Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's two sneaker waves

Port Oxford, Oregon is a fishing and lumber port on the southern Oregon coast characterized by spectacular ocean views about 27 miles north of the Gold Beach, where Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean. A few days before Christmas, tragedy fell on this coastal community when four of their fisherman were lost in the sea. As the news report states:
“Four crabbers -- Robert Ashdown, Mark Wagner, Joshua Northcutt and Louis Lobo -- drowned Saturday when their 43-foot fishing boat was crushed by two sneaker waves rolling over the Rogue River bar off Gold Beach.”
Yes, two sneaker waves, again unfortunately, caused the tragic events. Here’s another report with a little more details:
“Search-and-rescue personnel formally called off the search Tuesday for four commercial fishermen on the F/V Ash, which overturned Saturday afternoon near the Rogue River, though some volunteers plan to continue searching the beaches.

“The Ash, on one of its first voyages to sea after being refurbished as a Dungeness crab boat, was struck by two big waves just after it crossed the river bar, according to witnesses. Only a life raft, two survival suits and debris from the boat have been found.”
While one may still question the use of the term “sneaker wave,” but this is clearly a freaque wave event that has eyewitnesses. An account given by the manager of the Port of Gold Beach seems particularly germane:
“It was a heavy surf, running 20 to 25 feet or better. They lined up about the end of the jetty. The waves caught them. Stood them up pretty steep. The first one caught the boat. It started going up and came down. The next one caught it behind and rolled it.”
So the small fishing boat really did not stand a chance against the punch of two supposedly large waves. Herein it brought forth another freaque wave question we do not know the answer: how many waves are there in a freaque wave encounter? It can be one, or two, or three – all seafarers knows about the “three sisters” – or even more, does it really matter how many when tragedies happen regardless? When I am called upon to answer questions about freaque waves, most offten my answers will be "I don't know!" To that extent I might also add that no one else knows either. We have a lon . . . long way to go on freaque waves research to be humanistically redeemable.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The truth about rogue waves -- Do we know?

Peter Calamai's Toronto Star article published yesterday with a rather touchy title of "The truth about rogue waves." It is a well written article, not only because I was his main source on rogue waves and he quoted me prominently. But I was also impressed with his well done research on the topic that includes all the appropriate historical perspectives. He obviously also interviewed some of the crew members on the tall ship Picton Castle. As a result he brought forth the question of whether or not the ship was really encountered a rogue wave:
Witnesses have said that the Picton Castle was heaving through 70- to 80-knot winds with waves ranging up to seven metres, a common height for mid-ocean storm waves.

In those circumstances the significant wave height would likely have been a minimum of five metres, meaning that a true rogue wave would have had to have been at least 11 metres high.

That's enough to tower as much as five or six metres above the aft deck and to comfortably reach to the barque's higher quarterdeck level, location of the wheel and charthouse.

The two crew in those spots say they heard Laura Gainey's cry. Yet they did not report seeing any crashing wall of water, so news accounts of a "rogue" wave are probably exaggerated.

Nonetheless science is showing that the cruel sea is much crueller than even we imagined.
I think this doubt is well taken. Too often whenever rogue waves are mentioned people tend to just willingly accept it as a fact. Calamai shows what a superb reporter should do: asking the right questions and present the fact that may rightfully challenge the overriding popular premise.

By the way, Calamai is the only one, among all the people who had interviewed me, who could explain to me offhand what a "significant wave height " is!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Swept overboard by a freaque wave in the Gulf Stream

I heard the news of a young woman being swept overboard from a tall ship by a rogue wave last Saturday, but waiting, hoping, and praying for the news of successful rescue to no avail. I noticed that Montreal Gazette carried an article entitled “A tragic death at sea” this morning. I guess that pretty much concluded the case. I was just called by the science reporter of Toronto Star, Peter Calamai, who got interested in writing about rogue waves because of this case.

The tall ship is the Barque Picton Castle, today their web site carried the announcement that starts in part as:

A terrible loss

On Friday, December 8, the Barque Picton Castle encountered gale force conditions while on passage from her homeport of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to the West Indies. At approximately 2200, the ship's decks were overwhelmed by an unusually large wave and crew member Laura Gainey of Montreal, Canada, was swept overboard. The ship immediately stopped, deployed life saving gear, and employed all of its extensive emergency and communications equipment in the call for assistance.

Search and rescue efforts began immediately. Assisted by fixed wing aircraft from the Canadian and United States Coast Guard, as well as two merchant vessels, the Picton Castle, her captain and crew scoured the Atlantic for four days without respite in hopes of finding their shipmate. Their search was suspended December 12.

So it’s all a matter that “the ship's decks were overwhelmed by an unusually large wave” which is clearly a case of encountering freaque waves. But the case took on colossal world wide media attention when it was noted that the young woman, who was initially reported only as “a volunteer crew member in her 20s,” turned out to be the daughter of the hockey legend Bob Gainey. As the Montreal Gazette comments:

The highly public search for Laura Gainey in the waters of the Atlantic, the high-level interventions to make sure that everything possible was done, the rehashing of the family's history in the media - all these factors marked this tragedy out for the world's attention. But in another sense this sad case is just an installment in the incalculable, unceasing toll the sea has exacted all through the history of seafaring.

Every parent will understand the impact of the sudden, arbitrary loss of Laura Gainey on her family and friends. Because her father Bob Gainey is so well known as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, the story of her being washed overboard from a sailing ship has made headlines, here and around the world. But for those personally close to Laura, the emotional shock is in no way reduced by being shared so widely.

Indeed this is just another case among all the “unceasing tolls the sea has exacted all through the history of seafaring” from freaque waves, only this time it’s happened to a notable person. The Gazette article fittingly concluded with:

Having a celebrity in the family can multiply the newsworthiness of a particular tragedy. But the rogue wave of loss and agony that survivors must endure is of the same magnitude in every sudden death.

I too wish to extend my prayer and sympathy to the Gainey family. I must admit that not being a Hockey fun, I did not know who Bob Guiney was previously. As a freaque wave researcher I would also like to make note of two further points: First, it was reported that the young lady was “in a safe area on deck when the freak wave swept across and violently rocked the vessel,” so it it is self-evidently clear that whenever or whereever freaque waves hit, there is really no place on deck that can be considered as safe! Second, this freaque wave encounter took place in the purlieus of Gulf Stream, so one of the renowned theory that suggests freaque waves can occur when storm waves confront against a strong oncoming surface current is likely to have actualized. The Agulhas current off southeast coast of South Africa in the South Indian Ocean is famed for this kind of freaque wave occurrences. Their counterpart in the Western Pacific is the Kuroshio current that's starting off the east coast of Taiwan and flowing northeastward past Japan. But having a strong counter surface current is only one of the possible causes for freaque waves. Freak waves have known to have happened in plenty of other places in the world oceans where no known counter currents to have ever existed (e.g. the North Sea.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"I heard it before I seen it!"

Here is a heart warming happy-ending story of surviving an encounter with real life freaque waves, copy-right from today. I think in the spirit of the Advent to Christmas, it should be re-told and re-read it again and again:

A rogue wave sunk a commercial fishing boat off the coast of Florida nearly killing the captain and another crew member. Friday night, for the first time since the November 17, 2006 ordeal, Captain Duane Grove, of New Smyrna Beach, returned to the ocean with his wife Becky.

