A Journey of 100 years
The ocean presents itself to me, as it did the morning of 10 April 1912 one hundred years ago. Instantly I feel as if I am the only one on these waves. Alone. I will spend many days at sea, thinking about this, as mile after mile of open ocean rises and falls beneath my land legs.
Sailing out of Southampton, at 4:00 PM from the dock next to where the Titanic left on it’s maiden voyage with the hopes and dreams of hundreds of immigrants is exhilarating. Many of the world’s most powerful and wealthy were returning home with their servants and maids on “the ship of dreams”. My journey takes me back 100 years, and I know all those 1500 people will never see land again. We are given a celebratory send off, with a band playing joyously. Everyone waving goodbye as the crowds did in 1912, they shared our anticipation as the ship’s propellors increased power and we enter the main shipping channel. The similarity is haunting, as I think of those faded black and white photos we have all seen. The tugboat pushes us into the right direction and we are under way.
The next morning is foggy as the sun rises to warm the cold morning air. The seas are calm and serene, at least from the deck of the Balmoral. It is hard to imagine how close death can be, only a few feet in front of me. I know THIS modern ship will not sink, and the Titanic passengers knew THEIR ship could not sink. The difference between ‘can be and will be’ is a haunting reminder that is on my mind as the day unfolds.
A warm cup of coffee is a welcomed treat in 40 degree air as day two begins. The seas have turned angry over night, reminding me and many others that we have not yet earned our sea legs as easily as we thought we would.
Arrival in Cobh, Ireland one hundred years after the Titanic was here, is a grand celebration for this community. If anyone had ever heard of the Irish story of Leprechauns and the proverbial “pot of gold at the end of a rainbow”, as the rain stopped and I looked toward the east, they became believers. The day ended on a very hopeful note, both literally and figuratively.
The announcement comes over the ship’s intercom suddenly and unexpectedly. From the bridge our Captain, Robert Bamberg tells us that we have an emergency. The collective gasp of the passengers is palpable! We are memorializing a disaster on a state-of-the-art ship, and WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY? Certainly not! Over the comforting sounds of the powerful diesel engines carrying us over the ocean at 17 knots we are told the devastating news.
“Heart attack”, on land this is a frightful statement, but over 100 miles out on the ocean, it is your worst nightmare! You hope you can survive this event if you get to a hospital in a few minutes. Modern techniques and medical treatments are amazing in 2012. In 1912 you would likely not survive. With the nearest hospital 100 miles away, this would be serious if you had to travel by ambulance-but if you had to wait 3 hours for the medical team to reach you and then had to ride 3 hours to the hospital, terrifying. Now imagine your ambulance is a helicopter…
As the Irish medical helicopter arrives several hours after the Captain’s announcement, me and my 1300 fellow passengers are given our instructions. We are all involved in this “rescue operation” as it is referred to over the intercom. “Attention! Will all passengers and crew please leave all outside deck areas and remain inside the ship until further notice.” Roaring and whirling helicopter blades are heard as the rescue chopper approaches our world out in the open ocean.
We all watch anxiously as the rescue team approaches, all heads craned upwards to watch as the drama slowly unfolds. My thoughts are no doubt shared by others as we watch silently with our own ideas. Will this be successful? Is it too windy? We have stopped here with no land in sight. With no back up plans. This is success or failure right now. As the red chopper hunts overhead for the correct approach, the down force of the blades on the glass ceiling is protecting us from a potential catastrophe, but the chopper is mere feet above us we all wait. The first attempt is slow, noisy and meticulous. The medical team is lowering a basket that swings precariously above us. Everyone who has a camera is clicking away, as the seconds pass for the patient. As quickly as the basket is lowered, with a brief hesitation, it raises and this huge red invader of our ship’s tranquility lifts away and out of our line of sight. After only a few seconds we assume the mission here is over and the patient is headed back to Ireland. No! No sooner is there a collective sigh of relief, and chattering about, “did you see THAT?”, when it is realized there is a second chopper approaching the ship from the clear blue sky above us. No. Is it the same helicopter taking on yet a second patient? We are not given details, just a warning to stay under cover inside. We can not see what is happening, we all have to guess. The chopper again descends towards us-rescue lift basket dangling perilously close to the ship. Apparently, it is suggested, the first try was a failure. After maneuvering and adjusting to the pilot’s commands from a slightly different angle, down comes the basket. The medical team, over our heads, out of our sight, guides the rope dangling from the chopper to the proper position and quickly raises the basket for the second attempt. We are not able to see clearly who or what is going on, since the thick glass sheltering us is covered with salt spray. This is not where we normally look, we want to see the ocean not the skies overhead. SUCCESS! The chopper is rapidly angling up and away, towards a hospital in Ireland, and medical help.
