Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Titanic goes down 100 years ago

Our family has its own Titanic story.  My mother's aunt Astrid was traveling from Sweden to USA but the boat taking her to Southampton was delayed.  So she missed her connection to Titanic.  She was annoyed for a few days, of course, but when the news arrived that Titanic had been lost at sea, she was immensely relieved and spent most of the rest of her life believing that she was somehow God's little pet.

Astrid was hardly alone—many people sought religious explanations for this navel disaster.  Most people thought the main cause was hubris—believing that any ship was unsinkable was tempting fate.  Running a brand new and very expensive ship at full speed through a known ice field on a moonless night was not an exercise in sound judgment.  Not providing the crew and passengers with enough lifeboats was an exercise in mindless cost-cutting and certainly contributed to the significant death toll.  Etc.!  These explanations had one thing in common—they assumed that in the contest between the forces of nature and the ingenuity of man, man was destined to lose.  And something like the sinking of Titanic was God's way of demonstrating who was ultimately in charge and who would die for their sins of pride.  So the preachers have been using this example for 100 years now.

Those of us who require Producer Class explanations for events involving machinery have never been convinced that these religious and near-religious reasons explained much.  The biggest problem is that simply hitting an iceberg should not have resulted in a trip to the bottom.  It would have punched a large hole but in theory, the damage should have been limited to three or four compartments that could have been sealed off.  Titanic should have been able to limp into Halifax.  The passengers would have been greatly inconvenienced but virtually all of them would have survived.

Titanic was well named.  In 1912, it was as large a vessel as humans could imagine—let alone build.  She was 882 feet 9 inches (269.06 m) long with a maximum breadth of 92 feet 6 inches (28.19 m). Her total height, measured from the base of the keel to the top of the bridge, was 104 feet (32 m).  She measured 46,328 gross register tons and with a draught of 34 feet 7 inches (10.54 m), she displaced 52,310 tons.  She carried about 3300 passengers and crew.

(To put this into perspective, 100 years later the largest passenger ship afloat, the MS Allure of the Seas has a Length: 360 m (1,181 ft), Beam: 47 m (154 ft) waterline 60.5 m (198 ft) extreme, Height: 72 m (236 ft) above water line, Draught: 9.3 m (31 ft), Depth: 22.5 m (74 ft).  It displaces about 100,000 tons.  It holds 8600 passengers and crew.  Bigger to be sure, but only 300 feet longer after 100 years of evolving ship design.  In fact, the really BIG ships are the crude oil carriers. Tankers have grown significantly in size since World War II.  While a typical T2 tanker of the World War II era was 532 feet (162 m) long and had a capacity of 16,500 DWT, the ultra-large crude carriers (ULCC) built in the 1970s were over 1,300 feet (400 m) long and had a capacity of 500,000 DWT.)

The point is that Titanic was at the ragged edge of what was then humanly possible so tiny flaws would have outsized consequences.  In her case, it is most likely inferior rivets.  Because iron instead of steel rivets were used in the bow of the ship, a three compartment accident became a six compartment disaster.  The ship's design was fine but she sank because of poor execution.  The Steel Guru explains:
Researchers have discovered that the builder of the Titanic struggled for years to obtain enough good rivets and riveters and ultimately settled on faulty materials that doomed the ship.

The builder's own archives, two scientists say, harbor evidence of a deadly mix of low quality rivets and lofty ambition as the builder labored to construct the three biggest ships in the world at once - the Titanic and two sisters, the Olympic and the Britannic.

For a decade, the scientists have argued that the storied liner went down fast after hitting an iceberg because the ship's builder used substandard rivets that popped their heads and let tons of icy seawater rush in. More than 1,500 people died.

When the safety of the rivets was first questioned 10 years ago, the builder ignored the accusation and said it did not have an archivist who could address the issue.

Now, historians say new evidence uncovered in the archive of the builder, Harland and Wolff, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, settles the argument and finally solves the riddle of one of the most famous sinking of all time. The company says the findings are deeply flawed.

