Why didn't the Titanic's lookouts see the Californian?


Jim Currie

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Great stories of the old days, Martin. I remember them only too well.

As for what was written about who said what? here is Lightoller's evidence in full:
"Yes. We [Capt. Smith] spoke about the weather; calmness of the sea; the clearness; about the time we should be getting up toward the vicinity of the ice and how we should recognize it if we should see it - freshening up our minds as to the indications that ice gives of its proximity. We just conferred together, generally, for 25 minutes....We commenced to speak about the weather. He said, 'there is not much wind.' I said, 'No, it is a flat calm,' as a matter of fact. He repeated it, he said, 'A flat calm.' I said, 'Quite flat; there is no wind.' I said something about it was rather a pity the breeze had not kept up whilst we were going through the ice region. Of course, my reason was obvious, he knew I meant the water ripples breaking on the base of the berg. We then discussed the indications of ice. I remember saying 'In any case, there will be a certain amount of reflected light from the bergs.' He said, 'Oh, yes, there will be a certain amount of reflected light.' I said or he said - blue was said between us - that even though the blue side of the berg was towards us, probably the outline, the white outline, would give us sufficient warning, that we should be able to see it at a good distance, and as far as we could see, we should be able to see it. Of course, it was just with regard to that possibility of the blue side being towards us, and that if it did happen to be turned with the purely blue side towards us, there would still be the white outline."
Even without a wind or any size of sea, they would have expected a long - low swell in that part of the ocean. Even in a ship like Titanic on such a night, a long, low swell would have been apparent. A large berg would behave like a ship in such a swell and displace water as it slowly pitched rolled and gyrated. Consequently, there would be a bright phosphorescence around its base. Not so with small ice in such conditions.
Lightoller also said:
"Capt. Smith made a remark that if it was in a slight degree hazy there would be no doubt we should have to go very slowly."
He used the adjective "hazy" to indicate a reduction in visibility which is entirely different from the noun haze and did so because in the North Atlantic in spring time there is a great deal of fog and the first sign of it is a fine mist.
I think you will find that other captains expected to, and in fact, did, meet with fog westward of 50 West
Smith was within a few feet of his bridge from the time he left Lightoller until they hit the ice. In fact, I think you will find that he was on and off it several times including wheh Boxhall reported the 7-30 pm position to him, and would have been nearby at the change of Watches at 10 pm

Be careful when passing on what some one writes in a book, Martin,
Geoffrey Marcus, like so many others when writing about this subject assumed certain things including what was in the minds of individuals. If he had any first-hand knowledge, he would have known that Lightoller knew as we all did, that you only get mist or sea smoke near ice when there is warm air bearing moisture in proximity to it. That is what causes the fog banks in spring. (and your breath to smoke in winter).
He also did what many authors did and still do, and that was, that he failed to read the evidence properly and in its entirety. There were two times for arrival at or near the proximity to where ice had been... note the use of the word "had". Lightoller thought 9-30 pm and Moody thought after 11 pm. Both these times were bases on Longitude - not latitude and that is important because to them, latitude was by far the most important consideration. I find no evidence that this was discussed in the messroom and in fact, Lightoller made his guess between 7-30 and 8 pm that night after dinner

Incidentally, I have been in thick fog in a force 12 with icebergs in the area when crossing the Grand Bank. It ain't funny!
 

Martin Cooper

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Dec 13, 2007
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Great stories of the old days, Martin. I remember them only too well.

As for what was written about who said what? here is Lightoller's evidence in full:
"Yes. We [Capt. Smith] spoke about the weather; calmness of the sea; the clearness; about the time we should be getting up toward the vicinity of the ice and how we should recognize it if we should see it - freshening up our minds as to the indications that ice gives of its proximity. We just conferred together, generally, for 25 minutes....We commenced to speak about the weather. He said, 'there is not much wind.' I said, 'No, it is a flat calm,' as a matter of fact. He repeated it, he said, 'A flat calm.' I said, 'Quite flat; there is no wind.' I said something about it was rather a pity the breeze had not kept up whilst we were going through the ice region. Of course, my reason was obvious, he knew I meant the water ripples breaking on the base of the berg. We then discussed the indications of ice. I remember saying 'In any case, there will be a certain amount of reflected light from the bergs.' He said, 'Oh, yes, there will be a certain amount of reflected light.' I said or he said - blue was said between us - that even though the blue side of the berg was towards us, probably the outline, the white outline, would give us sufficient warning, that we should be able to see it at a good distance, and as far as we could see, we should be able to see it. Of course, it was just with regard to that possibility of the blue side being towards us, and that if it did happen to be turned with the purely blue side towards us, there would still be the white outline."
Even without a wind or any size of sea, they would have expected a long - low swell in that part of the ocean. Even in a ship like Titanic on such a night, a long, low swell would have been apparent. A large berg would behave like a ship in such a swell and displace water as it slowly pitched rolled and gyrated. Consequently, there would be a bright phosphorescence around its base. Not so with small ice in such conditions.
Lightoller also said:
"Capt. Smith made a remark that if it was in a slight degree hazy there would be no doubt we should have to go very slowly."
He used the adjective "hazy" to indicate a reduction in visibility which is entirely different from the noun haze and did so because in the North Atlantic in spring time there is a great deal of fog and the first sign of it is a fine mist.
I think you will find that other captains expected to, and in fact, did, meet with fog westward of 50 West
Smith was within a few feet of his bridge from the time he left Lightoller until they hit the ice. In fact, I think you will find that he was on and off it several times including wheh Boxhall reported the 7-30 pm position to him, and would have been nearby at the change of Watches at 10 pm