Still fearful of what happened that night Grove looked out at the waves as the wind blew and his wife gave him a hug.

Grove doesn’t know how he survived.

“I don’t know how I got out.”

It started with a storm that was making conditions rough in the Atlantic, but the captain and his crewmate, Bobby Christenson, had seen worse.
Christenson was cooking and Grove was in the wheel hull when he says he saw the wave.
“I heard it before I seen it and I looked up and I could just see a wall of water there,” said Grove Friday night. He added, “It had to be 15 to 20 ft.”

The wave rolled the boat over sending Christenson into the water and trapping Grove.

“I couldn't go out the door because of the water rushing in. I knew I had to go out the window. I tried to get to the window and the window didn't want to open up, within seconds I had water up to my neck.”

Grove was able to slide the window to the side and dove into the water.

Once in the water he met up with Christenson and they decided to try and free the life raft.

It hadn’t automatically deployed and it was stuck under the boat.

Using a rope attached to the raft, Grove triggered its explosive and it rose to the top where Grove quickly climbed aboard.

The boat itself began sinking and the rope from the raft was still attached.

The fishing boat pulled the raft under and took Grove with it.

“I was 15 ft. underwater before I got out,” Grove said.

The captain did make it back to the surface.

He hadn’t gone down with either the boat or the life raft.

It was then that he saw his only source of hope, the ship’s emergency beacon.

It was floating in the water.

He stroked and kicked to reach it.

After he grabbed hold of it, he had to find his way back to Christenson, “I swam as long as I could then I just laid on my back and I started backstroke. Bobby would yell at me so I knew which direction to swim in.”

Eventually, he made it back to a fish cooler where Christenson was already holding on.

The two then used the fish to feed the nearby dolphins and even small sharks.

The whole time they thought this could be the end.

“You don’t know which one is gonna die first and it’s the worst thing you can go through,” said Grove as a tear fell from his eye.

It looked like all hope was lost, but the two men confided in each other and did what they could to stay warm, “we hugged quite a bit.”

As hypothermia started to take hold of the men they spotted and a Navy aircraft making circles.

Christenson took of his soaked t-shirt and started waving it back and forth and the plane which was helping the Coast Guard look for the men spotted them.

“I told God he needed to send me an Angel and he did,” said Grove.

The plane called in a Coast Guard helicopter that hoisted the two men to safety.

Once in the hands of the Coast Guard, the two men had their temperature taken and it was just 94 Degrees.

As he looked out over the water tonight, it was clear Grove isn’t ready to hit the high seas anytime soon.

He does however have a fresh outlook on life.

“It was like being born again,” said Grove.
“I told God he needed to send me an Angel and He did!” What a wonderful thing to say and hear!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dashing Rogues

The Nov. 18, 2006 issue of the weekly Science News magazine published a very good feature article on freaque waves entitled "Dashing Rogues." It is one of the best media article written on freaque waves I have ever read. Of course I can not deny the fact that I am a little biased because I was interviewed on the phone by the author, Sid Perkins, who was in the audience when I presented my paper in the OMAE conference in Hamburg last June and the article referenced to 3 of my publications. Still this is a superbly well-written article nevertheless, only the second one on freaque waves from the Science News since the one by Ivars Peterson 10 years ago.

While Perkins started with my general contention that "There's no clear definition of what a rogue wave is," he went on and gave the best ever eloquent description which anyone read the article can understand:

"A wave typically achieves rogue status not by growing to a certain minimum size but by exceeding the surrounding waves by a certain proportion. The basis for comparison is an oceanographic parameter called significant wave height, which researchers typically calculate by taking the average of the tallest one-third of the waves in a particular patch of ocean. Many scientists define a wave as a rogue if it's 2.2 times as tall as the significant wave height."
Two thumbs up for this article!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A lucky fisherman

This news yesterday in The Post and Courier's, reported by Nadine Parks, is what we always wished the result of a rescue effort can be: a happy ending!

Mount Pleasant - Garrett Winesett decided to ride out Thursday's early morning storm at sea. His fishing vessel spent the rest of the day limping back to shore.

Winesett, 39, of Murrells Inlet, said he heard the Coast Guard's radio warnings on Wednesday about high seas and strong winds. But the commercial snapper fisherman needed a bigger catch, so he dropped anchor about 50 miles southeast of Charleston and hunkered down for the night, he said.

Waves of 12 to 14 feet and winds between 23 and 46 mph pounded at Winesett's boat dubbed the Joe Green, but it held its own until about 3 a.m. Thursday, he said.

Suddenly, a freak wave about 18 feet tall crashed over the bow, smashing out the windows of the cabin and knocking out the navigational system, although not the VHF radio, Winesett said.

He knew, essentially, where he was, but he couldn't give the Coast Guard coordinates.

Coast Guard officials said it wasn't long before the Joe Green starting taking on water as waves tumbled over the sides of the boat. But its bilge pumps were not functioning.

Rescue workers launched a Coast Guard helicopter, which located the troubled vessel at about 5 a.m. and lowered Winesett a pump to control the flooding, officials said. Once the Joe Green was stable, the Coast Guard cutter Yellowfin met up with Winesett for a painstakingly slow voyage back to shore on a choppy sea, said Coast Guard Lt. Morgan Roper.

A wet, cold and exhausted Winesett pulled into a dock at Shem Creek Seafood at about 4:30 p.m. When his feet hit the ground, he said all he wanted was a beer.

Roper said Winesett's experience could have turned deadly if help had not arrived. The boat captain said he never once considered abandoning ship.

"It could have been devastating. But I had to sink before I was getting off of it," Winesett said. "I'd do it again, because that's what I do for a living."

Thanks to the timely and painstaking Coast Guard rescue, an encounter with freaque waves at sea by Mr. Winesett ended with relish. He is certainly one lucky fisherman indeed!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Can it be freaque waves?

According to the Herald Online of Port Elizabeth of South Africa yesterday:

A PORT Elizabeth man is among four crew members aboard a supply tug which has mysteriously disappeared in what is believed to have been a “catastrophic and overwhelming occurrence” off the coast near Port St Johns.

It is unclear when the 16m vessel called Hawk went missing. The last communication the owner had with the crew was on Wednesday evening, although news of its disappearance only emerged yesterday.

. . .

The tug‘s owner, Godfrey Needham of Offshore Maritime Services, said yesterday he feared something catastrophic might have happened to the vessel.

“I believe just from my knowledge of the vessel and crew that something catastrophic and overwhelming must have happened. If something like fire or flooding occurred, they would‘ve been able to send a distress signal.

“I think there was either a collision with a fast container ship or bulk carrier, or there was a freak wave which hit them and being at night they couldn‘t see anything coming on.”

He said the area in which the vessel had been travelling was known for its very fast currents and strong winds, and also for massive freak waves.

He said the crew on board the ship had many options to call for help.

“Coming up the coast there were a lot of options, five cellphones and a radar transponder, which would have registered on any ships or radar screens in the area . . . but none of those was used,” Needham said.

“This is just so distressing, especially for the families. We just don‘t know what happened to the men and my vessel. It‘s the uncertainty that‘s getting to everyone and eating at us.

“For now we can only wait, hope and keep searching.”

He said that when he spoke to the crew on Wednesday evening they had “sounded fine and content.

“They said there was a slight northeasterly wind, but nothing serious and they were making good progress.”

