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!