On my mind today is a story you probably know something about even though you may not know the strange tale behind it. To begin, a large, “unsinkable” ship struck an iceberg while crossing the icy Atlantic; the hull was pierced, water flooded in unchecked, the ship sank, and thousands of people suffered a cold, watery fate. So, do you think you know this story? Think again.
Most people alive today don’t know that this particular tale is not only the story of the RMS Titanic, but the much earlier story of the Titan, a fictional vessel created by Morgan Robertson and told of in his 1898 tale of disaster-at-sea, Futility. Amazingly, what was originally a fictional tale of human nature, water, and death became a thing of terrible reality when the RMS Titanic famously disappeared beneath frigid Atlantic waves on the night of April 14, 1912. Later that same year, avarice overruled decency and Robertson’s Futility was renamed The Wreck of the Titan in an attempt to capitalize on the morbid popularity of all things Titanic.
The fiction that was The Titan became terrifyingly real in many respects, but in truly accidental fashion. However, what could be expected when what was once fictional becomes a reality on purpose? To address that question, consider that several proposals to recreate the Titanic arose following the explosive success of James Cameron’s film, and some of the designs actually made it into the pages of Popular Mechanics. Unfortunately, many of those behind the seemingly legitimate proposals bit off far more than they could possibly chew as the funding for most new-Titanic endeavors never materialized. Additionally, and sadly, most of those proposing Titanic recreations were found (or suspected) to be either fanciful publicity-seekers or blatantly lying con artists trying to capitalize on the film and the disaster.
One of two possibly legitimate efforts to create a new Titanic may exist in the form of the SS Titan Foundation. Based in Minnesota, the SS Titan Foundation was originally founded on April 13, 1998, as SS Titan, Limited. Regardless of the name, the organization claims to be a registered financial enterprise within the state of Minnesota. As stated on their website (http://www.sstitan.org/), the foundation intends to respectfully perpetuate the Titanic’s legacy by constructing the Titan, an enormous ship generally modeled on the visual aspects of the original, ill-fated vessel. The foundation claims the ship will be the largest and fastest ocean liner ever to grace the high seas, even larger than the Titanic, itself.
Intended to be a seafaring vessel of modern design and construction, Titan would, by law, have state-of-the-art damage control devices aboard should a collision occur at sea, thus increasing the chances for all passengers to safely exit from the ship. Accordingly, unlike Titanic’s faulty design that featured “watertight” compartments with porous upper levels, Titan’s watertight bulkheads will be constructed to meet a watertight deck to prevent unchecked internal flooding.
Dear readers, “watertight” doesn’t mean that a ship is unsinkable, and “watertight” isn’t something new. The HMHS Britannic, Titanic’s larger, “watertight,” near-duplicate sister ship, sank like a rock after being struck by German weaponry during WWI. In truth, Britannic sank beneath the waves in less than half the time it took for Titanic to go down, as it disappeared in approximately one hour. Moreover, as she raced to kiss the bottom, Britannic’s propellers continued to spin from the awesome power of her then-active engines, and 30 unfortunate people in two fleeing lifeboats were yanked away from the apparent safety of the open ocean and pulled into the whirling blades.
Britannic plummeted to the bottom despite containing many safety improvements over her sister ship such as watertight compartments that stretched from keel to deck, a double hull extended above the water line, improved lifeboat davits, and more lifeboats. Yet despite it all, Britannic rapidly filled with water and literally plowed into the seafloor with such horrific force that the steel-plated bow (front) of the vessel was actually skewed and ruptured by the impact, as confirmed by Jacques Cousteau in 1976.
In truth, Titanic and Britannic were actually the second and third children of the White Star Line’s Olympic-class luxury fleet, so named after the launch of the original sister, RMS Olympic. Ironically, though the oldest and smallest of the sisters, only the Olympic escaped into the 1920s and 1930s as a wholly intact vessel. However, though the sister with the greatest longevity, Olympic shared in her sister’s history of disaster by enduring at least two collisions at sea, the last of which was against the lightship Nantucket in which, tragically, more lives were lost. Not long after that collision, Cunard bought the White Star Line entirely, and at the ripe old age of about 25, Olympic finally went to a scrapyard.
There are several reports alleging that certain interior portions of Olympic were spared the wrecking ball, removed entirely intact, and purportedly survive to this day in various locations within western Europe. One confirmed location is the White Swan Hotel in the town of Alnwick, Northumberland, England. As for the omnipresent public fantasy of possibly raising one of the two remaining Olympic-class vessels, I argue that Britannic is the sister that can more easily be returned to the surface. Still one of the largest passenger ships resting on the bottom, Britannic lies less than 400 feet below sea level – far more accessible than Titanic’s 2½ mile deep location – and unlike her older sister, she did not break apart while sinking.
Amazingly, except for the blast damage that sank Britannic and her ruptured bow, she’s mostly intact. So close and accessible is the sunken vessel, that when Britannic went down, her bow gouged into the sea bottom even as her midsection and stern were at or above the surface. Please note that while people met their end outside the ship, no person actually perished aboard or within Britannic, so the submerged giant is not a tomb. Raising her would be the largest deep-salvage effort to date, but bringing her up would not disturb the rest of any souls; the same cannot be said of Titanic.
In addition to the above, I must note that not all of the Britannic lies below the waves. Many of her interiors, finery that rivaled or exceed that of Titanic and Olympic, still exist! How? The interiors were made for Britannic, but the ship went into service as a hospital ship during WWI and sank without receiving its luxurious fittings. Encyclopedia Titanica has an excellent thread on this topic, so make sure you pay them a visit!
As stated above, the SS Titan Foundation is not the only competitor in the race to complete a new Titanic. After several false starts and dashed hopes, billionaire Australian businessman Clive Owen’s Blue Star Line Pty. Ltd. plans to launch its own, modernized version of Titanic in 2022 are finally in motion. Named Titanic II, construction of the ship is underway as of this writing, and it is planned to have dimensions similar to the original. Moreover, just as the proposed behemoth SS Titan is meant to meet all modern seafaring regulations, so will Owen’s replica meet all safety requirements, including the all-important mandate of lifeboats for all passengers. Of the two new-Titanic efforts, it is Clive Owen’s venture that is closer to completion and actually sailing. Thanks to him and his organization, there will likely be a new Titanic.
Perhaps Titanic II or the Titan will break the curse of the Olympic-class vessels. History says “no,” and it says “no” with deafening loudness. After all, the Titan sank in fiction, the names of the originals are synonymous with horrific tragedy, and the Titanic’s sister ships are at the center of true tales of calamity at sea. Personally, I hope that history is wrong and one of the shipbuilding interests succeeds in recreating the Titanic, if only as a tribute to the lost originals.
So, who wants to book passage on an all-new Titanic? Anyone? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!