A Very Deceiving Night: Her head was facing north

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Turn to starboard left Titanic facing north. As well as causing the Titanic to see the fatal iceberg too late, the abnormal refraction at Titanic’s wreck site also led directly to the failure of the nearby Californian to come to Titanic’s aid.

It is well known that Titanic turned to port (left) in an unsuccessful attempt to swing her stem clear of the iceberg, but it is less well-known that immediately after the collision Titanic turned to starboard (right) in a successful attempt to swing her stern clear of the iceberg.  The following diagram by Sam Halpern describes the turn Titanic made:

tim maltin a very deceiving night ebook 01

This turn was well documented by George Behe in his excellent book “Safety, Speed and Sacrifice”, where he also gives some pointers as to why Hitchens deliberately avoided mentioning it at the British Enquiry.  Hitchens’ incomplete story was unfortunately the one that made it into legend, as he was the man at the wheel at the time.

Boxhall heard Murdoch explaining his maneuver to Captain Smith on the bridge immediately after the accident:

JGB394. What did the captain say?
– Mr. Murdoch also said, “I intended to port around it.”

JGB395. “I intended to port around it”?
– “But she hit before I could do any more.”

Nevertheless, Murdoch continued the maneuver and Quartermaster Alfred Olliver heard the order “Hard aport” given by Murdoch, immediately after the collision:

ALO008. Where were you when the collision occurred?
– I was stand-by quartermaster on the
bridge. I had been relieved from the wheel at 10 o’clock, and I was stand-by after 10 o’clock. I was running messages and doing various other duties. I was not right on the bridge; I was just entering the bridge. I had just performed an errand and was entering the bridge when the collision occurred.

ALO021. Do you know whether the wheel was hard aport then?
– What I know about the wheel – I was stand-by to run messages, but what I knew about the helm is, hard aport.

ALO022. Do you mean hard aport or hard astarboard?
– I know the orders I heard when I was on the bridge [which] was after we had struck the iceberg. I heard hard aport, and there was the man at the wheel and the officer. The officer was seeing it was carried out right.

ALO023. What officer was it?
Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, was stationed in the wheelhouse.

ALO024. Who was the man at the wheel?
Hichens, quartermaster.

ALO025. You do not know whether the helm was put hard astarboard first, or not?
– No, sir; I do not know that.

ALO026. But you know it was put hard aport after you got there?
– After I got there; yes, sir.

ALO027. Where was the iceberg, do you think, when the helm was shifted?
– The iceberg was away up stern.

ALO028. That is when the order “hard aport” was given?
– That is when the order “hard aport” was given; yes, sir.

ALO029. Who gave the order?
– The
first officer.

ALO030. And that order was immediately executed, was it?
– Immediately executed, and the sixth officer saw that it was carried out.

ALO031. How long did this sound continue; can you tell that?
– I can not say exactly, but I should say it was not many seconds.

ALO032. Could you tell how far aft the sound continued?
– I could not say how far aft, sir, because I do not know where it started and where it finished. I do not know.

ALO033. You could not tell about that?
– No, sir.

ALO034. Was it 100 feet? Did it rub against the boat behind where you were?
– Not behind where I was. It did not, to my knowledge, rub behind where I was; it was before.

ALO035. You can not tell, then, for how many feet it rubbed against the boat?
– No, sir.

ALO036. But you think it got away from the boat before the place where you were?
– Yes, sir.

ALO037. Did you see the iceberg?
– I tell you, sir. I saw the tip top of it.

ALO038. What color was it?
– It was not white, as I expected to see an iceberg. It was a kind of a dark-blue. It was not white.


This explains why Fredrick Fleet in the lookout testified:

FRF386. And did she continue to bear to port?
– Until the iceberg was alongside of her.


But it appeared all white in the light from Titanic to Quartermaster Rowe, who was stationed at the stern at the time of the collision, and who confirmed:

GTR083. Do you think the propeller hit the ice? Did you feel any jolt like the propeller hitting the ice?
– No, sir.

GTR084. Do you not think the propeller would have hit the ice if the helm had been turned hard a starboard?
– Yes, sir.

This is why Captain Smith, 1st Officer Murdoch and 4th Officer Boxhall all walked to the Starboard side of Titanic’s bridge, and not the Port side, in order to look back at the iceberg immediately after the collision:

JGB406. What else did he say?
– We all walked out to the corner of the bridge then to look at the iceberg.

JGB407. The captain?
– The captain, first officer, and myself.

JGB408. Did you see it?
– I was not very sure of seeing it. It seemed to me to be just a small black mass not rising very high out of the water, just a little on the starboard quarter.

And this is why Able Seaman, Joseph Scarrott, came on deck immediately after the collision to find Titanic’s starboard quarter slewing off the iceberg, which is only possible with Titanic acting under a port helm:

  1. When you got on deck did you see anything; did you see any ice or iceberg?
    – Oh, yes, when we first came up.
  2. Tell me what you saw. – When we came up, that was before the boatswain’s call, we saw a large quantity of ice on the starboard side on the fore-well deck, and I went and looked over the rail there and I saw an iceberg that I took it we had struck. It would be abaft the beam then – abaft the starboard beam.
  3. Was it close to?
    – No, it seemed the ship was acting on her helm and we had swung clear of the iceberg.
  4. But how far away from your beam was the iceberg, a ship’s length or two ships’ length?
    – Not a ship’s length.
  5. You speak of this ship as if answering her helm – as if answering under which helm?
    – Under the starboard helm – under the port helm.
  6. Get it right?
    – Under port helm. Her stern was slewing off the iceberg. Her starboard quarter was going off the icebergs, and the starboard bow was going as if to make a circle round it.

