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

>>That's why in the absence of equivocating evidence I do not feel I have to provide any myself.<<

Suit yourself.

>>But Californian was not moving.<<

Quite right. Except to turn and drift with the current, she wasn't moving at all. Bear in mind what I said was "the "mystery ship" that Joe Boxhall reported was moving and displayed what he thought was a stern light"

Notice the qualifyer that I underlined. He may well have been right about what he saw. I certainly don't think he lied about that. All else aside, there would be no reason for him to do so as far as I know. However, he could have been mistaken. Snookered as it was, by any number of optical illusions that have been mooted as a possibility for the conditions that night.

As I learned in my years at sea, what you think you see is not always what you really get. I'm sure you've learned the same lessons.
What mystery ship? At the time of observations the identity of the vessels were not known to each other. To that extent, there was a mystery. It is also quite clear that there were two and only two ships involved here. Not three and certainly not four as some have proposed. There is also no mystery as to what each ship was seeing that night. If you don't have a clear frame of reference, seeing lights and their changing aspects as one ship was sinking and the other was swinging with the slight and variable breeze with a locked hard-aport helm can give appearances that cause one to easily draw wrong conclusions.
Hi Sam,
I'm having to write this from memory, but the gist of the rocket re-enactment is as follows:
the two cruise ships were at some datum "origin"; another ship, the Jim Kilabuk I believe, was eight miles away, and the Ocean Voyager was 19 miles away. The experiment was designed to see if rockets could be seen over these distances, using recreations of the original socket signals.

Eight rockets were fired from each ship, and all of them could be seen, whether at 8 or 19 miles. At 19 miles, the mastlights of the furthest ship were faintly visible. There was also an experiment performed to see how difficult it would be to confuse a sparsely lit steamer with a large passenger liner. This was done by simply getting one of the ships - at a suitable distance - to extinuish her lights. However, I don't know the orientation of the ships at this point. If the two were broadside to each other, then yes, switching off the lights would have a dramatic effect on the appearance of the ships.

ISTR that, at one, or perhaps both of the distances, the detonation of the rockets could just be heard - a faint "pop".

IMHO, the experiment was slightly skewed, as the size of the ships were not comparable with the Titanic/Californian relative sizes, so perhaps "more" of the mastlights and superstructure would be seen. As I understand the sizes of the ships involved were in the 400-600 feet region.

It wasn't until later on that a couple of things were obvious: it was reported that the larger distance ship separation was only 16 miles, not 19. And then the rockets - the "exact recreations" couldn't be made in time, so off-the-shelf versions were used, modified to reach the same height (about 760 feet) as Titanic's, but not with the same explosion/detonation characteristics.

So, a somewhat flawed experiment.



>>What mystery ship? <<

Why the "mystery ship" that some people keep going on about. I really don't know if there's anything to it or not. If there is, they kept the secret very well. If not, I would say then that there's really nothing to discuss unless somebody can produce a genuine log or some other documant of verifiable credibility. I'll take an interest if somebody can produce any such, but won't lose sleep over it otherwise.

Either way, not helpful for the Californian in the long haul. About the most it could do if there was somebody else there is point to another player in the game.

(Your milage may vary and probably will on this one.)
Welcome Maureen. No intrusion at all. You ask some very interesting questions. What is known is that an extended field of ice can cause some changes in air density above it causing the refractive index to increase somewhat. This can lead to an affect called looming where because of the increased bending of light, something beyond the horizon can appear as if it is before the horizon. (The same type of effect that causes the sun to appear somewhat flattened as it is rising or setting.) It is also possible, and one cannot rule it out completely, that a very large iceberg (>200 ft) may have cut in the path between these two ships for a short time causing some obscuration of lights. Icebergs tend to drift with the deeper currents (having 7/8 their mass below the surface) while the ships would drift with the surface currents. The berg itself would be a black mass not having any light of its own to project. The same affect of lights coming on and off can happen as a ship is turning and presenting different aspects. We know the Californian was swinging around with the slight and variable breeze, having its helm hard over to port all night after it stopped.

