A night to remember

April 16, 2012

By Chris Helgren

The weather was calm, the stars and crescent moon shone and the water lapped gently against the hull as three wreaths were tossed into the sea above the Titanic wreck, 100 years after she went down.

It seemed every one of the MS Balmoral’s 1300 guests, dressed against the cool night air, was crammed onto its terraced decks aft, craning for a view of the event. And at 2:20 when the wreaths went in, all was silent. As Philip Littlejohn, the Titanic historian later noted, these details mimicked what would have been happening during the disaster itself – a black night, no light bar that of the doomed liner, and when she went under, silence.

Taking it all in was Belfast writer Susie Millar, who wept at the handrails over the stern, watching as the wreaths floated into the blackness out of sight. She told me, “I thought of people in the lifeboats as Titanic sank, who didn’t know whether they would be rescued or not. It all happened (the memorial) in real time and I thought that people wouldn’t have had time to say all their goodbyes, it happened so fast. It was a night I’ll never forget”.


Concert pianist Ronan Magill of London said that it hit home when they read out the names of the victims on the Balmoral’s intercom. “All you can do is stare at the sea and imagine”, he said. “I thought of the foreigners and how their bewilderment would have been magnified by all the activity going on around them as the ship sank”. Adam England, of Huntington Beach, California said, “We stayed up until dawn and saw what the Carpathia (rescuing ship) and the lifeboats would have seen as the rescue operation was underway”.  Wine merchant Rick Noble of Austin, Texas, whose grandmother’s first cousin Dan Marvin disappeared when he went to fetch a warm coat for his newlywed wife Mary from their cabin, told me that the Titanic had always been a part of the family’s history. “Since my grandmother passed away in 1976 it was a type of closure”, he said.

By the late morning, life had returned to normal –for a cruise ship. Under a warm sun, as we continued on to Halifax, my fellow passengers were making good use of the outdoor hot tubs and sun beds.

And a new rumour was taking hold.. that there were icebergs about. Captain Robert Bamberg had assured us that the nearest ones were 100 nautical miles north. However, an eagle-eyed student from the seafaring nation of Switzerland thought he’d spied one and even better, photographed it. He tried to flog it to me. I hurried downstairs for my laptop to take a close look, as the image he had showed me on his camera screen left a lot to the imagination. He seemed to think that with my special software — the same type of software that CSI: MIAMI uses on CCTV images to zoom in to see the nose hairs of a suspect — I could just zoom in and see a massive berg charting a course for our boat. Well, my Photoshop CS3 was clearly not up to the job as all I could see was a blob. I told him to go try the BBC. They proved as sceptical as I had been. Later, another colleague rang me to say that this kid was telling him that there was another iceberg out there. I ran downstairs to fetch my 300mm lens and 2X converter, and arrived in time to see a lump on the horizon. This time, the screen on my trusty Mark IV camera revealed a more mundane explanation: it was the superstructure of a large container vessel on its way to Europe, the hull hidden below the horizon. Case closed.

Iceberg spotted on horizon off starboard

(View a slideshow of images here)

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