Life Aboard the Titanic

The ship’s orchestra began playing in the First Class Dining Saloon as the Titanic made her way down to the English Channel. At one o’clock, the ship’s bugler sounded the call for luncheon. The fresh April winds had kicked up a mild chop in the Channel, but the Titanic never felt it. Already the passengers were commenting on how smooth the ship’s engines were–scarcely any vibration could be felt, a tribute to the care and attention to detail the Harland and Wolff engineers had lavished on them. Off to starboard lay the Isle of Wight, its landmarks easily visible in the bright sunshine. In short order Culver Cliff, Sandown Bay, Shanklin Cline and eventually St. Catherine’s Bay and its high chalk cliffs were left behind as the Titanic ran down the Channel, making for her first port of call, Cherbourg.

While the passengers were settling in, the crew were going about the business of establishing a shipboard routine. Watches were set, work crews detailed, the stewards busied themselves laying out the First Class passengers clothes for dinner or directing Second or Third Class passengers to appropriate dining rooms. Second Officer Lightoller was just beginning to feel confident, after almost two weeks on board, that he could finally make his way from one point in the ship to another by the most direct route. Down on D Deck the masseuse, Maud Slocombe, was busy collecting the odd beer bottle or half-eaten sandwich left behind in the Turkish Bath by the shipyard workers.

The sun sank low on the horizon, bathing the approaching chalk cliffs of the French coast in a reddish glow. Soon a lighthouse perched at the end of a long breakwater appeared, marking the entrance to Cherbourg Roads. Dropping anchor in the Roads, just off the Cap de la Hogue, the Titanic was met by the tenders Nomadic and Traffic. A late-afternoon squall sprang up, kicking up a swell strong enough to cause the two tenders to bounce rather alarmingly up and down as they the drew alongside the Titanic, striking the side of the ship occasionally. Nevertheless, the passengers, baggage, and mail were taken aboard without incident, and by 9:00 p.m. the Titanic had turned around and left Cherbourg behind, shaping a course for Queenstown.

As the Titanic pulled away from Cherbourg, the more experienced passengers soon settled into familiar routines, while those new to transatlantic travel wandered about the ship, taking in all the marvels of this wonderful new vessel. As the First Class passengers were sipping their after-dinner liqueurs or coffee, the ship’s orchestra began playing on A Deck, the first of what was to be a nightly occurrence, the after-dinner concert. By 11:00 p.m. the concert had run its course, and the passengers began to drift off, some to retire for the night, others to relax with friends in one of the smoking rooms or lounges, while others set out for further exploration. Even as jaded a palate as that of jounralist William Stead was impressed. In a letter posted at Queenstown the next day, he wrote in frank admiration, “This ship is a monstrous floating Babylon.”

In the late morning of April 11 the Titanic steamed within sight of the Irish coast as the grey mountains of Cork slowly rose over the horizon. It was a cold morning, and few passengers were inclined to brave the brisk wind to sun themselves on the open decks, preferring to watch the approaching shore from one of the enclosed promenades or public rooms. The south coast of Ireland is one of the loveliest landfalls in Europe, with its high granite cliffs, often topped by some lonely, ruined castle or signal tower, standing like a sentinel over innumerable coves and beaches and the impossibly green fields and pastures stretching out behind them. Soon the Old Head of Kinsale hove into view, a familiar sight to any transatlantic traveler, with its rocky promontory topped by a tall lighthouse, often used by the skippers of passenger liners as a landfall and navigational fix. Just around the headland lay Cork Harbour.  As the Titanic approached the Daunt Lightship, a few miles south of Queenstown, she slowed to take on the pilot, then proceeded majestically toward the harbor. The passengers could now see the twin forts guarding the entrance to the harbor, as well as the crowds of people lining the shore who had come out to watch the new ship being guided into Queenstown.

They had started gathering hours before, some coming from as far away as Cork City, by land a twenty-mile trek around Cork Harbour. This was a seafaring crowd, every bit as knowledgeable as the one that had seen the Titanic off at Southampton the day before, and it watched with admiration as the new ship glided past the Heads, slowly rounded Roche Point, and dropped anchor two miles off shore.

The twin tenders Ireland and America drew alongside the Titanic and began transferring passengers and mail. There were 130 new passengers taken on, young Irish men and women who for the most part had never been farther than one or two days’ journey away from their homes, as well as almost 1,400 sacks of mail; the handful of passengers that had only booked passage as far as Queenstown left the ship.

