Friday, January 25, 2013

"Stop lowering No. 14."

"Stop lowering No. 14."

Anyone who's researched the Titanic story immediately knows the meaning of those words.

It's what the passengers in Lifeboat No. 13 screamed out as the boat above them threatened to drop on their heads before they could get clear of the ropes tethering their boat to the sinking ship.

The people in No. 13 didn't know that the lifeboats on their side of the ship carried the odd numbers and the boats on the other side, the even.  They assumed that, being in No. 13, the next boat to theirs was No. 14.

 But they knew that if the boat over them  it didn't stop dropping, they would be swamped.

But why was  a Titanic survivor in a lifeboat on the opposite side of the ship, actually Boat No. 14, using the same phrase?

Nellie Walcroft, 36,  sent an account of her escape from the Titanic to the newspaper, the Maidenhead Advertiser, which published it Monday, April 29, 1912.

She wrote:

"There was no man in charge and 5th Officer Harold Lowe jumped on our boat and gave the orders. Some men in the Steerage were going to spring in and he threatened them with his revolver to shoot the first, knowing that another one would buckle up the lifeboat. He shot twice, but only at the side, so that the men, who were panic-stricken in the steerage should know it was loaded and that he meant what he said."

"When from below the shouting "Stop lowering No. 14" was heard, we were being dropped onto a lifeboat, they could not get away from the side of the ship. At last they did so the men lowered our boat. One side worked better than the other and the ropes on one side did not act so the officer gave the order to cut the ropes and the boat fell some distance and then we got safely away from the ship's side."

This was strikingly similar to the story told by London schoolteacher Lawrence Beesley, whose account was published the day after the rescue ship Carpathia reached New York City.

The Mail-Star
Published: 04/19/12
Page: 10
Down we went and presently floated with our ropes still holding us, the exhaust was washing us away from the side of the vessel, and the swell of the sea urging us back against the side again. The resultant of all these forces was a force which carried us parallel to the ship's side and directly under boat No. 14 which had filled rapidly with men and was coming down on us in a way that threatened to submerge our boat. "Stop lowering No. 14" our crew shouted, and the crew of No. 14, now only twenty feet above, shouted the same.

The implications was momentous.

At the very second that the people in No. 13 were shouting "Stop lowering No. 14", the people in No. 14 heard the cries, as did the crewmen on the boat deck who were lowering No. 14 and who actually stopped lowering the boat.

That means that No. 14 and No. 15 were being lowered off the Titanic at exactly the same time!

And to make it even more interesting, both lifeboats were almost the same distance from the ocean when the cry began.

Lawrence Beesley described the descent of No. 15 more thoroughly in his book 'The Loss of the S.S. Titanic.'

"We shouted up, "Stop lowering No. 14," and the crew and passengers in the boat above, hearing us shout, and seeing our position immediately below them, shouted the same to the sailors on the boat deck;but apparently they did not hear, for she dropped down foot by foot---twenty feet, fiftenn, ten---and a stoker and I in the bows reached up and touched her bottom swinging above our heads, trying to push away our boat from under her."

Fifth Officer Harold Lowe commanded No. 14.  He testified a the Senate Inquiry to the moment that No. 14 stopped lowering.

15839. Were you lowered in that boat?
- I was lowered in No. 14.
15840. I want to ask you a little about that. Was there any difficulty in lowering when you got near the water?
- Yes, I slipped her.
15841. Did the falls go wrong?
- Something got wrong and I slipped her.
15842. That means to say, you threw off the lever when you were some way from the water?
- I should say I dropped her about 5 feet.
15843. Your Lordship remembers that Scarrott told us about that. Was that because the falls -?
- That was because I was not going to wait and chance being dipped down by the stern by anybody on top, so I thought it was best for me to drop, and know what I was doing.
15844. No doubt you dealt with the situation quite rightly, but I want to know what caused the situation. Was it because the rope would not run any further?
- I do not know, because, you must understand that the lowering away was being carried out on deck, and I must have been about 64 feet below that deck, and I could not see it.
15845. Did you look up?
- Yes.
15846. Could you tell me why you were not being lowered further?
- No.
15847. You could not?
- No.
15848. One of the men in your boat has given evidence, and he says he looked up and saw the rope of the falls twisted?
- No; I looked up and I could not see anything.

Lowe, who was concentrating on preventing steerage passengers from jumping into No. 14 as it was being lowered, had no idea why the lowering of the lifeboat stopped. A crewman with him in No. 14 thought it was because the ropes were twisted.  Nellie Walcroft, writing weeks later, assumed the call to stop lowering No. 14 actually meant No. 14.  And Lawrence Beesley published a footnote in his book correcting the fact that while the passengers of No. 13 (and No. 15) cried out "stop lowering No. 14", they actually meant No. 15.

But the fact  that both Nos. 14 and 15 were being lowered at the same time is one of very few links between the port and starboard boats. It lets us determine when No. 14 was launched.

Both boats were about the same distance from the sea when the cry to stop lowering began. No. 14 was stopped about five feet above the water.  No. 15 descended to less than 10 feet above No. 13 before No. 13 got clear.

No. 14 was launched from the boat deck. No. 15 from A deck.  The distance down being about the same, we can work backward and see that No. 14 was launched while No. 15 was on A deck loading its last passengers.

The timing corroborates the evidence of Greaser Frederick Scott before the British Inquiry. He testified that after the order to abandon Boiler Room 4 was given, he went topside, where he saw an officer in a lifeboat (who was clearly Lowe) fire a gun to warn men against jumping  as the boat was lowered.  He said he first went to the starboard side of the ship where he saw no boats left;  then he crossed to port and saw two boats still on the ship, one of which carried the officer with the gun.

We can now see that No. 15 was still on A deck when Scott came up, although it was not in the davits on the Boat Deck.

Titanic's secrets unfold.

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