Last Sunday, Southampton’s Ocean Cruise Terminal seemed to be plunged in the Edwardian atmosphere of 100 years ago, when the Titanic was setting out on her first and final voyage. A century later the Balmoral is setting sail from the port to complete the unfinished route and reach New York within 12 days.
Early in the morning, an exact replica of a Titanic cabin appeared on the pier, complete with period table settings and dummies wearing Kate Winslet’s original dresses from James Cameron’s Titanic. A number of historians and writers told the audience about what the world has learned about the tragedy one hundred years later and one by one joined the crowd waiting to embark: the 21st-century passengers must mind history and be vigilant.
The organizers say that the Balmoral has taken into account all her predecessor’s errors and has more than enough lifeboats on board.
Strange though it may seem, the Balmoral is inferior to the Titanic in many respects. She is lighter, and 50 meters shorter, and has a slower top speed. It is for this reason that, in order to arrive at the spot of the Titanic disaster one hundred years later on the dot, she left the port on April 8 instead of April 10.
The number of passengers is the same – 1,309 – but the crew consists of 500 individuals, 100 more than in 1912.
Back to the past
The passengers were not in the least upset by the fact that the Balmoral (built in 1988) was not as tough as the legendary ship. Unlike the Titanic, the Balmoral never aspired to preeminence, though the ship is able to provide the thrill and the contemporary atmosphere that one expects to find on a memorial cruise.
The organizer, Miles Morgan, promises that the Balmoral will recreate as much of the spirit of early 20th-century first-class travel as possible. There are no third-class cabins, but tickets are much cheaper than they were 100 years ago. In 1912, the cost of a first-class cabin ranged from £1,800 to £68,000 in current prices, as compared with £2,500 – £8,000 today.
Among other things, the package includes live music of those days, the exact bill of fares from the Titanic, and “historical” entertainment.
The public arriving to board the Southampton-New York liner conform with this image: posh modern limousines from which emerge elegant hats with ostrich feathers and silk toppers, canes and lace parasols, smoking jackets and long skirts, veils and thin gloves…
It's easy to become confused and lose track of which century it is. Adding to this impression is a news-boy with a linen bag, who is running around offering copies of the Titanic’s own newspaper, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, for the year 1912. Gloved stewards in white uniforms are helping the passengers.
“We fear nothing. We’ve taken swimming lessons,” say Tom and Shirley of Ipswich.
Tom helped get the project going, but today he is an ordinary passenger who for some reason is dressed in a Sherlock Holmes costume.
Descendants of Titanic survivors
For many passengers, however, the memorial cruise represents something more than entertainment. Prof. Charles Haas, for example, describes the Balmoral as a “floating university” for Titanic heritage. Philip Littlejohn, the grandson of a Titanic survivor, is also serious about the voyage.
“I wanted to see the ship my grandfather had been on. He described himself as fortunate to leave the ship. I think I’m fortunate because I was given an opportunity to go back,” he told RIA Novosti.
Philip is the only relative of a Titanic survivor to see the ship with his own eyes, as he dived to the ocean floor in 2001. He says he was absolutely amazed by what he saw there.
His grandfather, first-class steward Alexander James Littlejohn, survived because he was ordered to row Lifeboat 13. Littlejohn’s grandson dispels certain myths, saying how heavily the fact of their survival weighed on the hearts of those who escaped death in the Titanic disaster.
The staff was saved solely because the aristocrats were unable to do without their services.
“First class passengers had a steward on Titanic and they had stewards on their lifeboats. So it was an officer aboard who ordered my grandfather to row boat number 13,” he said.
Alexander Littlejohn recalled the Titanic and even granted interviews for a few years after the tragedy. But he later stopped talking about it and to the end of his days was tortured by the thought that he had been saved while many women and children had not.
The liner’s heritage
According to Philip Littlejohn, the memorial cruise is an indicator of the degree to which the Titanic remains a household name today, as well as an opportunity to preserve the ship’s remains.
“I’m very pleased it's going to be a world heritage site; I think it’s amazing news. Because it will now be treated with respect, there will be no plundering of objects from the ship. That’s really a great piece of news to hear to start this cruise of. The word I would use, Titanic should be respected,” he stressed.
“There was an American couple getting married down near the Titanic. And one relative said: that’s terrific. Why should someone want to marry on a graveyard? My father died there. That’s what I mean,” he explained.
Littlejohn, who knows a lot about the Titanic, has devoted his life to teaching. He explains why today’s four- or five-year-olds are thrilled by the history of that tragedy and why they choose it as a subject for their academic projects. All erstwhile life sunk to the ocean floor along with the Titanic. A cross-section of society – the splendor of the rich and the depressing reality of the third class – went under water, and World War I began several years later, which changed the old world beyond recognition.
The Balmoral took to sea from the same dock as the Titanic in 1912. The 1,309 new passengers are following the route that became fatal over the course of an evening. The anniversary of the Titanic tragedy will be marked with a memorial ceremony in the exact area where the ship sank. After that the Balmoral will change course and head for Halifax, Canada, the nearest port to which the bodies that were recovered and some of the Titanic debris were delivered in 1912. There are graves of many victims of the disaster in the local cemetery. By April 20, the Balmoral is due to arrive in New York, thereby accomplishing the voyage that the Titanic had failed to complete.