A small flotilla of bumboats followed in the wakes of the two tenders, filled with vendors of various sorts hawking their wares. Several of the more respectable looking people were allowed on board, and for an hour or so the after Promenade Deck was transformed into an impromptu open-air market for Irish laces, linen, ceramics, and porcelains. John Jacob Astor was so taken by a lace jacket that he paid $800 for it on the spot.

As soon as the last passenger and sack of mail had been transferred, the Titanic‘s whistles gave a long blast, a signal for the tenders, bumboats, and any nearby small craft to stand clear. Gangways were dropped, lines cast off, and, with a ringing of telegraph bells, the great ship got under way again. Another stop at the Daunt Lightship to drop off the pilot, and the Titanic was clear of the Irish coast, standing out into the Atlantic. Captain Smith continued to shape his course just a few miles off the coastline, to give his passengers the full benefit of the splendid view. In short order the Titanic had left the Old Head of Kinsale behind, followed by Courtmacsherry Bay, the Seven Heads, and the well-known massif of Galley Head.

By midafternoon she was past the Stags and Kedge Island, and around teatime the Fastnet Light was in sight. For years afterward the tale would be told around many a supper table, beside an evening fire, or at the bar of the local pub about how father, son, daughter or wife, had seen the Titanic that day. The image of her grace and beauty would remain indelibly etched in their memories as she raced past, her upperworks gleaming in the bright April sunshine.  By nightfall Ireland had been left behind, and many of the Irish immigrants gathered on the stern to catch a last glimpse of their homeland. Whatever fortunes would befall them in America, it was doubtful that many of them would ever have the money or the opportunity to return.

With the weather expected to be clear and calm for the next few days, none of the Titanic‘s officers anticipated anything more than a routine crossing, with, of course, the usual teething troubles that accompany any new ship. Yet even those seemed more noticeable by their absence. Harland and Wolff had done a splendid job on this new ship, and the Titanic‘s officers, staff, and crew settled into a routine of daily shipboard duties.

For the next three days the Titanic steamed calmly across the Atlantic, fair weather accompanying her the entire way. The passengers had quickly grown accustomed to the new ship, and the experienced travelers had indulged in what had become a ritual on the transatlantic liners: the first night out they consulted the passenger list, looking for familiar names. The list itself had been printed in a neat little booklet for them, the White Star Line being used to their wealthier clients’ little ways.

In Third Class, although without such amenities as squash courts, stationary bicycles, or a mechanical camel, the steerage passengers had made themselves very much at home. Suddenly finding themselves with more leisure time on their hands than they had ever had before, the English, Irish, Swedish, Finnish, German, and Italian immigrants slowly began to try to get to know each other, often with generations of suspicion and prejudice, not to mention language barriers, to overcome. It was not an easy process, and for the most part the various nationalities tended to stick together. But there seemed an inordinate number of musicians among the steerage passengers, and almost every night there were dances in the common areas of Third Class. The steerage passengers seemed quite happy with their accommodations and there were remarkably few complaints. No one could deny that the poop deck, at the stern of the ship, offered some of the most spectacular views of the sea. Because it was an exclusively Third Class area, the steerage passengers would gather there in large numbers during the day.

At noon every day, the captain and his officers would gather on the port bridge wing, each with a sextant in hand. They would each take a series of sun sightings to work out the ship’s precise position, which would then be recorded in the ship’s log, along with the distance covered in the previous twenty-four hours. As with most other liners of the day, the Titanic held a sweepstakes for the passengers to wager on the day’s run. Once the noon sun-sightings were taken and the distance known, the ship’s siren blew and those passengers who had placed bets would gather in the First Class Lounge to await the results. On Sunday morning, April 14, a rumor had sprung up that the ship was going faster than it had yet, and when the day’s figure was posted it seemed that it was true, for the ship had covered 546 miles in the past day, a speed of nearly 22 1/2 knots–bettering the previous day’s run of 519 miles, and making the day before that–a mere 386 miles–seem positively poky by comparison.

Also on Sunday morning, after breakfast was over, for the crew came a faithfully followed Sunday ritual of a passenger ship at sea: the Captain’s Inspection. It was an impressive sight: Captain Smith leading the way, followed by the Department Heads–the Chief Officer, the Chief Engineer, the Chief Steward, and the Purser, all in their best uniforms. From top deck to bottom, bow to stern, and through all the public rooms, they visited every accessible part of the ship. Normally after the Captain’s Inspection would come Boat Drill, but to the crew’s less than secret relief, this Sunday the Boat Drill was inexplicably canceled.

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