107 #61: The Californian was about 20 miles away from the sinking Titanic

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Titanic Californian

FALSE. The stationary Californian was only about 10 miles away to the northwards of the sinking Titanic all night. We know this because she was still there at daybreak, observed from Titanic’s wreck site by Second Officer James Bisset of the rescue ship Carpathia, as he described in his book Tramps and Ladies, based on the diary he kept in 1912:

‘While we had been picking up the survivors, in the slowly increasing daylight after 4:30 a.m., we had sighted the smoke of a steamer on the fringe of the pack ice, ten miles away from us to the northwards. She was making no signals, and we paid little attention to her, for we were occupied with more urgent matters, but at 6 a.m., we had noticed that she was under way and slowly coming towards us.

‘When I took over the watch on the bridge of the Carpathia at 8 a.m., the stranger was little more than a mile from us, and flying her signals of identification. She was the Leyland Line cargo steamer Californian, which had been stopped overnight…’

However, the British Inquiry concluded that Californian was even nearer, estimating the distance at only about 5-7 miles rather than the 15-19 miles of Captain Lord’s testimony. This was because several witnesses on the Titanic, including her Navigating Officer, Fourth Officer Boxhall, concluded that the Californian must have been only about 5 miles away due to the clarity of her lights that night.

That Californian had in fact been lying only about 10 miles north of Titanic and on the same side of the ice barrier, as Bisset observed, is corroborated by others aboard Carpathia, as well as by Captain James Moore of the Mount Temple. He observed Californian at daybreak on the 15th April, 1912, shortly after she had got underweigh, also noting that Californian was to the northwards of Titanic’s wrecksite, on the east side of the ice barrier, where Carpathia was now collecting Titanic’s lifeboats:

JHM288: ‘How near the Carpathia did you get that morning?’

‘This pack of ice between us and the Carpathia, it was between 5 and 6 miles. She did not communicate with me at all. When we sighted her she must have sighted us.’

JHM289: ‘On which side of the ice pack was the Californian?’

‘The Californian was to the north, sir. She was to the north of the Carpathia and steaming to the westward, because, after I had come away and after giving up my attempt to get through that pack, I came back again and steered back, thinking I might pick up some soft place to the north. As I was going to the north the Californian was passing from east to west.’ JHM290: ‘And you were also cut off from the Carpathia by this ice pack?’

‘Yes, sir; by this ice pack. He was then north of the Carpathia, and he must have been, I suppose, about the same distance to the north of the Carpathia as I was to the westward of her.’

Just over an hour before Titanic’s collision, Californian’s engines had been put into emergency reverse to bring her to a stop for the night at the edge of the ice barrier which Titanic so nearly reached. This action severed Californian’s log line, causing her brass patent log to fall to the seabed. It is about a foot long and lies about 10 miles to the northwards of Titanic’s wreck site, on a bearing of about 315 ̊ True; but exactly where and how far along that line it is would be interesting to know. Unfortunately, it is likely that this physical evidence will remain lost in the sands of time.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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