A Titanic World
One would have to be living not just under a rock, but off the planet to not know about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15. I was first introduced to this great story in the 1970s though my mother who belonged to the Titanic Historical Society and received their newsletter The Titanic Commutator. I fondly remember the newsletter being packed with endless speculation on the exact whereabouts of Titanic’s resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and countless “what if” scenarios on actually raising her to the surface. Yes…raising an 882 foot long ship! They tried that with Raise the Titanic which sank at the box office.
What has fascinated so many of us for so long is the sheer “titanic” of the story itself. Titanic was one of three new “Olympic” class ships built by Harland and Wolff for The White Star Line. The RMS Olympic and Titanic were built side by side then followed by the Britannic. Promoted as unsinkable with water tight doors and a double bottom, Titanic represented much more than the largest man-made floating object of the time—she ushered in an era of technology and a revolution in industry that wouldn’t be seen again in size and stature until Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969.
But with great achievements comes great arrogance. Since the discovery of the wreck in 1985 so much more has been written about what was the actual cause of the sinking. There was no structural failure (Olympic sailed until 1935). The RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg because its captain, Edward Smith, ignored one iceberg warning after another and wanted to make it to New York City a day ahead of schedule as the last hurrah of his career. Smith went down with the ship.
When Titanic sank, it was more than just the sinking of a ship. It was a collision of three classes of passengers on one deck against a calm moonless sea. American millionaires representing some of the most famous names of the time—Astor, Strauss and Guggenheim—to the “nameless” steerage class seeking a new life in America. On that night dreams were shattered and a world changed forever.
None of us will ever know the sheer terror of that evening when the number of passengers and crew far outnumbered the available lifeboats, but for any of us that have sailed on a cruise ship or an ocean liner we all share a common history—major changes in safety measures and maritime regulations. But such change is only as effective as the captains that pilot these great vessels. We don’t need to look any further than the recent tragedy of the MS Costa Concordia which is owned by Carnival Corp and through a series of past acquisitions owns The White Star Line through its Cunard Line unit.
For my mother and I vacationing on a cruise ship or ocean liner is our preferred way to holiday. Indeed, our cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 with its “White Star” service was an experience I will never forget. In an age of 21st century quickness, there are those two words that conjure up a by-gone era of optimism and spirit against the passing of the ocean in all its power and glory… all aboard!