As far as an ice field is concerned, the Californian had stopped about 10:20 PM their time that night because of a massive field of ice running from north to south by compass. Later that night the Mount Temple was stopped on the western side of that same field of ice and reported it stretching from the NNW to the SSE (relative to true north). The width of the icefield was estimated as being about 5 to 6 miles in places. Relative to the Californian, the Titanic had been seen towards its SSE by compass bearing.

You said that the ships may have been where they thought they were that night. Actually, neither ship knew exactly where it was. The Californian had put down that they stopped about 19 miles north and about 5 miles east of the Titanic SOS position. The Titanic thought it was at the SOS site but, as it turned out, was in fact 13 miles east of that location. We know now from the position of the wreck site and from observations taken from the Mount Temple and the Carpathia the following morning, that the Californian was much closer to the wreck site than their reported location had indicated.
Nice summary Samuel - and thus neatly disposing, in my mind at least, of any possibility that the Mount Temple was on-site, as it were. For, if she is lying stopped WEST of the ice-field then she could not have been Lord's 10.20pm ship - which appears not to have been Titanic either to be fair.


Warmest regards

Thanks Sam and Mike. Mike knows me from many years here and we met at the SC gathering in 2001. But my way there was bumpy. Being neither Lordite or non-Lordite and just curious, I tend to ask or say things that may seem off as I am not an expert at any of this. And have said things here that have caused hurt feelings,so I want to be careful. I honestly am trying to learn. So Sam, I appreciate your posts and Mike's post directed to my ramblings above.

Mike wrote in response:
>>Maureen posted: Couple that with the concept that there was a third ship at some point...could this happen and could that cause confusion? Just curious?<<

"So am I. I don't know how it could, since the "mystery ship" that Joe Boxhall reported was moving and displayed what he thought was a stern light if I recall correctly. I don't know of many ice floes or fields of pack ice which display lights of any kind."

Maureen: Interesting response, but not sure that was what I was attempting to say. Hmmmm...what I was pointing out was that there were obviously ice formations of various types out there. One was 49 W to 51 W which was reported and that is the one I was referring to. At that latitude, the distance would be about 45 miles between the longitude markings I think and current was at about 1 mph. But this ice may have been influenced by the gulf currents and heading eastward. The bumpy horizon caused by the sea ice could impede what people thought they saw. Just a thought.

Sam wrote:
"Icebergs tend to drift with the deeper currents (having 7/8 their mass below the surface) while the ships would drift with the surface currents."

Both of these statements are true,but Shackelton's ship Endurance shows me that a ship can become one with sea ice and act like the ice field would act in the current and wind.

Sea ice would actually accelerate to the speed that the wind would carry it, even against the currents. That time frame in 1912, it started out calm but the winds pickedup before morning. Been looking into this for a short period of time and the folks who study ice say that the wind's impact on sea ice can cause the ice to accelerate to a speed faster than the current and in the direction of the wind as opposed to the direction of the sea current. And the Gulf Stream does not stay in one place,it changes latitude by a few degrees too.

Californian could have forged its way into the sea ice and been stuck-not moving as Lord said, but not staying in one place as Lord had thought because the sea ice was actually taking it backward (eastward) at minimum 1 mph or more causing it to end up at about 13 miles east of where Lord actually took his position and thought he was. If this sea ice moved and took Lord's ship with it, it would cause the ice field that Lord was in not to be seen by any of the rescue ships in the morning. The rescue ships would only see and would only note the Mesaba sea ice. And Lord actually traveling for some distance between the two ice fields (east to west) in the open water lying between the two ice fields until the end of the 49-51W ice (which would have traveled to about 47+-49+W during the night) and then heading to the end of teh Mesaba ice to the point where the other rescue ships (except Carpathia) had congregated.

Note also that the bodies were also found eastward of the wreck.

So, byt morning, Lord and almost the end of the ice field would have been directly above the Titanic which was not impeded by that ice field and would be caught in the normal sea current.

