Sunday, May 20, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 118 and ABC Wednesday

("S" is for "Ships")
There it was, the prompt for this week.
A yellow clown, yellow clown…
What could I make of this? What word association, what event could I be reminded of that would allow me to post something of interest?
Then I remembered, speaking of events, the ceremonies held last week in connection with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
The details of the Titanic disaster are now well known. The largest ship afloat at that time; it was the last word in comfort and luxury.
What on earth would a “yellow clown” have to do with that tragic event?
You may be aware that just ten or so miles away from the huge passenger liner as she foundered was another ship lying still in the water, the Californian. The captain of this vessel was one Stanley Lord. He had no idea when he went to bed that evening that beginning the next morning he would become one of the most reviled and most ridiculed ship’s officers in maritime history.
The newspapers of the day, around the world, told his almost unbelievable story, and began calling him names.
He knew the vessel ten miles away was the famous Titanic. He knew that it was firing rockets, which should have been recognized as signals of distress. He told his crew to contact the liner with the Morse lamp and ask what’s up, well aware that almost everyone on his ship was a novice when it came to operating that new-fangled gadget. If the Titanic got a message, their answer was not understood on the Californian. Cap’n Lord rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.
The only man on the ship who really knew Morse code was the radio operator – radio operators were called “Sparks” on the ships of that time – and he had signed off earlier and gone to bed.
Some time later the skipper’s sleep was interrupted again. His second officer was now very concerned. There had been a total of eight rockets fired off on the other ship; something should be done. Captain Lord was getting irritated; people kept bothering him. He said he knew all about the rockets. Use the Morse lamp again, he ordered, and went back to sleep.
The Californian was a ship similar to freighters I have served on. It was the same length and capable of the same speed – if “speed” is an appropriate word for 11-12 knots. It was a humble vessel indeed when compared with the majestic Titanic.
The more I learned the more I realized that Cap’n Lord was actually a pretty good seaman. In the middle of a very dark night – moonless – with small pockets of ice (known as “field ice”) all around, which meant there was a possibility of icebergs, he decided to bring the Californian to a stop and just sit there and wait for morning. With daylight he could find his way south out of the field ice and get on with his trip.
Which, of course, is what the Titanic should have done.
Later Lord was called a coward – a yellow clown? – because it was claimed he had been afraid his ship would have been damaged by the ice if he had tried to get over to the passenger liner. One suggestion was that he was a sociopath; he knew people were dying there by the hundreds and he just didn’t care.
Because of the sinking of the Titanic, the world learned what a remarkably haphazard system then existed for safety at sea. There were no standards or regulations as to the firing of rockets; they could indicate distress or, especially on passenger liners, entertainment. In the future radio operators should be on board all ships and regular Morse code watches kept.
What a morning that must have been aboard the Californian when, some time after six am the crew woke up and went to breakfast. Sparks then went up to sign on and start his day’s work; his shock must have been extreme with the searing knowledge provided by the excited messages on the wire - that a few hours earlier over 1500 people had lost their lives just a comparatively short distance away. And that the Californian could have saved them all.
Captain Lord hurriedly started his engine and headed for the scene of the wreck. His spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. Another ship, the Carpathia, had arrived there earlier and saved some 700 lives. Here’s a picture taken from the Carpathia of the Californian arriving to be part of the rescue effort – arriving some five hours too late. The Californian rescued nobody.
As I mentioned, I believe Steven Lord was a capable ship’s master. However, his great, fatal, mistake was when he was first awakened and told the other vessel was firing off rockets. He should have immediately gotten his radio operator out of bed and ordered him to sign on and find out what was happening with the Titanic. That simple move would probably have saved over 1500 lives.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)

44 comments:

Mama Zen said...

That's fascinating! I had never heard that piece of the story.

Linda said...

This tale of the Californian reminded me of more recent events on the Costa Concordia. One seldom hears of the scope of the incompetent responses to tragedies, but the stories are lessons to be learned and need to be shared more frequently, in detail. Thank you for this, Berowne.

Other Mary said...

That's amazing to me that only one person on board knew Morse code. I never knew...

Brian Miller said...

huh cool man, interesting way to go at this...i was wondering when the clown was going to come in...nice hit with it being the anniversary as well...just a bit crazy that only one knew morse code...

Leslie: said...

Shades of the Costa Concordia - both terrible tragedies!

Leslie
abcw team

Roger Owen Green said...

