("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.
What on earth would a “yellow clown” have to do with that tragic event?
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 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.
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.
1 year ago