James Cameron's Titanic Expedition
What We Saw On and Inside the Wreck
After reaching the bottom and alighting a safe distance from the wreck, the pilot in each Mir turns on his SIMRAD Mesotech acoustic imaging sonar, a navigating device that scans the area ahead, looking for the telltale outline of targets. Often the image on the Mesotech monitor is so defined that objects as small as bitts on Titanic's forecastle are visible, even from quite a distance. This is the first "sight" of the wreck a visitor gets, and it can already tell the observer something of Titanic's condition.
The forecastle appears unchanged to me from the late 1980s with a few exceptions. The anchor crane is slightly more swung to port than when discovered, I think, perhaps one or two degrees. Ballard's Explorers' Club plaque still rests as it was laid on the after starboard capstan cover. A similar-sized plaque placed sometime later is atop the opposite capstan on the port side. The gooseneck vent just abaft the forward steam winch is even more frail and deteriorated than it was last year, now only a mere shell of itself. An errant Grenadier ("rat-tail") fish could cause its collapse. There is some caving in of the sheathing around the winch gears; i.e., major holes opening up, that I don't remember from before. The athwartships railing at the aft port corner of the forecastle is now down, fallen forward onto the deck. The foremast is still suspended over the well deck, through some miracle, although its plating is parting noticeably. It appears that it may collapse at any time.
"New" electrical deck lights with intact protective grills or guards (the only ones with guards I've seen on Titanic) are hidden on the bulkhead just aft of and behind both well-deck cranes. I saw the light on the port side last year while on site with RMS Titanic, Inc. Now comes confirmation of the expected starboard light. The grills on both appear to be in good condition, and I presume no glass remains. I wasn't close enough to tell.
I asked Cameron, who controlled the primary ROV (Jake) from Mir 1, if he could take a look at the "mystery box" forward on B Deck, and he came through with some good, clear, close-up video of it from inside the rail. Looking at it facing forward, the structure is rectangular or perhaps even square in shape, flat topped, with rounded, large-radius "shoulders." Its port, starboard, and aft sides are intact. Each face appears to be a sheet of flat metal with rounded edges extending vertically all the way to the deck although there is massive rusticle flow toward the bottom that may obscure an open space beneath. The metal is entirely covered with rusticles. I could see no obvious plumbing, handles, or other protuberances; however, nearly camouflaged by all this rust, at the center of the outboard shoulder radius, there seems to be a 1 - 1 1/2-inch circular washer, out of which protrudes a square "crank" nut similar to the male fitting for the cranks on the davits. In addition, there may be something under the rust at the lower starboard corner of the aft face. I spotted no hydrants nearby (the closest one is at the starboard rail, about four or five feet abaft the forward end of the deck). We've speculated that the structure may be a vent hood, but vent plans show nothing at that location. As Jim radioed to me in Mir 2, "Your mystery box is still a mystery."
To either side of this puzzling fitting, mounted against the athwartships bulwark railing between each stanchion and brace, are interesting squarish panels with rounded corners and four circular holes near each corner. These can be seen all along the railing for the whole width of the ship. The odd panels appear only here, not above on A Deck. I have a vague memory of seeing these things before, perhaps on another ship, but I don't know what function they serve.
The leadsman's platform on the outboard starboard side of A Deck, intact in 1986, has fallen apart and now hangs in pieces. The one on the port side, however, appears perfectly preserved in its stowed position.
The forwardmost doorway on the starboard side, which led to stairs going either up to the Boat Deck or down to B Deck, was examined. This was a sliding door as plans suggest. No hinges were seen, and there is no sign of the door itself today. Much white paint, now yellowed, remains around it. To the left of the doorway, a brass sign on a wooden base reads "This Door for Use of Crew Only," its letters in high relief. It is identical to the one photographed on the port side by the Woods Hole ROV Jason Junior in 1986. At the doorway's threshold lies a long length of stairway railing with its rope "grip" binding perfectly intact. The stairs just inside appear to be gone on both the starboard and port sides of the ship.
I was disappointed last year to see that all bulwark railings at the bridge have fallen down. The aft wall of the starboard bridge cab, once resting at an angle against the forwardmost davit, is now flat on the deck. Many commemorative plaques and other objects have been left leaning against the forward teakwood foundation of the wheelhouse. There must be six or eight there now. Sadly, the nicely intact athwartships teak rail at the starboard corner of A Deck is now down, lying on the deck just inside. The deck of the captain's (or navigating) bridge is much more fallen away, and the A-deck windows just below, largely hidden under the collapsing bridge in 1986, are now plainly visible.