It was a “Titanic” effort. Now we can relax.
It is still 5 days until we will reach the grave of the most famous ship wreck on the planet. The marking of time becomes confusing, “what time is it, and, “what day is it”, becomes a common question we all ask. For these next few days we all have various plans on how we will spend each day. The choices are varied between sunning out on the decks, attending lectures, reading, or eating and drinking more than we do back home. But all the while our conversations evolve to Titanic discussions: “…did you know that…”‘ and have you seen this or that photograph?” Everyday my knowlege about this ghost, lying over 12,000 below the surface, intensifies.
I awake today after a night of somewhat calmer seas. I learn later on that the waves were around 30 feet high. My “alarm clock” is now the TV. Since our cabin is much like the size that steerage accommodations were, there is no port hole view. I do not know what time it is and we are under “ship time”. The TV in the cabin has a channel that shows a web cam feed from the bow, so glance at this tells me if the sun is up or not. When I come out on the aft deck I notice immediately two things. The reason sleep was better last night, and the haunting comments made in every Titanic story I have ever read are related: the sea is “as calm as a mill pond”. Now I have this eerie feeling of coming out on deck, from my “steerage” cabin and seeing how peaceful and inviting the sea is today.
When there is any free time, of which there is plenty of, my time is spent just watching the sea. The wake from the ship, trailing behind us is a deep blue with white foam. Quite hypnotic. No birds. No ships. The clouds and the waves have become my skyline.
The sunrise today is typical of every morning, broken clouds and some fog. As the sun rises higher, I have time to capture some pretty photographs. There is no smog to ruin my view.
Part of the rest of my time on my second cup of coffee is “whale watching”. There have been rumors we might see them, so I would really like to get at least one chance to take this photo-if I am super lucky! After several more days further east toward the wreck sight I have another photo goal shared by other photo-hounds aboard: ICEBERGS!
There are plenty of lectures to attend everyday, today it is Mr. Littlejohn, the grandson of a first steward on the Titanic. He told us that story, and it was interesting, but the idea that he was a relative was my main reason for listening to him. Nothing specifically informative, just being a little bit closer to the passengers who were on the Titanic was exciting enough.
Of the 1300 or so of my fellow Titanic Memorial Cruise passengers, one chap deserves special mention. The are hundreds of Brits, Irish, and Australians, as well as many people on this trip older than myself. John, from Scotland, also is among many other Scots traveling on the Balmoral. John is also using 2 canes to walk, but, again, there are other wheelchair users, and handicapped people. John Strachan did tell me something shocking: He is traveling alone at the age of 87!! Every time I passed him on my trips around the ship he always had a big smile and really was having as good a time as the younger passengers were having.
I have realized one item that will increase my sense of the Titanic’s journey and foundering. I have learned that the ship’s construction number was 401. When I stayed at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton, the room number was 410, and the cabin on the Balmoral is 4010…mmm…? Everyday my knowlege about this ghost, lying over 12,000 below the surface, intensifies and I get several hundred miles closer to her.
———-Chapter 3 ———
Another lecturer spoke to a large gathering of perhaps 200 of us who are always interested in another Titanic story. Mr. Haisman, age 73, did not disappoint. He told us about his mother Elizabeth, who was among the 705 passengers who finished her trip to New York on the Carpathia. She was 15 when she was placed into the life boat and was rowed away from the Titanic as it slowly died. I am now able to understand, at least partly, how this experience must have felt. The North Atlantic is so pitch black. So cold. I can hardly imagine how terrified that must have made her feel. Having stood at the railing of the Balmoral and looked out into the ocean at night was scary. I realize it was much clearer that night in 1912, but since I have not seen any stars yet, I don’t know how much light they actually added. If I will have one regret on all my days at sea it will be that I never saw those stars that were out that night…”A Night To Remember”.
Mr. Haisman is the youngest of 10 children his mother bore, and to sit and listen to him talk about someone who told him about that night was mesmerizing. A connection to that night, one hundred years ago, was stunning. This is one of the reasons I took this voyage.
WHALES! Finally my time spent staring at the ocean is rewarded. Do you think 5 seconds of seeing 2 Orcas was worth the 4 days of hunting for them on a vast ocean? It was. Once I yelled out that I had sighted a whale, a small group gathered next to me and saw them also. I told them I had seen a spout of mist, then another next to the first one a second or two later. Then I saw simultaneous large black fins rise above the surface and immediately disappear. No, there was zero chance to aim my camera, focus, compose, and make a photo!
