On this return journey to England, Haddock once again found himself in a predicament. It was June the 1st, just seven weeks after the Titanic disaster, when the Olympic almost ran aground on rocks near Land's End. The error was attributed to faulty navigation and it seems that what saved the ship was quick action as the engines were reversed and the ship sharply turned. Haddock was under strict observation for his next few voyages. (Mark Baber/Wikipedia)
Author Wade Sisson describes the event:
On the return voyage, Olympic nearly had a collision of her own ~ with the rocky cliffs of Land’s End at the tip of England. The ship was running at high speed at 10 p.m. on June 1 when a lookout spotted breaking water at the base of the rocks. The ship’s engines were ordered ‘Full astern’ and she narrowly avoided running aground. The incident was kept quiet at the time — so near to the loss of the Titanic. The collision was the result of a navigational error that had put her miles off course, and Captain Haddock was forced to submit to the humiliation of having a monitor on the bridge for future voyages.’ ("Racing Through the Night: Olympics' Attempt to Reach Titanic" - Wade Sisson)
6 July 1912 Grounding
Haddock's challenges were not to end in June - the following month he was once again faced with bad press. The Olympic was departing New York on the 6th of July 1912 when her steering malfunctioned as she approached the Statue of Liberty:
Olympic was not under control, and Captain Haddock warned other ships in the harbor of this as the ship came to a stop, her bow nudged into the mud. It was an image of which White Star’s nightmares were made — Titanic’s sister ship run aground at the edge of New York harbor in full view of thousands of people along the shore, with Lady Liberty looking on as if disapprovingly.
Repairs were handled quickly, and within an hour, Haddock steamed out of New York harbor and out to sea. While some articles quoted unnamed marine experts who praised Captain Haddock’s handling of the incident, other papers showed a clear bias against White Star in their coverage of the incident. ("Racing Through the Night: Olympics' Attempt to Reach Titanic" - Wade Sisson)
September Propeller blade
On Friday the 13th September, 1912, yet another incident occurred, when the Olympic lost her port propeller blade at 12.45am. According to newspaper reports second class passengers rushed onto the deck thinking a collision had occurred while first class passengers only discovered the news at breakfast.
After one more voyage in September the Olympic was sent to Belfast for a full safety refit that would last until March 1913.
With the Olympic in Belfast for a full safety refit that included building an inner hull and extra watertight compartments, Haddock was moved onto other ships. On the 16th of December 1912, he was listed as aboard the Majestic, while on the 29th of January, he was back aboard the Oceanic.
But by April, he was aboard the newly renovated Olympic, being touted by the press as "two ships in one". It was one year since the Titanic disaster - a fact not lost on the newspaper coverage of Olympic at the time. But one curious entry is a large and very flattering account about Captain Haddock and the new Olympic that ran in The Evening World (New York) on Saturday the 12th of April 1913.
It describes Haddock as being "at the top of his profession" and that "the real limit of leviathan construction is the limit of the commander's mental capacity and endurance, and that has been reached." Haddock allegedly "sleeps during the five days of the Olympic's crossing with both eyes open… All responsibility of the ship that costs many millions, and for the 3,000 and more passengers and crew the Olympic is capable of carrying rests solely on the directing intelligence of this one man at all hours between piers... When the mighty Olympic left the port of New York today she sailed the safest ship afloat and under the guidance of the most careful commander on the seven seas." The article ends by stating that "Captain Haddock knows the Atlantic as a chess player knows his board." and that he "never deviates from his prescribed course one quarter-mile. His log for a trip is simply a repetition of the trip previous as far as his positions on the chart are concerned."
The Evening World (New York), Saturday 12th April 1913
You Can Build a Ship Bigger Than Olympic, But You Can't Build a Bigger Brain to Run it
Captain Haddock Undergoes Five-Day Ordeals Which Would Wreck Most Men's Nerves
Five Years Is the Outside Limit That Human Endurance Can Resist Such Strain
What capacity for extraordinary labor and for infinite attention to detail does the mind of man possess?
For answer consider the mind, in action, of Capt. Herbert James Haddock, commander of the White Star Line Olympic. Capt. Haddock is seen as an example because he is credited with being at the top of his profession. The ship he commands is at present the greatest thing afloat - just this week she came to New York after the marine architects had imposed upon her the last word of perfection in safety. What is the task of this single intelligence, the mind of the Olympic's commander, between pier and pier - North River and the Mersey? Learn that and you will know to what limits the mind of men may go...
Perhaps this mad fancy will help you to an appreciation of the real work that the commander of the Olympic, more than 110 feet longer than the Woolworth Building, has to do on every trip across the ocean lanes. The boat is a Woolworth Building on end, which not only has to be kept afloat but propelled at express speed through darkness and light, storm and fog, between a pier in North River and another pier at Liverpool.
Five years they say, is the limit of endurance for a man who commands one of the mammoths of the ocean. Five years is the accepted limit of responsibility for the engineer of a Twentieth Century express. And $5,000 [per year] is the top notch of salaries for the commanders of Atlantic ships.
Ship architects and ship builder say for the public that the limit to the building of great ships is about reached because of the problems of docking facilities. They whisper secretly among themselves that the real limit of leviathan construction is the limit of the commander's mental capacity and endurance, and that has been reached.
