indeed telling the truth about being with Ricks in the water when he latter met his fate.

It's the fact he tells two very different stories about what finally became of Ricks, who was clearly a good friend of his, that I find interesting.

Here they are again i) He found Ricks in the water but he was unconscious, had suffered a serious head wound and the wound was bleeding heavily. ii) That he found Ricks fully conscious but that both his legs were broken and he couldn't move.

So did Prentice have no choice but to abandon his unconscious (possibly already dead) friend to his fate whilst he swam for it ? or was Ricks conscious but unable to move with two broken legs, did Ricks possibly implore his friend to save himself and leave him (Ricks) which he did ? Whatever the truth, Prentice was clearly haunted by it for it the rest of his long life.

They actually found Ricks body several days later but of course the written descriptions of the recovered bodies tell us nothing of any wounds they may have suffered.

Also, Prentice had to have been picked up by Boat No. 4 within roughly half an hour (or hypothermia would have set in) of entering the sea, and part of the time he would have been swimming for rescue, so he simply couldn't have stayed with Ricks for the long extended period he claimed he did.

For the record, I'm not suggesting any cowardice on Prentice's part, absolutely not. Such extremely traumatic but highly necessary life or death decisions like this have to be made in extraordinary situations like Prentice and Ricks found themselves in. Prentice's being decorated for bravery leading a tank attack (whilst he was on foot) during WW1 shows he was someone who was willing to put himself at great risk for his comrades.

It would be interesting to know if Prentice's descendants know anything further or even if Cyril Ricks relatives know if Prentice wrote to the family or visited them after returning to England. The odds are against it I fear but if those lost depositions ever turned up, I'd like to see what Prentice wrote in his.

Just a little something that makes me wonder.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Smelling ice? Hmm?

"Yes; just a small conversation, I think, about 9 o’clock. My mate turned round from time to time and said, 'It is very cold here.' I said, 'Yes; by the smell of it there is ice about.' He asked me why, and I said, 'As a rule you can smell the ice before you get to it.'”
- George Symons, lookout, RMS Titanic. (BI 11340)