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The loss of the R.M.S. Titanic: Chapter 5
  Posted on Mon 11 Oct 2004 (30399 reads)


All accounts agree that the Titanic sunk about 2:20 A.M.: a watch in
our boat gave the time as 2:30 A.M. shortly afterwards. We were then
in touch with three other boats: one was 15, on our starboard quarter,
and the others I have always supposed were 9 and 11, but I do not know
definitely. We never got into close touch with each other, but called
occasionally across the darkness and saw them looming near and then
drawing away again; we called to ask if any officer were aboard the
other three, but did not find one. So in the absence of any plan of
action, we rowed slowly forward--or what we thought was forward, for
it was in the direction the Titanic's bows were pointing before she
sank. I see now that we must have been pointing northwest, for we
presently saw the Northern Lights on the starboard, and again, when
the Carpathia came up from the south, we saw her from behind us on the
southeast, and turned our boat around to get to her. I imagine the
boats must have spread themselves over the ocean fanwise as they
escaped from the Titanic: those on the starboard and port sides
forward being almost dead ahead of her and the stern boats being
broadside from her; this explains why the port boats were so much
longer in reaching the Carpathia--as late as 8.30 A.M.--while some of
the starboard boats came up as early as 4.10 A.M. Some of the port
boats had to row across the place where the Titanic sank to get to the
Carpathia, through the debris of chairs and wreckage of all kinds.

None of the other three boats near us had a light--and we missed
lights badly: we could not see each other in the darkness; we could
not signal to ships which might be rushing up full speed from any
quarter to the Titanic's rescue; and now we had been through so much
it would seem hard to have to encounter the additional danger of being
in the line of a rescuing ship. We felt again for the lantern beneath
our feet, along the sides, and I managed this time to get down to the
locker below the tiller platform and open it in front by removing a
board, to find nothing but the zinc airtank which renders the boat
unsinkable when upset. I do not think there was a light in the boat.
We felt also for food and water, and found none, and came to the
conclusion that none had been put in; but here we were mistaken. I
have a letter from Second Officer Lightoller in which he assures me
that he and Fourth Officer Pitman examined every lifeboat from the
Titanic as they lay on the Carpathia's deck afterwards and found
biscuits and water in each. Not that we wanted any food or water then:
we thought of the time that might elapse before the Olympic picked us
up in the afternoon.

Towards 3 A.M. we saw a faint glow in the sky ahead on the starboard
quarter, the first gleams, we thought, of the coming dawn. We were not
certain of the time and were eager perhaps to accept too readily any
relief from darkness--only too glad to be able to look each other in
the face and see who were our companions in good fortune; to be free
from the hazard of lying in a steamer's track, invisible in the
darkness. But we were doomed to disappointment: the soft light
increased for a time, and died away a little; glowed again, and then
remained stationary for some minutes! "The Northern Lights"! It
suddenly came to me, and so it was: presently the light arched fanwise
across the northern sky, with faint streamers reaching towards the
Pole-star. I had seen them of about the same intensity in England some
years ago and knew them again. A sigh of disappointment went through
the boat as we realized that the day was not yet; but had we known it,
something more comforting even than the day was in store for us. All
night long we had watched the horizon with eager eyes for signs of a
steamer's lights; we heard from the captain-stoker that the first
appearance would be a single light on the horizon, the masthead light,
followed shortly by a second one, lower down, on the deck; if these
two remained in vertical alignment and the distance between them
increased as the lights drew nearer, we might be certain it was a
steamer. But what a night to see that first light on the horizon! We
saw it many times as the earth revolved, and some stars rose on the
clear horizon and others sank down to it: there were "lights" on every
quarter. Some we watched and followed until we saw the deception and
grew wiser; some were lights from those of our boats that were
fortunate enough to have lanterns, but these were generally easily
detected, as they rose and fell in the near distance. Once they raised
our hopes, only to sink them to zero again. Near what seemed to be the
horizon on the port quarter we saw two lights close together, and
thought this must be our double light; but as we gazed across the
miles that separated us, the lights slowly drew apart and we realized
that they were two boats' lanterns at different distances from us, in
line, one behind the other. They were probably the forward port boats
that had to return so many miles next morning across the Titanic's

