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Titanic's Masthead Light

Discussion in 'Articles on other Topics' started by L. Marmaduke Collins, Nov 3, 2007.

  1. Mila

    Mila Member

    Thank you, David! Now I would know.
  2. Aaron_2016

    Aaron_2016 Member

    It was described as a black mass and with nothing to illuminate the iceberg it could only be identified as a dark mass against the backdrop of stars.

    I believe the log from the Marengo is significant and is key evidence to what was seen that night. Strong refraction was seen south west of the Titanic at midnight that very same night she sank, so it can't be dismissed or treated as irrelevant. It is a crucial piece of evidence. There were millions of stars that spanned down to the horizon which would set the backdrop to anything ahead which would appear as a black mass against the stars and the ice field which could be visible from the crows nest would appear like a haze, especially with the strong refraction affecting it. e.g.

    "Well, I reported an iceberg right ahead, a black mass."

    "It was a dark mass that came through that haze"

    Boxhall saw it immediately after the collision.
    "I was not very sure of seeing it. It seemed to me to be just a small black mass not rising very high out of the water"........"I saw a black mass, a low-lying black mass...."

    When the Titanic's lights went out and she was about to take her final plunge the survivors described the ship as a black mass.

    Mr. Archer - "Yes, sir; just a black mass."

    Mr. Brice - "She became a black mass before she made the final plunge."

    As this was the same description as the iceberg it can be deduced that the iceberg was just a black mass which stood out merely by the lack of stars behind it and as it approached it would become bigger and block out more stars until the lookouts realized it was worth reporting to the bridge. I believe there is an account from Fleet after the Inquiry where he said that he discussed with Lee what it could be before they reported it and this delay may have been the reason why both men were so vague at the Inquiry. I recall an account from the SS Parisian which said that the stars illuminated the enormous ice field and made it glow like a glass palace on the horizon.

    Both Fleet and Lee saw the haze on the horizon yet survivors lower down saw nothing. I believe that is an indication that the lookouts were observing the ice field further away which would be illuminated by the millions of stars shining down on it and the refraction would make it appear as an unusual haze.

    Q - Could you clearly see the horizon?
    A - The first part of the watch we could.
    Q - The first part of the watch you could?
    A - Yes.
    Q - After the first part of the watch what was the change if any?
    A - A sort of slight haze.
    Q - A slight haze?
    A - Yes.
    Q - Was the haze on the waterline?
    A - Yes.
    Q - It prevented you from seeing the horizon clearly?
    A - It was nothing to talk about.
    Q - It was nothing much, apparently?
    A - No.
    Q - Was this haze ahead of you?
    A - Yes.
    Q - Was it only ahead, did you notice?
    A - Well, it was only about 2 points on each side.
    Q - When you saw this haze did it continue right up to the time of your striking the berg?
    A - Yes.

    Yet lower down the haze could not be seen at all as the survivors in the lifeboats could not see that far away from their lower altitude e.g.

    Lawrence Beesley
    "First of all, the climatic conditions were extraordinary. The night was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen: the sky without a single cloud to mar the perfect brilliance of the stars, clustered so thickly together that in places there seemed almost more dazzling points of light set in the black sky than background of sky itself; and each star seemed, in the keen atmosphere, free from any haze, to have increased its brilliance tenfold and to twinkle and glitter with a staccato flash that made the sky seem nothing but a setting made for them in which to display their wonder. They seemed so near, and their light so much more intense than ever before.........The complete absence of haze produced a phenomenon I had never seen before: where the sky met the sea the line was as clear and definite as the edge of a knife, so that the water and the air never merged gradually into each other and blended to a softened rounded horizon, but each element was so exclusively separate that where a star came low down in the sky near the clear-cut edge of the waterline, it still lost none of its brilliance. As the earth revolved and the water edge came up and covered partially the star, as it were, it simply cut the star in two, the upper half continuing to sparkle as long as it was not entirely hidden, and throwing a long beam of light along the sea to us."

