British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 24

Testimony of Edwin G. Cannons

Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

23714. You have been a Master Mariner for over twenty years?
- Yes.

23715. Holding a Master's Certificate, and have been thirty-six years going to sea?
- Yes.

23716. You have been in the service of the Atlantic Transport Company for nearly twenty-five years?
- Yes.

23717. And in command for about twenty years?
- Over twenty.

23718. And during the whole of that time have you been sailing in the North Atlantic?
- The whole of the time.

23719. London and New York, Boston, Philadelphia and baltimore?
- Yes.

23720. And before that at times you were sailing in the North Atlantic?
- Yes, quite a time.

23721. In the course of your experience have you met icebergs and also field ice?
- Yes.

23722. Have you ever met ice-fields on the southern outward and homeward tracks which were agreed in 1898?
- No, I have never seen field ice on the southern track.

23723. You have never seen field ice?
- No.

23724. Have you ever seen icebergs?
- Yes, several.

23725. On the outward track or the homeward track?
- On both tracks.

23726. At this time of year, we are speaking of in April?
- Yes.

23727. Often?
- No, not often, they do not get down as early as that as a Rule.

23728. I only want to understand. Do you mean you have met them now and again. Give us an idea how often it is that you have come across icebergs on the track, either the outward or the homeward track?
- Well, you may run three or four years clear; then again you get an exceptional ice season and the ice comes down both earlier and more rapidly.

23729. So that in that exceptional season you would expect to meet icebergs on that track?
- Yes.

23730. It has got further south, at an earlier period?
- Yes.

23731. Presumably it is a matter to which your attention is always directed when you are crossing?
- Oh, yes.

23732. It is the sort of thing I suppose that an experienced captain always has in mind when he is on the North Atlantic track at this time of year?
- Oh, yes, we are always on the alert for it for many months.

23733. There is only one further question I want to put to you. When you do sight an iceberg do you reduce your speed or do you keep your speed?
- I keep my speed.

23734. What is the speed of the vessel?
- Sixteen knots.

23735. You keep your speed - that, of course, is, I suppose, in the day or it might be at night?
- Both day and night.

23736. The question I put to you, and you have answered, is when you have sighted an iceberg?
- Yes.

23737. Then you have time, I suppose, from what you said, to get clear of the iceberg going at the speed at which your vessel then is?
- I have never had any difficulty to clear when I have met ice ahead.

23738. Does that mean that you see the ice some distance ahead?
- Yes.

23739. How far as a Rule?
- Well, I have seen it over three miles and at less distances.

23740. Are you speaking of the day or night?
- At night.

23741. Do you mean you would see it further in the daytime?
- Yes, decidedly, in clear weather.

23742. At night you have seen it at three miles and sometimes less?
- Yes.

23743. And supposing that your look-out is properly kept and that the night is clear is there any difficulty in your sighting an iceberg at sufficient distance to enable you to steer clear of it?
- None whatever.

23744. And supposing you received reports of icebergs in a latitude and longitude which you would expect to be crossing during the night would you take any precaution as regards speed?
- I should maintain my speed and keep an exceptionally sharp look-out until such time as I either had the ice-blink or some sight of ice ahead or in the track of the vessel.

23745. What would be the exceptionally sharp look-out you would keep?
- I mean with reference to everybody concerned by my cautioning them and giving my Officers instructions to inform the look-out to be on the alert.

23746. Where is your look-out stationed?
- In clear weather under ordinary circumstances in the crow's-nest.

23747. How many do you carry there?
- One.

23748. Would that be the only man on the look-out in clear weather except the Officers on the bridge?
- That would be the only one.

23749. And supposing you were sailing at night and had to keep this exceptionally sharp look-out which you have told us of because of having had ice reports, would you increase the numbers of men on the look-out or not?
- No, not in clear weather.

23750. Do you mean that you would go on steaming at the same speed with your man in the crow's-nest, and that is all?
- That is all.

23751. You do not put anybody apparently in the stem head?
- No, not unless the weather becomes hazy or any difference to ordinary clear weather.

23752. If the weather does become hazy it would be better to put a man on the stem head, I understand?
- A man goes there immediately.

23753. You have heard the distance at which it is said that this iceberg was first seen on the "Titanic." Do you know it?
- I do not know it.

23754. At any rate not further than half a mile. The exact distance I agree is difficult to state, but not further than half a mile it is said to have been.

The Commissioner:
I should have said not so much.

