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 M√ľnchen (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!