Her Name Titanic
by Charles Pellegrino
To Dare God
The cradle lay in starlight. A cradle for giants: thick webs of iron
scaffolding broad enough to enclose a half dozen cathedrals;
cranes at the top, perched higher than most of the world's tallest
buildings; below them, a skeleton in the shape of a ship - her name Titanic;
and below her, the Belfast shipyards of Harland and Wolff, where
Thomas Andrews stood with his bride. The two were virtually invisible
against the cyclopean scale of everything: propellers as wide as windmills;
a rudder six stories high. To Helen Andrews the towering row of vertical
supports looked like the Industrial Age imitating the Acropolis. Here was
unearthly beauty, made more beautiful by the apparition in the sky.
Once again Phaeton borrowed the Chariot of the Sun, driving it
dangerously close to earth...
On this chilly spring morning in the otherwise uneventful year 1910,
the thin veils of Halley's Comet glowed across half the sky. Far off to
one side was a flying mountain of dirt and ice larger than the city of London,
yet invisible, at an unmeasureable distance, through even the most
powerful telescopes. It boiled up there. A head of vapor and dust
streamed out from the nucleus in every direction, appearing as wide as a
cricket ball held out at arm's length. It was almost bright enough to read by.
"It's beautiful," Helen said.
"Yes that too. But the ship. Your ship."
"Planting a kiss on the back of her neck, he nudged her gently; and,
taking the signal, she leaned back against him. He clasped both hands
around her abdomen-swollen now, with the promise of a child. His breathing
quickened. As much as he loved designing and building ships - as much as he
truly loved his work - here, bundled in his arms, was the actual center of his life.
At that moment, the center of life was mildly worried about keeping him up too late.
Surely he needed some sleep. By 6:00am , her husband would be weaving his way
through that modern-day Acropolis, a paint-smeared hat on his crown, grease
on his boots, the pockets of his blue jacket stuffed with plans. She imagined
him shouting directions over the persistent uproar of riveting tools, calling
attention to the smallest details of his ship. And now, looking at the thing
and knowing it to be the greatest technology's achievements, her admiration
for him went up a notch. All the more reason to see that he slept.
"Shouldn't we be leaving soon?" Helen said. "Soon...soon...."
Directly overhead, a green star winked on and darted out of view behind the scaffolding. Then another. And another. Meteoritic ice lanced down from heaven- a backdrop for Titanic.
"Three million rivots," said Thomas Andrews. "Three million rivots will go into her hull alone- twelve hundred tons of them."
"A fantastic adventure."
"Yes. We're putting four passenger elevators into her. Eight electric cargo cranes, a fifty-telephone switchboard, and the world's most modern kitchens - equipped with electric freezers, ovens, and slicing peeling and mincing machines."
"And you say she'll be unsinkable?"
"Safer than a lifeboat. Yes, each ship is its own lifeboat."
Something shuddered in the sky. The normally white cometary veils, swept back on a wind of reflected sunlight, were laced now with shimmering greens and blues. Helen craned her neck to kiss Thomas on the lips. She could see his face in the glow of the comet, pale without detail.
More ice streaked down, more and more ice, scratching fire over Belfast.
Earth was deep in the tail of Halley.