23755. (The Attorney-General.) I am putting it at the extreme purposely. That is the extreme distance at which it is put. (To the witness.) Suppose it was a little less than half a mile, can you account for the look-out man not having seen it if it was a clear night?
- No.

23756. And supposing it was a clear night, no haze, ought the look-out men in the crow's-nest to have seen it?
- They should have done, I should imagine.

23757. And if the iceberg is 60 to 80 feet high from the water level, at what distance do you think it ought to have been seen?
- My experience would be that you would see it at least two miles.

23758. At least two miles?
- Yes.

23759. (The Commissioner.) Then ought not the men on the bridge to see it?
- Yes.

23760. They ought to see it?
- Yes.

23761. At the same distance?
- Yes.

23762. Have you seen black ice?
- No, My Lord; I have not seen black ice, but the ice varies considerably in its appearance.

23763. Have you seen many icebergs?
- Yes, My Lord.

23764. And you have never seen a black iceberg?
- No.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

23765. If there is any difficulty at all in seeing ahead at night, would it be in accordance with your practice to double the look-out?
- Yes.

23766. You think that would be the proper thing to do?
- If there was any haze at all, yes, immediately.

23767. Apart from haze, if there was what has been described here as a flat calm and the conditions were such that it would be more difficult than on an ordinary clear night to see an iceberg ahead, would you double the look-outs?
- Not in perfectly clear weather.

23768. If it is calm is it more difficult to see an iceberg?
- I have not found it so.

23769. (The Commissioner.) Do you think it is more difficult to see an iceberg when the sea is flat and with the weather quite clear? Do you think the flat sea prevents you from seeing an iceberg as readily as you would do if the sea were rough or rippled?
- No.

23770. You do not believe in that?
- No.

23771. (Mr. Scanlan.) If any condition of the weather prevented you from seeing clearly you would double the look-out?
- Decidedly.

23772. If at night ice was reported ahead of you in the track which you were taking would you double the look-out?
- No; not if it was clear.

Then you do not agree with the last witness?

The Commissioner:
What did the last witness say?

Sir Robert Finlay:
The last witness is in a different trade.

Mr. Scanlan:
I think he said if the weather was clear, if ice was reported to him at night, he would put a man on the stem head.

Sir Robert Finlay:
No, he said the opposite.

The Commissioner:
What he said was he would tell the Officer and the man on the look-out to be alert.

The Attorney-General:
It is not quite what this Captain has said, but I think my friend is right, according to my recollection of it. He did say in the ice region. He would put a man on the stem head.

The Commissioner:
Is Captain Jones here, or has he gone away?

The Attorney-General:
It is on the Note, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
What did he say, Sir Robert, according to you?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I rather think that he said that he doubled the look-out, but I am not quite positive as to whether he said he did that in clear weather.

Mr. Scanlan:
I have a very distinct recollection of his saying that.

The Commissioner:
My colleagues seem to think you are right.

The Attorney-General:
When he gets to the ice region.

23773. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) I wish you to understand what I am putting to you. The time I am speaking of - night, no moon, but stars - it is reported to be more difficult to see than in ordinary circumstances, and yet it is said to be clear. Would you, in those circumstances, put a look-out man on the stem head?
- If there were the slightest haze or any indication of any other different weather than the clear weather, the look-out would be immediately increased.

23774. When you speak of increasing the look-out, what you refer to is putting a man on the stem head?
- Yes.

23775. You carry one man in the crow's-nest, do you?
- Yes.

23776. And one man on the stem head?
- No.

23777. I mean when you double the look-out?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
He would, when he doubles the look-out.

23778. (Mr. Scanlan.) That is what I mean. (To the witness.) Is it considered that the position of the stem head is a good commanding position from which to see low-lying ice?
- Yes, it is a position of advantage.

Mr. Scanlan:
It is a position of advantage.

Examined by Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS.

23779. Is your company owned and controlled by the International Mercantile marine?
- Yes.

23780. You have heard the sailing directions read out by Sir Robert Finlay when in the ice region. Are those similar sailing directions?

Sir Robert Finlay:
These were the Canadian directions. This gentleman is not in the Canadian service.

Mr. Edwards:
I misunderstood you.

Sir Robert Finlay:
The last witness was on the Canadian route, and the directions relate to that.

23781. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) Very well. Thank you, Sir Robert. (To the witness.) You have sailing directions from your company?
- Yes.

23782. Does your book of sailing directions make any mention at all of what you are to do in the ice region?
- I have not the book with me. I could not exactly say now.

