Thursday, March 31, 2011

Replica of Titanic's Bow

A new item was recently unveiled at Titanic Quarter (formerly known as Queen's Island) in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The following video explains:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that."

Captain E.J. Smith, the ill-fated master of the Titanic, often boasted that he had lead a rather uneventful life at sea. After the White Star Liner Adriatic completed her maiden voyage in 1907, he said the following:

When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident... or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.
Captain Smith then went on to utter some rather fateful words. While maintaining that modern shipbuilding had become perfect, he stated that if any sort of disaster did occur that there would be enough time to save every soul aboard before the ship sank.

I will go a bit further...I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.
Five years later, Captain Smith was tragically proven wrong when the Titanic went down in the icy North Atlantic - taking him down with her to the depths.

References: "Disaster At Last Befalls Capt. Smith," New York Times, April 16, 1912.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Queen Mary Tartan

RMS Queen Mary was built in Clydebank between 1930 and 1936, where she became a symbol of British determination and Scottish engineering. The ship is still considered by many to be one of the finest ocean liners to have ever set out across the tough North Atlantic. It's been since the Queen Mary was retired to Long Beach that a special tartan was created specifically for her. The colors are highly symbolic and represent certain aspects of the ship and her heritage.

Black, white and red symbolize the Cunard Line - the company that operated the ship for 31 years.

Purple stands for the connection to the British Royal Family.

Blue is for the ocean.

Grey symbolizes the Queen Mary's service as a troop transport during the course of World War II.

Gold is for the ship's new home: the Golden State of California.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Memory of Elizabeth Taylor

Legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor passed away on March 23, 2011 at the age of 79. She was, as friend Debbie Reynolds mentioned, "the most glamorous star of our generation."

I won't attempt to eulogize Elizabeth Taylor: so many others have done that far more eloquently than I ever could. But I do want to tell of something rather special that did happen aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth during the 1960s.

Debbie Reynolds' husband, Eddie Fisher, had left her to marry Taylor - his best friend's widow - in 1959. This proved to be a tremendous scandal that brought unwanted publicity to all parties involved. Although Fisher and Taylor divorced, there was an understandable coolness between the two friends. But Debbie Reynolds did eventually forgive her:

It was after many years. I'd remarried and she'd remarried. I was going to London on the Queen Elizabeth ship and I looked up and I saw tons of luggage going by me and birdcages and dog cages and nurses and I realized Elizabeth was on the same ship as me. I almost changed my mind about going but my husband said, 'Don't be silly, we won't be on the same floor. Of course we were so I sent a note to her room and she sent a note back to mine saying that we should have dinner and get this over with and have a good time. Because we were very good friends when we were 17 and went to school together on the MGM lot. And we had a wonderful evening with a lot of laughs.
The friendship that was renewed aboard the Queen Elizabeth in the 1960s lasted for many years and sadly came to an end yesterday morning. Elizabeth Taylor will be missed by legions of fans to be sure.

References: Nicki Goston, "Debbie Reynolds Forgave Elizabeth Taylor on a Boat," PopEater, March 24, 2011, under Movie News, (accessed March 24, 2011).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winsor McCay's "The Sinking of the Lusitania" (1918)

The First World War had already torn the globe apart by the time the United States became involved in 1917. Propaganda posters, cartoons and films flourished in an effort to produce anti-German sentiment within the nation. Many of them have since become iconic. One of them is particularly interesting - an animated documentary on the Lusitania disaster of 1915. It was created by the famous cartoonist, Winsor McCay (of "Gertie the Dinosaur" fame) in 1918.

Although the film is clearly a piece of anti-German propaganda, it nevertheless gives an interesting interpretation of the sinking. Some of the facts are incorrect, such as when it says that U-39 attacked with two torpedoes (it was U-20 with one). It is important to be mindful of this while watching the film. McCay, however, is able to show what happened with remarkable detail and clarity using nothing more than simple animation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Titanic's Whistles

In 1993, a set of whistles from the ill-fated Titanic was brought to the surface after 81 years at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. They were restored and - in 1999 - blown for the first time since the grand ship's sinking in St. Paul, Minnesota. Compressed air was used instead of steam, due to concern that the whistles may be irreversibly damaged.

The following footage comes from the YouTube account of sanderroijk:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bogart "sure as hell showed us who was Master, and a mad one at that!"

Over their long careers, sea captains often obtain rather interesting stories and anecdotes from their passengers. Included among these were accounts from actors regarding their films and co-stars. The following was recounted in Captain Bob Arnott's book, just as QE2 was sailing from Hawaii:

Van Johnson came aboard to sail with us back to the States, and I chatted with him about some of the films he had starred in over the years. 'I really enjoyed your performance in The Caine Mutiny,' I remarked to him at my party the first night out after Honolulu.

'Well, as a master mariner you would,' he said, 'but I guess like many on that set I was a little overwhelmed by Bogey.'

'You mean Humphrey Bogart?'

'I do indeed,' said the tall, greying actor. 'D'ya know he learned his seamanship from Katie Hepburn in The African Queen?' I smiled, and Johnson went on: 'Don't get me wrong, Captain. Bogey was only half your size, but he sure as hell showed us who was Master, and a mad one at that, on the Caine set.'

References: Captain Robert Harry Arnott, Captain of the Queen: The autobiography of the most famous sea captain of the all. (London: Quadrant Books, 1982), 209.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

When Victoria Met Mary

March 3, 2011 marked a rather historic event: the Queen Victoria visited the legendary Queen Mary at her retirement berth in Long Beach, California. Hundreds of people gathered at the old liner's stern to catch a glimpse of this new Cuanrd Queen.

The Victoria departed from Berth 93 in nearby San Pedro at around 5:00 in the evening and arrived at the Mary close to 6:10. She was greeted with fireworks as she drew nearer, which were shot out of the funnels at times - as well as from the pier and rocks surrounding the ship. It was a most impressive display! What followed then was a whistle exchange with the Queen Victoria initiating. The two ships bellowed back and forth at each other across the water, which proved to be a rather moving experience! It seemed that Mary and Victoria were really speaking to each other. A music program followed, which concluded with an impressive barrage of fireworks that sent everyone looking upwards in awe.

With that, the Queen Victoria turned around in place (something that the Mary could never do by herself!) and headed back out to open sea. It was definitely a magical experience for those who attended!

God save the Queens!