Be careful when passing on what some one writes in a book, Martin,
Geoffrey Marcus, like so many others when writing about this subject assumed certain things including what was in the minds of individuals. If he had any first-hand knowledge, he would have known that Lightoller knew as we all did, that you only get mist or sea smoke near ice when there is warm air bearing moisture in proximity to it. That is what causes the fog banks in spring. (and your breath to smoke in winter).
He also did what many authors did and still do, and that was, that he failed to read the evidence properly and in its entirety. There were two times for arrival at or near the proximity to where ice had been... note the use of the word "had". Lightoller thought 9-30 pm and Moody thought after 11 pm. Both these times were bases on Longitude - not latitude and that is important because to them, latitude was by far the most important consideration. I find no evidence that this was discussed in the messroom and in fact, Lightoller made his guess between 7-30 and 8 pm that night after dinner

Incidentally, I have been in thick fog in a force 12 with icebergs in the area when crossing the Grand Bank. It ain't funny!
Thanks for the information Jim.

Yes, some authors do tend to use a good bit of what they call 'licence', some more than others. Even Walter Lord in his book 'ANTR' used it, especially with Californian and Capt Lord, and just look how they portrayed him, his officers and his ship in the film of the same name.

Regarding the Californian, the title of this thread is 'Why didn't the Titanics lookouts see the Californian', well, I should of thought that was obvious, because they were too far away from each other, both ships would have been over the visible horizon, a good 20 or more miles apart.

Force 12, thick fog and icebergs, that doesn't sound all that healthy Jim, glad you made it safely mate.

Martin.
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Thanks for the information Jim.

Yes, some authors do tend to use a good bit of what they call 'licence', some more than others. Even Walter Lord in his book 'ANTR' used it, especially with Californian and Capt Lord, and just look how they portrayed him, his officers and his ship in the film of the same name.

Regarding the Californian, the title of this thread is 'Why didn't the Titanics lookouts see the Californian', well, I should of thought that was obvious, because they were too far away from each other, both ships would have been over the visible horizon, a good 20 or more miles apart.

Force 12, thick fog and icebergs, that doesn't sound all that healthy Jim, glad you made it safely mate.

Martin.
Spot-on Martin.
OH! and I forgot to tell that during Ice, fog and storm, we were trying to lash down a spare prop which had broken loose in the forward hold and penetrated the ship's side. That too was a maiden voyage and we limped into St, Johns Newfoundland and had 4K rivets renewed in the bow plating. Happy days!
That was back in 1955.
 

Martin Cooper

Member
Dec 13, 2007
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Spot-on Martin.
OH! and I forgot to tell that during Ice, fog and storm, we were trying to lash down a spare prop which had broken loose in the forward hold and penetrated the ship's side. That too was a maiden voyage and we limped into St, Johns Newfoundland and had 4K rivets renewed in the bow plating. Happy days!
That was back in 1955.
Hells Bells Jim, it sounds like you were very fortunate to get to Newfoundland.

Odd isn't how some men seem to choose a profession that can bring all sorts of risks or hazards, but then again I suppose that is what many blokes like about their jobs.

I enjoyed my long career as part of the train crew on the railway, yes, there were times when situations made the heart beat a little faster, but we all knew our jobs and we all did the right things to avoid any calamity.

Working over the Settle-Carlisle line with long heavy goods trains in winter could sometimes be a nightmare especially at night. The weather changes so fast over that bleak moorland, and if you had some bad coal for the engine it made the fire burn like a wimberry, steam pressure fell and you struggled to get to the summit at Ais Gill. But you took the rough with the smooth, did your job and carried on, and if you couldn't make it to the summit, then it was a case of making sure that you had protected the train by laying down detonators, and informing the bobby (signalman), and arranging for assistance from either the front or rear.

I have some great memories of working over the Settle-Carlisle line, it could be lovely in the summer months, but also a nightmare during the winter.

Like you say Jim, Happy Days.
 
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Cam Houseman

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I should of thought that was obvious, because they were too far away from each other, both ships would have been over the visible horizon, a good 20 or more miles apart.
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