    Note - He said the stars close to the horizon would throw a long beam of light towards him. If there were a number of stars close to the horizon the lookouts possibly might have had their vision hampered by the glare of light glistening on the sea which would detract their attention away from peering through the starlight to see and identify the approaching black mass as an iceberg until it was too late.

    The intensity of the stars may have illuminated the horizon similar to moonlight and made the silhouette of the iceberg appear as a dark mass which approached the ship.


    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  3. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Here is a picture I took from 60 feet above sea levels of a rock which is about 70 feet above sea level. Note the horizon. If I was 15 feet higher I would be looking over that rock and only when it was 10 miles away would it be on my horizon.
    Icebeg ahead.JPG

    Mila, The masthead light was mounted on a little platform. It's power would have been 60 Watts or 100 Watts with a candlepower of 50 or 80. I don't think you could read a book 50 feet away from that, do you?
    Aaron_2016 likes this.
  4. Aaron_2016

    Aaron_2016 Member

    Here is a sketch I understand Fleet made. Do you think he was observing the whole iceberg on the horizon or simply the peak of the iceberg?


    My guess is, Fleet saw the tip of the iceberg like this and he mistakenly believed the iceberg was far away.


    When he turned to use the telephone and then turned back he saw the iceberg was significantly closer. I believe this baffled him and he could not understand how one second it was far away and the next it was very close.

    Q - How long before the collision or accident did you report ice ahead?
    A - I have no idea.
    Q - About how long?
    A - I could not say, at the rate she was going.
    Q - How fast was she going?
    A - I have no idea.

    If he mistook the tip of the iceberg that was close for an entire iceberg on the horizon then I believe his confusion might make sense, especially as he told Lightoller on the Carpathia the following:

    Lightoller - "I asked him what he knew about the accident and induced him to explain the circumstances. He went on to say that he had seen the iceberg so far ahead. I particularly wanted to know how long after he struck the bell the ship’s head moved, and he informed me that practically at the same time that he struck the bell he noticed the ship’s head moving under the helm."

    Q - You gathered from him, apparently, the impression that the helm was probably put over before and not after the report from the look-out?
    A - Distinctly before the report.
    Q - That was the inference you drew?
    A - Yes.

  5. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Not really, Aaron. You must keep in mind that the lookouts would not be looking down but looking horizontally at their personal horizon. The distance that was away was related to how high they were above the sea. If I had taken my photograph from say 90 feet instead of 60 feet, then the tip of the ro9ck would have been below my horizon at that range.
    I guess what I'm saying is that at a certain point, the tip of the iceberg would be below the eye-line of the lookouts and that particular point was too far ahead of the ship for them to have seen anything.
  6. Mila

    Mila Member

    For the first picture I was about 12.8 away from the rock. The rock at its highest point is 160 feet. I was at 60 feet.
    For the second picture I was about 26 miles away from the Islands that are about 357 feet high at its highest point I was at about 90 feet. The images were taken with such a zoom as a naked eye observer sees them.

    rock2.jpg rock3.jpg
  7. Mila

    Mila Member

    Do we know for how many minutes before the sinking the Titanic's masthead light was either under the water or out of power?
  8. Mila, it would have been seen up until the hull split in two and all the lights went out. About 3 to 5 minutes before the stern went under according to eyewitness accounts.
  9. Mila

    Mila Member

    Thank you Sam,
    I believe Stone and Gibson saw the masthead light until 2:17 Titanic's time so 3 minutes before the sinking. Would they be able to see the masthead light if the distance between the two was around 14 miles?
  10. Julian Atkins

    Julian Atkins Member

    Hi Aaron,

    re your post 24 above of 12th December 2017.

    I have also seen 'Fleet's sketch'. It is quite a remarkable set of drawings. The perspective is near perfect, and very very difficult to draw properly . The text that accompany the drawings is in a 'moderne' style. Either Fleet was a remarkably accomplished artist and student of the then 'moderne' calligraphy, or he described what he saw to a very good artist who made the drawings and did the text.


  11. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    The navigation light-switch box would be in the wheelhouse or enclosed bridge, Mila. The moment the water reached the box, the nav.light fuses would blow. This would happen at the time or slightly before Liughtoller was washed off the top of the bridge housing

  12. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Hello, Mila.