The expansion joint seems to me to be a bit wider now than when the wreck was discovered. Others have made this observation in recent years, but this is the first time I've been able to see for myself. I haven't yet compared it with the 1985-86 imagery.
There is shocking deterioration of the Boat Deck. Many holes and depressions are appearing there and in deckhouse roofs. Angled down but intact in 1986, major areas of roof on the starboard side of the first-class entrance have opened up and fallen in. The Boat Deck, just forward of the collapsed first-class Lounge, is caving in to A Deck on both the port and starboard sides, taking the Gymnasium with it. The gym is sagged way downward at its aft outboard corner; the whole room is now at an angle. Its starboard wall is a shambles. I could see the remains of wood paneling inside at the aft end of the gym where the roof has collapsed and revealed it. Two low, semi-cylindrical objects housing controllers for some of the gym's mechanical exercise equipment are still fitted to the wall at the aft end of room. Also, I think I saw the motor for one of the electric horses still standing under the fallen debris of the roof at the aft port corner of the room.
There are major holes in the deck outside the starboard first-class entrance, leaving only the athwartships girders underneath. No such holes were seen in any decks below Boat Deck, which was the thinnest deck, plated with 1/4-inch-thick plates, as compared to 1-3/4-inch (measured at the edges of the doubled plates) for B Deck Titanic's strength deck. The forward corners of the entrance house next to the winches have both split and opened wide with the starboard opening exposing the brass pneumatic message tubing used to send Marconigram forms between the Enquiry Office on C Deck and the Marconi Room. The high fragment of the outer shell plating of the No. 1 funnel is now gone, and the starboard ends of the No. 2 and 3 stokehold vents are collapsing, very damaged.
I was surprised to see an electric sign box over the gym entrance, fallen a foot or two from its original position. The glass is all gone, unfortunately, and the interior of the brass box is packed solid with verdigris-colored corrosion. I more closely examined a photo of the area taken in 1986, and sure enough, there it is. I had always wondered what the odd "fixture," apparently mounted to the bulkhead just above the gym door, was. Nothing that large can be seen on the wall over the door in the well-known Father Browne image. Now I know why: It is simply that the shadow of the dangling sign box, cast against the more distant wall, is too far to the right to show in the photo. If you look closely at the Browne image, you can see it hidden up under there. The sign faced outboard, unlike the electric "1st Class Entrance" sign just next to it.
Both electric boat winches now have fallen railing, dislodged from the roof just above, resting atop them. I could see easily into Captain Smith's bathroom as the peeled outer wall is all down now, lying in crumbs on the deck. Smith's bathtub is mostly buried in debris and silt, only the very forward end is visible now. The many faucet knobs hot salt, hot fresh, etc. are still in position. His marble sink juts out from the forward wall, intact but filled to the brim with silt. Its plated towel bar just below it, on the outboard side, looks perfectly preserved.
The portside "peel" in the wall of the Officers' Quarters has largely collapsed although it hasn't peeled nearly so far aft as on the starboard side. Just forward of the port winch, large holes have opened up in the wall between the aftmost stateroom windows, almost window-sized themselves. One of these holes marks the spot where a deck light was once fitted.
No definitive examination of the Marconi antenna roof connection is now possible because so much sub activity has pretty much scoured and scraped the area, a popular landing spot over the years. I had only one brief flyover in Mir 2, but I was fairly close and looked right down at the spot. I saw no landmarks, no sign of the fittings and vent that were there when the wreck was first photographed by ANGUS, the Woods Hole vehicle used in 1985-86 for taking downward-looking still photos. We'll have to depend on those first virgin images from the time of the discovery, I'm afraid, unless some other early stills or video are made available.
I looked for and found the brass "Officers Entrance" (no apostrophe) nameplate over the portside door, and Genya, our pilot, got some good video of it. What a treat! It's like new, still in place, screwed to its teak base. The matching nameplate on the starboard side could not be seen because it is now all covered by rusticles, and the one over the port first-class entrance, which was there in 1986, is now gone, presumably fallen to the deck or plucked. The areas of the bulkhead above the doors to the starboard first-class entrance and Gymnasium have corroded away, their brass nameplates presumably down in the debris below. Similar nameplates can be found in archival photos of Olympic.
Get this: There is hemp rope still tied/looped around at least one boat-launching bitt on the port side, the rope appearing to be in excellent condition. Unbelievable. This was at the aft davit for Boat No. 8. Several of these bitts are still fitted to the deck or lying around, whacked off during the sinking or through submersible activity. The rope survives because of its proximity to the metal bitt. The toxins in the corroding metal repel organisms that might devour the hemp over time and act as a preservative. A few inches away from the metal, the rope has disintegrated or been eaten away.
