As the latter materialized, hubris set in over this largest yet of all ships ever built. Later on, it was this same pride that reportedly drove her owner, Bruce Ismay, to assert that even “God Himself could not sink this ship.” Of course, halfway through her maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, Mr. Ismay realized otherwise.
He should have known better. As if the general warning from God’s word was not enough, the warning of another published work of the day was even more explicit in its caution. In 1898, just fourteen years earlier, Morgan Robertson had written a novel titled Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. The story eerily features an ocean liner named “Titan”, which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.
The Titan and its sinking have long been noted to be very similar to the real-life passenger ship RMS Titanic, which sank fourteen years later. Consider the similarities between the Titanic and the Titan:
1. To begin with, both ships were considered “Unsinkable”. The Titanic was the world's largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 53,000 long tons), and was once described as being practically "unsinkable". The Titan was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons), and was considered "unsinkable".
2. The neglect of sufficient lifeboats played a major role in both tragedies. The Titanic carried only 16 lifeboats, plus four folding lifeboats - less than half the number required for her passenger capacity of 3000. The Titan carried "as few as the law allowed", 24 lifeboats - again less than half needed for her 3000 person capacity.
3. Both ships struck an iceberg. Moving far too fast at 22½ knots, the Titanic struck an iceberg on the starboard side at night in the North Atlantic 400 miles away from Newfoundland. It was also on an April night, in the North Atlantic 400 miles from Newfoundland (Terranova), the Titan hit an iceberg while traveling at 25 knots, also on the starboard side.
4. Both “Unsinkable” ships nonetheless sank. The "unsinkable" Titanic sank, and more than half of her 2200 passengers died. The "indestructible" Titan also sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning. Moreover, both went down bow first, the Titan actually capsizing before she sank.
Wow!!! One would be hard pressed to see how an educated and cultured man like Ismay could have been unfamiliar with this best-selling book, especially as he was in the shipping business himself; and also given that it was he who chose the name of the Titanic. Surely, then, he should have been sensitive to the presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic that fateful night when he pressured Captain Smith to run full steam ahead!
Ismay should have known better, and so should we. Yet, ironically, we cannot seem to learn this lesson. As if the wreck of the Titan was not warning enough for the Titanic in its day, now comes the news that the wreck of the Titanic itself was not sufficient warning for us today.
On June 07, 2011, a man named Mark Wilkinson from Birmingham, England, took his new ly acquired cabin cruiser, which he had bought second-hand for £1,000, restored, and then christened “Titanic II”, to West Bay, Dorset, United Kingdom for her maiden voyage. Though untested, he sailed the Titanic II full speed out into the wide Atlantic. In short order, just like her famous namesake had done 99 years before, she sprung a leak and promptly began to sink.
Her hapless owner was left clinging to his prized vessel as she slipped beneath the waves. Fortunately, he was later rescued. When interviewed, his only remark was, "It's all a bit embarrassing… I'm fed up with people asking me if I hit an iceberg." Ironically, Mark Wilkinson’s story is pretty much the same as Bruce Ismay’s story.
Neither man really knew that much about the building of boats or ships. However, each wanted the recognition that came with the prominence of his respective vessel. Perhaps in this way, both of their stories are also our stories.
Why? Because the fundamental lesson illustrated by the sinking of the Titan, the Titanic, and now the Titanic II should serve us all well. That is the lesson of the danger of pride. And yet, we seem destined not to learn from those who have gone before us. The philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It seems he was quite astute in his observation of human nature. How many more vessels must we sink before we learn that pride is a costly thing.
Note: A debate continues over the varacity of Bruce Ismay’s infamous remark.
A good discussion can be found at: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5921/27883.html?1053408940.
The story of the sinking of the Titanic II in 2011 can be found at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3621672/Titanic