Amazingly sad story, still.

Wayne Pitchko said...

da di...di di.. da di da di...di...di da di...da di da di.....nicely done and thanks for sharing this

Karen S. said...

Yes, those poor fated people, there were a few if this or that and if only...I guess it's all a part of life and how we keep learning until we get the lesson right. Nice post!

Catfish Tales said...

Wow, what an INTERESTING read! ThX a mil!

Berowne said...

Thanks, Catfish - a nice comment.

Berowne said...

Wayne P: "Da di...di di.. da di da di...di," etc.
Reminds me of my first day in class as a midshipman. We were given the Morse code and told that we should have it all memorized - the next morning.

christopher said...

An intriguing bit of history. A yellow clown. Maybe not. Hind sight is often troublesome. I imagine that captain had difficult nights of his own in aftermath. I would have.

Helen said...

You certainly managed to post something of interest ~ great interest!

Berowne said...

Thanks so much, Helen.

Sue said...

Such a sad story it is and always will be.

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Lyn said...

What a burden to be labeled a yellow clown forever..Please don't stop your tales any time soon, "Sparks"!!

kez said...

thanks for a great read it's nice to see a different perspective on that tragic disaster ...how many of us say if only ! thanks for sharing x

Reader Wil said...

The sinking of the Titanic is such an enormous drama and the fact that many lives could have been rescued by the Californian, had the captain be more alert , is such a tragedy, that we can hardly take it in. You have written it well and very gripping. I wish you a very happy week and a lot of sunshine like we had today here in my country.
Wil, ABC Team.

Berowne said...

"I wish you a very happy week and a lot of sunshine like we had today here in my country."
Thanks, Wil - and a happy van Gogh to you! :-)

Berowne said...

Lyn: "Please don't stop your tales any time soon, 'Sparks'!!"
Thanks so much, Lyn. "Sparks"? Now there's a nickname I could be proud of. Except I've forgotten most of the Morse code. :-)

Reader Wil said...

Ha, ha...Vincent loved the sun and he painted sunflowers several times. Thanks.

Kathe W. said...

Whoa- never knew that part about the Titanic- what a cowardly stupid man. You amaze me with all the stories from the past.

Meryl said...

Such a sad tale, exceptionally well told. Thank you.

Ann said...

I wonder how the Captain of the Californian felt when he discovered what happened. Do you think he suffered years of "If only". How sad the crew of the Titanic didn't wait till morning. Great history=some of this I did not know.
Ann

Berowne said...

Kathe W: "You amaze me with all the stories from the past."
That's what I do - live in the past. :-)

Hildred and Charles said...

How often we live to regret 'the wrong decision' when we think we are making 'the right decision'...

Tumblewords: said...

Astounding event. I'd never heard this - thanks for the backstory.

Berowne said...

And I thank you, Tumble...

Rinkly Rimes said...

The Titanic's 'characters' are well-known, but this story is a tragedy of its own.

Berowne said...

True; the Californian's lesser-known story, was, as you say, a tragedy of its own.

MaryAnn said...

This is also a piece of information that I had not heard. Thank you for enlightening us.

Sheilagh Lee said...

A documentary that I saw on discovery channel said that he was probably much further away that the cold of the night actually made the ship seem closer but yes they could have attempted to see if they could have helped.

Terri Buster said...

Such a sad part of the Titanic's story.

Tess Kincaid said...

Interesting read Mr. B...

Berowne said...

As always, an interesting prompt, Ms K.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Thanks for this interesting and informative history lesson Berowne - I must admit that I never knew of this.

Anna :o]

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Wow. It's amazing how many interesting things you discover to share with us. This is another incredibly fascinating tale, well-told as well.

Berowne said...

My sincere thanks, Di Eats.

Hannah said...

Wow...I didn't know this part about the Californian. Such a cool thing that the yellow clown clicked right into place a meant to be moment for sure. I really enjoyed this offering in its entirety, Berowne.

zongrik said...

wow. that is amazing. i never heard about this. i'm wondering why this is such a scarce story.

i doubt Cameron will make a movie about this. ;)

Ms. Burrito said...

Beautiful!

My Ruby Tuesday post, come and visit when you can.

Daydreamertoo said...

I never dreamed anyone could link a clown to the sinking of the Titanic.
Full of facts and info I never heard before.

Jeannette StG said...

Thanks for telling this interesting background story:)

Robin said...

My sincere thanks, Di Eats.

 
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