The roof over the forward bay of the Reading and Writing Room used to be level with maybe a two-foot hole in it. Then it sharply angled down aft where the arch used to be. No more. The down-angle now begins at the forward end of this roof, and the whole roof there is now collapsed or deteriorated away. It looked as if the forward bulkhead of the Reading and Writing Room is largely open to view, but we didn't take a close look.
Several holes have opened up above and below the outer windows of the A-deck enclosed promenade, but the heavy brass-framed windows themselves remain in place forward of the expansion joint. Aft of there, both port and starboard, where only a few years ago the outer wall and windows were mostly intact, only the first three or four windows are now left, still fitted into the steel "screen." Stanchions (vertical girders) are all that remain aft of that point all the way to the break area. The screen and brass window frames have completely fallen away.
Of the two large exterior B-deck doors on the port side, the forward one is missing, and the aft one sealed shut. On the starboard side it is the opposite. The forward one has opened about a foot, and the one just abaft is missing. I haven't yet seen any imagery from this trip showing the exterior door at the aft end of the starboard private promenade.
On the port side, I remember from the 1986 Ballard video a distinct crease or buckle beginning at C Deck in the region of the expansion joint and running, I presume, down the hull. I can see no similar damage on the starboard side, meaning my painting (p. 120, Discovery) is wrong. The creases I put there were an educated guess as I had seen no imagery of that area. I thought, if the superstructure is buckled there above, then surely something has to give below. But no. A survey I did on my first dive this summer revealed that there is no apparent buckle there, and all ports to the Swimming and Turkish baths, which are directly below the expansion joint, are unbroken. Although I noticed no vertical buckle, I did perceive a flaring out, or angling out, of the starboard hull beginning just above the F-deck ports in the region below the bridge, of which I had not been aware. Looking down as we moved from the Swimming Bath portholes forward along the hull at F Deck, it appeared to me that the lower hull begins to angle outward at about frame 70 and continues to the area of the large hole below the well deck. This "angle" seemed to me to be at least 20 degrees off from the vertical hull above; i.e., the hull plating below us seemed to be "facing" somewhat more upward and was not vertical as one would expect. Perhaps the effect was simply distortion induced by the thick Plexiglas viewport, but I don't think so.
During this survey I noted for the first time that both main gangway shell doors at D Deck, starboard side, remain tightly closed. In 1987, I painted one of these open as I knew one on the port side was. Another assumption made for lack of data.
I got a close look at the aft end of the bow section, the point of the break. The five boilers still fitted inside boiler room No. 2 are certainly an impressive sight. We had considered sending an ROV in between two boilers and forward to explore the boiler rooms, but sizable waterfalls of rusticles hanging between the boilers made such access doubtful. We didn't attempt it.
One day aboard Eas, I watched the stern closely on the Medusa video camera monitor. This camera is similar to that used in 1985 by Woods Hole's Argo vehicle, basically looking down, but in high-quality color and with tilt and zoom capabilities. I also spent several hours at the stern on one Mir dive. With everything I saw considered, I don't see much change from 1985-86 although, if the deterioration at the bow is any indication, there must be change in places. The engines appear the same, including all collapsed decking over them. There is much more extreme topography aft of the engines than I had thought. Some things really stick up high. The starboard A-deck crane is still there despite rumors to the contrary, although it may be a bit more sagged aft. It's really tipped.
There has apparently been some recent collapse in the region of the second-class entrance on the Boat Deck. We had wondered if there might be some access to the Veranda Palm Court and/or à la carte Restaurant from the port side. That area of the starboard side is draped with fallen decking and other debris. Since I had not seen much data for the port side, I suggested we might have a better chance of ingress there. For the appearance of the port side of the stern in my 1987 wreck painting, in the region just below the aft port end of the Boat Deck, I had made an educated guess for lack of information. After examining the ANGUS imagery, which looked straight down, I noticed that it appeared that the aft port edge of the Boat Deck was significantly higher than the blown-out shell plating below. I assumed, given this apparent height, that both A and B Decks were somewhat intact. As seen from above, there were no visible obstructions that might hinder our entering those decks at that point. So we maneuvered to that location only to find that just below the Boat Deck there was a mass of crushed metal sticking out and, just below that, C-deck portholes and the large windows of the second-class enclosed promenade. The space between Boat Deck and B Deck has simply disappeared. Genya then remarked that this collapse was fairly recent, that it was not like this a few years ago.
So it would appear that the stern may have lost some height since its discovery, perhaps 15 feet or so, at least on the port side. Aside from this, I noticed no other collapse.
