At 10pm, April 14, 1912, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee began their shift in Titanic’s crows nest. The night air was frigid and stung their faces. Above their heads was the ship’s bell, and beside them was a telephone. As a warning system, the bell had a simple vocabulary: one clang meant there was an object approaching on the starboard bow (from ahead on the right), two clangs meant there was an object approaching on the port bow, and three clangs meant there was an object approaching from dead ahead.
(Much has been made of the fact that the lookouts did not have binoculars. At the time of Titanic’s sinking, the use of binoculars by lookouts was not recommended. This thinking is still generally accepted today. Binoculars offer a very narrow field of vision, provide a somewhat dizzying perception of distance, and their prolonged use can cause eye strain. They are useful for closer study of an object already spotted.)
The ship’s Captain, Commodore Edward J. Smith, had gone to bed, leaving instructions with the Officer of the Watch to wake him if in doubt. His last orders to the Engine Room had been to maintain “75 revolutions” (producing a speed, in this instance, of 22 knots).
Naturally, all lights on and around the Bridge were off and the instrumentation in the wheelhouse (a small glass room at the rear of the Bridge area) was under minimal illumination. Unfortunately, the sea was “flat calm” with no swell and barely a ripple—a condition that can occur less frequently than once every twenty years. A flat sea has no waves to produce visible spray at the base of any floating object. Also, there was no moon to illuminate anything on the sea. Fleet and Lee, who had been given special instructions to keep an eye out for “small ice and growlers”, strained their eyes into the darkness.
At 11.40, Fleet struck three clangs of the ship’s bell, and approximately 40 seconds later the ship grazed an iceberg with the forward half of her right-side flank. The brittle sulphur-rich steel of her hull, made even more brittle by the ocean’s temperature (minus 2° C), buckled and fractured as she sustained multiple injuries below the waterline; and by midnight, Thomas Andrews (of Harland & Wolff) had told the Captain the ship was doomed. (The ship would make its final plunge at 2:20am).
The drama below the waterline began moments before the collision. (To my knowledge, this has never before been assembled into a “timeline”. I achieved this by dissecting the testimonies given at the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry and then reconciling the few conflicting estimations of time.) In the Engine Room, the telegraph rang “Stop”. The steam was shut off and within fifteen seconds, the engines were still. Meanwhile, one of the Engine Room staff telegraphed the Boiler Rooms, “Stop”. This informs the Leading Fireman in each Boiler Room that the propulsion machinery is no longer consuming steam.
At the aft right-side area of Boiler Room 6, Leading Fireman Frederick Barrett was talking with Second Engineer James Hesketh. The red “Stop” indicator came on and Barrett called out, “Shut the dampers” (this partially cuts the air to the furnaces). At the same time, electric bells above the forward and aft watertight doors announced that the doors were about to drop. Suddenly, the Atlantic Ocean burst through the right side of the room about two feet above the floor plates. Hesketh and Barrett rushed through the now-dropping door leading aft into Boiler Room 5 while Junior Second Assistant Engineer Jonathon Shepherd, Fireman George Beauchamp, and several others raced up the escape ladders to a higher level of the room. In Boiler Room 5, Barrett noticed that the forward right-side coalbunker (which had been emptied to extinguish a bunker fire earlier in the voyage) had water pouring into it, about two feet above the floor plates. (He could see this through the huge open bunker door.)
In the Turbine Room, Greaser Frederick Scott was standing near the watertight door that led forward directly into the Engine Room. He had heard the Engine Room telegraph ring and watched the watertight door between these two rooms drop without a bell warning.
At 11:45, with the ship still moving forward, the Engine Room telegraph rang “Slow Ahead”. Presently, Hesketh ordered the firemen back to their stations and he and Barrett climbed the escape ladder. Barrett and Shepherd started down into Boiler Room 6 but saw the room was filled eight feet deep with water and returned to Boiler Room 5. Barrett dropped the forward right-side bunker door; it was not a watertight door, but it would certainly retard the flow of water into the Boiler Room itself.
Trimmer George Cavell was standing on the coal inside the aft bunker of Boiler Room 4; he had been levelling out (trimming) the coal. He had heard the electric bell below and knew that the watertight door somewhere beneath him was, for whatever reason, about to close. The subsequent collision shook the bunker and he was almost buried by the shifting coal. He had to work his way out of the coal and then climb back up the bunker’s internal ladder to the entrance hole, which opened into the network of Boiler Room escape ladders.
The Leading Firemen’s Quarters were right forward in the ship’s bow and barely above the waterline. Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson was woken by Leading Fireman Thomas Ford and told of the collision. He got out of bed and dressed.
