Sinking the Unsinkable, Chapter 6

The story so far: Overcrowded and behind schedule, with rebellious passengers and a mutinous crew, the RMS Torytanic continues her voyage. Despite the best efforts of assistant purser Shipps, Captain Cameron is starting to despair of ever finding a solution to the shortage of berths. Until, one day at the beginning of April…

Ship’s journal of Captain D.W.D Cameron, Esq, Monday April 2: It’s pointless to pretend anymore that my accommodation revolution is working, no matter how much Mr Shipps insists that all we have to do is challenge the lazy consensus. The passengers in steerage are crammed in like sardines and have turned the lifeboats into improvised dormitories. Something had to be done and that something is fortunately on time for its rendezvous.

I wish I could pretend that the RMS Hull is as well-appointed as the Torytanic but that would be a lie. She is a rust bucket but fortunately she has space, lots and lots of space for all our extra passengers. And there is something else too. ‘Look at all that work, captain,’ says my chief steward, Mr Duncan Smith. ‘All that rust, all those surfaces that need painting.’ As Samantha says, he really is the most insufferably sanctimonious officer on board, so I know she would approve of my next action. ‘And I know just the chap to supervise it all,’ I tell him. ‘Pack your bags, Mr Duncan-Smith.’

At the last moment, I have another inspired thought and instruct two crewmen to fetch our ship’s surgeon Dr Lansley. He’s drunk again of course, clutching a bottle of medicinal rum and shouting something incoherent as they winch him aboard, but finally we are rid of him.

Saturday April 14, 23:40: Awoken by a loud banging and scraping noise that seems to echo through the whole ship. I call up to the bridge to enquire. ‘We appear to have hit an iceberg, Captain,’ First Lieutenant Clegg tells me. ‘But Mr Osborne says there is nothing to worry about because the Torytanic is unsinkable.’  Loath as I am to leave the warmth of my cabin, there is no way I could leave Mr Clegg in charge of anything, let alone a great ship like this one.

Sunday April 15, 00:10: The ship appears to be listing slightly to port. ‘Are you sure we are not sinking, Mr Osborne?’ I ask my chief engineer once again. ‘Absolutely, captain,’ he tells me. ‘Nobody said our more northerly course would be easy but we will safely complete the crossing.’

There is something about way the way he smiles as he says it that gives me pause for thought. Once everyone is safely out of the way I use the intercom system to call down to my cabin. ‘Samantha?’ I say. ‘I don’t want to alarm you and please try and stay calm but I’m sending a crewman down to take you to the nearest lifeboat.’

01:17: The slight list has become a pronounced lean and the lower decks are already underwater. I call an officers meeting. ‘It’s hopeless, captain,’ says our chief navigator Mr Cable, ‘we are sinking fast, exactly as I warned you before we set sail.’ I never considered him officer material.

‘Has anyone got anything constructive to say?’ I ask but the rest of them simply sit there looking at the ground or the ceiling. Finally the spell is broken by a crash as the door is thrown open and an oil-stained Mr Osborne appears, wielding a large wrench. ‘I’ve fixed her, captain,’ he cries. ‘All we have to do is stick to our course and we will prevail, we will…’

At that there is another lurch to port and we all begin to slide across the floor. There is nothing else for it. ‘Abandon ship,’ I cry.

02:20: I can see the moonlight gleaming off the stern of my beloved Torytanic as she slowly sinks into the cold Atlantic. The passengers and crew are huddled into the lifeboats. I find myself sharing mine with Mr Shipps and Mr Dromey, and obliged to listen to their non-stop squabbling. ‘There,’ says and the bumptious former first mate from the RMS Labour. ‘That proves it. Two hours, forty minutes after we hit the iceberg. Your ship has sunk 17.4 per cent faster than ours.’ I look across to Mr Shipps. ‘Nonsense,’ he cries. ‘We are now rescuing 23.4 per cent more passengers than you did and displacing 11.67 per cent less water.’

Somehow, as we wait for the rescue ships that must surely come soon, I am losing the will to live. If there is a God, He is surely punishing me.

Originally published in 24Housing magazine

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