When the film “Titanic” made a splash in theaters as the highest grossing film of all time, it was lauded for its historical accuracy. Moviegoers gripped their seats as the boat’s stern rose high in the air, before breaking in half and plunging into the ocean.

But what if that’s not how it happened?

In 2005, Cape Elizabeth’s harbormaster, Roger Long, was featured in a History Channel program called “Titanic’s Final Moments: Missing Pieces,” produced by Lone Wolf Documentary Group of South Portland. The show raised new questions about how and why the ship sank, based on findings from an expedition to the site of the wreckage. On Sunday, some of those questions will be answered in the second installment of the program, “Titanic’s Achilles Heel,” airing at 8 p.m. on the History Channel.

For the past two years Long has served as harbormaster in Cape Elizabeth, a job he likens, due to the lack of a conventional harbor, to “being an admiral in the Swiss navy.” By day, Long works as a naval architect, which is why he was chosen to lend his expertise to the film.

Long had never been particularly invested in the sinking of the Titanic, which allowed him to offer a fresh look on the situation.

“It’s a whole world, like the Kennedy assassination,” Long said of those who study the Titanic. “It’s all they think about.”

Long was brought into this project through Lone Wolf on the “Deep Sea Detectives” series because he wasn’t part of that world and didn’t have any preconceived notions of what actually happened before taking his first trip to the ship’s remains, which he described as “one of the most fascinating things” he ever did.

Long spent eight hours underwater, almost two miles below the surface.

“It’s spooky,” he said. “You get down there and there are suitcases and shoes and plates.”

After Long came up from his dive, the show’s hosts, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, of the History Channel series, “Deep Sea Detectives,” took their turn and made a discovery that would give the show a new focus. On the ocean floor, they found two pieces of the ship’s bottom, which, Long said, enabled them to account for the whole bottom of the ship. By examining the condition of the pieces along with the historical records, Long came to the conclusion that the stern did not rise to a near vertical position in the water, as it did in the movie, but rather, the boat broke at low angle, between 10 and 12 degrees.

“The show advanced that as a theory and an idea,” Long said of the first program. “We really hadn’t proven it.”

Over the past year, Long has worked to prove that theory. During his investigation, more questions arose about the integrity of ship due to design flaws and the coverup by the designers that followed.

Long said people’s fascination with the Titanic is driven by a desire to know what the ship’s passengers went through that night. They’re not so interested in the engineering as they are in the human experience. Though Long’s discoveries came from a study of the technical aspects of the ship, the results change the understanding of what actually happened to the passengers, as well as what could have been prevented.

“The most crucial piece of information in anyone’s life is finding out they’re going to die,” Long said.

“The messenger of death was the ship breaking,” he said, as opposed to water coming into the ship.

“That makes the breaking of the hull very dramatic.”

Long said that if the hull hadn’t failed, the ship would have floated for a longer period of time and more lives could have been saved.

“The ship was much weaker than we thought it was,” Long said. Though he is under a disclosure agreement and can’t give away the details of his discoveries, Long did say that the team of experts reached “some very interesting conclusions.”

Though Long enjoyed his work with the famous ship, he’s happy to go back to his life as harbormaster and doesn’t foresee a third show in his future.

“I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” he said.

Roger Long, Cape Elizabeth harbormaster, will be featured on a History Channel documentary about the Titanic on Sunday.


Facebook comments