The Commissioner:
You must be a little more particular about this, and make me understand it.

I think what he means is that she was acting – correct me if I am wrong.

The Witness:

  1. She was acting as if under port helm, her head going to starboard?
    – That is correct.

The Commissioner:
The ship’s head was going to starboard?

  1. Yes.


Fireman Alfred Shiers also saw the berg off Titanic’s starboard quarter immediately after the collision:

Shiers: 4531. Did you see anything?
– I saw the berg that was going away.

  1. Where was the berg away from you – on the port side or the starboard side, or ahead, or where?
    – On the starboard quarter, off the stern.
  2. It was off your quarter, was it?
    – Yes.
  3. How soon after you felt the striking of the iceberg did you see it away on your quarter?
    – About four or five minutes.
  4. And then the berg was away on the starboard quarter?
    – Yes.
  5. About how far off?
    – I could not say; it was very dim then; I could just see it.
  6. It was a dark night?
    – Yes, a starry night.
  7. Starry, but dark. When you saw the berg could you judge whether your ship was stopped or going ahead?
    – When I looked over the side there was a slight way on her; she was moving, but not much.
  8. You were moving through the water?
    – Yes, but not much.
  9. Was there a haze at the time; was the air clear, or was there a haze?
    – It was hazy. When I saw that berg it was hazy. The berg was in a haze. [This haze was caused by the steam from the Titanic, as she passed the iceberg and came to a stop nearby.]

The important thing about Titanic’s turn to starboard from her westward course is that it left her head facing north and this was confirmed by Quartermaster Rowe, who noticed that when Titanic came to a stop her stern was swinging about dead south, magnetic:

Titanic Quartermaster Rowe 17667: When you saw this light did you notice whether the head of the “Titanic” was altering either to port or starboard?
– Yes.

  1. Was your vessel’s head swinging at the time you saw this light of this other vessel?
    – I put it down that her stern was swinging.
  2. Which way was her stern swinging?
    – Practically dead south, I believe, then.
  3. Do you mean her head was facing south?
    – No, her head was facing north. She was coming round to starboard.
  4. The stern was swung to the south?
    – Yes.
  5. And at that time you saw this white light?
    – Yes.
  6. How was it bearing from you?
    – When I first saw it it was half a point on the port bow, and roughly about two points when I left the bridge.

I hope by blogging chapters from my book, A Very Deceiving Night, it will contribute to the ongoing discussions regarding the atmospheric conditions on the night of the tragedy and the true causes of the disaster. At the moment, the book is only available as an e-book. If you wish to purchase it then you can do so in Amazon Kindle format here and other formats, including Apple, Kobo and Nook, here. Thank you.


  1. “Turn to starboard left Titanic facing north. As well as causing the Titanic to see the fatal iceberg too late…”

    What a STUPID, STUPID statement. The order to turn came AFTER the iceberg had been spotted, NOT BEFORE.

    THIS WHOLE ARTICLE IS BOGUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hard-a-starboard was the order given upon sighting the iceberg. The direction given was the notional helm direction (an overhang from earlier days), thus turning Titanic to Port (South). But then Murdoch attempted to “Port around” the iceberg, causing him to give the less well known and subsequent Titanic order “Hard-a-Port”, this turning Titanic towards the Northwards, in which headingvshe remained all night.

  2. This whole idea of Titanic turning North is total nonsense. It was concocted to bring the SS Califronian onto the bow of the sinking Titanic.
    For a start off Hichens was specifically questioned about a second helm order being part of the iceberg avoiding attempt. In both cases, he emphatically enied it
    Murdoch told of his intentions but stated very clearly that he had no time to carry them out.
    A second helm order was given at least 35 seconds after the first one and would not have been effective in less that 40 seconds after the first one. During that time, Titanic’s engines were slowing down which would have rendered the rudder useless due to stern turbulence.
    There i also the myth of the south setting current. so now we have a rapidly slowing ship turning hard lafr away with the current , turning agsinst it, overcoming it and heading north while having problesm with propusion and steering.
    Then there is the red light sighting sequence. Not only did Titanic’s Lookouts fail to see th white light on th bow until 20 minutes after the ship had halted, but if it was the Californian, she never showed a red light in the direction of Titanic untol just before the last rocket was fired and a re light was seen on the narby vessel as Emergency boat 1 was being luanched.

    1. I recommend Leslie Harrison’s “The Ship That Stood Still”, and of course my own “A Very Deceiving Night”. Quartermaster Olliver confirmed the hard-a-port helm order and also that Titanic’s stern was “dead south” during the sinking. Californian was swinging at her helm and her sidelights were being opened out and shut in according to Californain’s heading, which was swinging clockwise through South during the sinking. The Labrador current was flowing South on the surface at Titanic’s crash site, but only at the rate of one knot per hour. That set Californian south since noon the previous day. Californian was about 12 miles NNW of Titanic the night she sank. She appeared nearer than she was because of the abnormally raised horizon behind her, which also made Titanic appear nearer (and therefore smaller!) to Californian than she actually was.

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