Stories tagged shipwrecks

There were northerly winds over North Atlantic in the months prior to the RMS Titanic leaving port. These winds likely played a role in pushing icebergs farther south than normal and into the Titanic’s path.

When the Titanic left port in Queenstown, Ireland on Thursday April 11, 1912, it sailed under brisk winds from the north-northwest at 15-20 knots and a temperature of about 50 degrees. Two days earlier, well to the west in Boston, MA, a few thousand fans shivered in the cold and snow flurries as the Red Sox beat Harvard University 2-0 in the first game ever played at Fenway Park. On April 12 the winds were from the west-southwest at about 15 knots and the noon temperature was about 60 degrees. As the ship continued westward, the skies got cloudier as a weak cold front approached. The noon time temperatures on Saturday April 12 were still around 60 degrees, but another cold front (associated with the previous Fenway snow flurries) was to the west and north of the ship. As the Titanic passed through the second cold front on Sunday April 14, the winds switched to northwest at 20 knots. The noon temperature was around 50 degrees but by 7:30 pm the temperature was 39 degrees. On Sunday, nighttime temperatures dropped below freezing and the skies cleared and the winds calmed. A large Arctic air mass was now over the area, along with a clear, star lite night, subfreezing temperatures and calm winds that resulted in a sea “like glass”. Icebergs where known to be in the region, but the calm winds made spotting them difficult. To spot icebergs during the night, lookouts searched for wind driven wave breaking around their bases. The ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14.

On Monday morning, after the sinking, one survivor reported a breeze that came up around dawn to add to the morning chill. Photographs of the rescue that morning show small waves on the ocean surface, confirming that report.

We just said bon voyage to the Titanic exhibit here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, but I came across this very interesting article about male behavior patterns when ships are sinking. Researchers have analyzed the behaviors of men on board Titanic (which sank in about three hours) and men on board Lusitania (which sank in 18 minutes). Which ship saw more "gentlemanly" behavior? Think about it and then read the results of the research findings right here.

Jul
09
2009

No iceberg needed: This drawing from Harpers Weekly in May 1865 showed the wreckage in the aftermath of the explosion aboard the Sultana while it was cruising the Mississippi River near Memphis. It's believed more people died in that accident than aboard the Titanic, which sank in the north Atlantic in 1912.
No iceberg needed: This drawing from Harpers Weekly in May 1865 showed the wreckage in the aftermath of the explosion aboard the Sultana while it was cruising the Mississippi River near Memphis. It's believed more people died in that accident than aboard the Titanic, which sank in the north Atlantic in 1912.Courtesy Thatcher131
Hanging around in the museum lobby yesterday, I came across a cute little exhibit put together by the Mississippi River Visitor Center. And the information is provided just blew me away.

Have you ever heard of the Mississippi riverboat the Sultana? I hadn't either, but it's story is a tale of even more tragedy than the sinking of the Titanic. Heading up river on April 27, 1865, with a overflow load of passengers, one of the Sultana's boilers suddenly exploded near Memphis, Tennessee. The ship was carrying mostly Union Army soldiers who had just be released from Confederate prisoner of war camps. It's estimated that up to 1,800 passengers died when the Sultana quickly sank. Slightly more than 1,500 passengers died with the sinking of the Titanic.

About 300 to 500 passengers were survivors. Due to the changing course of the river, remains of the Sultana were found in a bean field in Arkansas in 1982 about two miles away from the current path of the Mississippi River.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Read a narrative account of the Sultana here.

Feb
20
2009

The Danton: The 150 meter long Danton carried about 1,000 men, 296 of whom went down with the ship when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.
The Danton: The 150 meter long Danton carried about 1,000 men, 296 of whom went down with the ship when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.Courtesy Joao Carvalho
The BBC has really outdone itself today, as far as maritime archaeology goes—it’s running a story on how cool Elizabeth I’s naval guns were, and one on the recent discovery of a French WWI battleship, found 3000 meters under the surface of the Mediterranean.

The first story is based on the finds from another shipwreck, a small fighting ship from the late 1500s. Archaeologists and historians were surprised to discover that the cannons on the ship were all the same size and used the same size ammunition. Older ships had plenty of cannon, but they were often mismatched and not necessarily designed for fighting at sea. It appears that Elizabeth began to standardize England’s naval artillery earlier than people had though. This sort of efficiency allowed for England’s eventual naval supremacy of Europe, and contributed to worldwide political changes that still affect us today blah blah blah. Whatever—we’re still interested in those cannons.

The archaeologists actually had a replica of the recovered cannon built, so they could test its effectiveness. It turned out that it was very effective at making a loud noise and throwing a ball of iron very far, very hard. These smallish cannons would have been able to lob a cannon ball about half a mile, and could penetrate the oak hulls of other battleships at 100 yards.

Is it just me, or does almost all experimental archaeology involve weapons? (I’m not complaining.)

The other article is interesting because it demonstrates how some of the coolest shipwrecks are found: accidentally. This one was found by a company doing underwater surveys on the proposed route for an underwater gas pipeline. A large section of the pipe’s path goes through an exceptionally deep part of the Mediterranean Sean, a plain of seabed about 2,850 meters below the surface, and the company was surveying it with their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle—sort of a little remote control submarine.

The AUV spotted the French battleship the Danton, resting right side-up among a field of its own debris. Apparently the path the ship had plowed through the sea floor as it hit the bottom is still visible.

The Danton was sunk by a German submarine in 1917, but was supposed to have gone down several nautical miles away from where it was actually found.

Pretty cool stuff.

If you’re interested in shipwrecks and maritime archaeology, be sure to check out the Titanic exhibit coming to the museum this summer. We’ll be displaying, among other things, Leonardo DiCaprio’s undying love.

If you’re interested in the watery part of this stuff, and not the shipwrecks so much, maybe the Water exhibit that’s running right now is the place to start.

Later, mateys.

The bow of the Titanic: A picture of the bow of the Titanic 2.5 miles below the ocean's surface.
The bow of the Titanic: A picture of the bow of the Titanic 2.5 miles below the ocean's surface.Courtesy RMS Titanic

This summer the Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.

Here's a link to an interesting story on MSNBC about shipwrecks that capture the imagination. The article is pretty fluff, but has enough info to start a Google search on the shipwrecks that interest you. Check it out!