The offices of the Centre for Marine Simulation, in the West end of the Marine Institute on Ridge Road, look like offices anywhere. Cubicles, bulletin boards, photocopiers, a coffee table covered with trade magazines, the boss in a corner office. The boss of CMS is Captain Christopher Hearn, a Master Mariner. “Which means master of any vessel, of any tonnage, of any size, anywhere in the world,” he explains. If it can float, he can sail it.
Weary of being at sea year round, Hearn returned home in 2008 to helm the CMS, the most advanced marine simulation centre in North America, specializing in marine research and training for both the Marine Institute and industrial clients.
Hearn takes me from his office, past the photocopier, past the cubicles, past the coffee table and trade magazines, up and down a maze of stairs, and through a door into pitch blackness.
“Follow the yellow line on the floor,” he tells me. I can’t see the floor.
“Watch your head here,” he tells me, rapping his hand off a nose-level beam. My eyes have adjusted just enough to make it out, I duck under. When I straighten up I’m standing in front of a space pod, surrounded by water.
It’s the Full Mission Ship’s Bridge Simulator.
This is the most space-aged of 15 simulators at the CMS, and one of two that provide full motion simulation–the other is an eery replication of the Ballast Control Room from the Ocean Ranger.
The pod, filled with all the gear you’d find on a ship’s bridge, sits on a yaffle of hydraulic rams and pistons, surrounded by a giant screen. When it goes, and it goes, it puts you on the bridge of a ship on angry seas, sea sickness and all.
This summer the CMS is opening its doors each Tuesday and Thursday to invite the public to climb into the Full Mission Ship’s Bridge Simulator and, guided by the interpretive performance Calm Air put together by the Arts & Culture Centre, re-live of the sinking of the Titanic.
Yes, the Titanic. For $20 you too can go down with the most famous ship ever.
But the experience isn’t a play to people’s morbid curiosity. Calm Air, written by Ben Pittman, directed by Aiden Flynn, and starring Mike Smith, is the story of Harold Bride, the Titanic’s junior wireless operator who survived the disaster only to became, for a time, the centre of the post-sinking witch-hunt for a scapegoat. By focusing on Bride’s role in the disaster and its aftermath, Calm Air highlights the silver lining of the tragedy: a complete revamping of marine safety regulations. A revamping that leads, eventually, to the CMS.
“Out of the Titanic disaster came many good things,” says Hearn. “ SOLAS–the Safety of Life at Sea–which was a groundbreaking international maritime treaty that all nations signed on to and out of that came the IMO–International Maritime Organization–which is a UN entity that is the regulator, and the CMS, with everything it does, is really a progeny of all that.”
How to survive a shipwreck:
1. Don’t get wet: Real or simulated, the key to surviving a shipwreck is to not get wet. Especially when the water is near freezing.
2. Wear a life jacket: Harold Bride had to cold cock a no-good stoker who tried to steal a pal’s life jacket. “I did my duty,” Bride told the New York Times minutes after arriving in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia, “I hope I finished him.”
3. Don’t play in the band: Bride was the first to report, again in the New York Times, that the band played “Autumn” as the Titanic sank.
4. Hangashore: The CMS’ virtual Titanic hits the same virtual iceberg and virtually sinks thrice daily. The worst the passengers will get out of it may be a mild dose of seasickness. At sea, in a real sinking ship, you take your very slim chances.
The Titanic will be sinking three times every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of August. Tickets must be bought in advance from the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office or online.