At 11:50, the Engine Room telegraph again rang “Stop”. Hendrickson had been up on the forward Well Deck briefly and was heading back to bed.
At 11:55, the Engine Room telegraph rang “Slow Astern” in order to bring the ship to a standstill. Cavell, who had got himself out of the bunker, was just descending into Boiler Room 4 when its lights went out; so he headed up to the left-side passageway on E-Deck (used by the crew, Second Class stewards, and Third Class passengers), which was still fully lit. In Boiler Room 5 the lights had also gone out. Junior Second Assistant Engineer Herbert Harvey, who was attending the pump, ordered Barrett to get some lamps from the Engine Room. Barrett climbed up to the passageway and sent several crew, including Cavell, aft to the Engine Room to fetch some lamps. Hendrickson was returning to bed when Ford found him again.
“The cargo holds are taking water,” said Ford.
By this time, the boilers in Boiler Rooms 4 and 5 were being ‘blown off’ (they were having their steam released). The released steam was escaping through a large pipe running up the aft side of the forward stack and another running up the forward side of the second stack. (The noise of the escaping steam was so loud that conversation on the upper-most deck—the Boat Deck—was not possible. This didn’t alarm the passengers, however; after all, steam locomotives blow off steam when they stand still—why should a ship not do the same thing?) With only Boiler Rooms 2 and 3 delivering steam (Boiler Room 1 hadn’t been fired), there would be less available steam to keep the dynamos running as well as all the tank-top pumps.
There were four dynamos, each powered by a three-cylinder steam engine. These were in the Electric Room, which was below the waterline just aft of the fourth stack. On a platform at the front of the room was the multitude of levers and overload cut-outs (today we call them circuit breakers) that directed the 100-volt power to the various sections of the ship. There were also two emergency dynamos in a small room up on D-Deck, aft of the First and Second Class kitchen and forward of the Second Class pantry. Typically, the emergency dynamos were started every evening at sundown and shut off at sunrise.
In the Electric Store on E-Deck (directly beneath the Emergency Dynamo Room), Greaser Thomas Ranger had been mending some electric fans. Chief Electrician Sloan entered and told him to go and turn off all of the 45 ducted ventilating fans, beginning with the large units above each Boiler Room—they were no longer needed and were using too much power. To do this, Ranger would have to visit each of the six Fan Rooms. The Fan Rooms were on F-Deck (one above each Boiler Room) and were accessed from the Third Class area of this deck. The Chief Electrician then returned to the platform to attend to the cut-outs.
At 12:00, the Engine Room telegraph rang “Stop” for the final time. Having again left the Leading Firemen’s Quarters, Hendrickson came aft along the passageway on E-Deck, where he met with Second Engineer Hesketh. He reported the water in the cargo holds and Hesketh sent him aft to the Engine Room to get some lamps.
At 12:05, Barrett was descending into Boiler Room 5 with some lamps when the lights in the room came back on. Cavell, now descending into the aft area of Boiler Room 4 with some lamps, found the lights here too had come back on. Hendrickson, now with some lamps, headed for Boiler Room 6, unaware that it was flooded. Upon finding he could not descend into Boiler Room 6, he went aft and descended into Boiler Room 5. Junior Second Assistant Engineer Shepherd told Hendrickson to light the lamps and put them up by the water gauges of the boilers (presumably in case the lights went out again) and Hendrickson did so. When Barrett looked up at the water gauges, they showed no water—the releasing of the 220 pounds of pressure had allowed the 200° C water to boil off and the boilers now contained only pure steam, though still under some pressure. The boilers in Boiler Room 6, meanwhile, had been chilled by the Atlantic Ocean (without rupturing) and now contained very little pressure.
At 12:10, in Boiler Room 5, Barrett could now feel the slope of the ship. Harvey told Barrett to get some men to draw the fires, and Shepherd told Hendrickson to help. Hendrickson was about to pick up a rake when Harvey, told him to go up to the passageway and send some men down. In the passageway, Hendrickson found Fireman Beauchamp as well as fifteen or so others, some of whom were also off duty. These men dutifully climbed down into Boiler Room 5 and began raking the fires out of the furnaces and bucketing water onto the red-hot coal. The order to draw the fires had also been given in Boiler Room 4, and Trimmer Cavell helped the firemen carry this out.
Hendrickson now headed forward to the Firemen’s Quarters (possibly to make sure all the firemen were awake). Of course, the route he was taking was not the usual way. Just abaft the Firemen’s Quarters was a shaft leading from D-Deck straight down to the bottom of the ship, in the bow. Contained within this shaft were two spiral staircases—one for ‘up’ and one for ‘down’. This then led aft into a watertight “pipe tunnel” passageway at the very bottom of the ship. The tunnel passed through Cargo Holds 2 and 3 (remaining isolated from them), and then through two watertight doors (one immediately abaft the other) and into Boiler Room 6.