There are still 3 days remaining before we will reach the location of the Titanic wreck. Our Captain gives us a daily report at noon, which concludes in his Norwegian accent, “…and from ‘za’ bridge, all…is…vell!” This saying is said in unison by all the people around me as he speaks. Uplifting. We know our location, heading, speed, distance traveled, sea depth, temperatures of air and water. The excitement is building as we make our way westward since his report also tells us the distance remaining to the “wreck site”.
There is always a group on the Lido deck to chat with, and interesting stories to be told when ever I ask, “How did you become interested in Titanic? What country are you from?” Jane, from the UK is a good example of one those answering these conversation starters.
Jane has been interested in the Titanic for a long time. She collects what she can that is Titanic-related, like we all try to do. She tells me that recently she has found something on eBay that catches her eye. Like most of us, we have all seen those iconic photos of Titanic at the dock in Southampton. A very old Titanic print…
When she receives her photo she notices two things immediately: it is very old, and it is water damaged. (For those photographers here, I think it is a silver-gelatin print.) Jane’s question is simply whether this is the Titanic or the Olympic. Where else to get a good opinion but here on this cruise. It is determined to be the Titanic, and it is also realized that this photo was probably made on 2 April 1912, and maybe after her return from fitting out and sea trials. It is known that a dinner was held on the ship for VIP’s that same day.
The print is not in 100% condition, but it is a professional, very sharply focused photograph. Plenty of minute details can be seen. During her handling of this 100 year old photo, tragedy befalls her prized Titanic photograph. The print and the cardboard mat it is mounted on breaks in half. The irony is gripping! Here is an original photo, not a copy, of the Titanic, being shown to fellow Titanic enthusiasts, on this memorial voyage of the break up and death of this “ship of dreams”, out on the same North Atlantic as in 1912…
———-Chapter 4 ———
After a week at sea, I have become friends with many people who are now regulars on the Lido deck 8. We drink (coffee and beer) together, discuss our ship board experiences about all things Titanic and spend our time between lectures and meals having a relaxing trip. I am still trying to understand my 3 Scotsmen- Ally, Nigel, and Henley. It might be my English/Irish DNA I share that allows me to understand the Irish, but not sure. When the Scots have had a lot more to drink than me, well, it is all English…but, “huh”?
For 3 days I am on a team putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Claire is a true puzzle aficionado, and even has a large carrying case on which to assemble a puzzle. The scene for this huge puzzle (30″ by 40″) is the Titanic at debarkation from Southampton in 1912. I helped Claire, and was joined by Lauren and others. It became a team effort for many hours there on the aft deck! Slowly the picture came together, and we had others watching and helping with this process. We all enjoyed finally finishing this and knowing that there really were no missing pieces among the 1,000 we had on the table. Claire would later tell me that this puzzle was given to the servers at the Lido Lounge.
Every evening at 8:30pm is a formal dinner on deck 6 with three other couples. Kris and Kurt from Alaska; Susie and Gary from Ventura, CA; and Karen and Susan from Santa Barbara, CA. At our first dinner, Gary asks if we are all Democrats…oh my! If he had only known. I raised my hand acknowledging my political leaning to the “right”. It was 7 dems, 1 republican, and it was interesting for the rest of THAT dinner. The next several dinners did not involve any political talk because I didn’t mention politics, and Gary didn’t either. I do learn that our Alaskan friends are in the Merchant Marine service and they share their ship experiences with our cruise experiences. I find that Kris and Kurt really enjoy living in “the-middle-of-no-where”, Alaska.
I am ready for our arrival at the wreck site tomorrow evening, and while I am listening to Anthony Stuart Lloyd sing, my mind is dwelling on how all this will go on the 14th. I am certain the cruise will organize a memorable, respectful time. Today is Friday the 13th, not a good time or place to be a superstitious person. Tony, as we call him, has a huge bass-baritone voice, and sings opera, mostly. Fine with me, not so fine for some. Tony is a fellow smoker and, along with many other regulars, we swap stories and drink long into the night! Tony is Welsh, as well as being about 6’5″ and is the only person I have ever heard speak Gaelic and or Welsh.
As I retire, I am aware, from the Captain’s report, that the depth of the sea is over 2000 meters, air and water temperature below 20 degrees celsius. I hope the sea stays calm…
———-Chapter 5 ———
14 April 2012, Saturday, is going to be THE day of this voyage. We are in the 7th day of, “A Journey of 100 Years”, and it is rough sailing after a long calm stretch of open ocean. The talk of the day centers around the events happening at 11:40pm tonight. Our Captain tells us we have set the ship’s clock back 1 hour and 27 minutes. What? Where did the 27 minutes come from? In a later one-on-one Q and A with the Captain, I am told it has a little to do with leap year, and a little to do with historic time, but, “…way too complicated for me to explain”, he tells me. I will figure out this 27 minutes issue later. I am told that the ship’s people and the Titanic people disagree some on this point, but Captain Bamberg has the final say. 27 minutes.