So it's likely the Agulhas freaque waves go at it again!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

November and the Fitz

I found another article that remembered the Fitz. It's in the of Fond Dr Lac, Wisconsin written by their managing editor, Michael Mentzer. Actually the remembrance turned out to be hiding in an article paying tribute to the month of November entitled "There's much to be said for gales of November." I guess it's an interesting perception on November that much of it many people has generally taken for granted.

For instance, historically the author reminded us that "November is the month devoted to military veterans and to the Armistice, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when peace put an end to the European bloodbath of World War I." He then stated that "This 11th month of the year harbors history-making elections and nation-saving decisions, the stirring of hunting passion, Wisconsin's nine-day deer-hunting tradition, and a day to give thanks for all those gifts so nonchalantly taken for granted all year long."

He also related things that may or may not be well-known to people outside Fond Du Lac or Wisconsin: "Two years ago, on a rare crystal-clear late fall night, November unveiled one of the most brilliant showings of the Northern Lights in modern times." And that Wisconsin has a nine-day deer-hunting tradition in November.

From all those preliminaries led to the following:

And before I forget to mention it, there is a power in November like no other.

That thought made its presence known as the police scanner in The Reporter Information Center blared out reports of accident after accident Friday afternoon and evening. In the seeming wave of a wand, November transformed the glories of Indian Summer in Wisconsin into the nightmare of an electrified freak wintry blast — marking the 31st anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior.

The haunting Gordon Lightfoot ballad and the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald hold a special place in Wisconsin history for those who take that sort of thing seriously. With a nasty north wind and the sting of sleet on my face Friday afternoon, I couldn't help but feel the song and listen to the lyrics in my head.

The Reporter's weather records from November of 1975 show an unseasonably pleasant day on that fateful Nov. 10 — a high of 59 degrees and a bit of rain. But even here it was windy, with gusts up to 40 mph. By the time we called it a day that early evening of Nov. 10, it was a different world on the towering waves of Lake Superior. Like most of the world, we had no way of knowing what was happening to the 729-foot iron ore-laden Edmund Fitzgerald and the 29 men that made up its crew.
The suthor concludes his article by quoting a few lines of Gordon Lightfoot's lyrics, including two of my favorates:
"Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?"

It happened in Pentland Firth

Firth, according the Wikipedia, is the Scots word used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland. It is usually a large sea bay, which may be part of an estuary, or just an inlet, or even a strait. It is cognate to fjord, which has a more narrow sense in English, whereas a firth would most likely be called a fjord if it were situated in Scandinavia.

I turned to Wikipedia and learned about the firth because of this news article in the Gardian this morning: Two crewmen were killed and another seriously injured yesterday after their oil tanker was hit by huge waves in the Pentland Firth, one of the world's most notorious stretches of water. Again, according to Wikipedia, the Pentland Firth, which is actually more of a strait than a firth, separates the Orkney Islands from Caithness in the north of Scotland.

The Gardian reports that "The men were believed to have been standing on the deck of the 42,000-tonne tanker when it was caught in a gale force eight storm and buffeted by waves over 20 feet high. The ship, the FR8 Venture, contacted Shetland coastguard shortly after midday. 'The ship may have got hit by a freak wave.' said the coastguard."

It is mind boggling to think a beautifully peaceful and tranquill place like this would ever have freaque waves that can batter a huge oil tanker like that? It just attest the notion that freaque waves can happen at any place and at any time!

UPDATE November 13, 2006:

Here's a picture of the ship FR8 Venture:

Again it is incomprehensible that standing on the deck of this massive ship can be unsave, how freak can a real freaque wave be!?

UPDATE July 19, 2007:

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has issued report into this case. Please see my new post.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Remembering the Fitz

November 10 of 2006 is come and almost gone at this writing. The major news a score and eleven years ago is all but forgotten around here. I am a little disappointed not to find any mention of SS Edmund Fitzgerald in the Detroit News today. May be the reporter that used to write to commemorate the Fitz around this time yearly had retired and the new generation of reporters are probably too young to remember. I think I did hear Gordon Lightfoot’s singing on radio early this morning. At any rate, I am happy to come across this article by Patt Abrahamson, a free lance writer, in the Daily Press of Escanaba, Michigan that still remembers November 10, 1975 and the Fitz from a rather personal perspective. This admirable article superbly remembered the Fitz’s last trip:

On her last trip, the Fitzgerald cleared Superior, Wis., Nov. 9, 1975. She was carrying a load of taconite pellets for delivery to Detroit. Traveling closely behind was the Arthur M. Anderson. The boats encountered a massive winter storm with high winds and waves over 16 feet. The Soo Locks had closed because of the storm.

During the afternoon of Nov. 10 the Fitzgerald reported a minor list developing and top-side damage, including loss of radar, but indicated no serious problem. She slowed down to come within the range of receiving the Anderson’s radar data: The Anderson, for a time, guided the Fitzgerald toward the safety of Whitefish Bay.

Then the last communication came. It was 7:10 p.m. when Anderson notified Fitzgerald of being hit by two freak waves that were heading Fitzgerald’s way and asked how she was doing. Earnest McSorley, captain of the Fitzgerald, reported, “We are holding our own.”

A few minutes later, the Fitzgerald sank. No distress signal was ever received. Ten minutes later the Anderson could neither communicate with Fitzgerald or detect her on radar. At 8:32 p.m. captain of the Anderson informed the Coast Guard of his concern for the boat.

A search was launched for survivors. Initially, the search consisted of Anderson and the freighter SS William Clay Ford. The efforts of a third freighter were hampered by the weather. A Coast Guard buoy tender, Woodrush, was able to launch within 21/2 hours, but took a day to arrive at the scene. The search recovered debris that included lifeboats and rafts, but no survivors.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The peril of nearshore freaque waves

Whenever freaque waves are mentioned, they are usually implied that unexpectedly large waves occurred in the deep ocean. That’s also most of the research efforts have been concentrated on. But freaque waves are not merely confined to the deep ocean, far from it! Nearshore freaque waves along the beach are also happen frequently with disastrous consequences. They are not part of the classical nearshore hydrodynamics and there is no known research effort enacted to examine or explore those nearshore freaque waves. A few depressing news in the last few days can only call attention to the inanition of understanding in this realm.

October 23, 2006, Seattle Times, in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas, a 66 year old artist and lay minister from Renton, Washington was swiped out to sea by a rogue wave while taking an evening walk with his wife and sister.

October 22, 2006, Times-Standard, Redwood Creek Beach County Park in northern California, a 4 year old girl, who was playing on dry sand only a few step from her mother and her mother’s girl friend, who were sitting on the beach when a wave took them by surprise and swept the little girl into the ocean. When the mother and her friend went into water to rescue the child, the friend was also lost.

October 24, 2006, Irish Post, Greek tourist island of Rhodes in eastern Mediterranean, a loving Irish couple from U.K., 47 and 46, were swamped by a massive sudden wave as they paddled in the sea after a meal. Eye-witnesses said the couple were washed ashore by two-metre high waves amid desperate attempts to save them.

