The “Titanic” film earned well over three
billion dollars at the box office, making it the third highest-grossing movie of all
time. However, as I was watching it, a question popped into my head. Why didn’t people try
climbing on the iceberg to get out of the water?
Because …it was too slippery. Okay, thanks for joining me today on Bright Side…oh wait,
there’s more? Right. Back to our story. At first, this seemed to be an easy fix, but
as I started to look into it, I found some logistical problems that would make it more
like a frozen nightmare than a frosty lifeboat. Hm, a frozen nightmare. Does anyone else suddenly
want to see Elsa fight Freddy Krueger? Nobody steal that idea! I think I just found my ticket
to Hollywood. In the meantime, let’s talk about slopes.
Ice slopes to be specific. You probably don’t need me to tell you that an iceberg isn’t
just a giant ice cube in the ocean, but it’s essential to draw a distinction between an
ice floe, and an iceberg. (We’ll save Ice Capades for another time.)
A floe, spelled F L O E, is a flat mass of ice found drifting in the ocean. Much like
icebergs, they’re the result of Arctic ice breaking away from a larger shelf. But that’s
pretty much where the similarities end. A floe is low, flat, and relatively shallow,
while an iceberg is none of those things. You may have heard the expression “tip of
the iceberg”. Well, the towering spire of frozen water you know and fear is only a small
part of the iceberg’s mass. The bulk of an iceberg is found under the water, and this
is the part most dangerous to passing ships. Ramming into a giant hunk of anything is never
good, but when the damage is underwater, things go from bad to worse pretty fast.
Ice floes can be hazardous, but the concern is that a ship might get pinned and crushed
between two of them instead of sinking outright. This is only a real possibility when close
to or within the Arctic Circle. The Titanic may have been in the North Atlantic, but not
quite that far north. No, the Titanic hit an iceberg, and if you
look at any picture of an iceberg, you’ll see that they can get quite steep. Sure, some
might be scalable, but others are nothing but sheer cliffs of jagged ice. Best case,
it would be like climbing a mountain; worst case, a frozen cliffside.
There are several images purported to show the iceberg that did the deed, but the most
likely culprit is this one here. Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly
strike me as an easy climb. Now imagine trying to pull that off in the
dark, using only your hands and maybe a bit of rope, and surrounded by over a thousand
other confused and freezing people. And don’t imagine for a second that it would be an orderly
evacuation either. Remember, while the lack of lifeboats was a big problem for the Titanic,
a much bigger one was the fact that more than half left only partially full.
If that could happen, do you really think the crew would be able to maintain order while
getting a small army’s worth of passengers onto a slippery pile of ice? Would people
even be willing to give it a chance? Remember, the Titanic didn’t sink the moment
it made contact with the ice. It actually took a full two hours and forty minutes to
go under. While that would give the crew more time to evacuate the passengers, the danger
wasn’t apparent the whole time. When the order was delivered to don their life jackets, many
treated it as a joke. When it came time to board the lifeboats, many passengers were
reluctant, believing themselves safer on the big warm ship than the tiny open boats.
That was part of the reason the first boats out were among the emptiest. If people were
that reluctant to board escape craft until it was almost too late, how were the crew
going to convince them to clamber atop a freezing lump of ice?
People wouldn’t start changing their tune until much later, once the ship began to visibly
tilt. Once that happens, it would be chaos as people crowded the gangplank and struggled
across the surface of the iceberg. Making matters worse is that if too many people
tried to cross the plank at once, it could end up snapping. This wouldn’t only throw
everyone into the freezing water, but they’d also risk being crushed between the iceberg
and the hull of the ship. The lifeboats could be used to help with the
evacuation, but presented their own problems. If the people who took the gangplank would
have trouble moving across the berg, scaling the slopes from the surface of the water would
be even more difficult. And frankly, if you were on a lifeboat, would
you want to trade it for a giant hunk of ice? These are all big problems that would’ve
made evacuating to the iceberg unfeasible, and we haven’t even gotten to the biggest
one on the list: reaching it. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
At first, this might seem strange. How can you not be close enough to the thing you just
crashed into? That’s like, the ultimate level of proximity.
Well, the Titanic didn’t exactly grind to a halt the moment it hit the iceberg. As you
might have guessed, the ship’s helmsman had been trying to steer away from the ice before
the collision. Instead of ramming into the iceberg head on, the Titanic merely grazed
its side, swapping paint in history’s worst fender-bender.
Ironically, they might have been better off with a front-on collision. While there would
have still been flooding on the lower decks, the water would have been confined to only
a few of the compartments. The Titanic was designed to stay afloat with up to four of
the sixteen watertight compartments flooded. The glancing blow caused a breach in six,
which astute viewers will notice as being two more than the maximum number.
Curse you, math, you’ve struck again! There’s also a possibility that the impact
would’ve lifted the Titanic’s bow out of the water. Either of these could’ve prevented
the ship from sinking, or at least delayed the inevitable by several additional hours.
None of this is to say that we should think any less of the Titanic’s captain for not
steering directly into a giant lump of ice. Lots of things are easy to come up with in
hindsight but might not have been apparent at the moment. Can you think of any other
“obvious” solutions to historical problems that would have been anything but? Why don’t
you let me know down in the comments? Anyway, a glancing blow meant the Titanic
wasn’t stopped in its tracks. It’s estimated that the Titanic was clipping along at around
22 knots, about 24 miles per hour for landlubbers. That might not seem very fast, but a 52,000-ton
ship is going to have a lot of inertia to overcome. In the almost three hours following
the impact, the Titanic drifted at least another mile and a half.
In the middle of the night, it’s debatable if you’d even be able to find the iceberg
again, let alone attempt to ferry everyone across. The captain would’ve had to steer
his ship back to the iceberg, something that might not have even been possible given the
circumstances. If you were him, would you waste your limited time sailing in circles?
There are plenty of things that could’ve been done to avoid or mitigate the Titanic
disaster. Most of them, such as more lifeboats and better emergency training, would have
needed to occur long before the ship left port. While escaping to the iceberg makes
for an interesting idea, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a good one. If anything, attempting
it could have made the disaster even worse. On that note, I’m off to start working on
that Frozen Nightmare movie. I mean, it works on so many levels! Hey, Let It Go!
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or right, and stay on the Bright Side of life!