The Captain tells everyone in his noon update what to expect tonight when we are at the exact wreck site:
41 43′ 32″ N
49 56′ 49″ W
There will be two minutes of silence at 11:40pm, there will be three wreaths dropped overboard from the aft deck 7, there will be a brief Christian ceremony lead by The Reverend Canon Huw Mosford, Director of Chapliancy, The Mission to Seafarers, Halifax, Nova Scotia. There will be a song by Tony Lloyd. There will be tears shed, hugging, and people staring blankly off into the abyss in front of us. Am I ready?
Our formal dinner tonight is in the Ballindalloch, named after the Speyside village and castle in Scotland. The Balmoral is named for the Scottish home for UK’s royal family. The dinner was the same dinner served on 4/14/1912. Seven courses:
First: Poached Salmon with Moussline Sauce, or Quail Eggs in Aspic with Caviar
Second: Consommé Olga, or Creame of Barley Soup
Third: Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette
Fourth: Punch Romaine
Fifth: Baked Haddock with Sharp Sauce, and Buttered Green Peas and Boiled Rice, or Calvados Roast Duckling with Apple Sauce, and Roast Potatoes and Braised Cabbage, or (my selection) Filet Minons Lili, and Sliced Baked Potatoes, with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Baby Carrots, or Roast Pork with Sage and Pearl Onions, and Boiled Potatoes, Creamed Carrots and Minted Pea Timbale, or finally Vegetable Marrow Farci.
Sixth: Waldorf Pudding, or Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, or Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs (my other choice)
Seventh: Assorted Fresh Fruits, and or Selection of Cheeses
After Dinner: Tea and Coffee.
Personally, I could never eat a selection from ALL 7 courses-at 8:30pm…but wow! Grand dinner!
We return to the Lido deck to digest and reflect on the reason we booked this cruise, and for drinks and smokes. You could, by now, begin to sense the emotion of the night. It was chilly, perhaps 39-43 degrees, not cold, but surely a bad night for swimming about in the blackness of this ocean. I can not imagine the terror of that night based upon being warm-ish and dry on deck. There are no stars to be seen, or when the clouds parted, nothing like 100 years ago!
As the time approaches, the second ship arrives at the site. The Azamara
arrives from New York. This second ship was added late in the planning of our trip due to the high booking demand for this one time memorial on this night.
There is no way, no words, no photos to convey the sense of what I am witnessing. There are hundreds of people gathered on the aft decks: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, no room for one more person. The minister, the soloist, and 3 young men dressed in 1912 sailor suits are gathered at the edge of the aft deck 7 with three biodegradable commemorative wreaths, and three candles to be lit. It is difficult to jostle into position to have a clear view of everything happening.
After the candles are lit, the wreaths are thrown overboard into the ocean, there is a brief participatory ceremony, and Anthony Stuart Lloyd approaches the microphone. Cue the music. He starts singing in his lovely, deep, rich bass-barritone voice, “Nearer My God To Thee”, and if there were any dry eyes, they are not now…Powerful, haunting, sad, gut wrenching. To realize that 100 years ago, as the Titanic sank below the waves, as the survivors rowed away from her, these were the words and melody they heard. My imagination can not get there. Time is frozen, we are one mass of humanity, weeping and hugging one another.
———-Chapter 6 ———
Halifax, Canada is where the Carpathia took all those passengers who did not find a life boat as the Titanic sank. As we head for that safe harbour, I am on the look out this morning for any sign of land, and the appearance of a sea bird should tell me we are getting closer.
We spend all day Sunday,15 April, on a calm and cloudy sea. Now it is not as cold as the last time I was out on this deck. I am not entirely sure if the cold air is solely to blame for feeling cold last night. My thoughts of still being in a wooden life boat and at this hour of the morning, as the 705 survivors were, while they were hoping and praying for rescue. Everyone was a little tired from staying up until past 3:00 am, and struggling to process the events of just imagining where we just were, stopped in the North Atlantic. WE are looking for land, THEY were looking for salvation from the ocean.
