Tag Archives: Titanic

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley?

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded...

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded, over one kilo, 22 kt gold sword handle once owned by 19th century pirate kings of Bali. It was part of a hoard of treasure hidden from the Dutch forces who invaded Java for the purpose of driving out the pirates. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August 3, 2016. I just came into information today that leads me to believe that some of this information in this one article might be incorrect. I have a mountain of research to do on this and will let you know the end results and will make corrections to this article if the results of my research warrant it. Thank you for you patience and understanding.

Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler (Photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian)

The controversy over who found the Hunley has gone on for almost two decades. Both men have many supporters who have continued the arguments and added some of their own. Many of these arguments treat opinion as evidence and fact, and attempt to attribute causes of the combatant’s opinion to actions of the opponent. To sort out all of the claims and counter claims could take years of research, and some would never be satisfactorily resolved because they are based in partisan opinion. So, where do we start?

The August 23, 2008, article in the Charleston Post and Courier by Brad Nettles concisely states each side’s case in an unbiased fashion, and gives us our starting point (this is the link to Brad’s article http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20080823/PC1602/308239956 ). The article was written at the time Cussler dropped his lawsuit against Spence. Since the US Navy, the National Park Service, and the Hunley Commission all credit Clive Cussler as the founder of the Hunley (see the article), Dr. Spence is in the role of the challenger. This is a good place to start.

We could start with the appeals Dr. Spence has filed with the Hunley commission over his discovery, but we will go back to Dr. Spence’s discovery in 1970 instead. We will also cover the claim of ownership of the Hunley by Dr. Spence. This will be enough to settle the matter. However, we will also address some of the opinions of the controversy. An area I do not normally go into, in the case of the Hunley I find it unavoidable, as opinion has begun to overshadow fact in some areas of the controversy.

One more important point before we begin an analysis of the evidence; Mr. Cussler and Dr. Spence work in two very different worlds. Doctor Edward Lee Spence is an academic. Spence’s discoveries and underwater archeological work is funded by universities, foundations, and governments. Universities, foundations, and governments that receive their funding from donations and tax dollars. Dr. Spence does not have to show a profit. However, to be successful and recognized in the academic world, his work needs follow the standards of, and be acceptable to the academic world.

Clive Cussler on the other hand works within the commercial world. Clive Cussler is a novelist, and before that, he worked in advertising. Mr. Cussler’s work in underwater discovery is his hobby. I say hobby because it is his passion and not his job. To say his work in this field is a hobby does not undermine his contributions to the field. Clive Cussler has been awarded an honorary doctor’s degree for his work in discovering underwater wrecks.

Cussler makes his living in the public, first in advertising and then as a writer. Cussler uses profits from his novels to pay for his underwater explorations. Cussler’s background also insures that he understands the importance of public relations and marketing can have on income and recognition (which also impacts income). Cussler uses his position as a bestselling author to help his searches for underwater wrecks. He also uses his discoveries of underwater wrecks for public attention, which helps to promote his books. In the business world, this is smart, killing two birds with one stone. In the academic world, this is frowned upon and considered vulgar by some. In the commercial world of advertising and writing, this is just part of another day’s work.

We Take The Field …

Just like Angus Smith in 1876, Dr. Spence said he found the Hunley, but gave us no proof other than the position where he claimed the Hunley rested on the harbor bottom. Dr. Spence provided no photographs or artifacts from the Hunley. Dr. Spence has people willing to testify he found the Hunley just as Angus Smith did (but PT Barnum never paid Smith the reward), in the academic world a good article in a peer-reviewed magazine is enough to seal a legacy. Outside the academic world, you need to follow accepted procedures recognized by the public and international judicial system. A good example is the RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10,...

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does anyone in the world doubt that Dr. Robert Ballard found the Titanic? No. Why? Because Dr. Ballard brought back photographs from his discovery. However, RMS Titanic Incorporated owns the Titanic because they were the first to bring an artifact in front of a federal judge and claim ownership of the Titanic. Unlike Dr. Spence, Dr. Ballard kept the location of the Titanic secret from everyone not just the public. Dr. Ballard was afraid that treasure hunters would remove artifacts from the Titanic if he made the location public.

English: Arlington, Va. (Feb. 26, 2009) Deep-s...

English: Arlington, Va. (Feb. 26, 2009) Deep-sea explorer and underwater archaeologist, Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for his historic discovery of the RMS TITANIC, speaks to military and civilian personnel at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) about the future of deep sea exploration and its application for the fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Ballard’s one regret is that he did not bring back an artifact from the Titanic (see Dr. Ballard talk about this himself at this link http://youtu.be/mPSzZKTN2G0) and claim the Titanic himself. Outside the academic world to claim ownership of a wreck (historic or a fishing boat lost last week) you remove an artifact from the wreck and report to the nearest admiralty court (federal court in the United States). In an admiralty court an archeological dig on an historic sunken ship is treated no different than a salvage operation on a modern ship lost last week. If the ship is considered abandoned (which usually means the insurance company paid the claim and wrote off the wreck as a loss on its financial books), you declare to the judge the position of the wreck you claim and present the artifact as evidence. The judge then gives you ownership of the wreck. Dr. Ballard did not have any artifacts from the Titanic and could not claim ownership, which would prevent other people from being able to remove artifacts.