A simple model of the stern section had been built to facilitate dive planning. One day during such a session, two of the Mir pilots pointed out that the model had a basic flaw: We had assumed a straight keel. This was not the case, they assured us. In their opinion, after many personal visits, the stern was twisted, or buckled, to starboard as much as 20 degrees at the well deck area. I'm sure my eyebrows went up, then quickly became knitted with skepticism. If there is indeed such a bend in the hull, I cannot imagine it being more than a few degrees. I've assembled a few simple mosaics over the years from ANGUS and Argo imagery and never noticed any such monstrous tweak in the hull.
We got very close with Medusa. At my urging the vehicle was lowered to within perhaps ten feet of the stern, and I asked the "pilot" controlling it to zoom in on details and artifacts I saw on deck. These included a gilt brass first-class Smoking Room chandelier (a bit crumpled up, as they all seem to be), a spittoon, an upright glass carafe, dislodged davits, and so on. I haven't yet seen the 3D footage taken from Mir 1 at the stern.
At the point where the hull broke, the cellular double bottom is completely visible as if looking at a clean cut-away. Amazingly, the hull at that point is not buried in the sediment a single inch, at least on the starboard side of the keel. The bottom of the hull rises gently from the sea bed as it extends to starboard, and the neatly snapped bilge keel is way above the sediment. Jake got a good view looking aft under the curve of the bilge. It's remarkably clean under there. I have not seen any close-up video to the port side of the keel. Either before or after his exploration of the engine room, Cameron paused for a moment and set the ROV down briefly on the sea bed next to the double bottom. As luck would have it, just inches in front of Jake lay two third-class or crew forks, resting exactly where they fell ninety years ago, appearing completely uncorroded and with no sediment on them at all.
As Mir 2 poured light from above, Jake entered and explored the reciprocating engine room. The ROV came across a sauce pan right off, lying between the massive engine beds of the port and starboard high-pressure cylinders. Mounted to the engine columns and other fittings were glimpsed a few brass signs or nameplates with words or letters or numbers on them that will have to be deciphered. They were not noticed at the time and were not examined closely. Moving aft between the engine columns, Jake eventually reached the bulkhead beyond which is the turbine engine room. The wall is a mass of rusticles so thick that the location of its watertight door can only barely be discerned under it all.
As access to the turbine engine seemed impossible from the reciprocating engine room, Cameron made an attempt to enter it from the opened, exposed starboard side. In Mir 2, we landed on a high, blown-out section of shell plating and illuminated the area for him. The huge starboard condenser, now outside the hull, lay just below and in front of us. Using Jake, Cameron searched the jumble of collapsed decks; debris; and long, flowing rusticles for any safe way to enter the turbine engine room. He also wanted to explore the dynamo room and main switchboard just aft of that if he could find any access. As Jake investigated the area, I looked out and noticed details of the massive section of hull plating on which we rested. The inside of the plating faced upward, its frames and rivets remarkably clean. One of its portholes, only a few feet from me, seemed like new. I noticed that it hinged on its aft side, which seemed odd. In the end, Cameron found no safe entry to the turbine or dynamo rooms.
We got a close-up view of the fallen aft davit for lifeboat No. 16 at the aft port end of the Boat Deck. Intact sections of red and blue floor tile and a twisted piece of stained glass, all from the first-class Smoking Room, rest on or near the davit. At one point we were right next to the second-class enclosed promenade windows on the port side, and I thought I could see faint remnants of the yellow-painted sheer line here under these windows. Although much paint survives elsewhere, it's the first time I've ever been able to detect this sheer-line paint on the wreck.
I had always wondered why the ship's name and port of registry under the fantail had never been found. Surely they must be there, I thought. The letters on the bow were photographed in 1987. But from Ballard onward, members of expeditions have told me they've looked but that the name on the stern is just not there. I reminded them that they shouldn't be looking for big brass letters bolted to the hull. The edges of the letters were simply ground ("cut") into the steel as a paint guide, nothing more. Yes, they said they knew that, but there were still no letters to be found. During my stern dive, we had a few moments at the fantail while waiting for Mir 1 to rendezvous; so we took advantage of the opportunity to lower the sub a bit and do some looking for ourselves. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Mike Cameron and I could make out the 12-inch-high letters "E" and "R" in "LIVERPOOL." Genya, I think, zoomed in for some Osprey video of it. We had dropped rather quickly to that position and wanted to rise a bit to search carefully for the 18-inch letters of "TITANIC," but Mir 1 was arriving, and our search was cut short. Perhaps close study of Genya's video will reveal faint outlines of the ship's name. If I detect it, I'll report it here.
The plaque Ballard left on the stern in 1986, I'm sorry to say, is now missing. It has either slid off from its precarious position on the edge of the fairlead or been intentionally removed.