(Left: In 1898 Morgan Robertson wrote Futility, a novella that tells the rise and the fall of the Titan, the greatest man-made boat of all time.) 

“She was the largest craft afloat, the greatest of the works of man.” A “floating city,” she carried only as many lifeboats “as would satisfy the law.” Unfortunately, she hit an iceberg, “the only thing afloat she could not conquer,” and thousands were plunged into the icy North Atlantic, “their voices raised in agonized screams.”

This harrowing fictional scenario, contained in a story entitled Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, was penned by Morgan Robertson in 1898. A mere 14 years later, the scene was played out in real life when the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912.

When the last lifeboat had been launched, only two choices remained for those left behind: to go down with the ship or jump into the icy black waters of the sea. “Until I die, the cries of those wretched men and women who went down clinging helplessly to the Titanic’s rail will ring in my ears,” one survivor wrote. “Groans, shrieks and sounds that were almost inhuman came across the waters” to torment those afraid to rescue those in the water for fear of being sucked into the vortex or swamped.

The Titanic carried far too few lifeboats to accommodate its passengers and crew, which totalled 2,207. There were 20 lifeboats in all, including 14 with a capacity of 65, two emergency boats that could accommodate 40 each, and four collapsible boats that were designed to carry 47 apiece. The odds a male passenger would make it into one of these boats were 1 in 5.91. The odds for a woman or child were four times higher—1 in 1.44 (69%).

(Left: Titanic lifeboats approach the RMS Carpathia) Two of the collapsible lifeboats were never launched. If the remaining boats had been filled to capacity, 1,084 passengers (49%) could have been saved. But the crew was on its first sailing together and had not been properly drilled on the emergency procedures. Any passengers did not know where the lifeboats were, and some of those who did manage to make it to the upper decks were reluctant to leave a ship with watertight compartments and a steel hull for a tiny boat on the North Atlantic. There were enough life vests for everyone on board, but since hypothermia occurred quickly in the cold waters (survivors reported no voices after an hour and most froze within 15 minutes) they were useless for survival. In all, only approximately 705 people (32%) survived.

Captain Edward J. Smith went down with the ship. It was soon revealed that a friend who had crossed paths with Smith when he was captain of the sister ship Olympic, had queried the captain as to why there were so few lifeboats aboard the Titanic. Smith himself deplored the fact, and claimed to have gone to Belfast where the Titanic was being built to plead for additional boats. He was rebuffed, though not, he believed, because of the greed of White Star officials, but because they truly regarded their ships as virtually indestructible.

The empty RMS Titanic lifeboats in New York. 

The hearings conducted by the United States Senate and the British Board of Trade exposed the depth of both the the tragic miscalculations and the lack of preparation.

With sixteen watertight compartments that could be closed off if the hull was punctured, White Star officials believed that the ship would take many hours, if not days, to sink. One official went further when news began to arrive from wireless reports of a collision. “We believe the boat is absolutely unsinkable, and although the hull may have sunk at the bow, we know she will remain afloat.”

The Titanic was equipped with wireless technology that would allow it to contact other ships on the heavily traveled ship route on which it traveled between Southampton and New York City. Help would soon be at hand.
British regulations had not been updated since 1898 and did not take into account the large numbers of passengers on modern ships. The number of lifeboats was based on tonnage, and in fact the Titanic carried two more boats than were required.

Since most shipwrecks happen during storms, it was not thought possible for the crew to launch more boats. Ironically, the Titanic sank into a calm sea.

Although there was room on the deck for 12 to 20 more boats, it was decided that would make the deck appear cluttered.

Within weeks of the disaster, Congress had ordered all ships docking in the United States to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board. Compulsory drills were ordered as well. The one scheduled on the Titanic had been cancelled in favor of a church service, at which the following hymn had been sung:

Eternal Father strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave . . .

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea!


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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