Dr. Spence, on several of his web sites, repeatedly points out that he filed a claim for ownership of the Hunley in federal court. He goes on to state that since no one spoke out against his claim this means he owns the Hunley. What Dr. Spence does not mention is that his claim of ownership in federal court was dismissed by the judge. In the academic world, if no one disputes your claims, and you are a respected academic (which Dr. Spence is) your claims are accepted. In admiralty court, you need hard evidence to support your claims, which Dr. Spence does not have, and so the judge dismissed his claim of ownership.

Painting of the sinking of the Central America

Painting of the sinking of the Central America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the world of treasure hunting, the race to the nearest admiralty court can resemble a race scene from a Three Stooge’s movie. The first person in federal court with an artifact is awarded ownership of the wreck. When the SS Central America was found, a helicopter was waiting to fly an artifact to the federal court in Norfolk. Good thing, as several rival treasure hunting groups were following the searchers hoping to get to a federal court first so they could claim the SS Central America. Dr. Spence also filed a lawsuit claiming he found the SS Central America, which was again dismissed by the court (Dr. Spence never tried to claim ownership of the SS Central America, only that he found it). Dr. Spence seems to have had many of his lawsuits dismissed by federal judges.

Who owns the Hunley is a complicated matter better suited to courts than web sites, but here goes.

If the Hunley was owned by the confederate government, then at the end of the Civil War it became United States government property under the jurisdiction of the GSA (General Services Administration). If the Hunley was private property, in 1970, (when Dr. Spence claims finding the Hunley) the first person in front of a judge with an artifact from the Hunley can claim and be awarded ownership by the court. In 1995, when Clive Cussler found the Hunley the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1988 had already been passed which gives ownership of historic wrecks to the state in who’s waters the wreck is located.

CSS Hunley

CSS Hunley (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Seems simple, but this is where it gets complicated. A group of men who intended to use the Hunley as a privateer built the Hunley. They never intended to sell or give the Hunley to the Confederate government. A privateer, as I explained in an earlier article in this series, is a privately owned ship that is given a letter from a government to attack ships of a country it is at war with. Ok, fine, so if Cussler found the Hunley then South Carolina owns the Hunley. However, General Beauregard confiscated the Hunley after the second sinking and gave it to the Confederate Navy. Therefore, that means it was Confederate property and became United States property at the end of the war, and is under the control of the GSA. But, Captain Dixon persuaded General Beauregard to give the submarine back to the original owners, and the submarine was under the control of the original owners when it sank. Back to South Carolina right? Maybe. General Beauregard gave the submarine back to the original owners, but it is unclear whether he returned ownership or only gave them operational control of the submarine. As I said, ownership is complicated. Fortunately, the GSA turned over any interest in the Hunley to the United States Navy, which then donated the Submarine to South Carolina. So, in the end whoever had rights to the Hunley, South Carolina or the United States, it still ended up in possession of South Carolina legally.

No matter who could claim rights to the Hunley, Dr. Spence did not present artifacts to a federal judge with his claim of ownership and his case was dismissed by the judge. So, whoever had rights it was not Dr. Spence and he should have known this. If Dr. Spence did know this, then his claim of ownership is a publicity stunt to bolster his discovery claims.

Dr. Spence claimed that Cussler’s first public location was intentionally wrong to discredit his claim to be the one who found the Hunley. Cussler claims it was to protect the wreck from treasure hunters. Considering that after Cussler’s announcement the Hunley was found, hundreds of thousands of dollars were offered on the black market for parts of the Hunley, anything from the diving planes and the propeller to portholes; this makes Cussler’s claim sensible. Had the treasure hunters located the Hunley, parts of the submarine would have disappeared into private anonymous collections never to be seen again; something that has happened too many times with other shipwrecks, particularly since the passing of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988. Which is ironic since the politicians thought they were protecting shipwrecks with the act, which just goes to show that only honest men obey laws. By removing legitimate salvors and treasure hunters from the competition, that leaves only the thieves and archeologists, and the thieves have better funding.

H.L. Hunley - Downtown Charleston, SC

H.L. Hunley – Downtown Charleston, SC (Photo credit: Jason Barnette Photography)

The archeologists would have been better off getting congress to pass a law requiring archeologists on every treasure hunt or salvage. Some of the treasure hunters and salvors would have complained at first. However, with cooperation between academia and their commercial counterparts the treasure hunters and salvors would have soon found out that an archeologists could be of great assistance to them in their work. On the academic side, they would be able to collect more information working with treasure hunters and salvors than they would ever be able to get funding for through their normal channels.

Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum

Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum (Photo credit: mocr)

Mel Fisher, on his own in the 1960’s, was the first to realize the value of having a good archeologists on a treasure hunt. Unfortunately no one in the commercial, political, or academic world seems to have learned that lesson from Mr. Fisher. Political? Yes, Political. Politicians believe that it is not fair that salvors and treasure hunters should be able to make money from shipwrecks. The politicians think that objects of value are just laying around on top of the ocean floor, for someone to dive down and pick up, even though it took Mel Fisher two decades to find the wreck of the Atocha. The politicians want the state to get the money, in other words they want to be the ones who get to spend that money. Seem unbelievable? The state of Florida was so upset that Mel Fisher was finding millions “just laying on the sea floor” that they tried to defeat Mel Fisher in court and take everything he was finding.  When the courts (following salvage law) sided with Mr. Fisher, Florida created a new department in the Florida state government that was tasked with finding and recovering treasure from the sea floor. It did not take long for the state of Florida to realize that not only can it be hard to find wrecks, but also treasure hunters often spend more money to find the treasure than they recover from the wrecks. Florida quickly closed its new department and got out of the treasure hunting business.

