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.