But notwithstanding these hopes and disappointments, the absence of
lights, food and water (as we thought), and the bitter cold, it would
not be correct to say we were unhappy in those early morning hours:
the cold that settled down on us like a garment that wraps close
around was the only real discomfort, and that we could keep at bay by
not thinking too much about it as well as by vigorous friction and
gentle stamping on the floor (it made too much noise to stamp hard!).
I never heard that any one in boat B had any after effects from the
cold--even the stoker who was so thinly clad came through without
harm. After all, there were many things to be thankful for: so many
that they made insignificant the temporary inconvenience of the cold,
the crowded boat, the darkness and the hundred and one things that in
the ordinary way we might regard as unpleasant. The quiet sea, the
beautiful night (how different from two nights later when flashes of
lightning and peals of thunder broke the sleep of many on board the
Carpathia!), and above all the fact of being in a boat at all when so
many of our fellow-passengers and crew--whose cries no longer moaned
across the water to us--were silent in the water. Gratitude was the
dominant note in our feelings then. But grateful as we were, our
gratitude was soon to be increased a hundred fold. About 3:30 A.M., as
nearly as I can judge, some one in the bow called our attention to a
faint far-away gleam in the southeast. We all turned quickly to look
and there it was certainly: streaming up from behind the horizon like
a distant flash of a warship's searchlight; then a faint boom like
guns afar off, and the light died away again. The stoker who had lain
all night under the tiller sat up suddenly as if from a dream, the
overcoat hanging from his shoulders. I can see him now, staring out
across the sea, to where the sound had come from, and hear him shout,
"That was a cannon!" But it was not: it was the Carpathia's rocket,
though we did not know it until later. But we did know now that
something was not far away, racing up to our help and signalling to us
a preliminary message to cheer our hearts until she arrived.

With every sense alert, eyes gazing intently at the horizon and ears
open for the least sound, we waited in absolute silence in the quiet
night. And then, creeping over the edge of the sea where the flash had
been, we saw a single light, and presently a second below it, and in a
few minutes they were well above the horizon and they remained in
line! But we had been deceived before, and we waited a little longer
before we allowed ourselves to say we were safe. The lights came up
rapidly: so rapidly it seemed only a few minutes (though it must have
been longer) between first seeing them and finding them well above the
horizon and bearing down rapidly on us. We did not know what sort of a
vessel was coming, but we knew she was coming quickly, and we searched
for paper, rags,--anything that would burn (we were quite prepared to
burn our coats if necessary). A hasty paper torch was twisted out of
letters found in some one's pocket, lighted, and held aloft by the
stoker standing on the tiller platform. The little light shone in
flickers on the faces of the occupants of the boat, ran in broken
lines for a few yards along the black oily sea (where for the first
time I saw the presence of that awful thing which had caused the whole
terrible disaster--ice--in little chunks the size of one's fist,
bobbing harmlessly up and down), and spluttered away to blackness
again as the stoker threw the burning remnants of paper overboard. But
had we known it, the danger of being run down was already over, one
reason being that the Carpathia had already seen the lifeboat which
all night long had shown a green light, the first indication the
Carpathia had of our position. But the real reason is to be found in
the Carpathia's log:--"Went full speed ahead during the night; stopped
at 4 A.M. with an iceberg dead ahead." It was a good reason.

With our torch burnt and in darkness again we saw the headlights stop,
and realized that the rescuer had hove to. A sigh of relief went up
when we thought no hurried scramble had to be made to get out of her
way, with a chance of just being missed by her, and having to meet the
wash of her screws as she tore by us. We waited and she slowly swung
round and revealed herself to us as a large steamer with all her
portholes alight. I think the way those lights came slowly into view
was one of the most wonderful things we shall ever see. It meant
deliverance at once: that was the amazing thing to us all. We had
thought of the afternoon as our time of rescue, and here only a few
hours after the Titanic sank, before it was yet light, we were to be
taken aboard. It seemed almost too good to be true, and I think
everyone's eyes filled with tears, men's as well as women's, as they
saw again the rows of lights one above the other shining kindly to
them across the water, and "Thank God!" was murmured in heartfelt
tones round the boat. The boat swung round and the crew began their
long row to the steamer; the captain called for a song and led off
with "Pull for the shore, boys." The crew took it up quaveringly and
the passengers joined in, but I think one verse was all they sang. It
was too early yet, gratitude was too deep and sudden in its
overwhelming intensity, for us to sing very steadily. Presently,
finding the song had not gone very well, we tried a cheer, and that
went better. It was more easy to relieve our feelings with a noise,
and time and tune were not necessary ingredients in a cheer.

In the midst of our thankfulness for deliverance, one name was
mentioned with the deepest feeling of gratitude: that of Marconi. I
wish that he had been there to hear the chorus of gratitude that went
out to him for the wonderful invention that spared us many hours, and
perhaps many days, of wandering about the sea in hunger and storm and
cold. Perhaps our gratitude was sufficiently intense and vivid to
"Marconi" some of it to him that night.