Florida’s lesson has not distilled the disdain academics and politicians have for amateurs and professionals (despite the fact that amateurs have made so many discoveries in so many fields see my articles on my research methods). One of Dr. Spence’s articles on his blog starts off in big bold letters (this is a direct quote) “Comment by Dr. E. Lee Spence on Dr. Clive E. Cussler and his Alleged Discoveries. For Heaven’s Sake, Cussler Writes Fiction For a Living!” Dr. Newell, the academic who replaced Dr. Albright at the University of South Carolina also seems to have considerable disdain for non-academics. While researching this series I found several different articles which claimed to quote Dr. Newell. I discovered that the quotes claimed anything from — a joint expedition with NUMA — to a SCIAA (University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology) expedition to confirm Dr. Spence’s claim paid for in part by NUMA, during which Cussler was not even present (they seem to ignore the fact that the 1995 discovery followed the 1980, 81, and 94 searches). I went back and looked at these claims chronologically and realized that the first claims seem to match Cussler’s, but as time goes on the claims seem to change lessening Cussler’s involvement in the hunt for the Hunley.

There are two other things I noticed concerning Dr. Newell’s and Dr. Spence’s claims concerning NUMA and Clive Cussler.

First, when Dr. Newell’s statements about the joint expedition are examined and compared with past expeditions of NUMA and Cussler the claim is inconsistent with Cussler and NUMA’s past expeditions. The claims are also inconsistent with the 1980 and 1981 searches for the Hunley (under Dr. Albright, Dr. Newell’s predecessor) and the 1994 search for the Hunley when Dr. Newell was already heading SCIAA .

Second, Dr. Spence also claims that Ralph Willbanks had a copy of his just released book (which gave Dr. Spence’s location of the Hunley) with him on the search boat when Ralph found the Hunley. Here is the problem with that statement. The book in question is Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The “Real Rhett Butler” & Other Revelations by Edward Lee Spence published January 1995. The Hunley was found by Ralph Willbanks on 3 May 1995. So from the end of January to the beginning of May, basically February, March, & April, three months. The publish date is when the book goes to the printers. Publishing, with all the high tech advantages including the internet, is faster today than it was in 1995. When I am planning my publish date for a new book of mine I start with the date I would like my book to be available with online retailers and count back five to six months. That earlier date is the deadline for when I need to have my book with my distributors (e-books are much quicker). I also know that from the time I up load my book to my distributor to the earliest date I can get the first copies for myself is ten to twelve weeks.

So, you can see the time problem with Dr. Spence’s claim, that a book published in January 1995 was hand delivered by him to Ralph Willbanks before Ralph discovered the Hunley on May 3, 1995. It would be difficult for me to have a book published in January of 2012 and hand deliver copies to someone by 3 May 2012, even with the advancements that have taken place in book publishing since 1995. Though it may be possible (I believe more likely) that Dr. Spence gave Ralph copies of his newly published book shortly after Ralph found the Hunley.


If Dr. Spence would have brought back with him an artifact from the Hunley, then if he had taken that artifact into a federal court to claim ownership of the wreck, there would be no controversy surrounding who found the Hunley. Also, Clive Cussler would not have spent $130,000 looking for the Hunley in 1980, 1981, 1994, and 1995. Mr. Cussler would also not have had to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a seven year court battle with Dr. Spence.

Did Dr. Spence find the Hunley? I do not know. I do know that Dr. Spence believes he found the Hunley. I also know that Clive Cussler did not know where the Hunley was when he started his search. Clive Cussler’s men brought back photographs and video. Also, by looking at his past work, if Cussler had been given the location to the Hunley he would have dove on the sub and listed it under “wrecks surveyed” and not under “wrecks discovered” at the NUMA website and in his non-fiction book’s index.

There is more I could write about, such as Dr. Spence’s faith in the accuracy of navigational charts; a faith that based on my at sea use of navigational charts I do not share (nor do the men of the USS San Francisco, as well as other ships). However, I believe these 3200 words give the reader enough information to come to an independent conclusion to determine for themselves if it was Cussler, Dr. Spence or both men who found the Hunley.


Hunley (Photo credit: sfgamchick)

To learn more about the discovery of the H.L. Hunley by Clive Cussler we recommend The Sea Hunters, by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo.

To learn more about Dr. Lee Spence’s discovery of the H.L. Hunley we recommend Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The ‘Real Rhett Butler’ and Other Revelations by Edward Lee Spence.

Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

The Hunley Blue Signal Light

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley


Filed under New

Commander John Edward Smith: Captain R.M.S. Titanic

Statue of Captain Edward Smith in Beacon Park,...

Statue of Captain Edward Smith in Beacon Park, Lichfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday’s article, Titanic: The HMS Hawke, The SS New York, & Captain Smith, will introduce you to a side of Captain Smith no one has seen for 100 years.

Walter Lord said that “… ships had gotten too big for Captain Smith.” The celebrated Titanic author said that Captain Smith wandered away in a daze after the disaster, and described Captain Smith as indecisive.

One blogger on wordpress wrote such a tirade on Captain Smith it hurt my eyes just reading it.