The Brains of the Whole Ship is the Bridge
In other words, no human being, possessing the limitations even of extraordinary mentality, can be trusted to bear a greater burden of nervous strain than does the commander of the biggest ship new afloat. The terrible break-down of one human mechanism of direction will soon be marked by the first anniversary of the disaster to the Olympic's sister ship, the Titanic. So it is not the failing of human ingenuity to build ships bigger than the Olympic or the Imperator, soon to make her maiden voyage that will bar the way to greater ships; it will be the impossibility of human skill to navigate them.
Capt. Haddock sleeps during the five days of the Olympic's crossing with both eyes open. This is almost literally true. He dare not sleep, even though his inferior officers would not hold their positions if they were not considered worthy to be almost commanders. All responsibility of the ship that costs many millions, and for the 3,000 and more passengers and crew the Olympic is capable of carrying rests solely on the directing intelligence of this one man at all hours between piers.
His bridge is the brains of the ship. Upon that platform, high above the wash of even mountainous seas, are collected all the sensory nerves of this vast mechanism of steel. There are dials telling to a tenth segment of a circle the number of revolutions the great screws are making. There are telephones and speaking tubes from the engine rooms, stoke holds and boiler rooms. The commander on his bridge knows each minute of the day and night whether the marvelous co-ordination of human intelligence and steel machinery - the alliance which makes the ship stay on top of the ocean and speed from shire to shire - is working as it should.
Consider, now, how the mind of the commander must operate in a crisis - and he knows not what minute of the voyage he may have to face a crisis.
It is a foggy night. Suddenly dead ahead a something looms through the gloom. This something may be another ship, derelict or an iceberg. It may be but 200 or 300 yards away, a distance the Olympic would cover in a few seconds. That is where the human equation enters in the mechanism of a liner. Like lightning the commander is moving.
Safest Ship and Most Careful Commander
He must decide whether to bring his ship to a full stop or cut her down to headway speed. He must decide whether to pass to starboard or port of the something. He decides quicker than you could snap a finger. The telegraph jangles to the engine room the orders to shut down the engines and reverse. At the same moment the whistle is pulled, signifying that the ship will pass to port or starboard. Then the siren screams its warning. The quartermaster is ordered to throw the wheel to port or starboard. And then heaven alone can decide the rest.
The powerful engines of the Olympic cannot be shut down instantly. Were that done they would tear themselves from their beds. They must be closed down gradually, and then the reverse is applied as gradually. And finally the big ship ceases to go forward. And all the time the mariner mind on the wind swept bridge has a keen realization of the fact that down below are almost four thousand lives dependent upon his skills as a navigator. And next he realize that he is the responsible guardian for millions of dollars worth of ship and cargo. The thought of such responsibility, to men who know, gives them the spinal shivers.
When the mighty Olympic left the port of New York today she sailed the safest ship afloat and under the guidance of the most careful commander on the seven seas. All that human skill can do to make the Olympic safe has been done. For four months she was in the hands of her builders and at a cost of $1,500,000 she was given a double hull and equipped with lifeboats capable of holding all her passengers and crew and with davits to lower them safe from the ship in the event of an accident.
A Mighty Job of Ship Surgery
The Olympic is now a ship within a ship, and to make her so she was submitted to the greatest piece of surgery ever performed. This inner skin is a great water-tight compartment so subdivided by bulkheads that it would appear impossible to sink her, no matter how great a hole might be torn in the outer shell. The greatest menace to navigation is icebergs, and, next, derelicts. It was an iceberg that sent the mighty Titanic to her doom, an iceberg that ripped her bottom open as a fishmonger rips a fish. But there need be no fear of such a catastrophe overtaking the improved Olympic. The surgeons attended to that. When the Olympic came from the operating room she had a new skin grafted, not on the outside, for that is an everyday operation, but in the inside. From bow to stern on either side and from her double bottom to a distance of seven feet above the water line this inner skin extends. Between the inner skin and the outer skin and extending across the entire ship are thick steel bulkheads. The result of the double skin and bulkheads is to produce over 100 water-tight compartments, making it impossible for the big ship to sink even though she were stove in at the bows for a distance of forty feet.
To make the ship doubly safe for her crew and passengers there are sixty-five lifeboats on the boat deck capable of holding 3480 persons, and when it is realised that the carry capacity of the vessel, both passenger and crew, is 3473 it will be seen that there is no scarcity of boats.
When the Olympic went into the hands of the surgeons four months ago it was necessary to lift several of the twenty-eight boilers of the steamer from their beds to permit the riveters and platers to work. Upward of 100,000 rivets had to be drawn and 160,000 new rivets hammered home on the 1,200 tons of new plates that compose the inner skin of the ship.
Captain Haddock knows the Atlantic as a chess player knows his board. Ocean lanes for eastbound and westbound steamships were established by agreement between the steamship interests to avoid collisions between ships travelling in opposite directions. These lanes are also intended to keep the steamships away from the iceberg zone and away from hidden rocks. The lane followed, or prescribed for liners, is in the form of an obtuse angle. The course is generally followed, but many captains to save time cut across the turn and save many miles. Some captains do not vary from their course but a few miles. But Captain Haddock never deviates from his prescribed course one quarter-mile. His log for a trip is simply a repetition of the trip previous as far as his positions on the chart are concerned. No matter how late he may be leaving the port of New York or Southampton the commander of the Olympic travels the same lane, and when he reaches the ocean turn the passengers on deck can feel and see the might ship putting about. The ship takes the turn as a West Pointer might turn on heel and toe to the right or left.