At 12:15, in the Turbine Room, Fireman Scott realised that there was a greaser in the after-most accessible compartment (the aft Shaft Tunnel in the second-last compartment), through which the centre propeller shaft ran. This greaser hadn’t served on Olympic and may not have known how to extricate himself up the narrow escape passage; and he wouldn’t be able to wind the watertight door up because the mechanism was on the other side (in any case, the job was too much for a single person). So Scott climbed up the ladder out of the Turbine Room, went forward to the Engine Room, and got a workmate to go aft with him to the third-last compartment (containing the forward Shaft Tunnel) and open the door.
By now, Boiler Room 5 was fully misted up with steam, but the mood remained cheerful—the lights were still burning brightly, and the pump in this room was keeping the water below the plates. In Boiler Room 4, however, the situation was different—water was now rising up through the floor plates at the forward area. Hendrickson, for the second time, went out onto the forward Well Deck. This time he saw that the tarpaulin covering Nº 2 Hatch was being blown up into a dome by air rushing out of the hatch. He took this as evidence that Cargo Hold 2 was flooding rapidly.
At 12:20, Second Class passenger (and science teacher) Lawrence Beesley was part of a growing throng of passengers, some fully dressed and some lightly wrapped, gathered at the aft right-side section of the Boat Deck, adjacent to four lifeboats; these were Boats 9, 11, 13, and 15. Beesley was fully dressed and had his dressing gown folded over his arm. On this side of the ship First Officer Murdoch was in charge, assisted by Third Officer Pitman, Fifth Officer Lowe, and Purser McElroy. Presently, these Officers were preoccupied with the boats at the forward section. The passengers could feel that the ship was slightly down at the head but were sure that she would soon be underway, perhaps at a reduced speed. In the meantime, they would do what was asked of them.
Hendrickson descended into the Engine Room and told Senior Second Engineer Farquharson about the tarpaulin over Hatch No 2. He could see that the watertight doors in the room were both still shut and his presence was not required, so he climbed back up to the passageway. Knowing his boat station was Boat 12, Hendrickson went up to the forward left-side area of the Boat Deck to see if his help was needed with the boats.
Over at the aft right-side area, crewmen on the deck were cranking handles. As they did this, the davits for each of the Boats 9, 11, 13, and 15 pivoted outward and the boats were soon hanging outboard of the ship.
At 12:25, Scott, his workmate, and the freed tunnel greaser returned forward and descended into the Engine Room. They were immediately ordered to wind open the room’s aft watertight door and to continue opening all the watertight doors aft so as to enable the engineers to fetch a long suction pipe (which required four men to carry it) from the second-last compartment and take it to Boiler Room 4, which now had about 8 inches of water over the floor plates at its forward bulkhead because its pump was not keeping up with the inflow of seawater. At the same time, Trimmer Thomas Dillon, on cleaning duties in the Engine Room, was ordered to get several men and open the forward watertight door and then to get the firemen to open all the watertight doors forward until they got into Boiler Room 4. Dillon’s position was as a trimmer in Boiler Room 1, but because the five small boilers in there hadn’t been fired, he was serving as a general hand.
In Boiler Room 5 Hesketh shouted “That will do”, and Beauchamp and the other men (except Hesketh, Harvey, Shepherd, and Barrett) climbed up the escape ladders and out of the steamy room. Harvey told Barrett to lift the manhole cover, which is at the rear and slightly to the right, to allow access to the pump’s intake pipe valves in the two-foot-high tank-top. Given that the pump was keeping up with the flow of water into the tank-top, it is possible that Hesketh wanted Harvey to start pumping seawater out of the five-foot-high ballast tank beneath Boiler Room 5—this would increase the ship’s buoyancy. The ballast tanks beneath the Boiler Rooms formed this section of the ships “double bottom”. (As a ship consumes its coal, seawater has to be pumped into the ballast tanks to keep the ship correctly balanced). Barrett removed the manhole cover and put it aside; Shepherd, meanwhile, was hurrying across the floor. With visibility in the steamy room at a minimum, Shepherd fell into the manhole and broke a leg. Harvey and Barrett carried him into the Pump Room and then resumed adjusting the valves. And at about this time, the blowing off of steam ceased.
At 12:30, up on the Boat Deck, Third Officer Pitman addressed the gathering of people near Boats 9, 11, 13, and 15, “All women and children get down to the deck below, and all men stand back from the boats.”
