To try to discover the position of Californian during the time when Titanic was sinking is to venture where mariners fear to sail. I am conscious that many have been this way before, but many have had particular axes to grind and many have been quite unqualified to lay down the law on the subject. Oddly enough, the only widely known book on the topic to be written by a qualified Master is Leslie Harrison's very biased A Titanic Myth: The Californian Incident. The whole story is bedevilled by rough estimations, hazy memories and outright lies. These are on top of the usual errors inherent in 1912 style navigation.
A vital piece of evidence is missing. Californian's log was evidently destroyed during World War II, though even this is not certain. Certainly it has never been subjected to modern forensic testing. It has been known since 1912 that several hours of the night of April 14th, 1912, were not written up in the log, but there is no technical proof that it was ever actually altered.
I propose to attack the problem using those facts which can be established by technical evidence, making little use of estimations, especially estimations of distances between lights at night. The reason for this is clear. To take a simple example, witnesses from Titanic placed the lights seen from her at anything from 3 to 10 miles away. To quote the Bard, "That way madness lies".
What can be found in the technical evidence? The facts are found in many sources and their interpretation requires a knowledge of the navigational procedures of 1912. I consider the following to be demonstrable.
I propose first to look at the evidence in a general way. Some believe that Captain Lord falsified his navigation through wishing to prove that he was far north of Titanic all night. His supporters claim that he was "one of the better navigators". What does the hard evidence say?
I next make a two-pronged attack on the evidence. Can a southerly limit for Californian's position be found? What if a northerly limit is considered? Do the two limits produce any agreement?
Captain Lord's navigation is not of the same standard as the big liners. In particular, he did not take the opportunity to fix his position by a round of star sights on the evening of April 14th. His longitudes are all suspect, because of this. The claimed afternoon longitudes mentioned in his 1959 affidavit are not expressed in the proper form and mean nothing.
Such a casual attitude is not exceptional and does not prove that Lord was falsifying his navigation. The working of star sights in 1912 was a long and tedious process. A fix by only three stars took about an hour to work. A textbook fix used five or more stars and took double the time. In mid-Atlantic, the precise longitude was not really that important, as there are no isolated dangers. Lord was only doing what countless others had done for years.
Lord's latitude at 10-30 p.m., carried forward from his Latitude by Polaris at 7-30 p.m., is subject to two errors.
Because of these factors, the latitude is quite possibly a truthful estimate. It does not in itself prove any malpractice by Lord.
The difference between Lord's estimated latitude of the three icebergs and Parisian's is about three miles. It is not certain that Parisian's position is better than Lord's. The discrepancy by itself proves nothing though it is notable that Lord, who arrived on the scene some hours after Parisian, places the bergs 3 miles north of Parisian's estimate. Was Lord further south than he thought at the time?
It is possible to set a southerly limit to Lord's overnight position.
At 4-00 a.m. Boxhall fired a final green flare in boat 2. This flare, visible at ten miles, was not seen on Californian, nor were any of his earlier flares. On Californian Second Officer Stone and Apprentice Gibson were looking towards Boxhall's boat but saw only Carpathia's rockets. Therefore, at 4-00 a.m., and for over one hour earlier, Californian was more than ten miles from boat 2. Taking a view least favorable to Lord, I place Boxhall in 41° 42'N and Californian at least eleven miles north, in 41° 53'N. at 4-00 a.m.
Allowing for a south going current of one knot, at 4-00 a.m. Californian had been drifting south since 10-30 p.m. and had covered some 5½ miles. Again taking the most unfavorable view and ignoring the odd half mile, I place Californian no further south than 41° 58' N at 10-30 p.m.
Under this scenario, at the time of the collision Californian, having drifted one mile south since stopping, would have been in 41° 57' N, ten miles north of the collision position determined by the 1990/92 enquiry.
Continuing this line of argument, by 6-00 a.m., when Californian got underway, she would have drifted to 41° 51' N, which is about nine miles north of where Carpathia picked up boat 2. This agrees roughly with Carpathia's Second Officer Bisset's statement that he saw Californian getting underway about ten miles north of his ship.
I therefore argue that Californian was at least ten miles from Titanic at the time of the collision and throughout the sinking. Had she been further south, Boxhall's flares would have been visible shortly after the sinking.
A northern limit for Californian's position is harder to establish. Lord's noon latitude of 42° 5'N was genuine, as I have shown. He had no need or desire to go further south, being already south of Boston and with no more than adequate coal. The numerous ice reports which were sent during April 14th mostly place the ice south of 42° N. Lord may well have hoped to avoid a diversion south by passing north of the thickest ice. Neither Lord nor his officers mention any change of course after noon. Californian continued to steer 269° True until 10-30 p.m. The course, slightly south of west, might have been chosen to allow for the weak ENE current mentioned above.
It is not possible to be sure when Californian came under the influence of the southerly current in the area of the icefield. By 10-30 p.m. she was certainly affected. It seems to me that two extreme situations should be considered.
This satisfies the requirement that Californian is at all times close enough to see the rockets fired by Titanic and Carpathia, but out of range of Boxhall's' flares.
It is right at the limit of visibility for the lights on Titanic's boat deck.
It roughly agrees with Bisset's estimated position of Californian in the morning, remembering that it is only an estimate, as is the speed I am allowing for the current.
In this case, Californian is only 3° off course since her noon position. This could easily result from poor steering and/or a minor compass error.
This course places Californian 's stopping point in 41° 58' N, after allowing one mile for drift south during the previous hour. Californian drifts a further mile by the time of the collision and is then 10 miles from Titanic. The ships drift at the same rate and about 10 miles apart until 2-20 a.m. Californian drifts to 41° 52' N by 4-00 a.m. and to 41°50' N by 6-00 a.m.
This scenario places Californian 10 miles from Boxhall at 4-00 a.m. This is right at the extreme range of his flares. At 6-00 a.m. Californian is about 8 miles from Carpathia.
If Californian was 10 miles from Titanic during the sinking, the lights on the upper decks of Titanic were visible. All the rockets fired by Titanic and Carpathia were visible, but Boxhall's flares were at the limit of their range.
Californian's 6-00a.m. position is close to Bisset's estimation.
Any further south than 41° 58' N places Californian within range of Boxhall's flares and too close to Carpathia in the morning.