For 100 years Captain Smith has been maligned. Now you will discover the rest of Captain Smith’s story, and you will discover why so many have gotten Captain Smith wrong.

The evidence has been right in front of our eyes for 100 years. It needed a mariner and researcher to identify the clues and point them out for the rest of the world to see.

Nothing surmised or made up, just connecting the dots of over looked and seemingly meaningless actions, misunderstood evidence, and testimony.

Authors and researchers describe Captain Smith as a man admired and respected by subordinates, peers, seniors, and passengers alike. They describe how Captain Smith never raised his voice with subordinates, and yet was always, willingly, and enthusiastically obeyed by juniors. Then they proceed to describe him as outdated and indecisive during the disaster.

There is a reason professional mariners admired, respected, and enthusiastically followed Captain Smith; and this Sunday’s article will reveal those reason’s to you.

Edward J. Smith, captain of the Titanic

Edward J. Smith, captain of the Titanic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comments Off on Commander John Edward Smith: Captain R.M.S. Titanic

Filed under New, ships, Titanic

A Review of: Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic – A Centennial Reappraisal

The conclusion of, Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic – A Centennial Reappraisal, is that First Officer Murdoch waited for 30 seconds after Frederick Fleet rang the crow’s-nest bell three times (signalling an object directly in front of Titanic). My review is based on Samuel Halpern’s article 30 Seconds Lost, which is based on his book, Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic – A Centennial Reappraisal.


The article’s conclusion is based on testimony by Robert Hichens and supported by testimony from other men on duty at the time, men who gave testimony at the 1912 investigations. Unfortunately, as stated for the record in the transcripts, the officials of the Wreck Commissioners’ Court (the 1912 British investigation) found Hichens testimony conflicting. If you read his testimony from both investigations I am sure you will agree. The commissioners concluded that Mr. Hichens statements as to the events that took place was accurate, but his timing was off. Yet, none of the conflicting information is presented in the new report.

Robert Hichens was doing the best that he could, considering the enormous stress he was under. This was Hichens first time crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The crew was new to him, as was the ship. Also, Titanic was more than twice the size of Hichens’ former ships. While in the lifeboat he appears to have had some trouble with at least one of the passengers, though there is conflicting reports of what happened. After Hichens testimony as a witness at the United States Senate investigation he asked to make a statement:

     Mr. HITCHENS.  I would like to make a little statement as regarding Mrs. Mayer’s statement in the newspapers about my drinking the whisky sir, and about the blankets. I was very cold, sir, and I was standing up in the boat. I had no hat on. A lady had a flask of whisky or brandy, or something of that description, given her by some gentleman on the ship before she left, and she pulled it out and gave me about a tablespoonful and I drank it. Another lady, who was lying in the bottom of the boat, in a rather weak condition gave me a half wet and half dry blanket to try keep myself a little warm, as I was half frozen. I think it was very unkind of her, sir, to make any statement criticizing me. When we got to the ship I handled everyone as carefully as I could, and I was the last one to leave the boat, and I do not think I deserve anything like that to be put in the papers. That is what upset me and got on my nerves.

As if this were not enough, Hitchens was on his way back to Southampton and his family on the steamship Lapland when he was put into the pilot boat and sent back so that he could testify before the senate. Hitchens did not know, at the time of his testimony, if the White Star Line would pay for his return passage or if he was on his own. Add all of this and the disaster he had just survived and it is understandable if some of his testimony was contradictory.

Hichens also stated he was never given any helm order other than hard-a-starboard, later he was questioned about this:

1314. You were given the order to hard-a-starboard? – Yes.

1315. Was that the only order you had as to the helm? – Yes.

   Mr. Holmes: Because, if your Lordship will remember, the evidence of the Witness Scarrott on Friday was quite the contrary, when he came up on deck.

   The Commissioner: What did he say?

   Mr. Holmes: He said that the ship appeared to be under a port helm, and appeared to be going around the iceberg towards the starboard side.

   The Commissioner: Did he say so?

   The Attorney-General: Yes, I think so.

   1316. (Mr. Holmes.) It is Question 354. (To the Witness.) She never was under a port helm? – She did not come on the port helm, Sir – on the starboard helm.

Obviously this was not true, others had witnessed Titanic on a port helm and the scientific evidence bears this out. If what Hichens said was true, Titanic would have been damaged along the entire starboard side of the ship.

Mr. Halpern also quotes lookout Lee, who was on duty with Fleet, to bolster his assertion that Mr. Murdoch waited 30 seconds to turn Titanic.

From 30 Seconds Lost:

Fleet was just going back to his place on the port side of the crow’s nest after leaving the loud speaking telephone, located on the aft starboard side of the nest, when he saw the ship veering to port. He had just finished calling down to Sixth Officer James Moody in the wheelhouse to report seeing an iceberg ahead. This call came a few moments after he struck the bell three times to warn the bridge that some object was sighted ahead. As soon as he recognized that the object was an iceberg, he went to the loud-speaking telephone and rang them up:

I asked them were they there, and they said yes. Then they said, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘Iceberg right ahead.’ They said, ‘Thank you.’

Fleet then came off the phone to go back to his place on the port side of the nest when, according to Fleet, “My mate [Reginald Lee] saw it and told me. He told me he could see the bow coming around.” This has led Fleet to believe that the ship started to go to port while he was at the telephone. However, according to his lookout mate Reginald Lee:

As soon as the reply came back ‘Thank you,’ the helm must have been put either hard-a-starboard or very close to it, because she veered to port, and it seemed almost as if she might clear it, but I suppose there was ice under water.