Evidently, First Officer Murdoch had decided that it might be safer to load these boats from the A-Deck promenade. It wasn’t possible to do this with the forward boats because the forward half of the A-Deck promenade had glass windows, which could only be lowered with the use of a special handle, which was stowed away somewhere. In the event, Boat 9 would end up being loaded from the Boat Deck.
Forward on this side of the ship, Boat 7 (it would be the first lowered) was being loaded under the supervision of Murdoch. As if it weren’t enough that Titanic had only enough boats for half the 2,200 passengers on board, most of her Officers were unaware that the boats were strong enough to be lowered fully loaded (totalling about 7 tons). So Murdoch loaded boat 7 with only 28 souls. (Emergency Cutters 1 and 2 were 25 feet long and each had a capacity of 40. Boats 3 to 16 were thirty feet long and each had a capacity of 65. Engelhardt Collapsibles A to D, which had canvas sides, were 27 feet long and each had a capacity of 47). Another reason contributing to the earlier boats being lowered with too few people was that many passengers refused to leave the warm secure ship for a tiny little boat on the freezing water. Also, important to the plans of the officers to evacuate as many people as possible was the idea of having the lowered boats wait by the forward gangway doors down on D-Deck, which would shortly be near the water.
Hendrickson found that he wasn’t required at his boat station—only the forward boats were being readied, and anything that needed doing on the left side of the ship was already being done by seamen. (Hendrickson later claimed to have helped lower five boats, but this can’t be true—the time between him arriving on the Boat Deck and leaving in Boat 1 doesn’t allow for him to have helped lower a single boat that wasn’t already being attended. Furthermore, at one point, four of the boats he would had to have helped lower were descending simultaneously and not all from the same side of the ship!)
At 12:35, in Boiler Room 4, the water was about 16 inches above the floor plates at the forward bulkhead. The firemen in the forward area now left—the rising water would shortly save them the trouble of having to douse the fires. Trimmer Cavell, who was helping in the aft section, decided he too would leave and headed up an escape ladder. When he got to the passageway on E-Deck, he found it was empty. Meanwhile, men in Boiler Room 3 were winding up their forward watertight door, which opened into the aft section of Boiler Room 4. Cavell interpreted the lack of people in the passageway as an indication that the situation with the ship was good, so he turned to head back down into the Boiler Room. From partway down the upper ladder, he could see the Boiler Room was empty, so he headed up for the Boat Deck.
At 12:40, Greaser Ranger, who had been switching off all the ship’s ventilating fans, had just finished switching off the Engine Room ventilating fans. The great open ventilator shaft for the Engine Room emerged on the Boat Deck just abaft the third funnel. The small ventilator shaft for the Turbine Room emerged into the fourth stack, which was not used to carry boiler flue gases. (The fourth stack on these ships is often referred to as a “dummy”). Ranger now entered the bottom of the Turbine Room shaft and switched off the ventilating fans contained therein. He then climbed up the stack and out onto the Boat Deck.
In the aft section of Boiler Room 5, Harvey and Barrett were still busy with the pump. Suddenly, a wall of water came crashing over the boilers from somewhere forward as if the watertight bulkhead between Boiler Rooms 5 and 6 had collapsed (due to damage on the right side). Barrett was close enough to a ladder to escape. Harvey raced into the Pump Room to rescue Shepherd and both were swallowed by the rising swirling water.
Every watertight door forward and aft of the Engine Room, up to and including the aft door of Boiler Room 4, had been opened and Scott and his small team now returned to the Engine Room from the shaft tunnels.
At 12:45 came a series of events that seemed to indicate to the passengers that the loading of the boats was more than a mere precaution. A loud hiss and a flash of light betrayed the firing of a rocket. It whooshed a short distance up into the sky and then exploded into a small shower of bright stars, which fell for a while before burning out. Everyone on the Boat Deck now realised the Captain was calling for help from any ship nearby. And boat 7 began its descent toward the surface of the ocean.
Meanwhile, at the right-side rear of the Boat Deck, word had spread that there was room for men in the boats on the left side. So most of the men went to the other side of the ship, only to be disappointed. In fact, for men, the best chance to get into a lifeboat was on the right side. Lawrence Beesley chose to stay where he was, watching as the boats down forward were being loaded and lowered. At this time, he saw a cellist emerge from the rear entrance (the second class area) and drag his cello forward down the deck.
