Friday, October 19, 2012

 S.S. Nomadic. Titanic's Baby Cousin

Wonder just how many people knew that Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic had a pair of baby cousins?  White Star brass knew full well that The Olympic class liners would be far too big to maneuver within, dock in, or even try to enter the harbor at Cherbourg, so the plan was to have them anchored  a few miles off of the coast in the English Channel. This of course left the obvious problem of getting passengers and mail to and from the liners, but White Star had that one covered as well. A pair of steam tenders to be named SS Nomadic, and SS Traffic were commissioned and built to ferry passengers, baggage, mail, and supplies out to the ships. 

 Nomadic served first and second class passengers, while Traffic was used to ferry third class passengers. There were several differences between the two…Nomadic was bigger, and more luxurious, for example, but the biggest difference between the two is…wait for it…Waaiit for it…Nomadic’s still around. Not only is she still around, she's even now being lovingly restored.

SS Nomadic, Left, and SS Traffic, right. Though it wasn't stated, This was probably taken at Cherbourg, France.
Starboard side profile drawing of Nomadic

S S Traffic. Nomadic's smaller sister
Nomadic was 225 feet long with a beam of 37 feet and a displacement of 1273 tons (For comparisons sake, Traffic was 175 feet long with a 35 foot beam and a displacement of 675 tons). She was a four decker, powered by a pair of four cylinder compound steam engines supplied by two coal fired boilers and turning a pair of three bladed propellers. She could cut through the water at a top speed of 12 knots and had a passenger capacity of 1000 first and second class passengers, with the first class passengers occupying the forward portion of the ship, and the second class passengers aft. There was also a small area aft for third class overflow.
 Her accommodations were pretty classy for a tender, including paneling, padded benches in her passenger lounges, and gender specific restrooms. (The latter apparently being  a comparative rarity a hundred or so years back)
SS Nomadic  under way with a load of passengers.
 Nomadic was built at Harland and Wolfe on slipway number 1, right next to Olympic, and was launched on April 25th, 1911 (Traffic, built on the same slipway at the same time, was launched two days later). Her fitting out and trial period was short…less than a month. She left Belfast,along with Traffic, for her home port of Cherbourg on the same date that Olympic departed Belfast for her home port of Southampton…May 31st, 1911 (Consequently also Titanic’s launch date).  Various and sundry dignitaries and big-wigs, such as Bruce Ismay, were ferried out to Olympic aboard Nomadic before the two vessels (Along with SS Traffic) parted ways and headed for their respective home ports.

Nomadic had a pretty busy career herself.  The most notable event in her long career was, of course, transporting 274 passengers from the White Star pier in Cherbourg out to Titanic on April 10th, 1912. Included in this bunch were Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordan, Margaret Brown (AKA The Unsinkable Molly Brown) and Benjamin Guggenhiem.
Digital artist's impression of Nomadic alongside RMS Titanic on April 10th, 1912

 Nomadic on her way out to RMS Olympic,

Nomadic loaded with troops during World War I
She served as a French troop transfer ship during World War One, then after the war she tendered under White Star's flag until 1927. That year she and Traffic were both sold to Société Cherbourgeoise Transbordement, still sporting White Star livery but serving any large liner that needed their services.  In 1934...the same year that White Star and Cunard merged...both were again sold, this time to Cherbourgeoise de Sauvetage et de Remorquage (SCSR or Cherbourg Tow & Rescue Society). Nomadic was re-named Ingenieur Minard and Traffic was renamed Ingénieur Riebell. Both still served as Tenders under their new owners and still served any large ship that needed their services. Their livery was changed under their new owners, however...from White Star's buff colored funnel with a black band at the top to a red funnel with black top band
In World War II she took part in the evacuation of Cherbourg on June 18, 1940, then served as a troop ship, coastal patrol boat, and mine layer.
After the war she avoided the breaker's yard as Cherbourg was too badly damaged for any ship much larger than herself to dock, and resumed her tendering duties, serving all of the great liners of the era (Think Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth) until she was retired in 1968. She was retired and docked at out of the way pier in the backwaters of Cherbourg (OK, probably at the SCSR docks, but ‘Out Of The Way Backwater' has a cooler, more literary ring to it.) and was idle for about five years before being snapped up by a private owner, saving her from the ship breakers for a second time.