Clearly, Lee was saying that the helm must have been put hard-a-starboard soon after Moody’s reply of “thank you” was given to Fleet, not before. And we know from Hichens that Moody repeated what Fleet had just reported on the phone to First Officer Murdoch who then gave the order to put the helm hard-a-starboard and then rushed to the engine telegraphs to ring down orders to the engine room.

From their vantage point high up in the crow’s nest, Fleet and Lee watched as the ship veered to port “a little over a point, or two points…until the iceberg was alongside of her.” The iceberg then seemed to strike “just about in front of the foremast” on the starboard side.

Clearly what Mr. Lee testified to was not physically possible. If Titanic had been put hard-a-starboard after Mr. Moody said “Thank you” it would have taken approximately 10 seconds before Titanic would have “veered to port.” If Titanic veered to port as soon as the reply came back “Thank you”, then clearly the order was given as least 10 seconds before.

Also, with tests on the RMS Olympic it was determined to take 37 seconds from the time the order hard-a-starboard is given for the ship to turn 2 points (this was on a continuous left turn, with no turn to the right). This is supported in the ship handling tables of the United States Navy for ships of this size at the speed of 22.5 knots.

Next, the article reports the testimony of quartermaster Olliver, who was on the compass stand between the second and third funnels:

When I was doing this bit of duty I heard three bells rung up in the crow’s nest, which I knew that it was something ahead; so I looked, but I did not see anything. I happened to be looking at the lights in the standing compass at the time. That was my duty, to look at the lights in the standing compass, and I was trimming them so that they would burn properly. When I heard the report, I looked, but could not see anything, and I left that and was just entering on the bridge just as the shock came. I knew we had touched something.

But Mr. Olliver also said this during his testimony, which is not in Mr. Halpern’s article:

Senator BURTON. Do you know whether the wheel was hard-a-port then?

Mr. OLLIVER. What I know about the wheel – I was stand-by to run messages, but what I knew about the helm is, hard aport.

Senator BURTON. Do you mean hard-a-port or hard-a-starboard?

Mr. OLLIVER. I know the orders I heard when I was on the bridge was after we had struck the iceberg. I heard hard-a-port, and there was the man at the wheel and the officer. The officer was seeing it was carried out right.

Senator BURTON. What officer was it?

Mr. OLLIVER. Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, was stationed in the wheelhouse.

Senator BURTON. Who was the man at the wheel?

Mr. OLLIVER. Hichens, quartermaster.

Senator BURTON. You do not know whether the helm was put hard-a-starboard first, or not?

Mr. OLLIVER. No, sir; I do not know that.

During emergencies it is common for a person’s estimate of time to much slower or much faster than actual time. This is why observations from witnesses of events must be compared with physical and scientific evidence. Several witnesses saw the iceberg along the side of the Titanic with the stern of Titanic moving away from the iceberg. We know that the damage was only along about 300 feet of the ship. Taking into account Titanic’s speed, this would mean Titanic was in contact with the iceberg for about 10 seconds. According for Mr. Wilding, Mr. Andrews’ successor, it would take about 10 seconds for the wheel to be put over hard-a-starboard from an amidships or center position. In order for Titanic’s stern to be moving away from the iceberg (towards the port or left side of the ship) the bow had to be moving toward the right or starboard side of the ship. If it takes 10 seconds to turn the wheel from a centered position to hard-a-starboard, it would also take 10 seconds to move the wheel from hard-a-starboard to a centered position. But that would not turn the ship to starboard, so obviously the hard-a-port order had to have been given before Titanic struck the iceberg. (Remember, in 1912 these orders were reversed, port orders to the helm turned the ship to starboard, and starboard orders to the helm turned the ship to port.)

So, let’s look at the events as Fleet and Hichens describe them, add what we know (according to physics) must have happened and see what we get.

Fleet said the ship turned about one point to port and Hichens clearly stated the ship turned two points to port (one point is 11.5 degrees). We know Titanic was, at some point, turning to starboard because only 300 feet of the ship was damaged.

1. Order given “hard-a-starboard” at time T-0

2. 10 seconds (at T-0 + 10 seconds) later the wheel is hard over, and the ship will have turned about 2 degrees to port.

3. 23 seconds (at T-0 + 23 seconds) Titanic has turned one point to the port ( 11.5 degrees to the left). Hard-a-port order is given.

4. 35 seconds (at T-0 + 35 seconds) the rudder passes through the center position on it’s way to hard-a-port.

5. About 3 seconds after that (at T-0 + 38 seconds) Titanic’s bow stops swinging to the port (left) at about 19 degrees, or almost 2 points. From this point on the bow will be turning towards the right (starboard) and the stern will be swinging towards the port (left).

6. 43 seconds (at T-0 + 43 seconds) the rudder reaches hard-a-port, and has now been completely shifted from hard-a-starboard to hard-a-port.

Hichens was looking at the compass and could see nothing outside of the wheelhouse, which is inside the enclosed bridge. Hichens testified that the blinds in the wheelhouse were closed, and were always closed at sunset. Fleet had no compass. Fleet’s statement of heading is a rough estimate. It is possible that what Hichens remembers is the maximum swing of the bow of the ship before it started to come back to the right, but this is only a guess.