On the 16th, as the mist cleared, and warmer air returned, it brought some sense of how those who were being rescued at this same hour must have felt. On board a safer vessel. As I sit and look at the ocean, my attention is drawn to a sound that I have never heard before. There is a Japanese man standing at the railing of the aft deck, at the same place where the last passengers on the Titanic stood, as 800 feet of iron and wood and safety sank beneath their feet leaving them in the 28 degree water. I should point out there was one particular survivor from this situation-the ship’s baker. He was very drunk, having unceremoniously, and alone, finished off a full bottle scotch(?) In a stupor, he was carried off this same part of the ship where I now hear this music coming from. HE SURVIVED!
I will learn later that the person playing the Ocarina was Mr. Hiroshi Otomo, and when he finishes this lovely song I thank him for sharing this haunting music with me. I will never know if this was his commemoration to all those who died 100 years ago, or just a tune he liked to play. Was it a coincidence he was playing on the aft deck by the railing? I must point out though, this was the first and only time I saw him on the Balmoral. I am glad he gave me permission to take several photographs.
I am excited to spot a sea bird, perhaps a tern. Land is still about 100 miles away, by my rough calculations, but it will be good to feel the earth beneath my wobbly feet. It won’t be until later today (the 16th) that we reach Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
I finally see more birds, a few tanker and cargo ships, and land around 3pm, but it won’t be until 5pm that we are in the harbour. As I wander around the ship this afternoon, I discover there is a wedding taking place on deck 11, the Observatory deck. The couple, from Ireland, are dancing their first dance, and are accompanied by a lovely singer playing something (I wasn’t listening, just watching) on the piano. Lauren Casey and my wife Sheila had met earlier in the dining room. This was the first wedding I have been to after retiring from being a wedding photographer-odd to just sit and watch…
By 6:15pm the ship is tied up at the dock. Solid feeling, no rocking, and I know sleep will be peaceful and restful finally. Tomorrow I will be on terra ferma and visit the cemeteries.
———-Chapter 7 ———
Halifax cemetery trip is going to be very interesting. Considering that this is the only place I have ever seen photos of that can actually be visited, I am ready to go on this tour. The security getting on and off the Balmoral is very efficient, just a card swipe of your I.D. and you can hope they will not sail off and leave you behind. Their system has all your info on a magnetic strip on a credit card sized I.D. As much as I dislike being driven around with a tour director announcing this and that, I have no choice. The tour covers other interesting places between our ship tied up at the dock and the three cemeteries: historic mansions in the $10M range, military installations, old churches, and several places related to Halifax’s connection to the Titanic.
First stop is the most famous, and most viewed cemetery, Fairview. The Titanic section is an area within a large, actively used cemetery. There are 121 graves here, all including an number as well as other obvious information (of what was known at the time). The number is a grim reminder of the enormity of this tragedy-as their bodies were recovered on to the deck of the Carpathia, they were numbered: 1 through 334. The stones, mostly just inscribed with the name and “Died 15 April 1912″, stand forever to remind mankind that when we think we are indestructible, we learn humility.
Every grave is decorated with flowers, and it is a time for quietness and remembrance. Different groups in Halifax feel a loving sense of connection to these souls. The stones placed by The White Star Line are simple and uniform in size and shape. The black starkness of their plain shiny granite is also a stark reminder to all who visit this resting place for so many families. These rows of monuments laid out to form the outline of the bow of the Titanic, and silently remind us all of the lives lost 100 years ago.
———-Chapter 8 ———
We conclude our brief tour of Halifax and re-board the Balmoral, ready to sail away around 6pm, and back on the open sea by 7pm.
We spend the 18th starting to realize our memorial cruise will soon come to an end. There is a “Queen” tribute concert our last night, Gavin does a good job but Freddie he is NOT. A few pints of Guinness and our last night on the ocean ends, but tomorrow will be amazing. As I leave the Lido deck very late I notice that even though NYC is over 100 miles away, there is a faint, but certain, glow on the western horizon. The City.
By 6:00am I have my coffee and a place in my regular location on Lido, and the crowd grows. My hope for this harbor sight of New York is rewarding, as the morning darkness changes into a heavy mist, which the sunrise quickly burns away. By the time we pass under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, there are not many free places to stand at the railing and get a last few unique photos. This massive 2 mile long suspension bridge, at dawn, orange sky, the droning of the ships engines, is something to behold! Immediately after this comes Lady Liberty, the focal point of America that every immigrant knows. It’s symbolism is a proud invitation to come to the USA, and all those steerage passengers surely thought about this sight as they left Southampton, and now lie eternally at Fairview Cemetery. As I sail into New York City, seeing the Freedom Tower under construction, it is yet another symbol of hope and resurrection. My journey of 100 years has ended, and I will always feel a small sense of understanding of all that I experienced.
As we part with our new found friends, it was said more than once, “have a good life.” We know these goodbyes could be as final as the ones we give the Titanic. Farewell and RIP…