By now, the water in Boiler Room 4 would have started flowing aft into the tank-top of Boiler Room 3. The water would only have to rise to the floor plates in the forward area and the watertight door would be triggered by its float. Racing against this happening, the engineers were now passing the long flexible suction pipe through the Boiler Rooms in order to plumb it between Boiler Room 3’s Pump Room and Boiler Room 4’s tank-top. (Boiler Room 3 had two pumps, Boiler Room 4 had only one.)
Even with all the power-hungry ventilating fans switched off, the dynamos were slowing with the fall in steam pressure, and the lights were now noticeably dimmer. The engineers in the Electric Room carried the responsibility of keeping the lights on and the radio transmitting for as long as possible. And as these engineers felt the angle of the floor increase, it must have begun to dawn on them that they would be going with the ship to the ocean floor. The firemen, trimmers, and greasers, on the other hand, would at least have the luxury of freezing to death on the surface. (Incidentally, the Electric Room was at the bottom of the 13th compartment).
At 12:55, Murdoch ordered Pitman into boat 5 (taking its load to 41 souls) and gave the order for it to be lowered; Fifth Officer Lowe personally helped lower it. By this time, boats on the left-side of the ship were also being lowered. In all cases, there were husbands seeing their wives safely into a boat and then moving back into the crowd; these men knew they were going to die. There were fathers seeing their daughters safely into a boat. On the left side, where the “women and children only” rule was being strictly enforced, mothers were being made to leave their teenage sons on the doomed liner. In rare instances, men jumped into the boats and had to be pulled back out.
At 1:00, boat 3 was lowered, carrying 40 souls. For some reason, most of the people at this area now walked aft to the rear section. Five firemen, including Hendrickson, happened along to Emergency Cutter 1 just as Murdoch was about to fill it. Murdoch could only find 12 people (A Lord, his wife and her maid, two other First Class men, two seamen, and the five firemen) to load into it. Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of White Star Line, had helped load boats 3 and 1, and he watched Boat 1 being lowered at 1:10.
At around 1:20, Boat 1 touched down on the ocean. After it was freed from its ropes, the lowering crew began pulling its ropes back up for attaching to Collapsible C. By this time, the forward gangway doors were just below the surface of the water. Several boats on both sides had waited nearby, but the doors were never opened. The people in the boats on the water could see the ocean was now partly covering the letters “TITANIC” on the ship’s bow. Boat 9, having been loaded from the Boat Deck, was now lowered, carrying 56 people. Boats 11 and 13 were being lowered to the A-Deck promenade. Boat 15 was still hanging adjacent to the Boat Deck.
Below the waterline, Farquharson ordered everyone to get up on deck. This was most probably because the float for the watertight door between Boiler Rooms 3 and 4 had triggered the door to drop. The weight of the door would have crushed the suction pipe being used to help pump out Boiler Room 4’s tank-top and there would have been nothing more anyone could do. The pumps in Boiler Rooms 2 and 3 were still running (at reduced speed due to low steam pressure) and required no further human intervention. The engineers in the Electric Room, however, stayed at their post—resigned to their fate.
At 1:25, on A-Deck, there was no trouble finding people willing to get into the boats, and boat 11 was overfilled with 70 people. Even as boat 11 was being lowered, boat 13 was filling fast; Barrett and Beauchamp were helping to load women and children in. One woman, quite large, was sobbing “Don’t put me into the boat! I have never been in an open boat in my life!” Steward Frederick Ray (who had helped load Boats 9 and 11) ignored her protests and put her into the boat and then got in, himself. He also told Dr Washington Dodge to get into the boat. (Dodge was the only First Class passenger to enter Boat 13). The ship’s pumps were discharging a huge torrent of seawater out through the condenser outlet—a three-foot-long rectangular hole just above the waterline on the ship’s right-side flank. The people being lowered in boat 11 could see that they were going to land barely forward of this gushing water and that it would possibly swamp their overloaded boat.
Meanwhile, Murdoch found five firemen, including Cavell, standing on the Boat Deck near Boat 15 and ordered them in. The boat was then lowered to A-Deck, where five women got in. The firemen could see that dozens of Third Class passengers had gathered at the rear-most section of B-Deck (this section is a short promenade, which extends forward just far enough to be reached by one end of Boat 15). The Third Class passengers had opened the gate from their area on the Well Deck just below, and had come up the stairs to this part of the ship. Consequently, Boat 15 was now lowered to B-Deck. The crowd of Third Class men stood back calmly as their mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters were taken into the boat. In all, sixty women would be taken from here.
At Boat 13, which was quite full, Murdoch called out, “Who can pull oars?”
“I can,” answered Beauchamp.
Murdoch ordered Beauchamp into the boat, as well as Barrett and Able Seaman Robert Hopkins. Lawrence Beesley, meanwhile, was still on the Boat Deck, looking over the side at the activity surrounding Boat 13, which was about to be lowered.