Remember also, Mr. Murdoch was not looking at a compass. He was watching the approach of the iceberg, he was trying to time his right turn based on the position of the iceberg to the ship.

The six steps I gave above are based on tables from the United States Navy on handling characteristics for a ship the size of Titanic at the speed Titanic was going. They do not represent the exact times as they happened on the Titanic on the night of 14 April 1912. But they are close and we know this sequence of events must have happened. Scarrott saw Titanic’s stern moving to the left away from the iceberg (Titanic turning to the starboard on a port helm). We know that only 300 feet of Titanic was damaged.

One other point. Before the 3 bells were rung by Fleet, Mr. Moody was in the wheelhouse (Hichens testimony) and Mr. Murdoch was on the bridge wing. If Mr. Murdoch was thinking for those 30 seconds as Mr. Halpern suggests, Mr. Moody would have immediately picked up the bridge phone answering the lookouts. As Hichens stated in his testimony, everyone knew what 3 bells meant. As the junior officer in the wheelhouse, that was one of Mr. Moody’s duties. As I stated in my article Titanic: “Iceberg Right Ahead!” – Conventional Chronology Wrong (http://wp.me/P1MLkF-70) Mr. Moody could not answer the phone when it rang because he was already standing behind Hichens to ensure Hichens was carrying out the hard-a-starboard order.

Fleet was on the phone for about half a minute as he stated, because Mr. Moody could not pick up the phone on the bridge. Moody was watching Hichens turn the wheel. Moody reports the wheel is hard over, hears Mr. Murdoch acknowlegde his report, walks to the phone answers and relays the lookout report to Mr. Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch orders hard-aport. Fleet is off the phone and Titanic’s bow has turned one point to the port (left). The bow continues to swing to the left while Hichens is turning the wheel to hard-aport. Before the wheel is over hard-aport, the bow begins to swing back to the right and Titanic hits the iceberg.

Everyone, on the bridge and in the crow’s-nest, would have adrenalin coursing through their veins at this time. Not only were these 30 seconds stressful, but there were many things happening in quick succession. How well do you think your memory would hold up?

If you look once more at those 6 steps again you will notice that 23 seconds after Murdoch gave the order hard-a-starboard Titanic would have turned about one point. When you do not have a watch (the lookouts testified they did not), and with the stress of the moment, 23 seconds could seem like “half a minute”. Also, if we take into account the errors in his testimony that we can prove, and we look at the 6 points again. We notice that at about 23 seconds Murdoch would have given his hard-a-port order. It is possible, this is a guess, that those 23 seconds seemed to be half a minute as Hichens testified and he was remembering the hard-a-port order that came after “half a minute” and not the hard-a-starboard order. Hichens clearly stated no hard-a-port order was given, physics clearly shows there was a hard-a-port order given, as does the testimony of other crewman.

Clearly Mr. Halpern’s chronology is wrong. We will never know if Mr. Murdoch gave his “hard-a-port” order 21, 23, or 25 seconds after he gave the “hard-a-starboard” order. But, we know he gave it. We also know that if Mr. Murdoch had waited 30 seconds after Fleet rang the bell before giving the hard-a-starboard order, Titanic would have still been turning to the left and the stern would have been swinging to the right, into the path of the iceberg when the iceberg struck. At Titanic’s speed, even if Murdoch would have ordered “hard-a-port” when the iceberg struck, Titanic would have taken about 38 seconds before Titanic’s bow began to turn to the right (step 5 above). At Titanic’s speed she would have traveled more than 1,000 feet in 38 seconds, Titanic would have been opened to the sea along the entire starboard side.

I could go into more detail, however a 3,000 word article is quite enough for now. Look for my upcoming article on Murdoch’s “hard-a-port” order for the conclusion on this topic.


Filed under New, ships, Titanic

Titanic: Murdoch Waited 30 Seconds Before Turning. Really ???

In the book, Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic – A Centennial Reappraisal, Samuel Halpern puts forward the theory that First Officer Murdoch waited 30 seconds after Fleet rang the warning bell 3 times, then he ordered hard-a-starboard. (At the bottom I have given a link to an article Mr. Halpern wrote about this.)

If you have read my articles, Titanic: Left Turn Only Myth (click to read article http://wp.me/P1MLkF-6x) and Titanic: “Iceberg Right Ahead!” – Conventional Chronology Wrong (click to read article http://wp.me/P1MLkF-70) you know this is not possible.

I will write a full article on Mr. Halpern’s theories, but I wish to address a couple of points in his theory now.

First. Mr. Halpern states Mr. Murdoch did not give the hard-a-port order until after Titanic had struck the iceberg. In addition to what I stated in my article, Titanic: Left Turn Only Myth (click to read article http://wp.me/P1MLkF-6x), a ship does not move like a car. A ship slides across the water as if it were on ice. A car has traction on the road, but a ship does not have traction on water. So, Titanic turning to the left (port) has the bow swinging to the left (port), and the back 2/3’s of the ship swinging to the right (starboard) towards the iceberg. Titanic’s momentum would have continued to push the stern of the Titanic against the iceberg opening up the entire right (starboard) side of Titanic, if the Titanic was still turning to the left (port) when it hit the iceberg. This we know is not true.