It is extremely dreadful to read or hear these kind of tragic stories happen in various part of the world ocean and feel so hapless. It can happen anywhere and any time without any possible warning. We are simply incapable and helpless by any means from preventing their happenings at the present. And there does not seem to have any tangible effort from the powers that be to remedy this dismal condition either. Rely on the expertise of over-worked, under-staffed, Coast Guard valiants, Que Sera Sera!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Black Friday of 1916

Yesterday, Friday, October 20th, went by smoothly just like any other day. Somehow there does not seem to have any news online to remember the same Friday, October 20th ninety years ago. It was known as the Black Friday in the Great Lakes area, especially in Lake Erie. Here's the full article published in the 2003 Spring/Summer issue of Mariners Weather Log:
The name "Black Friday" was given to the date of October 20, 1916, after a violent storm sank ships and ended lives on Lake Erie. The James B. Colgate and her crew were among the victims, and only the captain survived.
James B. Colgate

A cargo of hard coal had come aboard at Buffalo and was consigned to Fort William, ON (now Thunder Bay). Despite a rising wind and the sound of waves crashing the outer breakwall, the vessel cast off lines and departed on its final voyage shortly after midnight October 20.
Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, responded to the high winds with towering seas that pounded the James B. Colgate as it made its way west. That evening the ship developed a list and, within hours, slid bow first to the bottom of the lake.
Without radio communications and unable to launch the lifeboats, the crew struggled in the frigid waters to cling to anything that floated free. Three men, including the captain, found a small life raft. The cruel waves flipped their flimsy craft several times, and by morning only the captain was alive.
Fortunately, the lake settled down, and he survived the day and another night before the crew of the carferry Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 spotted the almost lifeless body on the raft and pulled him to safety.
Others also perished on the lake that day. The lumber carrier Marshall F. Butter sank, but all were rescued. The schooner D.L. Filer went down and only one sailor, who clung to the mast, was rescued. Finally, the Merida, with 23 on board, was lost with all hands.
The James B. Colgate was built at West Superior, WI and launched on September 21, 1892. The 320 foot long whaleback design bulk carrier sailed for the American Steel Barge Company, Bessemer Steamship Company, Pittsburgh Steamship Company, and Standard Transit before being lost. It is shown in a photo from the collection of Captain Ken Lowes.
Divers located the hull of James B. Colgate in 1991. It rests upside down, some 12 miles southwest of Erieau, ON.
Again, we do not know if there were freaque waves among those towering seas described in the article. Waves were nevertheless part of the prominent culprit of the disaster. October 20th of 2006 was a peaceful day weatherwise. The memory of Black Friday has clearly been faded. But how much have we learned about waves in the last 90 years?

Friday, October 20, 2006

A happy ending at last!

Not all the encounters with huge waves in the ocean end in tragedy. Thank God! Here's a happy ending story posted on the super site Ships Nostalgia by their super Senior Member Rushie. I find it is germane to what I am doing here so I took the liberty to copy the whole article here including his tittle:


Four fishermen rescued clinging to wreckage

The US Navy has rescued four Filipino fishermen found clinging to the wreckage of their vessel after four days at sea, officials and survivors said Friday.

An ABS-CBN Regional News Group report identified the fishermen as Jimmy de Gracia and Raymond, Giovanni and Andrew Sumandal.

The four, pale and close to death, were taken for treatment to a military hospital Friday in the southern port city of Zamboanga.

The fishermen sailed Monday but their motorboat had been destroyed by huge waves off the western island of Palawan. One of the fishermen said that they survived by clinging onto the wreckage and drinking seawater.

In a statement, the US Navy said a US Navy SH-60B Seahawk helicopter was conducting routine training flights when it noticed the men Thursday aboard a submerged craft and waving a white banner.

The helicopter radioed the nearby HSV Swift, a US naval logistics vessel, which sent a smaller boat out to rescue the men.

The fishermen were turned over by the US Navy to the Western Mindanao Command.
Of course I was prompted by the fact that "their motorboat had been destroyed by huge waves." It is difficult to ferret out whether or not freaque waves are part of those huge waves. But it can always be surmised. Again we don't yet know where, when, how, or why those huge freaque waves happen, but it is always gratifying to hear a happy ending story. Thanks Rushie!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another fishing village, another freaque waves tragedy!

Musselburgh is a charming little old town, located six miles east of Edinburgh city centre, which is known to be Scotland's oldest town since it was first settled by the Romans in the years following their invasion of Scotland in AD80. Fisherrow is a part of Musselburgh that was formerly a fishing village with its Fisherrow Harbor duly preserved as a traditional fishing harbor that can only be used primarily by pleasure boats, although a few inshore fishing vessels remain.

For a town rich in history and tradition, they just paid tribute to seven Fisherrow fishermen who lost their lives onboard their fishing vessel Alice of Boddam during a nasty October storm 125 years ago. Here's the story as told in East Lothian Courier
The devastating storm hit after the Alice of Boddam – which had left Fisherrow harbour five days previously – was attempting to return to Dunbar following a spell of bad fishing. In the midst of the turmoil, the boat was seen half a mile away from Dunbar harbour when two massive waves struck sinking the vessel with all her crew.
So this 125 years old tragedy is a long memorialized freaque waves case locally but not well known for the outside world. As it was seen that the vessel was struck by two massive waves, there should be no doubt that they have encountered freaque waves. The story of Alice of Boddam uncannily resembles a case on the other side of the Atlantic in November, 1991, the Andrea Gail. Another fishing village, another freaque waves tragedy!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Breezy Point tragedy

This following news item was carried in the NewYork Times’ Metro Briefing section yesterday:
QUEENS: BODY OF MISSING MAN RECOVERED IN OCEAN The body of a man who was swept off a jetty in the Rockaways last week was found in the water yesterday not far from where he disappeared, the police said. The man, Karl Heinzen, 21, had been fishing with his father at Breezy Point last Sunday when he was struck by high waves that carried him into the ocean in his waders, said his father, Jerome Heinzen. (Reported by Michael Wilson)
It’s not an earth shaking news. But to the family that lost their love one, a dynamical 21 year old, on a supposedly pleasant weekend excursion, it’s a sad major tragedy. Of course the part that drew my attention is that the young man was “struck by high waves that carried him into the ocean in his waders.” That can happen to anybody, at any time and any place including the beautiful beach area.

Breezy Point is that terminus of the Rockaway peninsula shown on the right hand side of the above picture, which consist dune/beach shoreline terrain that extends outward into the Atlantic Ocean. A natural, charming, scenic spot no one should expect something terrible can be lurking around. Unfortunately it did. The high wave that struck the young man must be some kind of nearshore freaque waves no one has any notion about it at this time. It’s unknown, uncertain, and unpredictable. We don't know much about the deep ocean freaque waves. We know even less about the nearshore freaque waves. Our science and technology have come a long, long way, but in no way that can anticipate and prevent this kind of tragedy yet. Our heartfelt prayer goes to the young man, may he rest in peace, and his family.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seven boaters on a 4 feet by 4 feet raft

