I Took a Voyage on the R.M.S Titanic
It was 11:40 P.M. on April 14, 1912, latitude 41°46′ N, longitude 50°14′ W. The grinding, tearing sound that had awakened Marjorie Newell and her sister was made by an iceberg shearing a 300-foot gash in the Titanic‘s bow, helped along by the ship’s rapid 22.5-knot speed and the fact that a half-dozen warnings about drifting ice had been more or less ignored.
Marjorie Newell sat up in bed, wondering what had happened. Far below, in the ship’s boiler room, what seemed like the entire starboard side of the ship collapsed, the sea flooding in over the watertight bulkheads.
On the upper decks, little seemed to be wrong at first. The Titanic lay dead in the water, three of her four funnels blowing out steam with a large, thundering noise. Yet somehow Marjorie Newell’s father knew something was terribly wrong.
“Very soon after the noise, there was a knock at the door. It was Father. ‘Put on warm clothing and come quickly to the upper deck,’ he said. We obeyed. We always obeyed Father.”
Several minutes later, the Newell sisters arrived on the top deck. There was no moon that night, but through the thickish fog that surrounded the ship, it could be seen that the sky was full of stars, and she remembers that the water was perfectly clear, perfectly smooth.
On the starboard well deck, near the foremast, lay several tons of ice that had been shaved off the iceberg by the collision.
“When we arrived on the top, there were really very few passengers about; I believe we were among the first. And it was quiet; everybody was so stunned and frightened that hardly anybody was speaking at all.”
Slowly the decks began to fill with people wearing incongruous combinations of clothes: bathrobes, evening clothes, turtleneck sweaters, fur coats.
About 25 minutes after the crash, the ship’s crew began preparing the wooden lifeboats, 16 of them, eight to a side, as well as the four collapsible canvas lifeboats. If filled to capacity, the 20 boats would hold 1,178 people. But on that cold April night, there were 2,207 people on board the Titanic.
Distress rockets began to be fired and the ship’s “CQD,” the forerunner of SOS, was picked up on the Cunard ship Carpathia at 12:25. The Carpathia was 58 miles away and radioed that she was “coming hard.”
By one o’clock in the morning, the bow of the Titanic was slowly moving deeper into the water and the ship had developed a nasty list to port. Passengers and crew alike moved over to the starboard side in an attempt to restore her balance. Slowly the wounded ship gained its equilibrium. Still there was no panic; rather, the busy, scurrying silence had taken on an intense, dreamlike quality. And Marjorie Newell was about to leave the Titanic under considerably less glorious circumstances than her father had anticipated.
“I believe we were in the second boat to be lowered. The ship was listing rather badly and we were at a great height. The boat we were on had only one boatman. There were no supplies and everything was ill-prepared. My father said, ‘It seems more dangerous for you to get in that boat than to stay here,’ but he hustled us into the boat anyway. Father stood there just as stately and calm as if he were in his living room.
“We were lowered. Most of the people in the boat were women and they were very frightened; nobody was saying anything. I thought to myself, ‘You have to help where you can,’ so I took hold of an oar and rowed and rowed. I was young then and strong.
“We got a distance away and we could see the ship was listing very badly; people were in the water, gasping and yelling for help; one rocket after another was going up.”
At 1:55, the last distress rocket was fired and all the lifeboats but one had been launched. By this time, the ship was at something approaching a 25- degree angle, with the forecastle head very close to the water, and the remaining passengers and crew moving towards the stern of the ship. In her lifeboat, Marjorie Newell looked on with mingled horror and fascination.