    In theory, Titanic's mast head light would have been visible at the last moment when about 15 miles away. However, in reality, even a modern ship's lights are almost impossible to detect at that distance, even then.using binoculars Add to that the fact that the lighting system of Titanic was low powered with a maximum of 100 volts and back then and the light bulbs were incandescent. Her lights would probably have been a whitish-yellow and only visible with a telescope or binoculars at distances over 10 or 12 miles. James Gibson clearly saw the white masthead light of the nearby vessel at 12-15 am that morning and did so with the naked eye after arriving on the bridge and before his night vision was properly adjusted. There is no way he was seeing Titanic.
    Here's a copy from the B.o.t regulations regarding electric nav, lights appearing in Nicholls's Seamanship & Nautical Knowledge:
    2018-04-10 001 2018-04-10 001.jpg
    Aaron_2016 likes this.
  13. Mila

    Mila Member

    Hi Jim,
    Welcome back!

    My question was more about the earth curvature than about luminosity. I thought that at 2:17 a.m. the Titanic masthead could have been too low to see it from a ship that was located 12-14 miles away.
  14. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    It was, Mila.
  15. Mila

    Mila Member

    From what distance it could have been seen in your opinion?
  16. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Not knowing the details, Mila, I can only make an educated guess.

    Going by the evidence of Captain Lord and his 3rd Officer, Groves, it seems that they were "noticing" lights at a distance of between 10 and 12 miles.
    In the case of Groves, he "noticed" his first white masthead light at 11-10 pm when, according to him, it was 10 to 12 miles away from the Californian.
    By his estimate, that vessel stopped at 11-40 pm when about 6 miles away from the Californian. If that were the case, then the vessel showing these two masthead lights (Titanic had one) covered a distance of about 6 miles in 30 minutes making that vessel a 12-knot ship.
    Titanic would have covered 11.25 miles in that time and would have been 17.25 miles away from the Californian when Groves first "noticed" her. That is absurd. Sam completely washes over this.
    Additionally, if Groves and Lord were seeing the exact same ship and Lord noticed her at or before 10-50pm, AND the ship in question was Titanic; then when Lord first noticed her, she was at least 50 minutes away from stopping. This suggests that Titanic was at least 18.75 miles away when Lord first noticed it with the naked eye. Now that truly is totally absurd.

    Does this make sense to you and others?
  17. Mila

    Mila Member

    Jim I am afraid to disappoint you but I am sure Groves watched the Titanic. His "second" masthead light could have been a star or a planet. There were plenty of them rising in south-east

    Maybe the "second" masthead was a reflection? And Lord, he also could have mistaken a rising star with a masthead light or he might have seen the Titanic. Think for yourself Groves watched the approaching ship for 30 minutes or so. He saw her to stop, and to turn. A few more people saw her after that, and she was the same ship Groves watched. She was the Titanic.
  18. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Read the evidence care4fully, Mila.

    Groves saw his lights approaching from the south for half an hour. Lord saw his light approaching from a direction 90 degrees to the left of where Groves saw his.
    Here are a few facts.
    If a ship the same as Titanic approached from the eastward and changing her bearing from left to right, her starboard side would open to an angle of about 45 degreed to the Californian. Those on Californian would have seen a bright pinpoint become a blaze of light, the likes of which they had seldom if ever seen before. Her green sidelight would be hard to see, even with binoculars
    If Titanic turned as Sam claims she did, then those on Californian would have seen as I described before. Then, as Titanic turned hard left, the blaze would lessen to become a pinpoint and she would show her stern light before it opened up until Titanic's entire starboard side was in full view. Thereafter, it would narrow once more and this time, the bright light would still be there but greatly reduced in area and her port sidelight would be visible. Here's a rough sketch of what they would see. I have left out the 7th position which would be a ship showing a red port light and a portside glare of light. The following sequence, it indeed it ever happened, would have been seen over a period of about 6 minutes. Hardly missable.