Second. Mr. Halpern depends heavily on the testimony of the man at Titanic’s wheel, Quartermaster Hichens. Then he looks for supporting testimony from other witnesses. The memory of a person is subjective, the laws of physics are not. If a part of Hichens’ testimony conflicts with the laws of physics then that part of his testimony must be rejected, and it puts into question the rest of his testimony (read my articles My Research Methods click to read http://wp.me/P1MLkF-9C) and My Research Methods: Part Two (click to read http://wp.me/P1MLkF-bZ) . One point of testimony that Hichens gave, and Mr. Halpern does not bring up, is that Hichens states he was never given a hard-a-port order. This we know is not true because of physics and eyewitness testimony.

Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet, Titanic’s lookout who spotted the iceberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do want to say that Mr. Halpern’s article is well written and does bring up valid points. However, I am writing an article that will address these points and show that for many reasons, his theories are not only wrong, but not possible. (This is the link to my follow-up article http://wp.me/p1MLkF-Cv).

Here is a link to Mr. Halpern’s article http://www.titanicology.com/Titanica/30_Seconds_Lost.pdf

Comments Off on Titanic: Murdoch Waited 30 Seconds Before Turning. Really ???

Filed under New, ships, Titanic

Titanic Shoes: Myth & Reality

Shoes on the bottom of the ocean with the wreckage of Titanic have been getting quite a bit of attention. But what do the shoes really tell us? First let us see what people are saying.

On the Titanic web site The Unsinkable RMS Titanic (http://www.titanicstory.com/discover.htm) is a photograph of Titanic shoes with this description:

” … it is important to remember that the sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy which took about 1500 human lives. One of the most compelling and disturbing images is a photograph of a pair of shoes. That image makes us realize that this is not just a pair of shoes, but the shoes that belonged to a person.” (The photograph below is the one referenced in the quote, the caption is mine).

This image, from the Titanic wreck, has been used in many books and on many web sites. Some even going as far as to say these shoes were on a body that disintegrated. If that were true they would fsten the same way, the left shoe fastens on the outside of the shoe and the right shoe does not. Not a normal way of fastening shoes, Shoes either slip on, fasten infront, or BOTH shoes fasten on the outside.

Here are more photographs of shoes from the Titanic from around the web.

There are four shoes in this photograph from Titanic's wreck. The two shoes in the foreground have a heel of different heighths, but are reported as a pair of shoes from a disintegrated body.

The photograph below is of a pair of shoes with what is most probably a coat. James Delgado, the director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said, “These are not shoes that fell out neatly from someone’s bag right next to each other. The way they are laid out makes a very compelling case that it is where someone has come to rest.” The left boot (one at the bottom) would have an ankle at a 90 degree angle to the right boot. I can put my feet into that position, but it is not a normal way for feet to fall. What are the chances that a dead body could fall through more than 12,000 feet of water and end up like that? Not very good. Try putting your feet into that same position, once you are there, now imagine falling over 12,000 feet through water and having your feet land like that … naturally.

This is a pair of shoes from the Titanic wreck. However, the angle of these shoes to each other makes it doubtful there were feet in them while they were laying like this. It is possible that one of the shoes has been moved slightly by the ocean currents.

To many, every shoe represents a body that was on the ocean bottom with the Titanic. This is not true. I do not intend to say no one sank with the Titanic, quite the contrary. Mr. Shepherd, an engineer, broke his leg in boiler room number five. Engineer Harvey and Leading Stoker Barrett carried him to the number five pump room. When the bulkhead wall collapsed Harvey and Barrett barely had enough time to escape and had to leave Mr. Shepherd in the pump room, where his remains are to this day.

Those who claim a body for every shoe are jumping to conclusions without investigating the facts. One web site quotes Dr. Ballard as pointing to an image of a pair of shoes on the deck of Titanic near the railing and saying “Those shoes did not just land like that, there was a body in them.” If someone had been at that location when the Titanic sank, they would have been washed off the deck as the ship fell through 12,000 feet of water.

The leather suitcases remain today on Titanic because they were made from tanned leather. However, not everyone on Titanic could afford leather suitcases. Titanic’s seaman and engineering crew would have used ditty bags made from cotton or canvas, and many of the third class passengers would have used the same. Also, just as today, there would have been luggage made from cloth that would have disappeared in the decades right after the sinking. Shoes packed together, just has we do today, would then be left on the ocean floor beside the clothing they were packed with, without any signs of the luggage they were in. The photograph below appears to be just that.

Titanic shoes laying on what appears to be several layers of clothing.

Those who point to every shoe on the ocean floor and say, “There was a body there”, would have us believe that 1500 people are now on the ocean floor around the Titanic. Why would they do this? Read the other statements these same people have made, they want nothing brought up from the Titanic. Some of these people want everything that has been taken returned to the Titanic. Here is a quote from the web site starryskies.com (http://starryskies.com/articles/dln/5-02/titanic.html):

“RMS Titanic Inc. salvor in possession of Titanic have removed over 6000 artifacts from the wreck area. They claim they are increasing our knowledge of Titanic and her passengers, but little has really come of it, other than a lot of people paying to see the artifacts. There are many people however, who refuse to go see the artifacts, saying that it is wrong to remove them , that the wreck is a graveyard. And that statement, is very true.”

… and …

“Robert Ballard felt that all that was needed to learn was to use pictures and remotely controlled robots, and indeed, this is how we have learned the most. He also believed that taking the artifacts away from the site was both unethical and changed the whole context of what it meant, sort of like taking only one piece of a jigsaw puzzle and trying to figure out the picture. I tend to agree. ”

I disagree with Kathy A. Miles and Charles F. Peters II (copyright holders and purveyors of starryskies.com). Here is the evidence I put forward to support my view (also from the web).