The carried an incredible story this morning as the title “Seven boaters clung to hope, each other – and 4-foot raft” tells it all. The seven are friends on a productive weekend fishing trip onboard the 52-foot fishing boat, and on their way home, when the boat hit something badly that stopped the starboard engine and the boat was taking on water. They just have time to call a mayday and pulled out the life raft and got into it, before the boat “sank like a full oil drum.”
The seven bunched inside an enclosed life raft intended for four, which is measured 4 feet by 4 feet, smaller than a bunk bed, and there they spent the night and into the next day and then as the reporter describes it:
“The tiny boat tossed in 14-foot swells threatening to overturn it with each peak and valley. The National Weather Service had issued a small-craft advisory Saturday, and they felt its full brunt. They leaned in unison to keep the raft steady. A small light in the raft lasted only a few hours, leaving the men in the dark with the crash of the waves.
‘It was rough. We tried a million different positions,’ Werler said.
Finally, the swells eased to about 6 feet, allowing the men to relax. Some time later — nobody had a watch — a single, giant wave lifted the raft and slammed the men with such terrifying force, they feared they would be swamped.
‘I don't know how long I was asleep. A rogue wave completely pulverized the raft,’ Arters said.
They pushed the roof back up and bailed water with a cup that came with the raft. Then they endured the night in wakeful silence.”
Right there and then they had unmistakably encountered a true freaque wave event. The pattern is all too familiar: there’s the storm and it momentarily eased off and then, bang, a freaque one hit! This kind of incidents had been told frequently from those who survived an encountering. It has to be true! But there are really not any actual measurements available to verify or any conjecture ever developed to explain how and why it was happening the way it was happening.
This story has auspiciously a very happy ending: the seven were all rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after two days ordeal:
“The men were still grinning when they reunited with their families in Delaware hours later Monday evening.
‘I think we'll be friends for life,’ Werler said. ‘We experienced something and had a bond you could never recreate.’”
He can certainly say that again!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Surfers ride watery giants

I guess in the good old bygone days, daily life usually starts with opening the morning newspaper. Well, time has changed completely, I don’t know how wide spread, instead of opening the newspaper nowadays where important news may be hid in page 23, I tend to turn on the internet to find out what’s going on in the world overnight from all kinds of online newspapers to choose -- befitting the internet era we are in. It’s not the same as opening a newspaper, but internet has more things in store and sometimes unexpected amusements can brighten up an otherwise dreary morning. That’s what happened this morning when I came upon this article from entitled “Surfers ride watery giants, chasing 100 ft waves,” a title would certainly wake up someone like me from a half sleeping morning trance real quick.

At any rate, this article, by Michael Perry of Reuters, is a superbly written work, well researched and very informative about the world’s most elite surfers and their quest for “gargantuan ocean waves.” That's quite different from my perspectives. All the research studies of freaque waves are aiming at understanding them in order to avoid encountering with those gargantuan ocean waves. But these surfers, on the other hand, are seeking to confront the monster waves head on. One such experience by a 25 year old Australian surfer Alex Carter surfing in 40-50 feet waves, as described by the reporter:

“. . . the ocean also swallowed him up and tried to tear him apart as if he was a rag doll.

“After being mowed down by a wall of water Cater was hit by three massive waves and dragged 200 metres (yards), or more than a football field, underwater. One wave pushed him so deep he was forced to equalise his ears twice.

“‘The impact is full-on. You get rag-dolled, you do cartwheels and ripped around violently. You just have to relax and try and enjoy it,’ says a laughing Cater. ‘As soon as you fight it, that's when you start to loose your breath and panic.’”

Well, I lost my breath and panic just in reading it. I was once interviewed on the phone by a young writer for a surfing magazine who asked me if freaque waves can be catchable for surfing. Being totally ignorant of what real surfing is all about, I remember my comment was about the fact that we don’t know where or when a freaque will occur, even if we do, I did not know how a surfer can catch it. Little did I know there’s such thing now called “tow-in surfing” as described in this article and the agony and ecstasy when a surfer is actually “whipped by jet ski into giant waves bigger than most tsunamis.” Here are some related facts :

“Amazingly there have been no tow-in deaths.

“But there have been near drownings as surfers looking like fleas fly down giant waves, feet strapped to tiny boards, with a flotation vest to counter the tonnes of crashing water that will hit them if they wipe-out.

“Injuries range from broken ribs and legs to torn muscles to ruptured blood vessels which leave surfers coughing up blood.”

That’s certainly not an appetizing picture one would relish. But what I find surprising is this:

“Advancements in surf forecasting has also fuelled extreme big wave surfing, with surfers using the Internet and satellites to track storms and forecast when a giant swell will hit a reef.”

Again I always know satellites are used to track storms and freaque waves as part of a ship routing process to steer ships away from the possibility of encountering them. This is the first time I ever heard that surfers are also satellite user and they are really trying to go for the encounter with freaque waves. I am not too clear in my mind at this moment if I should regard those surfers as fearless or reckless.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why were they considered lucky?

May be I should explain my contention why I think the passengers onboard Norwegian Down should consider themselves very fortunate to have encountered that freaque wave off the coast of Georgia, early on Saturday, April 16, 2005 and only sustained minor damages along with may be expectable anxieties and annoyances. There were at least 6 known cases of maritime disasters in the 20th century with no survivors and freaque waves were all suspected:

1909 SS Waratah (211)

1975 SS Edmund Fitzgerald (29)

1978 Super tanker München (26)

1980 MV Derbyshire (44)

1982 Offshore Platform Ocean Ranger (84)

1991 Longliner Andrea Gail (6)

The numbers inside the parenthesis indicate the total number of causalities lost. The numbers may not be as impressive as comparing to those Tsunami losses. But every single one of them represents a major irreplaceable loss forever to their family and love ones. More than the numbers signify will be the fact that it can really happen, regardless of ship sizes, time, or location. In all these cases when they happen, they just instantly disappeared and never to be heard ever again. We earnestly hope and pray that kind of thing will not ever happen to anyone again. At any rate we should continue pressing forward for more new research and new measurements, but most certainly no one should ever think that they can be just as lucky as the Norwegian Down next time when it happens.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Freaque wave prevails over ambulance chasers!

Recently I blogged about the investigation report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Regarding the freaque wave encounter of cruise ship Norwegian Down. I commented that it was surprisingly did not receive much news coverage, may be because there was no wrongdoing found by either the Company or the Captain. Here’s perhaps the final chapter of the case, reported from Cruise Ship News, it will not be surprising to see this news probably will not going to receive much media coverage either: (Thanks to Rushie of Shipsnostalgia for posting this news on the Shipsnostalgia Forum with the appropriate title of “Common sense prevails in cruise ship court case.”)

Ruling Favors NCL in Cruise Ship Norwegian Dawn Rogue Wave Suit

A federal judge has ruled in favor of NCL and against a group of passengers who were aboard the Norwegian Dawn in April 2005 when the cruise ship was hit by a rogue wave while sailing back to New York from the Caribbean.

Even though none of the guests or crew members suffered serious injuries when the unusually large wave hit the ship, breaking windows and flooding some passenger cabins, a group of angry passengers and their attorneys had sought certification for a class action suit.

But U.S. District Court Judge Ceciolia M. Altonaga on Sept. 12th denied their motion for class certification.

So what should we call this final chapter? How about “Freaque wave prevails over ambulance chasers!” It is sad that when we are so acutely concious of our humanly limitations against the intractable nature we all live in, especially for something like freaque waves, some of the the people who were so fortunately came out of the Norwegian Down event alive and well should even think about to go along with ambulance chasers for undue gains. I don't think the good judge would do it, what those people really need is for someone to say to them with no uncertain terms: "Shame on you!"