Each of the great ships under construction required three million rivets that acted like glue to hold everything together. In a new book, the scientists say the shortages peaked during the Titanic's construction.

"The board was in crisis mode," one of the authors, Jennifer Hooper McCarty, who studied the archives, said in an interview. "It was constant stress. Every meeting it was, ‘There's problems with the rivets and we need to hire more people.' "

Apart from the archives, the team gleaned clues from 48 rivets recovered from the hulk of the Titanic, modern tests and computer simulations. They also compared metal from the Titanic with other metals from the same era, and looked at documentation about what engineers and shipbuilders of that era considered state of the art.

The scientists say the troubles began when its ambitious building plans forced Harland and Wolff to reach beyond its usual suppliers of rivet iron and include smaller forges, as disclosed in company and British government papers. Small forges tended to have less skill and experience.

Adding to the problem, in buying iron for the Titanic's rivets, the company ordered No. 3 bar, known as "best" - not No. 4, known as "best-best," the scientists found. Shipbuilders of the day typically used No. 4 iron for anchors, chains and rivets, they discovered.

So the liner, whose name was meant to be synonymous with opulence, in at least one instance relied on cheaper materials.

Many of the rivets studied by the scientists - recovered from the Titanic's resting place two miles down in the North Atlantic by divers over two decades - were found to be riddled with high concentrations of slag. A glassy residue of smelting, slag can make rivets brittle and prone to fracture.

"Some material the company bought was not rivet quality," said the other author of the book, Timothy Foecke of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency in Gaithersburg, Md.

The company also faced shortages of skilled riveters, the archives showed. Dr. McCarty said that for a half year, from late 1911 to April 1912, when the Titanic set sail, the company's board discussed the problem at every meeting. For instance, on Oct. 28, 1911, Lord William Pirrie, the company's chairman, expressed concern over the lack of riveters and called for new hiring efforts. more
There are others who believe the problem of bad rivets was compounded by the inferior steel plates that made up the hull.  This theory has credence because, like the tale of inferior rivets, this is also linked to one of the lesser told facts of industrialization which is—British steel always had problems that came from the fact that her iron ore had a lot of phosphorus that was almost impossible to remove.  So the British Industrial Revolution was always hampered by shitty steel.  It is one of the significant reasons almost everyone who put their minds to it eventually passed the UK in industrialization.

In memoriam: Somber ceremony at sea marks 100 years since Titanic tragedy

16 April, 2012

Hundreds of people aboard two cruise ships took part in a candlelit vigil for the 1,500 people that died a century ago on the legendary Titanic.

Both ships arrived at the very place the Titanic sank a century ago, to mark the solemn occasion. One – the MS Balmoral – set sail from the UK, while the Azamara Journey left from New York, but both ships carried many passengers for whom the trip was very personal.

Jane Allen of Devon in southwest England, whose great uncle perished on the Titanic, said the moment vividly reminded her of the horror of the disaster.

“All you could hear was the swell splashing against the side of the ship. You could see the white breakers stretching out to sea,” she said. “You are in the middle of nowhere. And then you look down over the side of the ship and you realize that every man and every woman who didn't make it into a lifeboat had to make that decision, of when to jump or stay on the ship as the lights went out.''

Many aboard felt the same. The Journey’s captain said he needed a moment to himself when the ceremony began, because he was completely overwhelmed.

“I wondered how difficult it was for them on a night that was even colder than this,” the captain said.

The ceremony itself was both beautiful and heart-wrenching. An orchestra from New York City played Nearer My God to Thee – the exact same tune the Titanic’s orchestra played as the giant ship broke apart and sank in the middle of the night on April 15th, 1912.

Conductor Kevin Carpenter said it was a great honor to play at the event – to honor not only those who died, or their families – but the Titanic’s musicians as well.

“The musicians realized they were going to die and instead of fighting or running like cowards they just remained and did the only thing they knew how to do to make it easier for people who were scared and panicked,” he said on the ship’s deck after finishing the final lament. more

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