A crewman in Boat 13 (most probably Ray) called out, “Any more ladies?” Then he looked up and saw Beesley.
“Are there any ladies on your deck?” enquired Ray.
“Then you had better jump.”
Beesley sat on the edge of the deck, dropped his dressing gown into the rear of the boat and then dropped in after it.
Then, on the promenade, came a shout, “Wait a moment, here are two more ladies.”
The two women were pushed into the boat. Then Second Class passenger Albert Caldwell and his wife Sylvia with their ten-month-old son Alden appeared at the boat. The baby was passed into the rear of the boat, the mother was loaded into the middle, and the father dropped in at the last moment as the boat began to descend with its load now at 64. About half-a-minute later, Boat 15 began its descent with 70. The time was now 1:35.
Immediately boat 11 was in the water, three people at the rear were using oars to push the boat away from the waterfall coming from the condenser outlet. There was a struggle to release the ropes, but eventually boat 11 pulled away from the ship.
As boat 13 was descending, Barrett announced, “We are just over the condenser exhaust. We don’t want to stay in that or we shall be swamped. Feel down on the floor and be ready to pull out the pin which lets the ropes free as soon as we are afloat.” The passengers felt around for the pins but couldn’t find them. And the roar of the gushing outlet was getting louder and louder.
At 1:40, forward on the right side, Collapsible C (now hooked onto the ropes that had lowered Boat 1) had been filled with 39 souls. Its capacity was 47 but there was no one else around. White Star Line Chairman and Managing Director, Bruce Ismay, watched as Murdoch gave the order, “Lower away”. As the boat dropped away from the Boat Deck, Ismay dropped into it. He was later vilified by the press for saving himself when 1,500 passengers and crew died; but the truth is that had he not got into the boat, he would simply have added himself to the list of perished. Titanic’s bow was now sitting so low in the water that Collapsible C landed on the ocean within a few minutes.
Boat 13, too, soon landed on the ocean, slightly aft of the condenser outlet. With the ropes still attached, and under the influence of the gushing water, Boat 13 drifted aft until it was directly below Boat 15, which weighed more than seven tons and was only about sixty seconds away from crushing Boat 13. The people in Boat 13 shouted to the people above them in 15, who then shouted to the launching crew to stop lowering. Eyewitness accounts differ as to whether Boat 15 stopped descending or not (this is understandable when you consider that the boats were being lowered in a series of jerks). Barrett quickly worked his way to the rear of the boat in order to cut the ropes. The occupants of Boat 13 were now standing and were touching the underside of Boat 15, in the hopes they could push their boat away. And all the while, no one was crying or panicking. Hopkins produced a knife and cut the forward ropes, and Barrett did the same at his end. Boat 13 drifted out from under 15 with only seconds to spare. Barrett installed the rudder and the occupants agreed that he should take charge of the boat.
At 1:50, Trimmer Dillon was on the left-side of the aft Well Deck, directing Third Class women and children up to the A Deck promenade so they could get to the boat (Boat 4) he could see hanging outboard down forward. By now, the lights were burning with only a dim orange glow.
Colonel Archibald Gracie was helping to load Boat 4 through the promenade windows, which had been lowered with the special handle. Boat 4 had actually been the first boat made ready on this side; Second Officer Charles Lightoller had lowered it to A Deck forgetting that, unlike Olympic, Titanic had glass windows here. He then sent a crewman to find the handle and went on loading the after boats and Emergency Cutter 2 in the meantime.
Under the power of six oars, which clashed and splashed clumsily in the hands of people with no rowing experience, Boat 13 pulled away with Barrett at the tiller. Boat 15 pulled away with Fireman Frank Dymond at the tiller. The sides of these two boats were barely six inches above the water.
Beesley was struck by the surrealism of every aspect of what lay around him. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was the clearest night he had seen in his life. The stars were brighter than he had ever seen before. The bitter cold came from nowhere—there was not the slightest breeze. The ocean was like a sheet of glass. And not far from the boat was a gigantic, beautiful ocean liner. The only aspect of what lay around him that could indicate he wasn’t in some sort of wonderful dreamland was the longitudinal attitude of the liner—the peak of her bow was now just level with the surface of the ocean.
At 1:55, Lightoller gave the order for Boat 4 (carrying 40 souls) to be lowered, and it reached the surface within a few minutes. He then moved forward to load Collapsible D, which was hanging from the ropes that had lowered Emergency Cutter 2. Collapsible D was the last lifeboat on the ship, except for Collapsibles A and B, which were still in their stowed position—on the top of the Officers’ Quarters!