An event off Cape Elizabeth, Maine

The following is a news item this morning on the website of WMTW TV Station entitled “Recovery Mission Continues off Cape Elizabeth”:
CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine -- A state police dive team, the Cape Elizabeth wet team and the Maine Marine Patrol returned to McKenney Point in Cape Elizabeth on Friday morning to resume their search for a missing lobsterman who disappeared Wednesday when his boat capsized after being hit by a rogue wave.
A crewman on the lobster boat said he was trapped in the overturned vessel at first, but survived after finding an air pocket in the engine room.
Chip Currier and his crewmate, Lance Smith, were finally able to swim to safety after Wednesday's incident. But the skipper, Steve Smith, was still missing after a Coast Guard rescue effort turned into a recovery mission on Thursday.
Officials said they don't believe anyone could survive for long in the cold water.
The Coast Guard suspended its efforts to locate Smith on Thursday.
The April Lee was struck by a wave that might have been kicked up by the remnants of Hurricane Florence late Wednesday morning. Currier, 22, said was hauling traps alongside Smith, 50, and his son when the wave hit.
Currier told News 8, "Waves breaking on one side of us, no waves on the other -- we thought we were really safe. Steve would never put anybody in harm's way. Never, ever would think that this would happen. This was a freak accident that just couldn't be avoided."
Smith kept his 38-foot lobster boat at the Spring Point Marina next to a cabin cruiser on which he and his wife spent summers. Friends said Smith loved the water and practically lived on it.
Another report from the local news paper give some further details of the event:
Steve Smith had just maneuvered his 38-foot lobster boat into what looked like calm waters off McKenney Point on Wednesday morning when what looked like a 16-foot wall of water hit him broadside, said a surviving member of his crew.
The rogue wave flipped the April Lee on top of sternman Charles Currier of Hollis and swept fellow crew member Lance Smith away from shore.

Searchers tried in vain Thursday to determine what happened to Steve Smith, the boat's captain, who disappeared when the wave struck.
We earnestly pray for the skipper’s safe return. Boats, large or small, are facing this kind of hazards daily. The WMTW reporter theorizes this event as due to the remnants of Hurricane Florence, which is plausible. But for nearshore or shallow bay areas, freaque waves can sometimes also be generated by large ships passing nearby out in the deep ocean. That does not seem to be the case here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In the eye of the storm

I think we all have heard of hurricane and the "eye" of the storm. But I don't think any of us have heard much on what was really like to be in the eye of the storm. Here's a real story told by someone who was really there! The author was a young lad onboard a cargo vessel called "Mary K" in 1955 sailing acrossing the North Atlantic which was to be his second trip to sea. He is a fabulous story teller with a vivid recall of all that details. I guess it's hard not to remember the details of that kind of experience. Here are the highlights:

". . . I became aware that we were heading through the Gulf Stream and into the turbulent waters of the north Atlantic. We learned that a hurricane, named ‘IONE’, had formed in the Gulf of Mexico and was heading up the east coast of the U.S.A. in our direction. We had no idea what this meant for us, but knew the Captain was plotting its progress very carefully. As we neared the Grand Banks the ship’s course was altered to take us south of the hurricane’s course. Unfortunately the hurricane veered just after our last position report and we went directly into its centre. On 20 September it had now been downgraded to an ‘Extra Tropical Storm’, and began to affect our progress.

The build up of heavy cloud and increasing seas was the first indication of what lay ahead. The ship’s cook had been preparing a large roast in the galley as he knew we were facing bad weather and saw his chance of giving us a good feed before it all set in. As the galley boy it was my job to deliver the roast to the table. I was standing in the doorway of the galley holding the roast in a meat tray and waiting for a pause in the waves. I was fully prepared to run across the open deck to deliver it to the pantry beyond. I felt pretty confident at counting the waves as I’d gauged the pattern. I chose my moment and took off. I was half way across, when a rogue wave caught me full on and picked me up. In a split second I was engulfed in water and felt sure the wave was carrying me away from the ship. Suddenly I found I was being dashed up against the galley door, with a resounding thud. I still carry the scar on my knee caused by my sudden connection with the ship. Unfortunately the roast and I had parted company and was never seen again. No doubt Davy Jones dined well that night.

The helmsman swung the ship’s bow to face the increasingly steep seas. Over the next 24 hours the waves increased in size until they were as high as the funnel. Water was crashing over the bow and pounding the bridge. It became quite dark, even though we were in daylight hours and eventually we entered the eye of the storm. It was really weird. We were moving across water which had become less violent and more like a boiling cauldron. The waves were now only about 12 feet high but with no direction to them. All around the horizon was a wall of grey cloud stretching up, and yet the visibility was quite clear in our space in the middle. It really was like being in a large saucepan. The view in every direction being the same. The Captain told us that we were going to encounter even worse weather than the previous day as soon as we moved from the eye. How right he was.

As the ship began its course through the remainder of the storm and away from the eye, everything depended upon the skill of the helmsman. He had an enormous responsibility and the tension in the wheelhouse was something I had never seen before. I took mugs of tea to the Captain and crew on duty on the bridge and arrived just as we plowed into a huge wave. The water was over the top of the bridge, turning the light green. We emerged from what had seemed like a terminal dive beneath the waves for the Mary K. It was during those hours of fighting mountainous waves that it became apparent that all the lifeboats had been badly damaged, davits bent out of shape and the main sea door to the aft accommodation had sustained considerable damage. I took two empty 5-gallon drums to my cabin and tried to convince myself that if the ship went down then I would have my two drums to cling to. We spent over 3 days in the hurricane and were about 300 miles off course when it became safe enough to resume our journey towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

We proceeded up the St. Lawrence River passing the magnificent Chateau de Frontenac and beautiful city of Quebec. It was a great relief to be able to get our feet on dry land after our experience of the past days. . ."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Another real life experience of a freaque wave event

I came across the following story from here this morning:

"My wife and I lost everything to a freak storm in the Caribbean. Our sailboat was our home and also our business. We were far from land, and in just one hour, with no warning, the glassy water with no wind turned into 30-foot waves driven by hurricane-force winds. Then we hit a true rogue wave, at least 60 feet and probably more like 100 feet high. Our 90-foot boat went airborne, was buried, was picked up again, was thrown and broken and finally sank along with everything we owned and all our dreams and plans. But here's the thing: I long for another storm, for a bigger storm, a more frightening storm.
"When our freak storm formed so quickly, in that one hour, it was nothing I had imagined was possible, even though I'd grown up in Alaska and often been at sea. I was certain my wife and I would die, and though we lived, I was injured and penniless for almost two years. But none of that diminishes the beauty of the storm. It was entirely unforecasted, was unreported even after many hours, and covered hundreds of miles. It caught ships unawares. We had an expensive satellite weather system onboard, and it was worthless. Our life raft and other safety gear were worthless as well, because the 30-foot waves were hitting from multiple directions, their top 10 feet breaking onto us, flooding our deck with thousands of gallons of water. We could not possibly have launched and boarded our raft. The storm stripped away our technology and left us in an ancient world."
This is another of the kind of real-life stories of freaque wave occurrence told from a first-hand experience. This particular freaque wave event was actually occurred during a storm. According to the author's estimate, it was a 60' - 100' freaque wave which he and their 90' sailboat encountered during the estimated 30' wave field generated by the storm. Anyone who had read the author's memoir "A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea" would probably not going to question whether or not if this had really happened. While sympathetic with the author's misfortune, we would also appreciate that he could give such a sober-minded, vivid eyewitness account of such a frightening event he experienced. I do detect some sarcasm when he commented that the event was entirely "unforecasted" even with "an expensive satellite weather system onboard" so he concluded that the"storm stripped away our technology and left us in an ancient world" which is pretty much summed up our "state of the art" today. No matter how much technology we have, and we have basicaly nothing at all in connection with freaque waves except may be some satellite pictures, when someone is out there in the ocean and suddenly a freaque wave appeared, like it or not, this someone, he or she, will be entirely on his or her own luck! No amount of theoretical model simulations we can produce, that will not do any good to help when that happens. Tsunamis can be forecast to some extent, but for freaque waves we only know they are happening out there, that's all. We don't know where, when, how, or why. It can happen in calm condition and it can happen during storm. If you are out there and it happened, well, good luck!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The upcoming book entitled "Extreme Waves"

