Wheelhouse

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Catherine Ehlers

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I'm new to ET and have a question regarding the helm of the ship. I quote from the testimony of helmsman Robert Hitchens, who was at the wheel at the time of the collision. Relating to Senator Smith the events of the evening of the disaster, he states at one point, when telling of the time of the collision: "I am enclosed in the wheelhouse, and I cannot see, only my compass."

This made me pause. Is he saying that he is at the helm, which I gather is in the wheelhouse, the wheel which controls the ship, that the wheelhouse was without windows (which I recall reading somewhere else), and that consequently he could not see where he was going?? Was the wheelhouse on the Titanic a totally enclosed room without windows? Was this a normal arrangement? I also recall reading that there was another, smaller wheel on the bridge itself. Was this not the helm from which the ship was usually controlled? And why the duplication? Was the ship's main helm actually in a room from which the sea itself and its surroundings could not be seen? Was the compass deemed sufficient to guide the ship without visual reference?

I am probably displaying my profound ignorance of naval architecture here, so if any seafarers out there can enlighten me as to what the true arrangement was, I shall be very grateful.

Catherine Ehlers
 
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Steve Kiger

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In general terms, the bridge on Titanic was divided into an open-sided forward or outer bridge (the windows of which can be seen at the forward edge of the boat deck, and an enclosed wheelhouse or inner bridge directly behind, which also has windows looking forward. Hichens was at the wheelhouse helm, which has the main ship's wheel and a reference compass for steering, and the helmsman stands on a raised box in order for him to have some forward vision over the wheel and through the intervening forward windows. The outer bridge is generally used in approaching a port or when docking, since being more forward it has a better view of the forecastle and the sea before the ship. The visibility is restricted from the wheelhouse, especially at night, and the helmsman generally relies on the reference compass for steering cues and the direction of the bridge watch officer.
 
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The position of Titanic's main steering wheel inside a wheelhouse inside the bridge was typical British design of the period. Part of the reasoning was to insulate the quartermaster from outside distractions. This was prior to the development of autopilots, so the quartermaster had to put full attention on following the compass. His job was not to dodge other ships or icebergs, just to steer the course ordered by the officers.

When docking or in other close-quarters maneuvering the quartermaster was often moved forward to the auxiliary wheel on the bridge. Here, he had the same full view as the officers. The reason for the change is the difference between open ocean navigation and crowded or narrow channel piloting. Close to shore, the quartermaster might be told to keep the ship headed on a specific landmark without regard to the compass course. Obviously, this would have been impossible if the man at the wheel did not have good vision forward.

-- David G. Brown
 
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The shutters in the wheelhouse were designed not only to isolate the helmsman from outside distractions, but also to contain any light eminating from the wheelhouse that might disrupt the night vision of the deck officers. As Dave mentioned, the helmsman was to concentrate on his compass...it was not his job to be looking for outside visual references, of which there are scarce few in mid-ocean, anyway.

Parks
 
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Markus Philipp

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Here is some qoute of Hitchens testimony:

1002. Were there blinds in the wheelhouse? - Yes.
1003. They were all closed? - Always closed just after sunset.
1004. And no lights were in the wheelhouse at all except the compass light? - And the small light.
1005. And the small light on the course board? - Yes.
The Commissioner: Have you a green board here with some small wooden models?
The Attorney-General: No.

During the day the helmsman could look out. During night he could not get any orientation, the stars excepted. So it was the best to keep him enclosed and concentrated to his compass.

Markus
 

Inger Sheil

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Just a fairly irrelevent little digression - as a result of being enclosed in the wheelhouse, it is interesting to note that Moody did not (as per the testimony of two surviving officers he spoke with, Pitman and Boxhall) see the iceberg.
 