Mr. Edwards:
May I ask here quite formally, My Lord, if those representing the International Company will please produce the sailing directions for the different lines controlled by that company?

The Commissioner:
I do not know that there is anybody here that does represent that line.

Sir Robert Finlay:
As far as I know, My Lord, there is nothing except what is already in evidence, and it has been stated that there are no specific directions as to ice.

The Attorney-General:
I do not think my friend Mr. Edwards had in mind that the Rules we have produced are the International Marine Company's.

Mr. Edwards:
I quite understand, but you will remember there is no mention here at all of ice. What I am trying to get, and got from the last witness, was that he belonged to a company controlled by the International, and he had sailing directions for the ice-field.

The Attorney-General:
That is in accordance exactly with the evidence Sir Robert produced. What it means is that where they are on this track, the North Atlantic track, between the United Kingdom and New York and boston and so forth, they do not get those directions as to ice. There are no special directions as to ice; but when they are in the Canadian service then they do get the directions as to ice which were read by Sir Robert just now with the last witness, who was on the Canadian service. That is how it stands.

Mr. Edwards:
This Witness is a little vague as to whether in his instructions there is anything at all about ice.

23783. (The Commissioner.) Do you have this book which I have here?

The Witness:
I have it on board the steamer, but I have not the regulations in my mind, every one of them.

The Commissioner:
There is no reference to ice. "He must remember that his first duty is to keep a good look-out and avoid running into danger."

23784. (Mr. Edwards - To the witness.) Will you kindly look at that book (Handing book to the witness.) is that what you call your sailing directions?
- Well, it looks similar.

23785. Just look at it a little carefully. Have you any directions from your owners other than that?
- None.

The Commissioner:
I should like to know if he received the letter that we were told was given to every captain, but the letter did not carry it any further.

Mr. Edwards:
There can be no difficulty if Sir Robert Finlay will allow us to have a copy of the sailing directions on the Canadian trade, so that we may see exactly what they are.

The Commissioner:
This gentleman is not on the Canadian trade.

Mr. Edwards:
That I understand, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
The last witness was.

Mr. Edwards:
May I ask quite formally that we have produced from the Dominion Line a copy of the sailing directions which they issue to their Captains in the Canadian Trade.

The Commissioner:
You are not satisfied with that piece of paper; you want the book.

Mr. Edwards:
That is so, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Very well, you can get it I daresay, Sir Robert.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Oh, yes. Certainly, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
I am sure there is no difficulty in getting it, it will be in the office.

Sir Robert Finlay:
The extract contains what relates to ice.

Examined by Sir ROBERT FINLAY.

How long have you been navigating the North Atlantic?

The Commissioner:
This track?

23786. (Sir Robert Finlay.) This track.

The Witness:
In command? 20 years.

23787. (The Commissioner.) Either as officer or Captain?
- Over 25 years.

23788. (Sir Robert Finlay.) Has the practice been the same during the whole of that time?
- No.

23789. Now tell me what difference has been made?
- When I was a young Officer there were no tracks laid down. Each Master followed his own course - what he considered was a safe track at any time of the year.

23790. Then in 1898 these tracks were agreed upon as we have heard?
- Yes, and came into force at the beginning of January, 1899.

23791. But before 1898 had you any system of reporting ice; did passing vessels report ice to one another before the marconi system was introduced?
- Yes, we had an ice code by which by one signal you could communicate with any other passing vessel the position of ice seen, or by a number of flags whether ice had been seen or not, whether the weather was clear or whether it had been hazy.

23792. So that long before marconigrams were heard of you did get those signals from and gave those signals to passing vessels?
- Yes.

23793. When you got those signals did you slacken speed?
- No.

23794. Has the practice in that respect been the same the whole time you have known the trade?
- Yes.

23795. (The Commissioner.) What is the speed of your vessel?
- Sixteen knots.

23796. (Sir Robert Finlay.) That is her top speed?
- Yes.

23797. (The Commissioner.) Now, assume you had under your command a vessel of 22 knots, would you slacken speed then?
- Not in clear weather.

23798. (Sir Robert Finlay.) Now, would you describe to us the appearance of the icebergs in your experience; what do they look like as regards colour?
- In day or night?

23799. Well, take first day?
- In the day they appear as a white glistening mass, irregular in shape, white.

23800. Then at night?
- At night they throw off an effulgence that can be seen. I have seen the outlines of an iceberg by taking a bearing over seven miles.