Having the two ships "going" at their own "speeds" would cause the Californian to see a ship under sail perhaps (Possibly Titanic in its sinking position) and the bumpiness of the horizon could have impeded the line of site to know exactly what they each were seeing. And why some on Titanic saw a rescue ship and some did not. (Don't forget, someone at the hearings said something about a two ships, one close and one further out in the distance that was sending up rockets... signals. Does that make three ships?)

Which brings up another question? What about running lights...I think that I will post a new thread on running lights. Isn't there some rule about a stopped ship showing two red ships mid ships when stopped? If so, neither of these ships were running, so technically neither should have had a green light showing...right? So who did the green lights belong to? Hmmmm....I personally think it was Mike...

Sorry. Waited too long to post this correction, but the following: Isn't there some rule about a stopped ship showing two red ships mid ships when stopped?

Should read:Isn't there some rule about a stopped ship showing two red lights mid ships when stopped?

>>Should read:Isn't there some rule about a stopped ship showing two red lights mid ships when stopped?<<

There may have been, but I don't know exactly what the agreed upon rules of the road were back in 1912. It would seem kind of silly not to have some sort of signal, but I'll wait for somebody else to speak to this who knows the ground.
Interesting question on the red lights midships - I'm at work now, and only have a 1945 edition of Knights Modern Seamanship to hand. The closest to something you describe is under 'Special Lights' in Lights of Identification that the International rules indicating that:
A vessel which from any accident is not under command shall carry at the same height as a white light metnioned in article 2(a) where they can best be seen, and if a seam vesel in lieu of that light, two red lights, in a vertical line one over the other, not les than 6 feet apart, and of such a character as to be visible all around the horizon at a distance of at least 2 miles; and shall by day carry in a vertical line one over the other, not less than 6 feet apart, where they can best be seen, two black balls or shapes, each 2 feet in diameter.
Article 2.a refers to the white light carried on a vessel underway.

So who has the rules from a couple of decades earlier...?
A vessel which has stopped for some external navigational reason but is otherwise not disabled does not classify as being 'not under command'.

In such circumstances a stopped vessel will usually announce her condition by switching on her deck lights.

Sorry Noel - I wasn't clear in my response that this was the closest I could see in the 1945 reference text I have to hand to what Maureen is describing. I realise that my phrasing was confusing and I left it unclear that I did not think 'stopped' was synonymous with 'not under command'.
The rule in 1912 was exactly as Inger has quoted it. I suppose the operative words are "from any accident". This suggests that Titanic should have displayed the two red lights, but not Californian.

There's no record of either ship showing the red lights. Things get forgotten when you are sinking.

Getting back to Maureen's original posting, I don't like to drag things like refraction and intervening icebergs into the story. They can be used as a deus ex machina to explain away anything. I've even seen a ship's light change colour, due to some kind of effect, perhaps allied to the famous "green flash" sometimes seen at sunset. About the only suggestion of optical effects that I can find is in the evidence of Gibson and Stone. Their description of the strange lights and apparent list of the distant ship suggest to me that they were seeing a somewhat distorted image that was very small. Even in cold weather, the horizon may be seen to "crawl". I've often seen ships anchored in our quarantine area apparently displaying a bow wave, thanks to a very thin band of distortion on the horizon.
I find this very interesting. Thanks Mike, Noel,Inger and Dave.

Just a thought Dave, yes, disaster may have resulted in Titanic missing an opportunity to communicate due to the disaster around them, but the fact is if Titanic did not have its two red lights showing, then it could explain why some with the Californian could have been confused as to exactly what they were viewing.

I will check out the running lights thread. And thanks Inger for checking this out.
Maureen, as Parks had recently posted:

Q. Would you regard these lights [for a vessel not under command] as signals of distress?
Ans. No, They must be regarded as signals that the vessel showing them is not under command, and is therefore unable to get out of the way.

What the Titanic sent up that night were distress signals. And it was those distress signals that were ignored by the inaction of those on board the Californian. This is not to say that the Californian could have reacted in a time frame that would have made a difference in the final outcome, only that additional action like waking up Evans to find out what was going on the wireless could have easily been done. Stone did not take the initiative, nor did Lord. The best they could come up with was trying to Morse the other ship. They had more options and chose not to use them.