Encyclopedia Titanica

You Can Build a Ship Bigger Than Olympic, But You Can't Build a Bigger Brain to Run It

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Capt. Haddock Undergoes Five-Day Ordeal Which Would Wreck Most Men's Nerves
Five Years Is the Outside Limit That Human Endurance Can Resist Such Strain
At $5,000 a Year, or Less, He Assumes Responsibility Over Thousands of Lives
and Millions in Money
To Guide a Mighty Ship at Top Speed by Night and Day Is the Most
Nerve-Shattering of Professions

What capacity for extraordinary labor and for infinite attention to detail
does the mind of man possess?

For answer consider the mind, in action, of Capt. Herbert James Haddock,
commander of the White Star liner Olympic. Capt. Haddock is chosen[?] as an
example because he is credited with being at the top of his profession. The
ship he commands is at present the greatest thing afloat---just this week
she came to New York after the marine architects had imposed upon her the
last word of perfection in safety.

What is the task of this single intelligence, the mind of the Olympic's
commander, between pier and pier---North River and the Mersey? Learn that
and you will know to what limits the mind of men may go in sustained[?],
high-pressure effort. Not since mankind cut the first cartwheel from the
trunk of tree, thus first applying the laws of mechanics to aid human
existence, has a single individual been called upon to master the detail of
so complex a mechanism as the Olympic.

For illustration, conceive of the new Woolworth Building standing against
and despite the law of gravity; imagine that this 700-foot pyramid of steel
and terra cotta stood erect only through the operation of [unclear word] and
complex machinery whose only office was to keep it from toppling to the
street. Let your imagination run a little further and establish in control
of this "perpendicularizing" machinery one master mind upon whom the lives
of the whole city full of people on the fifty-one floors and the existence
of the mammoth building itself depended.


Say that this "stabilizer" of the Woolworth Building---the captain of its
perpendicularity---sat in the little bronze lantern at the very tip of the
tower for five days on end, with wires from every vital spot in the whole
great pile registering on the dials the minute by minute fight against the
down-pull of gravity, with hand signals ready to give word to the engine
room three floors below the level of Broadway upon the first appearance of
danger, with the constant thought of what he would do to save the lives of
the thousands in the building in case he saw that the crash to the street
was inevitable.

Perhaps this mad fancy will help you to an appreciation of the real work
that the commander of the Olympic, more than 130 feet longer than the
Woolworth Building, has to do on every trip across the ocean lanes. His
boat is a Woolworth Building on end, which not only has to be kept afloat
but propelled at express speed through darkness and light, storm and fog,
between a pier in North River and another pier in Liverpool.

Five years, they say, is the limit of endurance for a man who commands one
of the mammoths of the ocean. Five years is the accepted limit of
responsibility for the engineer of a Twentieth Century express. And $5,000
is the top notch of salaries for the commanders of Atlantic ships.

Ship architects and ship builders say for the public that the limit to the
building of great ships is about reached because of the problems of docking
facilities. They whisper secretly among themselves that the real limit of
leviathan construction is the limit of the commander's mental capacity and
endurance, and that has been reached.


In other words, no human being, possessing the limitations even of an
extraordinary mentality, can be trusted to bear a greater burden of nervous
strain than does the commander of the biggest ship now afloat. The terrible
break-down of one human mechanism of direction will soon be marked by the
first anniversary of the disaster to the Olympic's sister ship, the Titanic.
So it is not the failing of human ingenuity to build ships bigger than the
Olympic or the Imperator, soon to make her maiden voyage that will bar the
way to greater ships; it will be the impossibility of human skill to
navigate them.

Capt. Haddock sleeps during the five days of the Olympic's crossing with
both eyes open. This is almost literally true. He dare not sleep, even
though his inferior officers would not hold their positions if they were not
considered worthy to be almost commanders. All responsibility for the ship
that costs many millions, and for the 3,000 and more passengers and crew the
Olympic is capable of carrying rests solely on the directing intelligence of
this one man at all hours between piers.

His bridge is the brains of the ship. Upon that platform, high above the
wash of even mountainous seas, are collected all the sensory nerves of this
vast mechanism of steel. There are dials telling to a tenth segment of a
circle the number of revolutions the great screws are making. There are
telephones and speaking tubes from the engine rooms, stoke holes and boiler
rooms. The commander on the bridge knows each minute of the day and night
whether the marvellous co-ordination of human intelligence and steel
machinery---the alliance which makes the ship stay on top of the ocean and
speed from shore to shore---is working as it should.

Consider, now, how the mind of the commander must operate in a crisis---and
he knows not what minute of the voyage he may have to face a crisis.

