We are one year away from the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic; April 14, 2012. The ship hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage at 11:40 p.m. and foundered four hours later, losing 1517 souls. A surprising number of people are still obsessed with this tragedy, and some will be honoring those who died in a special service to be held at the site of the tragedy – 400 miles out to sea south of Newfoundland.

 

A British tour company, Miles Morgan Travel, has chartered two cruise ships to perform this memorial service on the night of April 14th. They will remain at the site until the next morning to commemorate the time that Titanic stayed afloat - sinking on April 15th. More information can be found at their Web site; http://titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk.

 

We asked Tara Plumley, one of the event organizers at Miles Morgan Travel, about the strong emotional connection some people still have for Titanic.

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“Most of the people are British, but there are also Americans, Australians, Canadians and others,” Plumley said, “fourteen nationalities in all. Some of them had relatives onboard who survived, or who were among the 1517 that did not. Some have another connection, or they just find the story fascinating.”

 

The planned memorial voyage has been some time in the making.

 

“The idea for the cruise came almost five years ago,” Plumley said. “We realized the centennial was approaching but we saw nothing planned to commemorate it, so we approached Fred Olsen Cruises [a popular British cruise line] and we were able to charter the Balmoral. That cruise sold out over a year ago and we started a waiting list, but just last week we were able to also charter the Azamara Journey to sail from New York and meet the Balmoral at the site.”

 

The Balmoral cruise, known as the “Titanic Memorial Cruise” will set sail April 8, 2012 from Southampton, U.K. with a stop in Cobh, Ireland, just as the Titanic did. After the memorial ceremony on April 14-15, Balmoral will continue on to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to visit the Titanic cemetery for the recovered dead - and to see the ship’s artifacts in the Halifax Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

The second cruise on the Azamara Journey has been named the “Titanic Anniversary Cruise,” and it will join the Balmoral at the site of the Titanic wreckage for the memorial service, but this cruise will leave New York City on April 10, 2012, and will visit Halifax before the memorial service. It will return to New York. Cabins are still available on this cruise, find more information at the Web site mentioned above. Both cruises will feature lectures given by Titanic experts and meals will be as described in the original Titanic menus.

 

The Titanic Mystique

 

Titanic is a momentous and poignant story that especially defines the famous British phrase “Pride goes before a fall.” Titanic represented the pinnacle of human achievement in its day, yet it ended with a devastating human tragedy that in many ways symbolizes vengeance for vanity.

 

The White Star Line was certainly proud of its masterpiece – but ultimately it was over-confidence that did them in. White Star so believed that Titanic would remain stable in any conditions they didn’t even install hand rails in the hallways. They bragged the ship was “unsinkable,” yet the so-called watertight compartments were not watertight – they were all open at the top along the entire length of the ship.

 

Perhaps the worst decision was to only carry 20 lifeboats on the maiden voyage because having too many lifeboats “spoiled her profile.” Sadly, Titanic had enough davits (the gravity-controlled apparatus that carry and launch lifeboats) for 60 boats – more than enough to save all passengers and crewmembers even at full capacity. The only good fortune was that the sailing had not sold well – there were only 1324 passengers onboard, about half the possible passenger capacity, plus a full crew of 899. But there was only enough lifeboat seating for 1178 people and inexplicably many lifeboats went out only half full.

 

Notable guests onboard included John Jacob Astor and his wife who went down with the ship. There was Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Strauss - owner of Macy’s, the “unsinkable” Molly Brown and silent film actress Dorothy Gibson. Representing White Star Line was the company’s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay (rescued) and the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews (died).
The night was still, the sea dead calm, the moon a mere sliver and not a whisper of wind. All together, these elements made it hard to see the “numerous icebergs” that Captain Edward J. Smith had been warned of by wireless telegraph. Once again, over-confidence spelled disaster. Smith charted a slightly more southerly course and gave the order to maintain full speed ahead throughout the night.

 

Titanic was 399 miles southeast of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland when the two lookouts on duty sighted the iceberg. Frederick Fleet sounded the warning bell and telephoned the bridge to say “iceberg, dead ahead.”

 

A steering maneuver was attempted which only presented the broadside of Titanic’s starboard hull to the jagged ice. The hull was torn and buckled for nearly 300 feet. Water started to fill four forward watertight compartments immediately, and as the bow sank lower water spilled over the tops into the fifth and sixth compartments. Finally, Titanic broke in half and foundered.

 

A tragic 1517 people died that night, most from hypothermia, which likely took effect within 15 minutes in the 28-degree seawater.

 

Ironically, the “unsinkable” Titanic quickly became the model for how not to design passenger ships. The tragedy led to the first SOLAS, (Safety of Life at Sea) treaty enacted just two years later in 1914.

 

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I started writing about stock market investing for Motley Fool in 1995, but previously I worked aboard cruise ships. I co-founded CruiseMates.com from New York City in 1999. CruiseMates, one the Web’s top cruise travel guides was acquired by Internet Brands in 2006. Once CEO, I am now the editor of CruiseMates – Paul Motter.

Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.