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A Titanic Mistake

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Right, Not Right

The Titanic didn’t sink because of design or engineering problems but simply because her helmsman turned right when he should have turned left. Or so the granddaughter of the most senior officer to survive the disaster claims in a new book. Louise Patten, whose grandfather Charles Lightoller was second officer aboard RMS Titanic, believes it was a bush-league blunder alone that caused the 1912 shipwreck.

“They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn’t for the mistake,” Patten writes in Good as Gold, a novelization of the ill-fated trip. “Instead of steering Titanic safely round to the left of the iceberg once it had been spotted dead ahead, the steersman, Robert Hitchins, turned it the wrong way.” Patten claims her grandfather and others covered up the truth by lying during two inquiries to protect themselves and the ship’s owner, the White Star Line. Although off duty when the ship struck the iceberg, he learned of the helmsman’s wrong turn during the officers’ final meeting.

Once the mistake was made, Patten added, “they only had four minutes to change course, and by the time [first officer William] Murdoch spotted Hitchins’ mistake, it was too late.” Lightoller also heard the chairman of the White Star Line persuade the captain to continue underway after the collision, prompting the ship to sink hours faster than if she had stopped, according to Patten. “If Titanic had stood still, she would have survived at least until the rescue ship came, and no one need have died,” she wrote. Instead, the liner ended her maiden voyage at the bottom of the Atlantic—taking more than 1,500 people with her.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.