Aside that Boat 4 had room for many more people, it didn’t have enough men to pull the oars. So the few men already at the oars kept it at the ship’s side and rowed aft.
At 2:00, Collapsible D was lowered with 44 souls. Meanwhile aft, Greasers Ranger and Scott were standing on the Boat Deck adjacent to whence Boats 14 and 16 had been lowered. During the loading of Boats 14 and 16, Ranger and Scott had seen Fifth Officer Lowe threaten the crowd with his revolver. Now they could see a boat directly beneath them. They each climbed out on a davit and descended down the ropes. Ranger dropped into Boat 4, and Scott fell into the water.
In Boat 13, ten-month-old Alden Caldwell began to cry. The woman holding him asked of Beesley, “Will you feel down and see if the baby’s feet are out of the blanket. I don’t know much about babies but I think their feet must be kept warm.”
Beesley felt down and found the baby’s toes exposed to the cold air. He wrapped them up snugly and the baby immediately stopped crying. Beesley recognised the woman’s voice as that of one of his dining companions.
“Surely you are Miss Slayter?” he enquired.
“Yes, and you must be Mr Beesley. How curious we should find ourselves in the same boat!”
To their amazement, they discovered that, even though he was from England and she was from Canada, they had a mutual friend in Ireland!
At 2:05, the ship’s bridge was just dipping into the water. Scott was pulled into Boat 4, the women of which were fast becoming proficient at rowing. The boat now pulled away from the side of the ship.
In Boat 13, Barrett was painfully cold; being a fireman, he was wearing only thin trousers and a singlet, with the later addition of a short jacket. He spoke of a pot of soup he had been warming near a boiler, prior to going off shift at midnight. “I could do with that soup now,” he shivered. A few minutes later, Barrett curled up on the small platform at the rear of the boat, barely conscious. Near him was Miss Slayter who had a coat and several fur wraps; she was the woman holding ten-month-old Alden Caldwell, who was sound asleep—blissfully unaware he was in the arms of a total stranger. Slayter offered Barrett the coat but he refused to take one while there were women who were cold. The coat was given to an Irish girl, who was sitting near the side of the boat and very cold. Slayter distributed more of her wraps to other people. Forward, twelve-year-old Ruth Becker, whose mother was in a different lifeboat, announced that she had several blankets that her mother had sent her to get. These were soon torn in half and distributed among the lightly clad firemen. One crewman had an injured finger that was almost severed. Ruth took a handkerchief from her coat pocket and wrapped the man’s hand. A German woman was sobbing because her baby had been placed in Boat 11, and she was worried it might get lost. Beesley, meanwhile, hadn’t seen his dressing gown since entering the boat; a Third Class passenger later found it and put it on.
By 2:15, Boat 13 was about a kilometre from the ship. At this time, the forward half of the ship was full of water. The water had filled up to the forward accommodation areas, which were above the upper limit of the watertight bulkheads. The water then poured over into the next watertight compartment—thus, the dropping of the watertight doors would not prevent the sinking but merely delay it. Presently, the forward watertight doors were academic—the water was now touching the base of the first stack. The Engine Room’s forward watertight door would have dropped again automatically, and the room was providing a fair amount of buoyancy—it was now the pivot of the seesaw that the ship had become. The forward two-thirds of the ship wanted to tilt down but the weight of the rear one-third of the ship (the enormous rudder and propellers were well out of the water) was holding the front up. Something had to give—the seesaw wanted to snap at the pivot.
At around 2:18, the ship broke apart at the third stack, beneath which were several large open areas of the ship—the First Class Dining Room on D Deck, the Third Class Dining Room further down on F Deck, and the flue casing itself. The lights now went out. During the breaking apart (which was very loud), the third stack collapsed forward and slapped hard into the water. As the forward part of the ship broke free and began its descent to the ocean floor, the stern of the ship now settled back down on an even keel. Below the water, the Engine Room’s forward bulkhead had been torn off and the room now instantly filled with water. The forward watertight door of the Turbine Room most probably closed now but not before the room took in an amount of water.
This still-floating part of the ship was tightly buoyant and could have stayed afloat but for one detail—it still contained the heavy engines, and they no longer had a watertight compartment. The heavy, flooded Engine Room now pulled the front down until the stern was vertical. It stayed there for a minute or so, possibly supported partly by non-structural walls within the upper decks. Ultimately, these walls gave way and at 2:20, the stern slipped beneath the water, which closed quietly over it.
Trimmer Dillon had ridden the stern down to the water and was drawn 12 feet down before floating back to the surface. At minus 2° C, the ocean stings with a painful burning sensation. More than a thousand people now found themselves being frozen alive.