All around we saw boats making for the Carpathia and heard their
shouts and cheers. Our crew rowed hard in friendly rivalry with other
boats to be among the first home, but we must have been eighth or
ninth at the side. We had a heavy load aboard, and had to row round a
huge iceberg on the way.

And then, as if to make everything complete for our happiness, came
the dawn. First a beautiful, quiet shimmer away in the east, then a
soft golden glow that crept up stealthily from behind the sky-line as
if it were trying not to be noticed as it stole over the sea and
spread itself quietly in every direction--so quietly, as if to make us
believe it had been there all the time and we had not observed it.
Then the sky turned faintly pink and in the distance the thinnest,
fleeciest clouds stretched in thin bands across the horizon and close
down to it, becoming every moment more and more pink. And next the
stars died, slowly,--save one which remained long after the others
just above the horizon; and near by, with the crescent turned to the
north, and the lower horn just touching the horizon, the thinnest,
palest of moons.

And with the dawn came a faint breeze from the west, the first breath
of wind we had felt since the Titanic stopped her engines.
Anticipating a few hours,--as the day drew on to 8 A.M., the time the
last boats came up,--this breeze increased to a fresh wind which
whipped up the sea, so that the last boat laden with people had an
anxious time in the choppy waves before they reached the Carpathia. An
officer remarked that one of the boats could not have stayed afloat
another hour: the wind had held off just long enough.

The captain shouted along our boat to the crew, as they strained at
the oars,--two pulling and an extra one facing them and pushing to try
to keep pace with the other boats,--"A new moon! Turn your money over,
boys! That is, if you have any!" We laughed at him for the quaint
superstition at such a time, and it was good to laugh again, but he
showed his disbelief in another superstition when he added, "Well, I
shall never say again that 13 is an unlucky number. Boat 13 is the
best friend we ever had."

If there had been among us--and it is almost certain that there were,
so fast does superstition cling--those who feared events connected
with the number thirteen, I am certain they agreed with him, and never
again will they attach any importance to such a foolish belief.
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."

Looking towards the Carpathia in the faint light, we saw what seemed
to be two large fully rigged sailing ships near the horizon, with all
sails set, standing up near her, and we decided that they must be
fishing vessels off the Banks of Newfoundland which had seen the
Carpathia stop and were waiting to see if she wanted help of any kind.
But in a few minutes more the light shone on them and they stood
revealed as huge icebergs, peaked in a way that readily suggested a
ship. When the sun rose higher, it turned them pink, and sinister as
they looked towering like rugged white peaks of rock out of the sea,
and terrible as was the disaster one of them had caused, there was an
awful beauty about them which could not be overlooked. Later, when the
sun came above the horizon, they sparkled and glittered in its rays;
deadly white, like frozen snow rather than translucent ice.

As the dawn crept towards us there lay another almost directly in the
line between our boat and the Carpathia, and a few minutes later,
another on her port quarter, and more again on the southern and
western horizons, as far as the eye could reach: all differing in
shape and size and tones of colour according as the sun shone through
them or was reflected directly or obliquely from them.

[Illustration: THE CARPATHIA]

We drew near our rescuer and presently could discern the bands on her
funnel, by which the crew could tell she was a Cunarder; and already
some boats were at her side and passengers climbing up her ladders. We
had to give the iceberg a wide berth and make a détour to the south:
we knew it was sunk a long way below the surface with such things as
projecting ledges--not that it was very likely there was one so near
the surface as to endanger our small boat, but we were not inclined to
take any risks for the sake of a few more minutes when safety lay so

Once clear of the berg, we could read the Cunarder's name--C A R P A T
H I A--a name we are not likely ever to forget. We shall see her
sometimes, perhaps, in the shipping lists,--as I have done already
once when she left Genoa on her return voyage,--and the way her lights
climbed up over the horizon in the darkness, the way she swung and
showed her lighted portholes, and the moment when we read her name on
her side will all come back in a flash; we shall live again the scene
of rescue, and feel the same thrill of gratitude for all she brought
us that night.

We rowed up to her about 4.30, and sheltering on the port side from
the swell, held on by two ropes at the stern and bow. Women went up
the side first, climbing rope ladders with a noose round their
shoulders to help their ascent; men passengers scrambled next, and the
crew last of all. The baby went up in a bag with the opening tied up:
it had been quite well all the time, and never suffered any ill
effects from its cold journey in the night. We set foot on deck with
very thankful hearts, grateful beyond the possibility of adequate
expression to feel a solid ship beneath us once more.

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