The Driver of Titanic


Apr 7, 2001
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Somehow the driver of Titanic is never far from my thoughts.

How many years of experience did Mr. Murdoch have with the sea? I am wondering what type of training they gave these guys of faring the sea in 1912? Surely they prepared such Officers for icebergs in the ocean? What could Mr. Murdoch have done differently that night? I'd like to think he wasn't acting on pure gut reaction to the iceberg. He is a far superior Officer than that.

Maybe he wasn't learned in the way of delicate matters of steel and especially tempered steel in frigid cold waters and how a hull could crack quite easily in such cold waters. But who would be thinking of cracked steel in times of peril? Not I, that's for sure.

Teri
 
Dec 2, 2000
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There's a brief biography of W.M. Murdoch here on ET that may be of some interest to you. While it doesn't indicate how long he had been at sea, it does point out that he had started in sailing vessels befor joining White Star. With White Star, he served on six different ships, including the Olympic befor joining the Titanic. You may have heard some of us call him "Cool Hand" Murdoch and there's a reason for it. The man was an excellent ship handler, cool and level headed in a crisis, and not afraid to take action when it was called for.

Regards preperation, I don't know if icebergs were specifically prepared for in any training, but he did hold an extra masters certificate and those things were not given away. They had to be earned and the process was...and still is...Darwinian to say the least. Only the fit survive.

IMO, there isn't much he could have done differently that night. A head on collision was probably survivable, but hardly an acceptable option when you consider that something like 80 feet of the ships bow would have been caved in. This would have been fatal for anyone berthed in the "Crumple zone", and he surely would have been raked over the coals in the inquiry that would have followed. Porting around was the most sensible manuever and he almost pulled it off.

In the matter of brittle steel, I'm no longer convinced it was the factor it's made out to be. Even if the Titanic had been built with modern steels, the effect of having six sections open to the sea would have been fatal regardless. All else aside, we have the evidence of the wreck itself, complete with bent steel sides as evidence that the steels ductility was not as severely compromised as we may have been led to believe by the Discovery Channel.

You might want to check out Roy Mengot's website on that as I recall he delved into the matter some. Inger Sheil and Kerri Sundberg had an outstanding website on Murdoch and the other officers of the Titanic which deals with the questions of training you asked about, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore. Perhaps if Kerri or Inger are lurking they can offer some more.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hallo Mike —

Further to our conversation about this last night on mIRC, the website Kerri and I put up is still floating around at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/2622/ There have been no recent updates, nor — at this stage — do we anticipate that there will be many more. While any form of publication is subject to plagiarism, the web is more susceptible to this than other publishing mediums. There have been various instances where material from the site has been used — in many cases verbatim — without any form of acknowledgement. Material has even been utilised in a magazine with the vague referencing ‘various internet sites’, an oversight when the same writer correctly referenced books, periodicals and other print media sources. I’m quite happy to assist in the dissemination of information, and realise that this will often happen without acknowledgement (given some of the experiences I’ve had, even with researchers on this board, it sometimes seems the norm these days to overlook acknowledging individuals who have contributed data). However, these days I prefer to have ‘first crack’ at using information in my own writing before putting it up on the net to be pilfered at will. Kerri and I have some stylistic problems with the writing on the site (and some niggling factual errors that further research has revealed), but have decided to leave it up for the time being.

Regarding Murdoch’s experience, he certainly had a considerable amount of that. The best published source for material on Murdoch’s life and career is Susanne Stormer’s biography Goodbye, Good Luck (now very difficult to obtain and selling on ebay for mind boggling prices). He joined the barque Charles Cotesworth on 31 July 1888, and then began the rather arduous climb up through the BoT certification system. He obtained his Second Mate’s certificate on 5 October 1892, his First Mate’s certificate on the 22 March 1895, and his Masters/Extra Master’s certificate on the 28 September 1896.

It is worth noting as highly indicative of Murdoch’s ability that he passed all his certificate applications at the first attempt — this was by far the exception rather than the rule. I’ve looked at many such certificate applications (including those for his fellow Titanic officers and Lusitania officers for her final crossing) and have thus far found no similar feat. It is all the more remarkable when one considers the time span between Murdoch signing of his ships and sitting the exams — he did not take off lengthy periods to study or attend cram schools, as many, if not most, of his colleagues did.

In practical terms, the fact that the White Star Line hired officers with their Master’s certification (although not, as has been suggested, only with their Extra Master’s, as I’ve found many instances when this certification was not held by officers they employed, including Lowe and Moody) meant that they had at least 8-10 years experience. All were initially trained in sail, as this was a requirement for the Master’s certificate. There was an alternative qualification, Master in Steam, which was considered ‘easier’ to obtain and which was not accepted by WSL or Cunard — a practice which remained in place until WWI, when the shortage of merchant officers available to serve in the merchant service necessitated the relaxation of this recruitment practice. This resulted in men like Bestic — a fine officer, I might add — being able to join the Lusitania with his ‘steam only’ certification (but, as usual, I digress…).

