107 #85: The Carpathia averaged 17.5 knots during her 58-mile dash to reach the Titanic

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Carpathia Titanic

FALSE. We have already seen that Titanic’s final SOS position 41° 44’ N, 50° 14’ W was about 13 miles west of where she actually sank and where her wreck was found by Robert Ballard at 41’ 43’ N, 49’ 56’ W. Therefore when Carpathia picked up Titanic’s incorrect distress position at 12.35 a.m., when she was at about 41’9”N, 49’12”W, the distance between her and the Titanic was incorrectly calculated to be 58 miles. However, given that Carpathia happened to encounter Titanic’s lifeboats while heading straight for this incorrect position, Captain Rostron naturally assumed that the distress position he had been given was correct, and therefore so was the distance.

In fact, it is one of the few pieces of luck Titanic enjoyed that night that her actual wreck site happened to be about on a straight line between where Carpathia was when she picked up Titanic’s distress position at 12.35 p.m. and Boxhall’s incorrect final distress position. Had this not been the case, it is possible that Carpathia could have taken several additional hours to find Titanic’s drifting lifeboats, 13 miles from where he had been informed the ship went down.

Because Carpathia arrived at Titanic’s wreck site at about 4 a.m., or three and a half hours after she began her full speed dash, Rostron calculated that Carpathia must have averaged 16.5 knots per hour, almost three knots faster than her official top speed of 14 knots. This would have been an extraordinary performance indeed, but we now know that Titanic’s wreck site was 13 miles closer to Carpathia than her last distress position indicated.

Therefore Capt. Rostron had in fact only travelled about 48 miles to Titanic’s wreck site, instead of the 58 miles to Boxhall’s incorrect distress position. Carpathia’s true average speed was therefore about 13.7 knots. This was nonetheless close to her top speed and therefore a very impressive run, especially considering she had been dodging icebergs since about 3 a.m., when she left the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and entered the freezing Labrador Current, which was bringing large quantities of ice unusually far south that year.

At about 3.15 a.m. Rostron saw a green flare fired by Boxhall in lifeboat No.2. Thinking this was from the sinking Titanic herself, Rostron fired one of Carpathia’s distress signals in response, and continued to do so every 15 minutes afterwards. Boxhall similarly responded to each of these by continuing to burn his green Roman candles intermittently, until Carpathia arrived at Boxhall’s boat at 3.55 a.m. Had Boxhall not thought to ship and fire these signals Carpathia might well have simply steamed past—or even through— Titanic’s lifeboats in the dark, in her dash to reach the incorrect distress position he had been given.

Arthur Rostron certainly pushed Carpathia to her limits that night. Passengers remembered the unusual cold, due to the heating in cabins being turned off to enable all available power to reach the engines, and the additional vibration caused by the engines being pushed to their maximum. Nonetheless, Carpathia never reached 17.5 knots on that night or any other.

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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