Titanic hit this iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, and sank just over four hours later. The ship had been designed to carry as many as 60 lifeboats, but certain designers felt too many lifeboats detracted from the ship's lovely profile, so they reduced the number to 20 for this sailing. That was only enough to seat 1178 of the 2240 people onboard.
Of the many tragedies in the last 100 years, the Titanic particularly continues to fascinate certain people. Some had relatives onboard who survived, or who were among the 1517 that did not. Others are intrigued by the symbolism an event that in many ways portrays a vengeance for vanity - that an object considered the pinnacle of human achievement in its time led to a devastating tragedy.
The night of April 14 was still, cold and dark; hardly a whisper of wind and the water dead calm. The air temperature was near freezing and the sea water was four degrees colder. The moon was a mere sliver. All of this made it nearly impossible to sight the "numerous icebergs" that Captain Edward J. Smith had been warned about by wireless telegraph, but he felt confident in charting a slightly more southerly course. He gave the order to maintain full speed ahead throughout the night.
The captain's main concern was establishing Titanic's reputation as not only the most elegant but also the fastest ocean liner in the world. There were many prominent people of the day onboard to experience the event; John Jacob Astor and his wife, Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy's owner Isidor Strauss, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown and silent film actress Dorothy Gibson.
Representing White Star Line was the company's managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, and the ship's designer Thomas Andrews.
Titanic was 399 miles southeast of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland when the two lookouts on duty sighted the iceberg. Frederick Fleet sounded the warning bell and telephoned the bridge to say "Iceberg, dead ahead."
A steering maneuver was attempted which only made the matter worse, presenting the starboard broadside of Titanic's hull to the jagged ice ahead. The hull was torn and buckled for nearly 300 feet. Water started to fill four watertight compartments immediately - although the design did not make these compartments fully watertight - they were open above the hull line.
Titanic had only 1324 passengers aboard this sailing, as well as 860 crewmembers. There was enough lifeboat seating for 1178 people, but many of the lifeboats were inexplicably launched barely half full. Only 706 people survived the sinking while 1517 souls were lost. Nearly 75-percent of the women onboard Titanic survived, but only 20-percent of the men. 214 of the survivors were crewmembers.
The ship that saved the survivors was the Cunard Carpathia which arrived at 4:10 a.m. The last lifeboat was retrieved at 8:30 a.m. before the ship returned to New York. Ismay had gotten aboard a lifeboat and survived, while Thomas Andrews and the Captain both chose to go down with the ship. The iceberg was still afloat in the water the next day with the red paint, typically used on ship's hulls, still visible.
White Star chartered ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to retrieve the bodies. Most people died of hypothermia, which can occur as quickly as 15 minutes in 28-degree sea water. When the ships laden with embalming fluid and caskets arrived they found more dead bodies than they could process, so burial at sea rituals were performed for all but the ones appearing wealthy enough to require identification their estates.
Next April 14, 2012, two cruise ships plan to stop right above the site of the Titanic wreckage and perform a memorial service for those who perished. The ships have been chartered by Miles Morgan Travel of the U.K. More information can be found at a special web site for these charter cruises; titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk.
The first ship, the Fred Olsen Balmoral, will set sail April 8, 2012 on the "Titanic Memorial Cruise" from Southampton with a stop in Cobh, Ireland, which Titanic also visited. Balmoral will arrive on the site of the Titanic wreckage on April 14, perform its memorial service and leave the morning of the 15th. Balmoral will continue on to Halifax for a visit to the Titanic cemetery and the many artifacts now in the Halifax Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and end the cruise in New York.
While the Balmoral is already sold out with a waiting list, Miles Morgan Travel has just chartered a second cruise ship, the Azamara Journey, to join the Balmoral at the same site for the memorial service. This second cruise, named the "Titanic Anniversary Cruise," was just announced last week so cabins are still available at the web site above. This cruise will leave New York City on April 10, 2012, and visit Halifax before sailing to the memorial service on April 14 and 15. It will return to New York.
Both cruises will feature expert lecturers and will serve meals as described in the original Titanic menus.