23801. It is what is called ice-blink?
- Yes, it is an effulgence thrown off the berg or ice because the ice absorbs the light by day, and throws it off at night. It would look like a large mass of luminous paint. That is the description one might venture upon.

23802. It has taken in the light of the sun during the day and throws it off at night?
- Yes.

23803. Anyhow, that is the effect you see?
- Yes.

23804. Have you ever seen a black berg?
- No.

23805. In your experience are icebergs dark or black?
- I have seen them much darker. Might I explain an experience of mine some years ago which will give you possibly an idea of the difference in the colour.

23806. If you please?
- When I was Chief Officer of our "Michigan" I saw an iceberg capsize in the daytime. What appeared prior to the iceberg capsizing as a white glistening mass, after the sea had subsided and the water run off the portion that was then exposed, was apparently dark blue.

23807. Have you ever come across an iceberg that looked of that colour. You say you saw this one capsize?
- Yes, in the daytime.

23808. And then did you notice its colour? It was quite different from what it was before?
- It was different in outline and different in colour.

23809. Very well. Before it capsized it was white, I suppose, as you have described?
- Yes.

23810. Then after that it was dark blue. Have you ever seen another iceberg of that dark colour?
- No, only that one that capsized.

23811. Where there is a swell or a little wind does the water break at the foot of the berg?
- Oh, yes.

23812. Now supposing you had a dark blue berg such as you have described, dark in colour, what would the effect of the water breaking at the foot of it with a swell or wind be as regards what you would see?
- Well, it would show whiter at the base.

23813. But in your experience the bergs have been white except with this one exception?
- With the exception of this one which I saw in daylight and noticed the difference in the colour; all of them have been discernible at nighttime, and of course in the day.

23814. In addition to the look-out you have the Officers on the bridge?
- Yes.

23815. And if you hear of ice do you tell them all to be on the look-out, to be on the alert?
- Yes; the watch is mustered on the bridge, the Officer inspects them, and instructs them specially to keep their eyes open.

23816. In your experience is the practice of all as regards speed, though ice has been reported, the same that you have stated, to keep up speed?
- Yes, to maintain speed until the ice is seen.

23817. What do you think of binoculars for the look-out men?
- I do not think they are any advantage at all. In the North Atlantic trade they would not be of much use because they are so easily blurred.

Re-examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

23818. There is only one thing I want you to explain to us a little more fully. According to the view that you have expressed, you may have passed dark bergs quite close without seeing them? Is that right?
- Well, it would be possible.

23819. It would follow from your evidence?
- We are not looking out for the ice that is out of the steamer's particular track.

23820. According to your view, an iceberg that had capsized might present a dark blue appearance?
- Yes, that is as I saw it in the daylight. I could not say what it would look like at night.

23821. You have never seen such a thing at night?
- No.

23822. You have never seen this dark coloured iceberg at night?
- No; some are certainly more effulgent than others.

23823. When you saw this one which you have spoken of which had capsized, how high was it out of the water?
- I should say it was 60 feet high.

23824. I suppose it is not a rare thing for an iceberg to capsize?
- No; as soon as they lose their gravity they turn over.

23825. And if the ice is melting in coming further south there comes a point at which it does capsize?
- Yes.

23826. And, of course, in the night if it is going to present a dark appearance like that such as you have described you said in the daytime, it would be particularly dangerous?
- Yes.

23827. So that it would be necessary if you expected to meet icebergs at that time of night to proceed with great caution, would it not?
- By my experience I have always been able to see them on a clear night.

23828. You see the difficulty from what you said that strikes me is that of course in all your experience you have always been able to see those that you have actually seen; but there may have been some that have passed you that you have not seen?
- It is quite sure there have been some pass which I have not seen.

23829. It has been your good fortune that you did not strike them or they strike you?
- Yes, but they would not be on my track.

23830. I do not quite follow. Do you mean that you would not expect to see one in your track?
- Oh yes, I should be on the alert for it.

23831. It does come to this, does it not, that you would be on the alert looking out for these icebergs which you could see?
- Yes.

23832. (The Commissioner.) Do you believe there are icebergs that you cannot see?
- No, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Will some one describe to me - perhaps you can do it, Sir Robert - how an iceberg capsizes and what comes up on the surface after it has capsized?

Sir Robert Finlay:
From some cause or other, breaking off the ice below it gets top-heavy, it turns over, and what was previously under water is presented above.

The Commissioner:
Does it ever happen when that takes place that the ice which is under the water and comes up to the surface may be higher, and in that sense larger than the ice that was at the top before?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I should have thought not, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Well, I think not.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I should have thought not, but I speak with deference.