Her new owner converted her  to a floating restaurant and event venue and she was semi-permanently docked on The River Seine in Paris, serving in this capacity for fifteen years until her owners went belly up in 1999. You’ve got to wonder how many diners and wedding reception attendees during that decade and a half knew, or even cared, that they were aboard a piece of history.

Nomadic as a floating restaurant in Paris
She sat idle again, and was seized by Paris Harbor authorities in 2002 (Likely for non payment of dockage fees among other things). Her superstructure…which had already been greatly altered from her original appearance…was cut down so she could get under some bridges, and she was towed to La Havre on April 1, 2003. Her owner died two years later, and French authorities wanted to unload what had likely by then become a rusty old tub. The Ship Breakers yard again loomed in her future if a buyer wasn’t found.

 Numerous people and organizations (including the French Titanic Society, Belfast Industrial Heritage, Belfast Titanic Society and the Save Nomadic ) were appalled when they learned of her fate, and jumped in with a massive fund raising effort….and they couldn’t come up with the reserve price.  This was a hugely popular movement, one that had no political agenda, and could only yield good publicity. Yep, the Government of Northern Ireland jumped right on that one, paying a dollar more than the reserve price and saving her from being scrapped. She left Le Havre aboard a barge on July 12th, 2006 and arrived in Belfast on July 18th.

Getting a lift back to Harland and Wolff
So Nomadic's back home. I won’t go into massive detail about her restoration and the negotiation and fund raising that went into it here. That story could be it’s own blog post (And well might be, over on ‘Betcha Didn’t Know’ at some point.).  She’s been added to the National Register For Historic Vessels, and is being restored in the graving dock where she was originally fitted out…it itself also under restoration. Nomadic is now once again decked out in White Star colors and her restoration is very near completion. She should be finished by November of 2012…100 years and 7 months after she ferried 274 passengers out to the ship that would become the legend among legend of shipwrecks

Back at home!
 Notes, Links and Stuff

While I termed  Nomadic and Traffic as the Olympic class' baby cousins, they are also and much more frequently called called the Olympic  class's baby sisters. Technically, though, they couldn't be sister ships to Titanic and Olympic because they didn't belong to the same class. But they were still very much related to the classic liners...hence 'Baby Cousins'

Though both Nomadic and Traffic were owned by White Star Lines, they were French  registered, with Cherbourg as their port of registry, and were operated by French crews.
 Traffic's passenger capacity was 1200 Third Class Passengers...well more that either Olympic's or Titanic's  Third Class capacity. Even so, Nomadic had a small overflow area for Third Class passengers below deck and aft.

Traffic's career pretty much paralleled Nomadic's up until World War Two. Both vessels served as patrol boats during that conflict...but on different sides. Traffic (under her new name Ingénieur Riebell) was scuttled at the entrance to Cherbourg's harbor in an attempt to block the entrance channel and prevent the harbor from being used by the invading German forces. This backfired though...she was raised, repaired, and placed in service as an armed coastal patrol boat. Sadly, she didn't survive the war. She was torpedoed by a Royal Navy sub on January 17th, 1941. She was very likely one of the very few ships from any nation to serve in both World Wars, but on opposing an allied ship (British) in WWI and an Axis ship (German) in WWII.

Like her bigger cousins, Nomadic had her share of incidents. On November 13th, 1911 she was involved in a collision with the American Lines Vessel S.S. Philadelphia. The damage was comparatively minor.  Then in 1928 she was involved in a collision with the liner Orinocco. Damage again was minor and quickly repaired. No injuries were mentioned in either incident.

The reason that Nomadic  ceased operating as a restaurant and her owners went belly up is a story in of itself.  In 1999 French authorities passed a regulation stating all vessels moored on the River Seine must undergo regular dry dock inspections to verify that their hulls are still watertight. Due to her modified superstructure, Nomadic couldn't make it under the many bridges over the river. Inspection by divers was suggested but the authorities wouldn't go for it, and her owners' license to operate her as a restaurant was yanked. And thus, their income dropped to zilch.


Nomadic's Wikipedia page
Facebook page dedicated to Nomadic. 
Website for the Nomadic Preservation Society, dedicated to the history and restoration of S.S.Nomadic. LOTS of pictures and little factoids.
A virtual visit to Nomadic's main (Middle) and lower decks as they appear today. Make sure to go to full screen for the best effect!   
PDF file concerning Nomadic's #2 lifeboat, which also survived the passage of time. Also contains reams of info on the history of Harland and Wolff, White Star and the Olympic class liners. You need Adobe Reader to view it.

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