Thursday, April 21, 2011


Lately I've become very interested in shipwrecks.  I'm not sure why.  Once in awhile, though, the urge to learn more about shipwrecks just strikes me.  (I'm really missing the Shipwreck Central website right now; it went down last September.  It was a very informative site, and they had a fantastic interactive map of shipwrecks from all over the world, many of which included dive videos.)  Naturally, the most famous shipwrecks are the ones I've found the most on, including what is possibly the most famous and notorious of all, the RMS Titanic.

Perhaps it's because we recently passed the 99-year anniversary of the Titanic disaster.  It's almost surreal; I've grown up with an awareness of the great ship, whose collision with an iceberg and disastrous disappearance into the ocean early in the morning on April 15, 1912 led to an appalling loss of life and many important changes to maritime law.  After the sinking, she was not to be seen again until 1985 when a team led by Dr. Robert Ballard found her lying off the coast of Newfoundland; indeed, I'm told that many people thought that she'd never be found.  One of the world's worst peacetime disasters at sea, perhaps made all the more striking because of the safety features that had been built into the ship, the Titanic disaster has held people's imaginations for nearly a century now.

I was a couple of months from turning three years old when Ballard's team found the ship's wreck, but I remember the excitement (I found out about the ship's discovery while watching TV with my parents), though I had no idea what it meant.  All I knew was that something important had happened.  And of course, what nearly-three-year-old really needs that much of an excuse to get excited about something? ;)  I kept hearing names that meant nothing to me, like Alvin and Jason, and although my memories of that time are kind of hazy (I was, after all, very young), I do remember feeling like something very important had just happened.  Maybe I even knew, on some level, at least, that a certain fascination with this disaster would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Or maybe I was just more vulnerable to the power of suggestion back then. ;)

Anyway, I'm not quite sure what to make of my interest in shipwrecks in general and the Titanic in particular.  Maybe I'm not immune to the morbid curiosity that leads, among other things, to rubbernecking at the site of really bad automobile collisions.  Maybe that early exposure to the story of the Titanic affected me more than I think it did.

Or maybe it's just because of all the stories that have come out of the disaster; I've always loved a good story, and so many of the stories that have come from the sinking of the Titanic—the ship's band playing as long as they could, almost to the end, Benjamin Guggenheim allegedly refusing a lifebelt and declaring, "We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen," the Countess of Rothes caring for steerage passengers during and after the sinking, Margaret Tobin Brown (who is better known now as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown") helping others to board lifeboats and doing her best to get the lifeboat she was in to go back to look for survivors of the sinking, Ida Straus' refusal to leave her husband Isidor, and the public outcry against J. Bruce Ismay for getting onto a lifeboat when so many other men didn't, among many others—are such fascinating stories.  And let us not forget the HMHS Britannic, Titanic's sister ship which was still being built at the time of the disaster, and which was given many improved safety features as a result of the Titanic's sinking, which struck a mine and ended up sinking anyway, and in less time (about 55 minutes) but with far less loss of life (about 30 people who were in lifeboats that the ship's captain didn't know had been launched; he had ordered the crew to try to get the ship as close to land as possible, so the propellor was still turning though it was mostly out of the water, and unfortunately those two lifeboats got smashed by the propellor blades with tragic results for the people within).  I've suspected for a long time that the Titanic disaster has remained so much in the public consciousness exactly because tragedies like this make such interesting stories.

Anyway, whatever the case, I think that I can probably expect my interest in shipwrecks to endure for some time yet.  It never really goes away, of course, but now I'm feeling it a bit more than I usually do, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts, as callous as that may sound, considering that most unintended shipwrecks involve a significant loss of life.

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