8pm April 10th2018
As this is being written, it is 106 years to the day and time that RMS Titanic weighed its anchor off the port of Cherbourg France. Eight hours earlier the ship had slipped and proceeded from the docks at Southampton England to undertake her maiden voyage. A journey of six hours across and along the English Channel had seen the ship drop anchor for the first time on a commercial voyage. Those six hours would have provided the opportunity for a collective sigh of relief for those travellers who had spent the morning getting themselves and their baggage from hotels, railways stations and homes and go through the hustle and bustle of processing of tickets portside, finding their allocated cabins and unpacking their suitcases. There would have been time for a little exploration, a little familiarization of the new environment of a maritime leviathan. Some ate or drank. Fr Frances Brown took photographs. Ships officers on the bridge plotted courses on navigation charts for the ensuing trans-Atlantic journey. Radio operators listened through the white noise of the wireless and transmitted messages to far flung shores for paying clients. The two hours spent just off Cherbourg was necessary to drop and collect passengers and mail coming to and from continental Europe.
Many of those coming on board were filled with the expectation of a life -changing opportunity for a new life in America. Emigrants made up a large proportion of the passenger list. Others longed for the comfort of home having spent many weeks at work or at leisure in the exotic cities of Europe and Africa.
During the first couple of hours those venturing on deck on deck would have been in a position to admire the twinkling lights along the coast of France and then England visible across the dark calm waters of a windless night.
As midnight approached and passengers began to drift off to their accommodations, crewmembers of the next midnight to four watch would have been preparing to go to their stations and relieve their shipmates from their stations of the previous four hours.
In cabins on various decks the unfamiliar sounds of the repetitive mechanical operations that propelled the ship through the water kept some awake and lulled others to sleep. Outside, and in in the night time chill, vigilant lookouts sought out the unusual or misplaced. And as the ship progressed the constant hypnotic sound of the wash enveloped her while the dissipating effervescence of the wake receded astern and lost its luminance to a blackened ocean. A whole microcosm of society slept between the steel bulkheads that divided the wealthy from the poor. In the hierarchy of the crew there were those that sweated in heat of the boiler rooms while others stood proud and uniformed in the Eyrie that was the bridge.
Morning would bring the light of the heavens the sounds of the gulls and the distinctive smell of grass and fresh vegetation coming off the rolling hills and fields of the South coast of Ireland. The friendly and experienced face of the local ships pilot climbed aboard and under John Cotter’s guidance at 12 noon the cluttering rumble of the anchor cable being laid out would reverberate along the hull. Seven passengers were already well up and prepared to disembark. While one hundred and twenty three expectant faces on two tenders were eager to exchange places and embark with their dreams to cross the wide Atlantic. Ninety minutes later, with one less crew member who had deserted the ship, all the business had been done. Embarking and disembarking, loading of mails, purchases from traders and acquisitions from local fishermen. Mayoral farewells and well wishes of tender crews were left behind as the pilot guided the ship and its crew to the supposed safety of the open sea. The last man to leave the ship, before its traumatic halt by a force of nature, had no idea of the catastrophe that would play out. Thursday a day at sea without incident. Friday a community of over two thousand two hundred settling into shipboard life. The hum of the engines, the regularity of the rotating watch, the trail of the wake. Saturday still parts of the ship to explore. Sunday morning ice warnings, afternoon more. And still the throb of the engines don’t change. The speed of the ship does not alter. Late evening the community turns in for another nights sleep with the reassuring drone of the ship now a comfort. In the last hour before midnight occasional toasts still tinkle, music subdues and crew prepares to rotate. A distant shout, a leisurely response, a creeping realization and below decks the encroachment of nature.
Dedicated to all those who died on RMS Titanic this weekend one hindred and six years ago.
© Michael Martin 2018