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Inspiration and Perspiration -- RMS Titanic Distress Signals Heard Again

06/01/2012

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster involved many commemorative events around the world, from Belfast, Ireland where the ship was constructed to the North Atlantic Ocean where it now lays to rest. As a former radio officer in the US Merchant Marine I hold a keen interest in all things Titanic. So my wife and I jumped at the opportunity to participate in commemorative ceremonies aboard the motor vessel Azamara Journey -- one of two cruise ships to mark this solemn event from the site where the Titanic sank April 15, 1912.

Of course, Amateur Radio was integral to our plans from the beginning. We learned of the cruise only five weeks before the scheduled departure date, so time was of the essence. Operating maritime mobile from a foreign flag cruise ship requires the issuance of an amateur license from the country where the ship is registered (in this case Malta). I contacted the ARRL for assistance and learned the United States and Malta have no reciprocal licensing agreement. The issuance of a new Amateur Radio “Sound” license would be required.

In an effort to expedite the licensing process, I reached out to local hams using e-mail addresses obtained from qrz.com. In the true spirit of international friendship and Amateur Radio, Henry (9H1CD) was kind enough to contact the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), advise them of my intentions and follow up on my behalf. Within a few days I received e-mail from the MCA indicating a license could be issued at no cost by completing an online application. I submitted the application without delay and one week prior to departure I had an e-mail copy of my Maltese license (9H3AJ) in hand.

The next step in my quest to operate Amateur Radio from the ship would prove more difficult. From the outset, my hope was to enrich passengers' experience by offering to send messages home via wireless telegraphy from the site of the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of the sinking. My plan was to check into a regional HF CW net and leverage the ARRL National Traffic System for message delivery. This process would replicate the radio procedures used by ships at sea prior to the days of Internet cafes at sea and maritime satellite communications.

The transmission of passenger messages via HF radiotelegraphy was the primary purpose of the wireless installation aboard the Titanic (and the norm during my tenure as the Chief Radio Officer aboard several passenger ships in the 1980s). Unfortunately, concern over the disclosure of personal information, safety issues and transmission of the ship’s position posed risk-management challenges I could not overcome in the short time available.

Although we were booked into the Owner’s Suite (on the top deck of the ship with a huge wrap-around balcony) and the Yaesu FT-857, LDG antenna tuner and Buddipole HF portable dipole (graciously lent to me by Scott, K2LSF) were calling to me, Amateur Radio operations were not to be. As one can imagine, it took every ounce of my self-restraint not to put that rig on the air for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Notwithstanding the setback to Amateur Radio operations, the Titanic’s distress call would be heard again! On the night of April 14 a satellite link was established to David Myrick, VO1CQD, at the Myrick Wireless Interpretation Center at Cape Race, Newfoundland and the Titanic’s original distress call was retransmitted:


CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD DE MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY POSITION 41.44N 50.24W


CQD was the call for distress initially used by the Titanic in 1912; MGY was the ship’s wireless call sign. Appropriately, the Myrick Center is at the site of the original Marconi station that handled much of the Titanic’s original distress traffic. An audience in Trespassy, Canada who gathered for a night of remembrance witnessed the reenactment as part of a schedule of events that included a Skype call from film director James Cameron and a lecture by Titanic historian Parks Stephenson.

My thanks to Captain Jason Ikiadis, Master of the MV Azamara Journey for allowing the Titanic distress reenactment to take place; Mr Don Solusby for his documentation of the event, and to the many others who participated in making this another “night to remember.” -- Joseph Allen, N0MU

 



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