Titanic's Last Secrets|
The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler
Twelve, $27.99, 333pp
Hot off the press on October first rolled yet another book about the sinking of the Titanic. Why, you ask. Don't we know it all by now? Well, the surprising answer to that question is an emphatic no!...unless of course you're more alert than I am to every little detail that seeps out in random media about the "Big T."
This book recounts a dive expedition on the Titanic in August of 2005 by the celebrity wreck divers, Chatterton and Kohler in Mir submersibles, what they found and the subsequent analysis of those findings. The dives helped confirm the suspicions of a lawyer involved in an earlier expedition to the wreckage. He had seen debris that had gone unnoticed in previous investigations and furthermore did not fit with the accepted theory of how the great ship sank.
The first 60 pages or so describes the organization of the expedition, the hiring of the Keldysh, a Russian ship regularly sailing out of St John, Newfoundland to the wreck site to deploy Mir submersibles from which high-paying customers could view the Titanic's carcass. ( I bet you didn't know that the word Mir means Peace or that these particular submersibles were built in 1987 in Finland or that they could dive 19,680 feet enabling them to reach 98 percent of the world's oceans.)
The group on board on that trip was a roster of men and women highly skilled in their fields. The accomplishments of Chatterton and Kohler are well documented in both books and television including a series called Deep Sea Detectives. Ralph White, the most experienced Titanic cinematographer and Billy Lange, one of the best deep-ocean imaging technicians alive were also on board. Maine-based naval architect, Roger Long was chosen not only because of his profession but because he also has more than 20 years experience in marine forensic and ship stability.
If the "ribbons of steel" that the lawyer had first noticed lying on the sea bed near the wreckage were able to be analyzed, they might lead to a surprising, even scandalous conclusion. The ship may not have sunk with the bow rising high into the frigid night—such a dramatic image for the movie-makers. Steaming back to St. John, conjecture was rampant. Only Roger Long wouldn't hazard a guess.
Clearly, the reader (even if she isn't a "Titaniac") is on tenterhooks at this point. And here, author Matsen makes a tactical error. He spends the next 150 pages recounting the history of the building of the Titanic and the history of the shipyard at which she was built— in Belfast, Ireland in 1910-11. All the reader wants to do is get on with the 20th Century discovery. The suspense drowns in the retelling of the back story.
The return to the 2005 begins with a chapter entitled, "Roger Wrong, Roger Right." Still in the speculative stage of analysis Long was shown a drawing of the design of the expansion joints built into Titanic's hull. Then he was shown the design used in liners built after the Titanic had sunk. Why did the builders change the design? The soup whose bones were the "ribbons of steel" had begun to boil. Roger Long was familiar with both the technology and the history of expansion joints. "He...knew that this design feature had fallen out of favor long ago because even after decades of development since the Titanic design, it was still structurally suspect."
And that's all I'm going to tell you. You'll have to read the book to find out how the Titanic really went down. Sorry, Leonardo, you'll have to do the movie over again.
Titanic's Last Secrets is both suspenseful and informative without being overly technical. I would have liked more time on the Keldysh with the scientists, engineers, technicians and crew as well as the remarkable equipment that was employed. That's not so much a criticism as an endorsement. The book should be a hit.