Titanic's manouvres at the Cherbourg roadstead


Sep 14, 1998
Admittedly, I have always simply assumed that the Titanic took the most straightforward and simple way to appraoch and leave the Cherbourg roadstead:

When sailing from the isle of Wight, it seems more natural to enter the harbour by the east entrance, especially if one then plans to leave the port heading west. That way one needs to make only the initial turn to starboard (port facing the city), pick up the passengers and then leave with no significant turns.

However, I have recently learned that this assumption was incorrect. Let me quote just a tiny section from "On a sea of glass":
Eventually, at about 6:30 p.m., the Titanic dropped anchor inside the breakwater, with her starboard side facing south, toward the city of Cherbourg.

Well, then this is something very different and leaves a few questons:
1. Which side did the Titanic enter the roadstead from?
2. Which side did the Titanic exit the roadstead from?
3. Why was this, apparently more complex, course been adopted? Was there perhaps some formal or informal rule at Cherbourg that ships should enter from the west and exist to the east?


The image above illustrates the idea I have now - as it seems to be the easiest way to move into the roadstead with the starboard facing the city, while avoiding any 180 degree style turns in the roadstead itself. Yet it still requires a U-turn after leaving the roadstead to take a course to Ireland.
Do you know if this interpretation is correct?

Which other ships were present inside the roadstead? I'm asking because one other theory I now have that would explain this course is that:
- At the time of Titanic's arrival, there was some ship anchored by the eastern entrance. Perhaps the Titanic was unwilling to sail close to it in order to avoid anything similar to what happened at Southampton with New York? If there was a ship at the eastern entrance, the Titanic might enter from the west and while the passengers are loaded, that other ship could have the time to move out of the way for Titanic's departure.

Its all conjecture at this point. But the reason behind the "starboard facing the city" is still confusing to me.

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
Looking at a current chart, I see the area inside the eastern entrance is far too shallow for Titanic. There are patches of around 6 metres. Titanic must have gone in the western entrance and somehow managed to turn round and go out the same way. Nobody seems to have mentioned tugs, but maybe some were on hand to help.


Sep 14, 1998
Thanks. I also did not remember any tugs being mentioned, hence I assumed it was unlikely that Titanic made a 180 within the roadstead. But I guess that is what must have happened.

As for depth, I found a 1872 chart which also suggests the eastern entrance is 6 meters at the most shallow point. I guess that did not change:


Mar 25, 2019
Glasgow, Scotland
Would the turn inside the harbour made by RMS Titanic have been one of those whereby one engine is put "Slow Ahead" and the other engine is put "Half Astern" (or vice versa) and ship slowly revolves or something of that kind ?

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
There was plenty of water for Titanic using the western entrance, particularly at times other than Spring Tides. The ideal time to arrive is about 2 hours before HW Dover because the tidal steam across the Cherbourg Peninsula is fierce.
The normal thing was to pick up the pilot and proceed to a designated anchorage, When leaving, the engines would be running as the anchor was raised and as you say, the ship would be turned short round depending on the state of the tide and how she was lying to it.
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