An article in the UK Daily Mail that lists just 12 of the hundreds of tweets on Twitter from people who did not know Titanic was real. They thought it was just a movie.

I do not work with my daughter, Elizabeth, on my lap, she knows that daddy writes about ships and daddy used to be in the navy, but that is about the extent of what she knows about daddy’s work. I do not talk Titanic with my 5 year old daughter. When the Titanic Exhibit was in Columbus Elizabeth’s mother insisted I take her to see the exhibit. I always avoid things like that, but I took Elizabeth. While we walked through the exhibits Elizabeth liked the models, displays of period clothing, and recreated rooms. When we got to the personal things brought up from Titanic, Elizabeth began to get quiet. I was trying to think of how to explain this to a 5 year old little girl when she turned up to me and said “Daddy, what happened to the people?”

I told her, “They died Sweetheart.”

She asked, “The kids too?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. That is why it is important for us to remember, so it will never happen again.”

“Daddy, I won’t forget.”

No, Elizabeth will never forget what happened. At 5 Elizabeth knows what those adults on Twitter did not, people died, kids too … Titanic was real. This is why it is important for some artifacts to be brought up and shown. Do we need 6,000 artifacts to show? No, we do not, but we do need to show some of the artifacts. It is impossible to deny the tragedy when you are faced with the results only inches from your nose.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s there began an attitude among every day people that we need to protect whales from hunting and dolphins from being killed during tuna fishing. Coincidence? There are no coincidence in life.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Marineland of Florida (www.marineland.net) was getting 500,000 visitors a year. Marineland was started in 1938. In 1964 four UCLA graduates started Seaworld with a few dolphins, sea lions and 6 attractions, they had 400,000 visitors in their first 12 months. For decades school children have gone on class trips (I went on class trips to Marineland as a child). After the shows, the kids are brought up to meet the trainers and marine performers. These dolphins and killer whales are real to these kids. They petted them and had a chance to look those animals in the eye. When those children, as adults, learned dolphins and whales were in danger, they acted.

I do not like dolphins and orcas being tank animals,but those tank animals have saved the species. I hope children always have a chance to look into the eyes of a dolphin and fall in love with them.

Being able to see, for yourself, and sometimes hold artifacts; creates a personal feeling, an attachment to an event like the sinking of Titanic that no book or TV program ever will.

Is the Titanic a grave? Yes, it is. At least for Mr. Shepherd, it is and that is enough for me. Kids being able to see a dolls head that a child on Titanic loved, a child who died on Titanic, will do more to protect Titanic than these well intended people will.

Mr. Peters, Ms. Miles, and Dr. Ballard are well intended. However, if they claim a body for every shoe, without verifying there actually was a body in those shoes, then someone will come along and prove that not every shoe represents a body. When that happens, all the good work they tried to do will be undone. Good intentions are not enough reason to skip research or to lie.

Titanic needs to be protected. I am betting that when Elizabeth grows up she will want shipwrecks protected too.

“… little has really come of it, other than a lot of people paying to see the artifacts.”

Really Mr. Peters? I don’t agree, I will never forget it. I know a 5 year old little girl that will never forget it. Just as my generation step forward to protect marine animals because of Marineland and Seaworld, Elizabeth’s generation will step forward to protect the Titanic and shipwrecks because of RMS Titanic Inc.

Mr Peters and Dr Ballard may not like that, they may not agree with that. That is ok, PETA and SPCA, don’t like Marineland and Seaworld either, but it does not change the fact that me and other little kids like me grew up and put money and our time into protecting whales and dolphins, because of the animals we fell in love with at those marine parks..


Glad you asked. Read the testimony of the survivors of Titanic and each says, everyone they saw was wearing life vests. I am sure some people were not. I know Mr. Shepherd was not, probably Mr. and Mrs. Straus too. Mr. Guggenheim and his valet took theirs off. However, out of the 2200 people on Titanic, it would not be an exaggeration to say that most likely over 2100 people were wearing life vests. One web sites says that there were not enough life vests on board Titanic. Really? Titanic had 3,560 life vests on board, more than the number of people the ship was allowed to carry, certainly more than the 2200 people on board.

What does the life vests have to do with bodies on the Titanic wreck site? A cork life vest, like those on Titanic, when submerged in water for 48 hours only gains 3% weight from water. There was a current to the south of about one knot (one nautical mile), in 48 hours a person from Titanic in a life vest in the water would have floated about 48 miles south of Titanic. The last person found floating from Titanic was found, in a life vest, hundreds of miles from where Titanic sank 6 weeks after Titanic sank. The people in life vests, by the time those life vests became water-logged, would have sank to the ocean floor far from the site of Titanic wreckage.

There is never a good reason to be “loose with facts”, or to knowingly say something that we know to be untrue. Good intentions is not a good enough reason to skip important research or to lie. We need to know exactly what happened and why to prevent this from ever happening again (it has happened again since Titanic sank, but with less loss of life). Inaccuracies will only hurt our efforts, we must be as accurate as we can at the time we make our statements. Inaccuracies only detract from our work at prevention.

We must prevent this from ever happening again, that is the true memorial to those who died with Titanic.

1 Comment

Filed under New, ships, Titanic