Murdoch joined the WSL circa 1900, his earliest recorded ship is the Medic. Henry Wilde had seniority over him in the WSL swagger line as he had joined several years previous (see my article re Wilde in the White Star Line Journal, out soon — shameless plug for the Irish Society’s magazine). Eventually, when I’ve cleared my plate of other research priorities, I’m hoping to track down the specific date for Murdoch joining the Line (unless some diligent researcher has beaten me to it and would like to come forward now).
 
Apr 7, 2001
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Michael,

What you say sounds best. Avoiding a head-on with the berg seems to be the safest course of action so far. It's just that I remember on some thread reading that Murdoch should have hit the berg head on, and that statement never left my mind for some reason. Do you remember that thread? Maybe with new research and new evidence that theory has changed. I'm not looking for any particular answer ~ only one that settles my mind about this Murdoch matter. What you have just posted settles my fears somewhat reasonably, as Inger's posting does as well.

For the Maiden Voyage of a ship like Titanic, I am confident they would have only employed the best of those that held certificates. That would be the sensible thing to do. I want you to know that I never thought Murdoch incapable of driving Titanic, not at all. I was just looking to have my fears allayed.

As for Titanic's brittle cold steel, no matter what the object is, if submersed in cold/freezing waters, the object will get cold. Maybe Titanic's steel did not get brittle, but it surely got very very cold. I had recent communication with Roy, and visited his site briefly, but did not get the chance to delve into it as thoroughly as I wanted to. I'll have to make time to go back to it.

I'll say by for now. I have much reading to do!

Teri
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Inger;Thanks a million for that. I bookmarked it so I don't lose the thing.
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Teri;the alternative of ramming the iceberg has been around for a very lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-n-n-g time. As in since 1912 when it was brought up in the inquiries. If you have a chance, you may want to go to the Titanic Inquiry Project's site and check out the testimony offered by Edward Wilding to Lord Mersey's Wreck Commission. I think you'll find his comments on the matter most useful.

While exploring alternatives is a valid line of inquiry, my problem with it is that it benefits from classic 20/20 hindsight. The blokes sitting warm and comfortable in chambers weren't the ones who had to make a series of split second decisions on a cold wind swept bridge of a ship speeding across the Atlantic. Murdoch was. Considering how little time he had to react, it's astonishing that he managed as well as he did.

I hope you can explore Roy Mengot's site more thoroughly as it explains a lot. I'd love to have the resources he does.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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Aha, Inger! I take it that Lights told a little white lie about having passed all his certificates without failing one?

Regards,

Pat Winship
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Pat -

Welllll...I'm afraid you're correct and that passage in Lightoller's book is not exactly of the utmost veracity! Perhaps, as he had not been ordered to do any more sea time and was able to successfully retake the examination a week later, his initial failure did not stick in his mind. Or - and judging from the passage this seems likely - he may have meant that he had never failed any exams prior to taking his Masters (this is the one he tripped up at).

For those who haven't read it, Lightoller's description of the difficulties in obtaining this certificate is a good one:

One way and another, I had had a good time, but had lost a lot of necessary sea time through periodically chasing some hare-brained idea. Still, in the end, I made it all up and even caught up with chaps of my own age. For one thing I had never lost a minute over my exams by failing - and it's not uncommon to fail three or four times for one ticket. I know one chap who went up seven times for his Master's certificate. Then again, by taking the West Coast run, I got better promotion and my time counted more. Anyhow, I went up, when I got home, and, my luck still holding, passed for Master at twenty-three.

~ Ing
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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Ha-ha! Thanks Ing! I thought it might have been the Extra Master's. Doesn't alter my good opinion of the man, however! :)

Pat Winship
 

Inger Sheil

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Yah - it didn't diminish my respect for his abilities as a seamen. The fact he was able to take his masters at the age of 23 in spite of all his little side adventures is pretty indicative in itself of his ability, and given the records of some of his colleagues a single failure wasn't too bad at all (nor was it a catastrophic failure, as he wasn't ordered to do any more seatime and was able to bounce back and take the exam the next week). Given the records of his contemporaries, it says more about Murdoch's superlative abilities as a seaman than it does about Lightoller or his fellow officers.

One of the Titanic's officers got a wee bit distracted while studying for his Masters, and by his own admission spent too much time visiting friends and not enough time at his books. The results were fairly inevitable!

~ Ing
 
Dec 8, 2000
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Pat & Inger,

Since when did Lights let a few facts get in the way of a good story? However, all of the above anecdotes regarding exams for Masters Certificates certainly do say much about Murdoch's abilities

Interestingly, EJ Smith failed on his first attempt at his Extra Masters, the first such failure in his career (14 Feb 1888 for those interested). Later that month he re-sat the certificate, and passed (20 Feb 1888). He'd held an 'ordinary' Masters since 1875 and apparently had his first command later that year. (source: Cooper's 'The Man Who Sank the Titanic')

Apropos of nothing I suppose, but there you go.
 
