By Brad Dison
It was the largest ship afloat.
At more than 800 feet in length, nearly three football fields long, it was a floating city. Its engineers used cutting edge technology in every facet of its design. It was considered to be the fastest and safest ship afloat.
Each officer aboard the ship was hand-picked based on his prior service record and on a rigid seamanship examination which focused on sea currents, tides, geography, and wind.
Its crew was also hand-picked based on the strictest of criteria. The ship boasted two brass bands, two orchestras, and a theatrical company. It had a company of physicians and firemen in case of emergencies.
Engineers designed the ship with 19 water-tight compartments which could be closed in thirty seconds by simply turning a single lever. Engineers designed the doors of the water-tight compartments in such a way that they would close automatically if they came into contact with rushing water. The ship could stay afloat even if as many as nine of the 19 compartments flooded. Many people, including its designers, builders, and owners, considered the ship to be unsinkable.
Engineers designed the ship specifically for passenger traffic with every known convenience and comfort imaginable. Every possible amenity was made available to first-class passengers, fewer amenities for second-class passengers, and even fewer for third-class. The likelihood of the ship being destroyed by fire was unimaginable because the ship would not transport combustible cargo. Due to all of the ship’s safety features which rendered it practically unsinkable, the ship carried only 24 lifeboats, the number required by law.
Cumbersome lifeboats detracted from the travelers’ views of the ocean. Similarly, the ship carried only the number of cork life jackets required by law. Only about two dozen circular life-buoys decorated the decks of the ship. The buoys were almost considered decorations rather than life-saving devices.
Engineers determined that the ship was safest when traveling at full speed whether in calm waters, in fog, or during storms, for at least four reasons.
First, if the ship struck another vessel, the force of the impact would be distributed over a larger area if it was traveling at full speed. Due to the strength of the ship’s construction, the other vessel would sustain the brunt of the damage. Second, due to the ship’s speed, weight, and construction, it would almost certainly destroy the other vessel, probably cut it in two, if traveling at full speed while only receiving damages that could be easily remedied with a paint brush. Traveling at only half speed, the ship would sustain more damages to its bows.
Third, at full speed the ship could more easily steer itself out of danger than at half speed. And fourth, in case of striking an iceberg, the ship’s bows would only be crushed a few feet further at full speed than at half speed. At most, only three of the water-tight compartments would flood, which left six to spare before the ship was in danger of sinking.
On a cold, April night, the ship sailed at full speed in a dense fog in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the bowels of the great ship, members of the black gang, crewmen who garnered the nickname because they were covered with sweat and coal dust, moved coal by shovel and cart into one of the numerous furnaces. The passengers, oblivious to the workers toiling away below, enjoyed a variety of music, food, and other forms of entertainment. Some passengers sat in steamer chairs along the decks in the chilly, salty air.
In the crow’s nest, the highest lookout point on the ship, a single crewman struggled to spot any sign of danger in the thick fog. Most of the passengers were well asleep by this point. “All’s well,” the crewman shouted from the crow’s nest at exactly 1 a.m. At 2 a.m., the crewman in the crow’s nest called out “All’s well,” again. He yelled the same at 3 a.m.
A few minutes after 3 a.m., the crewman in the crow’s nest yelled that there was something ahead that he was unable to make out. In the thick fog, the crewman could only make out the faintest outline. He yelled to officers below that it must be another ship. The crewmen tried to turn the ship to avoid a collision, but it was too late. Then the crewmen saw that it was not another ship but a large iceberg.
The ship made only a slight shudder when it struck the iceberg. Most of the passengers were unaware that they had struck anything. The ship’s crew was only slightly concerned because the ship was unsinkable.
Conditions on the ship quickly spiraled out of control. Water quickly filled one water-tight compartment after another. The ship began to list. Passengers were awakened by the numerous sounds of plates, glasses, and a host of other items as they crashed to the floor. They scurried to the ship’s decks to see what had happened.
Few passengers donned life jackets, and even fewer made it into the less-than-adequate number of lifeboats. The ship sank slowly into the frigid waters of the north Atlantic Ocean. Most of the passengers and crew perished in the sinking of the unsinkable ship.
People around the world know the story of the Titanic, and how the ship sank after it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean with an enormous loss of life. However, the story you read above was a work of fiction, a novella by Morgan Robertson.
The name of the ship in Robertson’s novella was not the Titanic. The fictional ship he created was called the Titan. His book, originally entitled “Futility,” seemingly recounted the events of the wreck of the Titanic.
However, Robertson’s “Futility” was published … in 1898, 14 years before the Titanic sank.
Source: Robertson, Morgan. Futility. Rahway, N.J.: The Quinn and Boden Co. Press, 1898.