Up to when the ship made its final plunge, the night had been silent. Now the occupants of Boat 13 were rocked by the most awful sound imaginable—the cries and wails of hundreds of people struggling in the water, freezing to death. As the next few minutes passed, the sound of the cries grew fainter and fainter as people expired in the frigid water. Barrett, meanwhile, had fallen unconscious. He was covered with a coat and someone else took the tiller.
Boat 4 was close enough to where the ship had gone down to pull people from the water. One of the eight people pulled into this boat was Dillon. Upon being pulled in at about 2:30, he fell unconscious. At this time, the forward section of Titanic landed on the ocean floor, digging her nose into the mud and then settling down in an upright position.
Some of the lifeboats stayed together in little flotillas, some were even tied together. Boat 13 remained in close proximity of two other boats, possibly 11 and 15. In all boats, there were people scanning the horizon for the lights of an approaching ship—first a single light, then a second light directly below it. At around 3:00, the occupants of Boat 13 could see a strange glow on the horizon to the north. It was the aurora borealis—the ‘Northern Lights’. But half-an-hour later, came something man-made! Someone forward in the boat drew everyone’s attention to a faint glow to the southeast. Beesley thought it resembled a warship’s searchlight. Then came a faint boom—it had to be a rocket!
As if woken by the sound, Barrett sat up and declared, “That was a cannon!”
Shortly thereafter, a single light appeared on the horizon; but was it just another star like all those before? Then a second light directly below it! As all the people in the boats watched, the two lights remained in alignment.
This ship was the Cunard Liner Carpathia, a small single-stacker of 558 feet and powered by two engines. She had been built in 1903 and would be sunk by a torpedo in 1918. Captain Arthur Rostron had answered Titanic’s distress calls and steamed at maximum speed, with extra lookouts, and dodging icebergs along the way. With her engineers and firemen exerting superhuman effort, Carpathia exceeded her maximum speed of 14 knots (many of her passengers awoke to find the ship rattling and their rooms cold—the steam heating for the cabins had been cut off!). She soon approached Titanic’s boats (30 minutes sooner than Rostron’s original forecast); the survivors could now make out the rows of lit portholes. The occupants of Boat 2 were taken aboard at 4:10.
In Boat 13, someone twisted some letters into a makeshift torch and set fire to it. Barrett stood up at the tiller and waved the torch in the air. The crew began rowing for the ship and Barrett led them singing “Row for the shore, Boys”, but after one verse, the song faded out—it was too early for celebration. There were other boats close by, pulling for the ship, and a light-hearted mood prevailed as the crews in the lifeboats turned the occasion into a race. Boat 13 had to go around a large iceberg on the way. Just now, a breath-takingly beautiful dawn was breaking to the east. The sky began to turn soft pink and the stars slowly faded. Unfortunately, a wind was now whipping up a chop on the ocean. The more heavily laden boats were now in danger of being swamped; this included some of the boats that had been filled to sub-capacity but had since rescued people from Collapsibles A and B (these two boats had floated off the roof of the Officers’ Quarters). Boats 4 and 12, between them, had rescued thirty men, who were standing on the bottom of upside-down collapsible B; and Boat 14 (under the command of Fifth Officer Lowe, who had rigged the boat’s sail and was towing collapsible D) had pulled fourteen people out of the partly-swamped collapsible A. Barrett shouted encouragement at his crew to keep up with the more lightly loaded boats. Presently, on the horizon, appeared a thin crescent moon.
“A new moon!” exclaimed Barrett, “Turn over your money, boys! That is, if you have any!”
The passengers laughed at his superstitious joke.
“Well,” Barrett continued, “I shall never say again that thirteen is an unlucky number. Boat 13 is the best friend we ever had.”
In the faint light there appeared what looked like two sailing ships. But minutes later, they could be identified as icebergs. As the light increased, more icebergs became visible; there were several now between Boat 13 and Carpathia.
By 8:30, all Titanic’s lifeboats had been accounted for and thirteen of them now hung from Carpathia’s davits, empty once again. At 8:50, Captain Rostron started his engines, and Carpathia steamed for New York.
To close this Section, I borrow from the late Lawrence Beesley:
Perhaps the belief itself will receive a shock when it is remembered that boat 13 of the Titanic brought away a full load from the sinking vessel, carried them in such comfort all night that they had not even a drop of water on them, and landed them safely at the Carpathia’s side, where they climbed aboard without a single mishap. It almost tempts one to be the thirteenth at table, or to choose a house numbered 13 fearless of any croaking about flying in the face of what is humorously called “Providence.”