Did the film correctly show the order of "hard to port" as the ship struck the iceberg? "

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A column appearing in the Atlanta Journal called "Q & A On the News" Tuesday and Wednesday of this week might be of interest to "Titanic" history buffs.

(Tuesday) Question: I'm bothered by something I saw in the movie "Titanic." When the ship is about to collide with the iceberg, an order goes to the helmsman to turn starboard. Although it seems like it won't be able to change direction, the ship slowly does begin to turn. However, it is to the left, and left is port, not starboard. Am I missing something?

(Answer) Your observation seems to be correct. On a Discovery Channel program Sunday night dealing with the actual disaster, it was clearly shown in the dialogue--and by a computer-generated scene repeated several times--that the order on the real ship was "hard to port." And the Titanic did turn, ever so slowly, to port, but not in time. So the impact with the berg was on its starboard side. Oddly, one of the pieces of music on the movie's soundtrack is titled "Hard to Starboard." Paramount Pictures representatives so far have been unable to get an explanation for the apparent miscue, but they were swamped with Oscar business and other activities when Q & A inquired. If and when an explanation is forthcoming, we'll pass it along.

(Wednesday) An item in Tuesday Q & A dealt with the order in the movie "Titanic" to turn to starboard after the iceberg was sighted, although the vessel then turn to port, which confused a number of readers. The reason for what appears to be a mix-up in the film is clarified in the April issue of Boating World magazine, published in Atlanta. The order to First Officer Murdoch to turn "hard a-starboard" is backward to modern boaters, the magazine reports. But in 1912, helm orders always referred to the movement of the tiller, rather than the ship's bow. So turning the tiller to starboard caused the vessel to turn left (port). In the early 1920s, most of the world switched to port and starboard bow orders, Boating World adds. [See: James Cameron knows that he's doing!]

-- Walt Dervin (wdervin@orwell.coweta.k12.ga.us), March 26, 1998


See also:


-- Thomas M. Terashima (titanicShack@yahoo.com), March 26, 1998.

The direction was correct. Starboard is the right side of the ship when you face the ship having the bow in front of you. So "hard a starboard" ment turning the ship to the left, as the movie portrays.

-- Dan Draghici (ddraghic@sprint.ca), March 26, 1998.

This question was one of the first to show up on this board back in December (how many of us were here then?). I think this question and its extensive list of answers can still be found under "technical details"; check the list of old questions.

Anyway, Cameron got it right in the movie. The steering wheels on ships were not changed to match what we do on cars until sometime after WWI.

-- Thomas Shoebotham (cathytom@ix.netcom.com), March 26, 1998.


Is the Boating World item simply a Q&A thing or a Titanic-related article? Just wondering if this is something I should look for to add to my "Titanic" magazine collection which now numbers around 40 items. Thanks.

-- Kathleen Marcaccio (dkosh@mns.com), March 26, 1998.

I seem to recall answering this one quite some time ago (at least 11 Oscars, three or four Golden Globes, and $500 mil ago :-).

To reiterate, prior to 1924, ships wheels were rigged to mimic the action of a tiller on sailing ships. The tiller was a lever attached to the rudder shaft, and was used to turn the rudder (many pleasure sailboats still use them today). To turn the rudder (and the vessel) left (port), you push the tiller to the right, or starboard; to turn the rudder to the right, you push the tiller to the left.

When steering wheels were introduced to sailing ships, they were rigged to behave like the tiller; as steam replaced sail, the practice was carried over until the mid 1920s, at which time the ships steering gear were re-rigged to mimic an automobile steering wheel to accomodate a new generation of sailors who had grown up with the automobile. But at the time of Titanic, the old rules were still in effect.

The order, "Hard Astarboard" as given by First Officer Murdoch, and Titanic's slow turn to port, both as portrayed in the film, are historically accurate.


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), March 26, 1998.

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