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Ing,

Irrelevent? To what? Since I'm considering the possibility that Moody was on the navigating bridge, and not in the wheelhouse, just prior to the collision, this little tidbit is very relevent. Of course, to see the iceberg, he'd have to be looking for the iceberg, and according to the testimony, even that proved difficult.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

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Ahem - of course, Parks, that was what I intended all along...:)

While, as you point out, it's not definitive, the fact that he didn't see the berg is perhaps indicative of his positioning at the time of the disaster.
 

Erik Wood

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It was my extremely mis guided understanding that Moody was inside the other bridge with Hitchens. I ASSumed this because of Moody being so close to answer the phone and then repeat Murdochs orders which Hitchens says Moody was there to see carried out. I bring up the fact that really other then Fleet and Lee that Murdoch was most likely the only other person aboard serving as a lookout.

Erik
 
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Erik -- I have found it easier to make the assumption that Moody was inside the wheelhouse during the period leading up to the accident and the moments during the attempt to maneuver around the iceberg. Parks and I have been having a private discussion of this matter for some time. He has cogent reasons for believing that Moody was not in the wheelhouse for at least part of this critical time. I'm still favoring the "Moody inside" point of view...but I reserve my right to change my mind.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I to reserve the right to change my mind. But in a way I agree with both of you. I think that he was inside intially but once Murdoch gave the hard over order and Hitchens told Moody it was carried out, Moody most likely went out onto the Captains bridge to assist Murdoch. But in the on set he was in the wheelhouse in my opinion.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Qouting from Eric Sauder's book, R.M.S. Lusitania, by way of answering the original question posed in this thread:

<FONT COLOR="0000FF">"During the 19th century, a ship's bridge was completely open to the elements, a bracing arrangement in fair weather, but during rough seas it was frequently awash. Under such conditions, officers had a moderate chance of keeping warm simply by moving about in the course of their watch-keeping. The quartermaster, on the other hand, stood in one spot, usually in great discomfort.

"In the 1890's, ship owners began to enclose the quartermaster and his wheel in a small, heated cabinet called the wheelhouse. This was not done so much out of compassion, but rather as an attempt to save money. Wet and cold, it was only natural that the helmsman's attention wandered as he contemplated when his relief would arrive. This caused the ship to drift off course, or just as bad, the quartermaster might tend to overcorrect the ship's course by applying too much rudder."

If anyone is wondering how someone on the bridge of a ship the size of Lusitania or Titanic could be wet, Eric relates a story in his book about an 80-foot-high wave which slammed the bridge of the Lusitania, flooding the bridge to a depth of five feet and wrenching the helm from its pedestal.

Parks
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hell, you don't even need freakishly high waves to get the bridge wet! All you need is a steady rainfall for that, or even just plowing continuously into oncoming waves in heavy seas. Toss in wind and rain or snow in any variety of conditions which can literally change on the hour, and one can see just how miserable a spot an open bridge could be.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Progress is not uniform.

As most of you know, I am now working on a book about a massive storm on the Great Lakes in 1913. As part of that research, I have gathered information on lakes vessels of the era.

By the 1890s, vessels on the Great Lakes were almost uniformly built with pilot houses that are functionally no different than modern enclosed bridges. The pilot house of a wooden freighter built in 1890 on the great lakes was large enough for the captain and officer of the deck, a wheelsman, and a full-size chart table. It was heated with steam registers and had opening windows that gave 360-degree visibility. Unprotected bridge wings were provided for docking and for those other times when being "outdoors" was important.

By comparison to a Great Lakes freighter of the same era, Titanic's open "captain's bridge" was decidedly uncomfortable.

--David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I don't know about other Captains but I like the idea of having both. I like being able to see and smell the sea with out the aid of a window. Enclosure has it's ups. Heat for one and dryness another. But as I frequently tell my officers if you didn't want to get wet you shouldn't have become a maritime officer.

Erik
 

Erik Wood

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I think that outside bridge has it's ups. You can smell and hear things that you can't while inside. Take that how you want but I am old fashioned I guess.