The Commissioner:
I am wondering whether you could have a low-lying mass of ice, with possibly a spike underneath, and the thing turns up, and the spike appears higher than the low-lying mass of ice that you had before. I was wondering whether this iceberg can be said, in a sense, to have appeared suddenly.

The Attorney-General:
There must have been something there before.

The Commissioner:
Of course, it must have been there before in some shape or another, but could it have appeared suddenly, as a considerably high thing out of the water, whereas before it was not?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I will consider very carefully the question your Lordship has put. At present, as it occurs to me, I should not have thought it would have been higher out of the water than it was before; in fact, I should have thought it was rather the other way.

The Attorney-General:
It must be, to some extent, a question of configuration. I should say I am going to call some evidence which, I think, will give you all the information you want on this.

23833. (The Commissioner.) I understand Captain Jones has gone. (To the witness.) Do you know the circumstances in which this collision is alleged to have taken place?
- Only from what I have read in the Press.

23834. Very well. Just assume this: A perfectly clear night, a perfectly flat sea, and no wind, and therefore nothing in the nature of surf round the edge of the iceberg. Would those circumstances, in your opinion, Make the sighting of an iceberg difficult?
- Yes, it would increase the difficulty of seeing it.

23835. Are those circumstances very rare?
- Yes.

23836. A perfectly flat sea, no swell, no ripple?
- They are extremely rare in the North Atlantic.

23837. But still such circumstances are sometimes found?
- Yes, My Lord.

23838. How far do you suppose you would see an iceberg in those circumstances?
- I should say a mile.

23839. A vessel going 22 knots an hour, sighting an iceberg a mile away, can, I suppose, clear it?
- Yes.

23840. Now can you explain to me why the "Titanic" did not clear this iceberg? Have you formed any theory?
- It is possible for the iceberg to extend under the water a considerable distance from the portion seen above.

23841. But that scarcely agrees with the facts here, because some ice fell on the deck?
- That could easily occur with the concussion, My Lord. She was going at high speed; it may have crushed against the vessel's side, and come up on deck.

The Attorney-General:
No, everybody says it fell on the deck.

23842. (The Commissioner.) I understand your suggestion to be that the part of the berg that they saw was not that which struck the vessel, but that it was part of the berg underneath the water that struck the ship?
- I say that is possible.

23843. Which extended some way from the berg which stood up?
- Yes, it is quite possible. I have only read the newspaper reports.

23844. Have you any other explanation? That does not satisfy me very well. Do you think a bad look-out would account for it?
- I think they had a good look-out there, My Lord.

23845. Never mind whether you think they had a good one or not. Would a bad look-out account for it?
- Yes.

23846. Can you account for it in any other way - a bad look-out and going at the rate of 22 knots an hour?
- They should have seen the berg in time to have cleared it.

23847. You think they should?
- Yes.

23848. That means to say, taking you as a skilled man in navigation, you think there must have been bad navigation somewhere?
- No, I do not think that, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Perhaps I ought not to have asked that question.

23849. (The Attorney-General.) There is one question on what your Lordship has said. (To the witness.) Before this accident to the "Titanic" had it ever occurred to you that on a specially calm night and a specially clear night it would be more difficult to detect an iceberg?
- Oh, yes.

23850. So that a skilled navigator would expect that it would be more difficult on a specially calm night and on a specially clear night?
- Yes, it would be more difficult in the calm. You see the sea causes an extra warning, breaking against the berg.

The Commissioner:
"Specially clear" does not add to the difficulty; specially calm does.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, but you have to take into account also that it is specially clear.

The Commissioner:
It is easier to see then.

The Attorney-General:
Yes. You must take the two into account. If you say it was not a specially clear night -

The Commissioner:
Oh no, the evidence was it was specially clear.

The Attorney-General:
That is why I am putting to him the particular conditions with which we have to deal. As I understand, your Lordship's view of the evidence is, at any rate at present, that you discard the evidence with regard to haze.

The Commissioner:
That is right.

The Attorney-General:
That therefore eliminates that from consideration; and then what you have to deal with is the specially calm night and also the evidence that it was a specially clear night. You have those two things.

The Commissioner:
Yes. I thought you were putting to the witness the suggestion that the clearness of the night detracted from the power of detecting an iceberg.

The Attorney-General:
No, I was putting the circumstances we are dealing with in the particular case. That is what I wanted to do.

(The witness withdrew.)