The Waterline

It weighed 1,961 tons, was 269 feet long, and could travel at a top speed of 19 knots. It was the SS Eastland, one of the finest cruise ships in the City of Chicago, and on July 24th, 1915 it sank in the Chicago River still moored to the wharf.

The Eastland and two other cruise ships, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey, were hired to take employees from Chicago’s Western Electric Company to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Passengers began boarding around 6:30 AM. By 7:10, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,500 passengers. It had also developed a list to the port, which the crew attempted to stabilize by admitting water to the ballast tanks.

By 7:28, the Eastland began to roll over. In just 5 minutes, with several hundred people watching from the dock, the great cruise ship came to rest on its side. It was laying in 20 feet of water only 18 feet from the wharf, on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets. 841 passengers and 3 crew members were killed.

After the river was cleared of the bodies and the great boat investigators came to a consensus as to the fate of the Eastland. The already top heavy cruise ship was put further out of balance by the addition of life boats, presumably as a safety precaution, following the disaster of the Titanic. The added life boats placed more weight above the water line than was below and the Eastland rolled.

What was viewed as a measure of safety became the catalyst for the great ships demise.

One of the most important maritime principles is that there must be more weight below the waterline than above. The Eastland violated this principle and 844 souls were lost in 20 feet of water, 18 feet from the shore.

It is vital that we apply this principle to our souls.

It matters not what is seen on the surface. What really matters, and will insure our safety, is what weight we have beneath the waterline. Is our house in order? Or, to put it more succinctly, is our soul right? Are we walking in integrity?

Many mistakenly believe that their external appearance, all that people see of them in the natural world, is all that really matters. The reality is that it is the unseen condition of the soul that will decide if we “sink or swim”. The waterline obstructs the casual observer from seeing what lies beneath. The temptation is to think that what lies beneath doesn’t matter and to focus on making what can be seen, above the waterline, the most impressive. In boating and in regards to the soul, that is a recipe for disaster.

While the other boats on that fateful day, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petosky, may not have been as admired or applauded as the Eastland, in their humble appearance they remained afloat because they mastered a simple maritime principle.

The principle of the waterline. There must be more weight beneath the waterline than above.


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