Erik
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Can't say that I would argue with you about being able to use your ears and nose as well as your eyes to identify danger. Somewhere I have in my collection a story of an old Maine schooner captain who, when returning home in a fog, would use his sounding lead to taste *(yes, in his mouth) the bottom. When it tasted to his satisfaction, he would make his turn into the harbor in perfect safety. You can't do that from an enclosed bridge.

My comment about the comfort was not a total endorsement of an enclosed bridge. It has many benefits, but the big drawback is alienation from the sea. However, the Great Lakes wheelhouse of 1912 was a much more comfortable environment on a cold night than Titanic's open bridge. In this case, the discomfort does not seem to have had much impact on the outcome of events.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I have sort of a echo to Mr. Browns second paragraph but then a epiphany of my own that I had whilst I was shaving last night. It occured to me that in the time of Titanic we thought that ships were invinceable. For Titanic it was because of her watertight compartments as well as her massive size for the time.

Today we are faced with the same demon. To use this enclosed bridge thread to accent my point I bring to the table some thoughts on why this enclosed bridge thing is both good and bad as well as my endorsment of the outside bridge or open air bridge wings.

Some of todays newer ships lack the open air bridge wings and the bridge it self is just deck to overhead glass. Now obviously this aids somewhat but to me is more of a hazard and it makes me feel a tad uncomfortable to sail with those who prefer it. Open air bridge wings or a partaily open air bridge offers many things. For instance:

1. The ability to hear fog horns of other ships.
2. The ability to hear buoys and lighthouses.
3. The ability to smell the salt. Or a fire if unreported.
4. The ability to remove in coming water if sometihng should happen to the glass on the bridge.
5. A much easier docking station. I have found that being able to hear the ship and tugs at work makes the docking of the ship easier.

These are just a few. To me the ideal bridge is that of the Queen Mary or something of that era where I have the convience of both indoor and outdoor facilities. Nowdays to many shipping companies are going with that aero dynamic look which in my mind takes a way the romance that so many enjoy. In a more broder sense we have lost or sense of humbleness when it comes to the way we treat our fair lady the sea and it has also occured to me that we just keep getting bigger but like Titanic we just don't have the brains to think of what happens in the case of a emergency.

Mr. Standart and I have been discussing my standing orders which include evacuation. In this day an age a orderly evacuation like Titanic would not and could not occur properly with the way that most companies have there ships set up and run. That is why Captains are forced to make rules that sometimes bend those of the company they work for. It is feasiable that a Captain in todays fleet would have to make the same decision that Smith had to make in regards to not sounding a general alarm and keeping some passengers confined. Nowdays ships hold over 2000 passengers and there boat decks could probably handle a 15th of that. That's right I said 15th.

It just appeared to me that we are becoming more complacent. Well I am sure that I will add more to this later.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I would hope that routine boat drills would solve the problem of getting everybody safely evacuated from a ship in danger of sinking, but the reality can be something else again. Keeping order when nothing is going wrong is one thing. Doing it when the ship is burning, flooding, or both, and the passangers know it is another matter entirely.

What I find striking about the arrangement of lifeboats is that it hasn't really changed in any useful sense in several centuries. They're still hung from davits along the side and if the ship is listing badly enough, it becomes impossible to launch at least half of them. Has it occurred to anybody to mount these things on ramps so they can be slid off into the water, say bow first? Arrangements like that exist for oil platforms. It's a rough ride, but it beats ending up as shark bait.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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The general thought on that is this. If there is some kind of catastrophic disaster you will be able to get all of the passengers off in the tenders usually two or three. The rest in boats and the crew in rafts and whatever boats are left. On certian ships it depends upon where you are. On others it depends on if you are lucky enough to be first in line.

The boats that oil platforms have are to small to accomage ships and costs for launching them in exerices as well as injury to passengers and crew is to great. Although lifeboat davits have changed some ships have a ramping system but the lifeboat is still beam to, and the boat has to be lowered by winch.

Erik