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.