If shipbuilder Thomas Andrews had been alive today, he would be fascinated - utterly fascinated- to learn of the computerized instruments that would see into his Titanic and uncover its secrets. We can only guess what he might think of the other marvels of our age. As he watched Titanic growing, steel plate by steel plate, in the Belfast shipyard, men had barely learned to fly in flimsy, kitelike airplanes. Could he have imagined that three-quarters of a century later we'd be sailing an interplanetary sea? Could he have guessed, in his wildest fantasy that Halley's Comet, which is making its first appearance since 1910, would be greeted this time by a flotilla of spacefaring robots? What would he think of Voyager? Or Challenger? We have come to love our machines. We who know them. We who have touched them. And Thomas Andrews would have understood us. Andrews' affection for his creation could not have been very different, seventy-four years ago. Lord Pirrie, one of the Titanic's owners, had planned to be aboard for this, her maiden voyage, but had been prevented by a flu-turned pneumonia. He therefore sent Thomas Andrews in his place to observe the ships crossing and to make recommendations for improving her. In Stateroom A-36, Andrews had scarcely noticed a distant ripping sound. It did not arouse him, so gentle was the impact. This was a deception. Had the ship rebounded from the iceberg, spilling Andrews to the floor, he would have risen with a look of dread on his face; but the force that threw him down would have, at the same time, been an indication that he was safe, that the hull was strong enough to offer resistance to the blow. Instead, whole slabs of inch-thick steel buckled and popped rivets and caved in, offering no more resistance to the spur of ice than tinfoil drawn over a blunt stick, so most of the Titanic's passengers felt little more than a slight jolt and crunching under-foot, as if the ship had run over a pile of marbles. With barely a shudder, the Titanic had absorbed a concussion sufficient to lift the Washington Monument fourteen times. And so, under the illusion of resilience and safety, Andrews did not stir from his stateroom. He was surrounded at his worktable by blueprints and handwritten notes and, half-eaten, a loaf of bread made especially for him and sent as a gift from the chief baker. He'd spent most of the day walking around the decks with representatives of the firm, interviewing engineers and passengers, retreating finally from dinner to his room. There he worked late into the night, transforming piles of notes into calculations and sketches. His mind sought restlessly to enlarge it's outlook on a great science, to conquer new problems, and to achieve an ever-fresh perfection. Taking shape on paper were plans for newer, even more advanced ships...bigger...faster....safer... And over there, among the plans: reports of improvements still to be made on Titanic. One directed attention to a design for reducing the number of screws in stateroom hat hooks. In another letter, amidst technicalites about cofferdams and submerged cylinders in the propeller boss, was a plan for staining green the wicker furniture in the Café Parisien. There was also a suggestion form Second Office Lightoller to supply the ship's lookouts with binoculars for the return voyage from New York. Frederick Fleet had asked for a pair, only to be told that there were none for him or any of the other five men specially assigned to be "The eyes of the ship". The iceberg was less than a mile away when Fleet first saw it. Visibility that night was so extraordinarily good that stars were cut in half by the horizon before they set. Looking, as he was, straight ahead into the ship's path, Fleet could have seen the iceberg a mile farther- miles farther with a pair of binoculars. Even a mile would have given Murdoch nearly three additional minutes to respond. Even fifteen seconds would have been enough. But many things are forgotten during a ship's rush to her maiden voyage. Some common items, because of their very commonness, are overlooked, so the finest ship in the world sailed without binoculars for her lookouts. The oversight large only by hindsight. If the Titanic had safely arrived in NY, Fleet's request for binoculars would be forgotten now, seeming no more important than the other reports spread over Andrews' desk... there was serious trouble with the restaurant galley, hot press... the coloring of pebble dashing on J.P. Morgan's private promenade deck was too dark... Andrews was still writing reports and planning future ships when the captain called for him. Mary Sloan, on the ship's stewardesses, had joined a tiny knot of passengers in the frightful cold of the top deck. "What happened?" someone asked. "We struck something" acknowledged a tired voice. Miss Sloan peered over the rail on the starboard side. There was only the cold Atlantic below, as black and calm as a pool of oil. As far as she could see, all the way out to the horizon, there was not the slightest hint of anything the ship could have collided with; to her left was the captain's bridge; to her right, the deck stretching astern, deserted mostly. Behind her the speculation continued: "Is it serious?" "Probably not. It didn't feel like much of a bump. She couldn't have suffered any great damage. There may be some leakage, but the pumps can handle it." "Why has the ship stopped?" "I expect whatever we hit has scratched off some of her new paint and the captain doesn't want to go on until she's painted up again." Abruptly, Mr. Andrews emerged on deck, still dressed in his dinner clothes. Ignoring the passengers completely , he walked straight past them and headed purposefully for the bridge
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