Current Events, Writing

In the Days When Titanic Meant Hope…

Today is the 100th anniversary of the launching of Titanic. A “launching” is not when a ship first sails as a finished product. It’s the day the builders move the ship’s completed hull to a dry dock for fitting out – the interior, in other words.

The ship would be “launched” into the water from its original construction slip. It was always a Big Deal at Harland & Wolf Shipyards, a day of celebration by the entire town, with city officials and reporters in attendance. For Titanic, and many other big ships, it was an international event, with reporters coming in from All Over.

The link above is to the centenary celebration held today in Belfast, at their newly built Titanic Quarter.

On May 31, 1911, Harland & Wolff had more going on than Titanic’s launch. It was also the day that Titanic’s older sister,Olympic, returned from her sea trials and was turned over to her owners at White Star Line. Thomas Andrews presided over Titanic’s launch, then sailed with Olympic on her maiden voyage. As he would be later on Titanic, he head the Guarantee Group from Harland & Wolff. Their job was to make sure the ship worked perfectly, to fix anything that came up during voyage, and help the crew acclimate to the new vessel. Now, that’s customer support!

I’ll lift a glass to Titanic and her builders – those thousands of men who shared in the glory and hope of this day. To add to the festivities, here’s an excerpt from my book, The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, showing the scene at Harland & Wolff when they launched Titanic.

Excerpt from TTJ: Shipbuilder (remember, this is Alternate History, not a factual recounting of Thomas Andrews’ life):

On the thirty-first, Tom was at the shipyard by five in the morning, having gone to bed close to midnight. Before leaving, he held each of his sleeping children for a minute. He would be gone six weeks, and every moment he would miss was pushing down on him.

The day dawned bright, with a sky of deep blue. The air was already warm at eight o’clock, when Lord and Lady Pirrie arrived with J.P. Morgan and Bruce Ismay. Tom continued to supervise the final steps taking place on the dock and in the water, including the removal of any buoys, and the placement of tugs and flagboats to move the ship after her launch. He made sure the flagpole was secure in the stern, and with George helping him, unfurled the flags and hooked them to the pole: the flag for the White Star Line, and a series of white flags spelling out the word “SUCCESS.” The flags would be raised moments before the ship was launched.

At eleven, they opened the gate for spectators to take their places. Jack Andrews reported to his uncle on the dock, ready for duty. Tom inspected him sternly: shirt tucked in, hair combed underneath the cap, shoes clean. Jack bore the inspection well, standing tall and straight, torn between gawking with wonder at the huge ship just a few feet in front of him, and watching his uncle for any sign of displeasure, which could result in his being packed off to the stands with his Aunt Casey and Dr. Altair. Tom made him bear it for only a moment. Then he smiled and clapped the lad’s shoulder, turning to the foreman who stood nearby. “Ho, Albright. Here’s your final worker to help with the blocks.”

“Aye, Mr. Andrews.” Albright motioned for Jack to follow him, and Tom sent him on before continuing his inspection of the boilers. He looked up in time to see Jack join the crew, take a hammer, nod seriously at the instruction given him, and with an authoritative whack!, send the block falling onto the dock away from the ship. The men cheered, and Tom flushed in delight at the look on Jack’s face. Such a simple thing, but the boy would remember it his entire life.

They were ready. Lord Pirrie began his final inspection of the ship, walking up and down the dock on both sides before turning to an examination of the hydraulic launching equipment. He and Tom then walked back to the owner’s gallery, and Lord Pirrie gave the signal.

A rocket was fired and the flags were raised. In the stands, Casey held onto Sam’s hand with a fierce grip and stared in near horror as the ship, which in another time had claimed her husband’s life, slowly moved back and settled into the water. In just over a minute, Titanic was floating, and the anchors and ropes easily brought her to a halt. The excited crowd roared its approval. Jack, next to Sam, jumped up and down, yelling with delight. Standing still amid the tumult, Casey had eyes only for her husband, as he stood in the owner’s gallery and accepted congratulations from those around him.