It is a rainy day but I huddle on the foredeck with the other visitors onboard MV Mona to cruise past the docks where Titanic was launched and where the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship, still lies.
Derek Booker, who runs the Lagan Boat Company, takes me through a history of Belfast’s shipyards, saying that “the founders were the Bill Gates of their days”.
We pass Queen’s Island, built with the mud dredged from the river and where Titanic was built. From the slipway, we can look directly up at the Titanic Experience building. It stands in the middle of a “Titanic Quarter” that is blooming with shiny new apartments, coffee shops and an urban sports park. Dominating one end is the fast-expanding Titanic Studios, where interior scenes for Game of Thrones are shot.
Opposite is the 27-story Obel Tower, the tallest building in Ireland. “American visitors always laugh at that,” says Derek. “Titanic would be three and half times taller if you up-ended it.” He takes us through the ship’s other technical wonders – “She could do 23 knots, that’s faster than any ship in this harbor today” – before a description of her fatal end.
Derek is in no doubt about where the fault lies for hitting an iceberg. “Captain Smith was in bed, having given orders to his First Officer to go full speed ahead,” he says. “The blame must rest squarely on his shoulders, not the men who built [her], who sadly went to their graves thinking it was their fault after the world’s press turned on them.
“If you crash your Ferrari into a brick wall, you don’t blame Ferrari. It was the driver, not the builder.”