Apr 7, 2001
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Thank You Michael, Fiona, Pat & Inger for all the information you put forth here! I got more than I bargained for! You all really did your homework, eh? You would make fine students at the Pepperdine University which lies along the coastal line here in Cali. To my knowledge that is the most expensive and prestigious college around. You are all highly commended for your efforts. I now do not have ANY doubts of Murdoch's capabilities in driving Titanic, not that I had very many to begin with. He was a fine seafaring Officer, indeed.

Thanks again.

Sincerely Yours,

Teri
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Over the past 15 years I have taught a captain's license prep course aimed at lower-level licenses (generally under 100 gross tons). The U.S. Coast Guard test is not so very different from those of 90 years ago, with the exception of the modernization of the question content. The goal of the test is not to pass anyone, or even a certain percentage. The goal is simply to find out who "knows his/her s**t."

The lower-level test has a first-time failure rate of 87%. Of the people who sit for a license, about 25% never pass the test.

Upper-level licenses and pilot's licenses (marine pilots, not airplane) are even more difficult. They not only require written exams, but also orals. The questioners aren't always even polite. But, then, neither is the sea.

By the way, a "passing grade" on most license exams is 90% right. The tests are mostly multiple-choice.

To be honest, I obtained my license on one try. That sounds impressive, but listen to the rest of the story. If I had missed one more question on the Rules of the Road, or one more question on the plotting (navigation) test, I would still have been "Mr. Brown." So, you might say I passed by two questions out of more than 200! That hardly gives me any bragging rights.

There is no shame in the maritime community for failing a license examination. The only real shame come from not going back and passing the test next time.

--David G. Brown
 
Apr 7, 2001
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David,

Thanks for your personal insight. Those tests you describe sound intimidating. You won't find me in line to take one! But I'll bet Michael could pass one or two with flying colors!

I am so glad to have you aboard here. It's good to know that if I need some backing, I have you on my side riding in with your personal experiences and stories. Smiling over here in Cali...
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Kritina,

I almost forgot to Thank You for the link you posted. I like the photo of the Cottage in Dalbeattie.
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Interesting to note he had an early career at sea.

Yours,

Teri
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Dave is quite right. I sat about a year ago for my Great Lakes Pilots license. Other then the test (which wasn't difficult because I know the job of a Captain and took the 7 tests prior to becoming one). However the oral board was extremely difficult. They pop timed questions at you such as:

You are downbound the Detriot River as you near the Ambassador Bridge your ship suffers a power failure. You are now drifting at around 10 knots and the helm no longer responds. A 1000 footer is now upbound passing under the bridge. What do you do?

Keep in mind they give you about 5 seconds to come up with an answer.

My answer was:

Sound 5 short (emergency distress sound signal) and drop both the forward and stern anchors. Once that was done I would send a runner to find out the problem.

That of course is the wrong answer.

While I haven't actually read the entire thread I can say from experience that the licensing process for a ocean going Merchant Mariner is somewhat different then that of a Inland Merchant Mariner. They are both hard. Someone once told me that the 500 ton Captains license is equal to a 3 mates license unlimited. Not sure if that is true.

It is also important to point out that even though my license says that I may operate a vessel of "unlimited" size. That is far from the truth. In the passenger industry you have to get "qualified" to handle all of the different class of ships. I am qualified in almost all of the ships that my company offers. The difference is everything from the engines to the navigation equipment to the handling. The same class ships don't handle the same. I think that I covered that somewhere else.

Ship driving is not a skill that can be taught in a class room. You have to actually drive. It took me twice to pass for my unlimited license. Although I passed the oral board with out problem. I know that the English have a similar system.

Erik
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day the Fi -

Wilde was another who was pipped at the post when he went for his Ex-Masters the first time. Other than that, in spite of his slightly late start on the apprenticeship ladder, his progress was remarkably swift. Even Boxhall, possibly the most cerebral of the officers (coupled with a strong personal seafaring heritage), had an early hiccup with - from memory without looking it up - his 2nd mate's certification. One interesting aspect of all this has been comparing the components of the examination that they had difficulties with (James Moody grappled theoretically with storms at sea - ironic that he was fated to fall to the calm).

David & Erik - your own experiences fit in with the results of the BoT certification papers I've seen. Frank Bullen, writing in 1900, has some wonderfully vivid descriptions of the oral and written components of the examinations from the perspective of the candidates (and also other requirements such as the tests for colour blindness). Ilya McVey has proved a wonderful comparative source for the modern American certification system, as he makes the transition from engine to deck. I had a tremendous time with him at the California Maritime Academy campus last year, although in jeans and a T I stood out from the uniformed students like the proverbial sore thumb.
~ Ing
 

Erik Wood

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Inger, if you have any questions or anything I would be happy to answer them. It has been well over 10 years since I took my Captains test, but I took my Inland Captains test as well as the pilots test this last year for the Great Lakes.

The failure rate of those who don't actually get underway for more then 4 months a year is extremely high.

Erik
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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Hi, all!

Just like to thank Inger, David, and Erik for their insight into the licensing process of the Titanic's officers. Having read Lightoller's wild career, and Bisset's more proper one, it's fascinating to have the documented facts from Ing, and the seagoing experience of David and Erik come together in such a forum.

Pat Winship
 

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