A few months ago, my daughter and her family vacationed at Washington, D.C. and attended a Book Convention while there. They got me a wonderful gift from the Book Convention – a book, of course, entitled “Extreme Waves.” I was really thrilled to receive this book. It is an advanced copy of the book by Craig B. Smith which is scheduled to be published by Joseph Henry Press in November.

My thrill with this book is mainly induced by the title of the book, which I thought it is timely when I first see it, as the media interest on the topic has been quite high. But after I flipped through the book, I must admit that I was rather disappointed. One of my feelings was that the title of the book does not accurately reflect what the book is actually about. It talks about, among other things, Columbus and Magellan, sailing, Rayleigh distribution, tides, cyclones, hurricanes, swell, tsunami, solitary waves, ship safety, and yes, extreme waves are in there. It could be a good book for general reading, if its title is changed to “An Amateur Sailor’s Journal of Ocean Waves” or something similar. It will be less lurid, but certainly accurately reflects what’s really inside the book.

I have no intention of doing a review of the book here, as it is only an advanced copy. Of course things will be appropriately revised hopefully, but I doubt there will be a title change in the final finished version. Notwithstanding the title is catchy but illusory. Anyway here are some of the things that I found disquieting in my first quick reading:

  1. I wonder if the author has a clear sense of the meaning or definition of the terms he use while he was using them in his writing. For instance in the chapter “Freaks, Rogues, and Giants” he commented: “What are rogue waves like? Until recently, there was no generally accepted definition of what constitutes an extreme wave – as noted by the fact that oceanic literature refers to them variously as freaks, rogues, or giants. . .” Bold face emphasis added. Yes, indeed, it is confusing out there, but did the author make any effort to sort them out? What appears to me, however, is that he really thinks rogue waves and extreme waves are the same. That certainly does not help clarify what the book is about.
  2. In the chapter “A Confused Sea,” it is somewhat amusing to find the confused things the author discussed are wave reflection, refraction, diffraction, and solitary waves. I think the publisher should have invited an established fluid dynamist or hydrodynamist to work with the author and explain to him why they are not at all confused by those things.
  3. One of the main confusion out there in the media is the intermingled use of rogue waves and tsunamis. This book is no exception. Intuitively a tsunami is a kind of extreme waves, but that certainly at odds as the author also thinks an extreme wave is also a rogue wave. I suggested another title for the book, because it is really a kind of journal collection lacking a unified theme. That’s why I found it was refreshing to read the Foreword by Susanne Lehner. Susanne is an active practitioner in the forefront of current freaque wave researches specialized in satellite images in particular. Her Foreword in this book is superb because she was talking about freaque waves as she probably thinks the book is all about, but her Foreword turns out to be markedly unharmonious with the rest of the book. I'm doubtful if Susanne had a chance to read the complete book before she wrote that foreword.

Enough ramblings for now, I'm probably not ready to send in my order for the final book yet!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The encounter of Bencruachan

It is still an amazing thing to me that one could fairly readily finding things on the Internet even things from far away and years ago, thanks to Google.

I’ve noticed earlier the case of the cargo ship Bencruachan which was hit by a freak wave in 1973 without much detail information. Then I recently came across from this info bit:

“I remember standing on the dockside in Hull in the summer of 1973 and looking at the damage done to a Ben Boat, the 'Bencruachan', by a freak wave off South Africa.”

I got curious and start doing some Google to see if I can find further info. It’s not abundant out there. But I did found this comment from the Spring 2003 NORD News:

“Severe damage to large modern cargo ships like the Ben Cruachan – ‘bent like a banana’. . .”
And then this:

“Just dug out these three photos taken by a Yarpie newspaper of the ‘Cruachan’ after she hit the freak wave off the Cape on 2.4.73. . .”

Now I have a date for the encounter which I did not have before. But, not so fast, there's also this details from a Dr. Gordon Avery:

“My wife (16 weeks pregnant) and I were passengeres on "Bencruachan" from Singapore when it was hit by the rogue wave off Durban on 2 May (not April as recorded in your website} 1973. Capt Sinclair was on his last voyage before retiring and the ship was delayed because we had to drop off a sick crew man with appendicitis in Medan, Sumatra. We should have called at Durban for bunkers but due to congestion were diverted to Cape Town which we never of course reached. We remember the episode well since we were helicoptered off and then spent 10 days in Durban before being flown home.It was some wave, some bang I can tell you.”

With a corrected date, I think the case is now firmly substantiated. While I would still wish to know how big was the freak wave that hit Bencruachan, I don’t think that information has ever existed! Here's Bencruachan during her glorious days:

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Marine accident brief on Norwegian Dawn

It was fervent news reported world wide when the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn was hit by a freaque wave in Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina coast in April a year ago. As far as encountering with freaque waves is concerned, this event must be considered a very fortunate case. Because from all indications they were indeed struck by a freaque wave, but only sustained minor damages. In November 2005, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigation report “Marine Accident Brief” which, surprisingly, did not received as widely news coverage as the event when it was happened.

May be the reason for the lack of newsworthiness is the rather less than sensational conclusion found:

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the damage to the Norwegian Dawn and of the injuries suffered by its passengers was wave breaking over the bow during the ship’s unavoidable encounter with severe weather and heavy seas.” (Bold faced emphases added.)

Nothing there for the ambulance chasers or the finger pointing media types. But for the freaque waves studies, I think this is a very useful investigate report for a rare freaque wave event that can be investigated in detail. Here's a picture showing the damaged spots after the freaque wave hit:

I found the following paragraph in the damage report of particular interest to the freaque wave studies:

“At 0610 on April 16, the ship was making 7 knots over the ground. The wind and sea conditions had eased slightly, according to ship’s officers and log entries. However, the watch officer on the bridge observed the vessel pitching and saw the bow start to plow into the seas. The master, who had been on the bridge throughout the night, told investigators that he felt the ship pitch three times in succession. The watch officer stated that all the waves were very large, and that all were roughly the same height. On the third wave, he said, the ship’s bow took heavy green seas, which at 0615 cascaded directly over the bow and struck the forward part of the vessel’s superstructure.”

Two important notes should be striking here: First, the event occurred when “the wind and sea conditions had eased slightly,” so the event did not happen at the peak of the storm; and secondly, the watch officer stated that it was the “third” wave that provided the heavy hit, even though “all the waves were very large, and that all were roughly the same height.” Therefore it seemed that the third wave could still be conceivable larger than the others or the freaque waves are not necessarily single wave events.