It is a foggy night. Suddenly dead ahead a something looms through the
gloom. This something may be another ship, a derelict or an iceberg. It
may be but 200[?] or 300[?] yards away, a distance the Olympic would cover
in a few seconds. That is where the human equation enters into the
mechanism of a liner. Like lightning the commander is moving.


He must decide whether to bring his ship to a full stop or cut her down to
headway speed. He must decide whether to pass to starboard or port of the
something. He decides quicker than you can snap a finger. The telegraph
jangles in the engine room the orders to shut down the engines and reverse.
At the same moment the whistle is pulled, signifying that the ship will pass
to port or starboard. Then the siren screams its warning. The quartermaster
is ordered to throw the wheel to port or starboard. And then heaven alone
can decide the rest.

The powerful engines of the Olympic cannot be shut down instantly. Were that
done they would tear themselves from their bed. They must be closed down
gradually, and then the reverse is applied as gradually. And finally the big
ship ceases to go forward. And all this time the master mind on the wind
swept bridge has a keen realization of the fact that down below are almost
four thousand lives dependent upon his skill as a navigator. And next he
realizes that he is the responsible guardian for million of dollars' worth
of ship and cargo. The thought of such responsibility, to men who know,
gives them the spinal shivers.

When the mighty Olympic left the port of New York to-day she sailed the
safest ship afloat and under the guidance of the most careful commander on
the seven seas. All that human skill can do to make the Olympic safe has
been done. For four months she was in the bands of her builders and at a
cost of $1,000,000 she was given a double hull and equipped with lifeboats
capable of holding all her passengers and crew and with davits to lower them
safe from the ship in the event of an accident.


The Olympic is now a ship within a ship, and to make her so she was
submitted to the greatest piece of surgery ever performed. This inner skin
is a great water-tight compartment so subdivided by bulkheads that it would
appear impossible to sink her, no matter how great a hole might be torn in
the outer shell. The greatest menace to navigation is icebergs, and, next,
derelicts. It was an iceberg that sent the mighty Titanic to her doom, an
iceberg that ripped her bottom open as a fish-monger rips a fish. But there
need be no fear of such a catastrophe overtaking the improved Olympic. The
surgeons attended to that. When the Olympic came from the operating room she
had a new skin grafted, not on the outside, for that is an everyday
operation, but on the inside. From bow to stern on either side and from her
double bottom to a distance of seven feet above the water line this inner
skin extends. Between the inner skin and the outer skin and extending across
the entire ship are thick steel bulkheads. The result of the double skin and
the bulkheads is to produce over 100 water-tight compartments, making it
impossible for the big ship to sink even though she were stove in at the
bows for a distance of forty feet.

To make the ship doubly safe for her crew and passengers there are
sixty-five life boats on the boat deck capable of holding 3,488[?] persons,
and when it is realized that the carrying capacity of the vessel, both
passenger and crew, is 3,473, it will be seen that there is no scarcity of

When the Olympic went into the hands of the surgeons four months ago it was
necessary to lift several of the twenty-eight boilers of the steamer from
their beds to permit the riveters and platers to work. Upward of 300,000
rivets had to be drawn and 250,000[?] new rivets hammered home on the
1,200[?] tons of new plates that compose the inner skin of the ship. As a
result of the operation, the weight of the patient increased from 45,394[?]
to 46,356[?] tons gross register.

Captain Haddock knows the Atlantic as a chess player knows his board.

Ocean lanes for eastbound and westbound steamships were established by
agreement between the steamship interests to avoid collisions between ships
travelling in opposite directions. These lanes are also intended to keep the
steamships away from the iceberg zone and away from hidden rocks. The lane
followed, or prescribed for liners, is in the form of an obtuse angle. The
course is generally followed, but many captains to save time cut across the
turn and save many miles. Some captains do not vary from their course but a
few miles, but Captain Haddock never deviates from his prescribed course one
quarter-mile. His log for a trip is simply a repetition of the trip previous
as far as his positions on the chart are concerned. No matter how late he
may be leaving the port of New York or Southampton the commander of the
Olympic travels the same lane, and when he reaches the ocean turn the
passengers on deck can feel and see the mighty ship putting about. The ship
takes the turn as a West Pointer might turn on heel and toe to the right or

[MAB note: The digitized version of the article has some very indistinct
spots in it. The question marks in this transcription indicate words or
(particularly) numbers that are not entirely clear.]

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2013) You Can Build a Ship Bigger Than Olympic, But You Can't Build a Bigger Brain to Run It ( ref: #19417, published 12 April 2013, generated 22nd May 2024 04:41:44 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/you-can-build-a-ship-bigger-than-olympic-but-you-cant-build-a-bigger-brain-to-run-it-19417.html