Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Titanic Centenary: April 10

April 10, 1912

April 10 was a busy day for Titanic. It was sailing day, the first day of her maiden voyage. She would set off from her first port in Southampton, England, at noon, heading across the English Channel for Cherbourg, France.

Titanic's crew arrived first, around sunrise, filling the port and filing on board to get ready to receive her first passengers. All but one officer was on board, having spent the night on the ship in preparation. The last officer to arrive was Captain Edward Smith, who boarded around 7:30am. Around 9:00am, a mandatory lifeboat drill was carried out, where two of the lifeboats were filled with a few crew members, lowered to the water, then raised back up.

Around the time the lifeboat drill ended, J. Bruce Ismay, Director of the White Star Line, boarded with his family. Many would board the ship this day to tour her decks, then leave before she sailed. The train carrying the ship's second and third class passengers also arrived from London around this time, and boarding officially began. Among these passengers was William H. Harbeck and his companion, Henriette Yrois.

Deep inside the ship, in coal bunker #6, a fire was burning. This wasn't uncommon on a ship that used coal, and the Chief Engineer assured everyone that it would not damage the hull in any way. Some believe today that the fire may have, in fact, weakened the steel in that part of the hull, allowed it to be breached by the collision with the iceberg. The fire was not put out for two or three days.

Around 11:30am, the train carrying Titanic's first class arrived at the dock, and the ship's elite began to board. Among them: John Jacob Astor and his new, pregnant wife; Mr. and Mrs. Isador Straus, owners of Macy's department store; and Col. Archibald Gracie, who would later write a popular book about the sinking of the ship. Before Titanic left port, her second class passengers were allowed to tour the first class public areas, giving them a quick glimpse at how the other half lived.

At noon, the ship began to edge away from the dock. As she turned into the channel to head out, her size and increasing speed churned up the water enough that a suction was created, pulling two nearby ships, the Oceanic and New York away from their moorings. Ropes snapped, and the New York was set free. Captain Smith was made aware of the imminent danger and went into action, calling for the engines to be reversed, halting her movement. The New York was corralled by tugs and stopped before Titanic began to move forward again. While this was going on, more lines were added to Oceanic to prevent her from breaking free, and after a tense hour, Titanic was once again on her way. Her voyage had begun, but the incident with the other ships had delayed her an hour, and she would now arrive at her next destination late. A bad omen?

In Cherbourg, France, passengers waiting to begin their own journeys received news that the ship would be late. With no choice but to wait, they wandered the area, perhaps vented to one another about the inconvenience. Among them would be Benjamin Guggenheim, Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, and Margaret Brown, known today as Molly, all traveling in first class.

Despite the late start, Titanic did not try to make up time as it crossed the Channel. Shortly after clearing the English coast, the bugle sounded, announcing dinner. Passengers congregated in the dining halls for their first meal on board. Conversation around the tables were surely excited after the recent near-collision.

The sun was beginning to set as Titanic finally arrived at the French port. She dropped anchor around 6:30pm and tenders began to ferry the cross-channel passengers and mail off. Other tenders carried the Cherbourg passengers to the ship, along with more mail. The entire process took about 90 minutes, and by 8:00pm, the sun had set and she was ready to set off for Ireland, lights blazing from every porthole. She must have been quite the sight to behold. The photo here was taken shortly after she dropped anchor, before it was fully dark.

At 8:10pm, the anchor was raised and Titanic set off down the English Channel towards Ireland, her final stop before heading out to sea.

Don’t forget the Destined Blog Tour going on this week. First stop: Bona Fide Reflections


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