This is the kind of occasion that one would really wish a wave recorder could have been installed on the vessel. I, for one, would earnestly prefer to see that all sea-going vessels should be required to equip with continuously operating wave recorders. The added coast will be basically insignificant, but the benefit to the navigation and possible improvement in knowledge in the long run will be simply immeasurable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thoughts on hazardous events.

There is a minor news this morning reporting that “a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Indonesia in the Banda sea area on Tuesday, an official at the national earthquake center said, but there were no reports of damage or a tsunami.”

There was another news yesterday regarding hurricanes advising that “meteorologists know certain basics are needed for hurricanes to form: deep pools of warm water; warm, moist air; low air pressure. But all of those conditions can be in place, and still a storm won't start spinning.”

In both cases there seem to be a dilemma in connection with our supposedly well-known knowledge regarding these potentially disastrous natural events – the nature is not cooperating: they happen when we re not prepared, but not happening when we think they might!

In both of the tsunami and hurricane cases, there seems to be plentiful of equipments as well as research funding available. Although there are always complains of not enough equipment and still grossly under funded. Appositely my favorite study of freaque wave events got basically nothing – neither observational equipments nor relevant funding to pursue. Nevertheless with only a few conjectures, some good supply of satellite pictures, and some computer simulations, there’s intrepid prediction that freaque wave will be predictable in 10 years! I wish them luck and I can’t wait for that day to arrive, if it ever will!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Freaque waves during the Endurance Expedition

My colleague Dave Schwab brought to my attention another fabulous eyewitness account of a true life encountering with a gigantic waves at sea -- the account of Sir Ernest Shackleton during his expedition to the Antarctic in 1915 given in his book “South: The Endurance Expedition” published in 1919:
"A hard northwesterly gale came up on the eleventh day (May 5) and shifted to the southwest in the late afternoon. The sky was overcast and occasional snow squalls added to the discomfort produced by a tremendous cross-sea – the worst, I thought, that we had experienced. At midnight I was at the tiller and suddenly noticed a line of clear sky between the south and southwest. I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave. During twenty-six years’ experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days. I shouted, “For God’s sake, hold on!” Then came a moment of suspense that seemed drawn out into hours. White surged the foam of the breaking sea around us. We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We baled with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us. She floated again and ceased to lurch drunkenly as though dazed by the attack of the sea. Earnestly we hoped that never again would we encounter such a wave."

This is possibly a most veracious description of a true freaque wave event many decades before the notion of a freaque wave has ever enacted. I must admit that I was unacquainted with Shackleton’s expedition. Briefly he led the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on his personally owned three-masted barquentine “Endurance” set sail in 1914. Along with 28 men they sailed across the Atlantic and then through Weddell Sea. As the ice field slowly built around the ship, Endurance was soon encased in thickening ice packs, drifted for months, and eventually the ship was crushed and sank in November, 1915. They rescued three life boats, it was during his journey with 5 men onboard the largest life boat “James Caird” seeking relief that the above account of gigantic wave event was encountered. Endured through all the freaque waves, icebergs, mountainous glaciers, unending brutal cold, and ever-looming starvation as described on the back cover of the Signet paperback book, everyone from Endurance survived. A very happy ending to a very valiant expedition indeed!

The 28 crews of the Endurance in its final voyage consisted two engineers, two surgeons, and one each of geologist, meteorologist, physicist, biologist, artist, photographer, storekeeper, carpenter, and, of course, a cook along with regular seafarers. It is of interest to read the following newspaper ad which was said what Shackleton used in recruiting his crews:

"MEN WANTED: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. Sir Ernest Shackleton."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Santísima Trinidad to be in the harbour of Malaga, Spain

Here’s a latest news item of human tragedy charged to the freaque waves:

“The inauguration of the 950 ton replica of the ‘Santísima Trinidad’ sailing boat was suspended in Málaga over the weekend after a worker in his 40’s on the boat fell from a ramp to his death. Two others were slightly injured in the accident which happened as the boat was hit by a freak large wave.

The accident happened on Saturday, the day before the opening was planned.”

We don't know how do freaque waves happen in the open ocean, neither do we know how freaque waves happen inside a harbor. They just happen!

Perhaps Americans should have historical interest on Santísima Trinidad. Here’s her relevant history according to Wikipedia:

In July 1779, Spain declared war on Great Britain, joining France in support of the American colonists in the American War of Independence. Santísima Trinidad became the flagship of the Spanish fleet, taking part in the Franco-Spanish operations in the English Channel in the late summer of that year. In 1780 she took part in the capture of an English convoy of 51 ships.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Research at the cutting edge

There was a Workshop on Rogue Waves held during December 12-15, 2005 at Edinburgh and sponsored by International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS). I did not attend this workshop because it is a very theoretically oriented workshop and not being a theoretician understandably I was not invited. I just found the following paragraph from their announcement has to be one of the most magnificently well written introductory synopsis on freaque waves I have ever seen:

"Rogue, or freak, waves, is currently a very hot topic. At the same time, it is a topic of substance in nonlinear wave theory, and an ICMS workshop was timely and appropriate. Briefly, a rogue wave is the rare transient occurrence of a wave whose amplitude is significantly larger than the background sea-state. A commonly-used ad hoc definition is a wave that is at least 2.2 larger then the significant wave height. Although they are rare events, just how rare is not clear; a spate of recent ocean observations suggest they are not as rare as had been thought. These destructive waves are of major concern for shipping and off-shore engineering. Based on various numerical and analytical models, several dynamical mechanisms have been proposed for their occurrence; these included Fourier superposition of many small waves with suitable phase relations, nonlinear focussing of wave energy, and wave refraction by currents and/or topography. However, a detailed and definitive understanding of rogue waves, and related phenomena, is not presently available."
Thanks to ICMS' generousity that in their website they made all of the abstracts, some manuscripts, and many of the presentations given at the workshop available and accessible to us all. This is a great service for the freaque wave aficionados. Two other similar sites also made the recent presentations and/or manuscripts fully accessible are Rogue Waves 2004 and 2005 Aha Hulikoa Hawaii Winter Workshop. Together these are all at the cutting edge of freaque wave researches. But regrettably, even with all these high powered cutting-edge researches, a detailed and definitive understanding of freaque waves, and related phenomena, is still far, far from being within our command yet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Idle thoughts from watching tropical storms

‘Tis the season of tropical storms all around the globe. There is Typhoon Prapiroon in the east crossing the South China Sea and there is tropical storm Chris over the Caribbean right now heading toward Gulf of Mexico. Here are two sceneries bracing for what’s happening: the first one in Hong Kong on August 3rd 2006 following by the one in San Juan, Puerto Rico on August 2nd 2006.

Whenever there’re large storms there will always be large waves out there. Will there be freaque waves out there also? Yes, it is most likely and there is no reason why not. But if there’s really a gigantically large freaque wave occurred out there but there is no recording, no witness, and no damage done what so ever, does it really happened? Of course not! Yea, it may have been occurred but never happened! Just as there was no sound made when no one heard the tree falling in the forest. On the other hand, if there is no witness and no damage done what so ever, but somehow it is duly recorded somewhere; would that recording count? Most probably not! That singular recording will be suspected, disbelieved, untrustworthy, and being leered upon as useless outliers and it will be permanently discarded from the knowledge base once and for all. That, in a nutshell, is a basic manifestation of human nature, unfortunately.