Steam­ing to­ward dis­as­ter: Peril of im­pa­tience RICK GAM­BLE

The Expositor (Brantford) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

The sink­ing is known as Canada’s Ti­tanic — if it’s known at all. Since it hap­pened just as the Great War ended, and while a flu epi­demic was claim­ing thou­sands, the story got lost in the in­ter­na­tional news cy­cle. And that’s de­spite the con­tention all 364 vic­tims could’ve been saved.

The SS Princess Sophia was a steel pas­sen­ger liner owned by the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way. With three sis­ter ships, it car­ried peo­ple and sup­plies through the In­side Pas­sage, a se­ries of wind­ing channels and straits link­ing cen­tres in Bri­tish Columbia and Alaska, in­clud­ing Vic­to­ria, Van­cou­ver, Juneau and Sk­ag­way.

More than a work­horse, the ves­sel had many fea­tures of an ocean liner, in­clud­ing wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion, full elec­tric light­ing, and lux­u­ri­ous state­rooms. She car­ried 75 crew and 289 pas­sen­gers as she be­gan her fi­nal voy­age on Oct. 23, 1918. Aboard were min­ers, sol­diers and the crews of north­ern pad­dle­wheel­ers, done for the sea­son.

Three hours late, the Sophia headed south from Sk­ag­way into Lynn Canal, a nat­u­ral in­let into south­ern Alaska. Capt. Leonard Locke took the nar­row chan­nel at full speed to make up time, but ran into blind­ing snow and a vi­cious north­east­erly wind.

Things were so bad, the crew had to nav­i­gate by “dead reck­on­ing”: blow­ing the ship’s whis­tle and cal­cu­lat­ing their lo­ca­tion by how long it took for the echo to re­turn. It’s es­ti­mated the Sophia was off course by at least one nau­ti­cal mile.

That be­came cru­cial when it reached Van­der­bilt Reef, the jagged top of an un­der­wa­ter moun­tain. The only way past it was a 1.6-kilo­me­tre stretch to the left of the rocks. At 2 a.m., in un­re­lent­ing snow and heav­ing seas, the ship had no chance.

It slammed hard into the reef, throw­ing pas­sen­gers from their beds and scat­ter­ing cargo. A may­day went out and crews in Juneau scram­bled to re­spond.

But there was an im­me­di­ate dilemma. With high tide com­ing and the seas al­ready tu­mul­tuous, an evac­u­a­tion would be treach­er­ous. And years ear­lier, when a ship called the Clal­lam ran aground in that same area, an evac­u­a­tion saw three lifeboats cap­size, drown­ing 54, whereas the ship stayed afloat and ev­ery­one still aboard was saved.

With the barom­e­ter promis­ing bet­ter weather on the way, Locke chose not to evac­u­ate un­til the storm cleared. But it wors­ened, in­stead. Gales kept res­cue boats from the stricken ship, which was tak­ing on wa­ter. Then a hor­rific wind whipped the Sophia al­most com­pletely around and ripped open the ship’s bot­tom on the rocks be­fore the ves­sel was washed into deeper wa­ter.

The sea poured in, the boiler ex­ploded killing many, and the ship sank in a half hour. The only sur­vivor was an English set­ter.

In the af­ter­math, 60 ex­perts en­dorsed Cap­tain Locke’s de­ci­sion not to evac­u­ate, law­suits against CPR failed, and a lighted buoy was fi­nally placed atop the Van­der­bilt Reef which is still passed rou­tinely by Alaskan cruise ships. But the sink­ing is still the worst mar­itime dis­as­ter in the his­tory of the west coast.

Though the cap­tain’s de­ci­sion not to evac­u­ate im­me­di­ately re­mains con­tro­ver­sial, the big­ger les­son for us is the dan­ger of tak­ing risks to make up for lost time.

It hap­pens of­ten. We speed be­cause we’re late and end up hurt­ing our­selves or oth­ers. We pay the price af­ter tak­ing short­cuts across dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory — phys­i­cal or mo­ral. Or we look at how much far­ther ahead some peo­ple are ma­te­ri­ally and sac­ri­fice im­por­tant things to catch up.

The Book of Proverbs has the right per­spec­tive. “En­thu­si­as­tic ef­fort with­out knowl­edge is no good,” Solomon says. “Haste makes mis­takes.” (19:2)

That’s es­pe­cially true when we have no re­li­able guide to help us nav­i­gate the treach­er­ous parts of life. If you’ve ever been sur­rounded by ut­ter dark­ness in a strange, haz­ardous place, you know the bless­ing of light. It brings safety and com­fort, alerts us to threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties, and lets us move for­ward with more con­fi­dence.

So it’s fit­ting Je­sus is called the Light of the world (John 8:12); scrip­ture is likened to a lamp that shows the way through dark­ness (Psalm 119:105); and trust in God is com­pared to a bea­con (Matt. 5:14). Though the world can be black and fore­bod­ing, our Fa­ther stands ready to guide us through the storms and un­cer­tain­ties.

What a pity we of­ten ig­nore him un­til a cri­sis, then blame him for let­ting us get lost.

The al­ter­na­tive to God’s guid­ance is to send out sig­nals and fig­ure out where you are, based on what comes back to you. And in a cul­ture where com­pe­ti­tion and con­form­ity rule, it’s in­cred­i­bly hard to get your bear­ings with­out slam­ming into a reef of re­jec­tion, or the shoals of shal­low friend­ship with those who de­mand we think and live just like them.

When we’re stuck on the rocks, sur­rounded by tu­mult, we’re torn be­tween risk­ing noth­ing or risk­ing ev­ery­thing. Trou­ble is, the winds of ad­ver­sity can eas­ily whip us around and rip open the bot­tom of our heart. All it takes to make us vul­ner­a­ble is a health chal­lenge, re­la­tion­ship dif­fi­cul­ties, money prob­lems, or a cri­sis of faith and iden­tity.

Much of that can be avoided if we let out Guide be our con­science.

That’s not to say life will be easy if we em­brace faith. This earth is one rock no­body leaves alive.

But I’m re­minded of the Chris­tian aboard the Ti­tanic who re­port­edly went to a ter­ri­fied pas­sen­ger as the ship went down. “Take this,” he said, hand­ing over his life pre­server. “I can die bet­ter than you.”

A hand­out photo of the Princess Sophia stranded on the Van­der­bilt reef, Oct. 24, 1918.

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