January 2007

It Could Be Worse...and You Think Your Job is Bad!

Author: Craig Hysell

Death really isn’t a funny subject (unless maybe the ones dying are mimes). But eventually, death smiles at us all, and all we can do is smile back. It’s when we ponder the fragility of our lives that we are able to put some things in perspective. For example: you probably take for granted the things that happen on a daily basis (e.g. sunsets, breathing, and your significant other annoying you). And while your job may be stressful at times, it really isn’t as bad as it seems. One simple fact remains: you are still alive when your shift is over.

So, for a moment, let us embrace humor, irreverence and our inevitable fate. Let us laugh at death (and be thankful it’s not us yet). Let us be happy we haven’t punched the ol’ time card for the last time and that we still get to go home to our lovely, sometimes annoying significant others. It is only when you are no longer breathing that your job couldn’t get any worse… well, almost.

RMS Tayleur

Being captain of the largest ship in the world certainly sounds like an enviable position. Of course, there’s always that age-old slice of wisdom, “Be careful what you wish for,”—a maxim Captain Noble would have been wise to heed.

On January 19, 1854, Captain Noble sailed the RMS Tayleur out of Liverpool on what was to be one of the most celebrated maiden voyages of the time. Built in less than six months, the Tayleur was a monstrosity of seafaring engineering. At 230 feet in length and 40 feet at the beam, displacing 1750 tons, she was the largest ship of her day. White Star Lines commissioned the three-deck ship to travel to Australia where a gold rush was in full swing and the Tayleur’s 4000 tons of cargo space might best be put to use, bringing some precious metal back to the motherland.

Forty-eight hours later, the ship was aground and people were dying. Compasses on the Tayleur didn’t work because of her iron hull. Captain Noble believed he was sailing his 71 crew members and 581 passengers south through the Irish Sea. Instead they were heading west, directly into a fog bank, a storm and Ireland. As soon as land was spotted through the fog and the rain (a fine Irish day to be sure), Noble sent emergency action orders throughout the ship. Unfortunately only 35 of the 71 crew members were actually trained seaman. The rest had lied in order to book a free passage to Oz, and this wasn’t Kansas anymore.

Not only was half the crew inept, but the ship was poorly designed. The rudder was undersized for her tonnage and the rigging was faulty, making control of the sails nearly impossible. In a last-ditch effort to save the ship, Noble ordered both anchors to be dropped. But nothing could stop the huge ship from crashing on the foreboding rocks of Lambay Island, just five miles from Dublin Bay.

As profanities were cast about like good-byes at a bon voyage, panic set in. Lifeboats were deployed and promptly smashed to pieces by the raging sea and sharp rock. It was time for Plan B.

A mast was collapsed, making a thin, round, slippery wooden bridge from the ship to a shore masked by fog and wind-whipped rain. The crowd waiting to get on this ride looked like the ticket line to Gigli.

Eventually some of the crew made it across, carrying ropes and attaching them to rocks on shore. Passengers had to clamber along the ropes high above the rocks as the Tayleur sank behind them if they were to survive. Three-hundred-eighty people didn’t. Of the 100 women on board, only three of them lived. The rest of the ladies were presumed to have drowned under the weight of their cumbersome clothing, which fashion of the era dictated. Once on shore the survivors were faced with an 80-foot climb up a rain-slick, sheer rock face to reach shelter and safety.

Captain Noble waited until the last possible moment before he jumped for his life. He made it. So what makes Captain Noble’s job worse than yours if he lived? Well, hopefully you aren’t a doomed captain on a poorly designed ship with an under-qualified crew responsible for 380 deaths today. And, hopefully you are the type of person who learns from your mistakes.

Fifty-eight years later, White Star Lines commissioned the largest ship of its time yet again. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. What do icebergs and the largest luxury liner in the world on her maiden voyage in 1912 have in common with the RMS Tayleur? A disaster of Titanic proportions.

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