ISBN 10: 1583450009 / ISBN 13: 9781583450000
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Riassunto: Although many denied it, a giant ocean liner was dying. The superstitious nodded their heads, knowing her fate had already been sealed. The freezing Atlantic crept up to the forecastle head as the massive vessel, with all her lights aglow, slowly, almost imperceptibly, sank at the bow.

Estratto. © Riprodotto con l'autorizzazione. Tutti i diritti riservati.: The Unlucky Launch

Standing there on the greasy ways,
Was the largest vessel of the days.
Thousands watched and amid the din,
Without a word they shoved her in.

To see the Titanic at this stage of her construction, even though she was ready for launch, many would have perceived her as only half completed. Her hull was fully formed, she was all shiny with her first coat of black paint, and her anchors were even snugged up on her bows. However, much of her superstructure, including her masts, funnels, internal systems, furnishings, decorating, electrical wiring, and equipment had yet to be installed. All of this work would soon be accomplished at her fitting out. This cavernous hull, practically an empty shell, was all that was ready for launch. During my many years of study on maritime superstition, I found among shipbuilders, shipowners, and sailors, varying pockets of belief and disbelief. These views exist right up to the present time. Some will simply look the other way with regard to the foolishness of superstition, ancient traditions, practice, or custom. Others gravely regard, follow, and adhere to these beliefs with an almost religious fervor. In maritime communities of old, shipbuilders carefully followed launching practices and custom to assure that every detail of the event went smoothly and without any incident to blemish the ritual and in turn blemish the new ship. Sometimes great pains were taken to bring harmony and favor to the launch. Many shipbuilders believed that the launch of the vessel was far more important than the actual building of the vessel itself. Some shipbuilders even went so far as to cast bits of fish upon the water adjacent to the launch site. Sea gulls would then be cheerfully on the wing and dolphins would be lured into playing about. All in hope of perfect harmony for a favored launch. If any accident, injury, or death was associated with the launch, if wine or champagne was not spilled, if the vessel was not given a name or lacked the proper ceremony, the vessel would be marked with an indelible stain of bad luck. Heaven forbid ever launching a ship on a Friday. Launching ceremonies in some circles are still a very serious and important event. At the General Dynamics Electric Boat Division at Groton, Connecticut, as an example, over a hundred submarines were built and launched all with careful plans to assure a lucky launch and a safe and favored boat. (In submariner's jargon a sub is referred to as a boat). The lady sponsor will visit the shipyard days in advance of the event to practice for the ritual with weighted bottles. There will be extra bottles of champagne on the reviewing stand should the sponsor accidentally drop the ceremonial instrument. If the boat would happen to move away from the reviewing stand before it is smacked or christened, a second lady sponsor aboard the new boat stands ready to smash her bottle over the bow before it touches the water. Harland and Wolff historian, Tom McLuskie, relates that his company, in business since 1861, always had launching and christening ceremonies for their new ships, and that they continue that tradition today. Usually a lady sponsor will christen a new vessel with the act of breaking the champagne bottle over the bow along with a blessing to give the ship her name. I queried him because some Titanic accounts tell us that Harland and Wolff did not believe in such ceremonies. His response was that the White Star Line did not want christening ceremonies or the like for any of their ships. They never did. The decision in these matters was left up to the owner, but Harland and Wolff has been christening their new vessels since the company began. To the White Star line, the idea of a ceremonial launch and a blessing for their new vessels was simply not a consideration. This blatant disregard of the old customs may have been shrugged off by the White Star Line, but to the workers who built these vessels and to the men who sailed them, there had to have been anything but indifference. Being that the Titanic was built and launched predominently by Irish laborers, considered to be one of the most superstitious nationalities of all, it is a wonder how the workmen who built her and the sailors who manned her would even associate themselves with a vessel considered to be so unlucky. And so on Wednesday, May 31, 1911, with fair skies at least, dignitaries, workmen and their families, and hundreds of other distinguished visitors flocked to the yard to see the great ship launched. Among the principles on hand were J. Pierpont Morgan, head of International Mercantile Marine, the company that controlled the White Star Line; William James Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff; Thomas Andrews, the designer; Alexander Carlisle, who was responsible for the interior decorating and the life-saving equipment; and J. Bruce Ismay. In that over 100,000 spectators watched the event, it seems strange that although there was great technical planning to accomplish the launch, and considerable arrangements made so that special honored guests could be there, it was for the most part a non-event. Mandated by the White Star Line, the low-key procedure for launching began at 12:13 p.m. When all was ready, Lord Pirrie simply gave the calm order to the launch foreman. Yes, there was a tumultuous roar from the crowd when the ship first moved, along with the expected and clamorous total chorus of, "There she goes". But that was it. There were no grand words spoken over her by any dignitary, no pageantry to formally give her her name, no bottle of champagne broken across her great bow, no blessing, no ceremony. The great Titanic was never christened!

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