Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Brigantine MARQUES

Here’s a brief description given in the list of sailing ships in

Three masted brig Marques built in 1917 lost in a freak storm in 1984.

Here’s her story given in the article entitled “Rogue Waves “in Science Frontiers

“Shortly before dawn on Sunday, June 3, 1984, the 117-foot, threemasted Marques sailed into a fierce squall about 75 miles north of Bermuda. Heavy rain began to pelt the ship, and a furious wind sprang up out of nowhere. Squalls were nothing new to the Marques, one of 39 tall ships participating in a transatlantic race. But as a precaution, Stuart Finlay, the seasoned 42-year-old American captain of the ship, shortened the sails. The Marques was carrying a crew of 28 - half of whom were under 25. At the helm, Philip Sefton, 22, fought the angry waves that now confronted them.

"Suddenly a heavy gust of wind pushed the Marques down on its starboard side. At the same instant 'a freakish wave of incredible force and size,' as Sefton later described it, slammed the ship broadside, pushing its masts farther beneath the surging water. A second wave pounded the ship as it went down. The Marques filled with water and sank in less than one minute. Most of the crew were trapped as they slept below deck. Only Sefton and eight shipmates survive.

And here’s more detailed story given in

4:30 a.m. Sunday, June 3, 1984
75 miles north of Bermuda.

The storm that has buffeted the sail-training ship Marques for the last 14 hours appears to be subsiding. Most of the crews are below, sleeping peacefully...

Suddenly, a heavy gust of wind pushes Marques down on her starboard side. Then, as helmsman Philip Sefton, 22, recalls a freakish wave of incredible force and size,’ literally slams into the ship, knocking her far over, flat on her side. Water starts roaring through the open hatchway, down into the bowels of the ship. And in less than 45 seconds, the ship is gone - as she literally sails under the ocean, her cabin lights still glowing green through the water as she slides, into the depths. In under a minute, all that remains of Marques, are the few cold, shocked survivors, struggling for the liferafts. And then, the red rockets arcing through the stormy, pre-dawn sky. Of the 28 on board, there are nine survivors...

Said John Ash, 24, of the rogue wind and wave that drove the Marques into the sea: It meant to kill us. There was nothing we could do.

Marques was originally built in Valencia, Spain for the Canary Island fruit trade in 1917. Originally a polacca-rigged brig, the ship was purchased in 1971 as a rotting hulk by Robin Cecil-Wright and restored over the next five years in Britain. The ship acquired her distinctive barque rig when she was extensively refitted and modified to play the role of Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle in the 1977 BBC television series ‘The Voyage of Charles Darwin’.

So I’ll add this following item to the list as:

1984: North Atlantic. On June 3, 1984 the three-masted brig Marques encountered a freaque wave 75 miles north of Bermuda and lost in 45 seconds. Of the 28 onboard, there were only 9 survivors.

Mary Rose -- Henry VIII's Warship

I have been continuously updating the list of cases of ships encountering freak waves. It has become an interesting undertaking and I am convinced it is unlikely the list will be ever complete. So instead adding it to that already quite long list, I’ll just make a post with each new piece of information I come across so that a brief can be pasted to the list simultaneously.

Now let me start with a historical one from the 16th century:

1545: Mary Rose, four masted warship, built on the orders of King Henry VIII between 1510 and 1511. She was one of the first ships able to fire a broadside, and was a firm favorite of Henry VIII. After a long and successful period of service she sank on July 19, 1545.

Here’s a part of Mary Rose' story according to :

On the 18th of July, 1545, during an engagement with the French fleet, Henry VIII had dinner with his senior officers, including the Vice-admiral, Sir George Carew, who was in charge of the Mary Rose.

At dawn on the 19th of July, the French galleys started firing at the English fleet. There was no wind, so the English ships were becalmed.

Suddenly a breeze sprang up and the English ships set sail. Then, to the watching King's horror, the Mary Rose capsized and sank, drowning nearly all her crew.

Now an inevitable question to ask is whether or not there might be a freaque wave caused the capsizing of Mary Rose since there was a breeze sprang up suddenly. Probably that's one of the possibilities among other speculations that one can not rule in or rule out with any plausible certainty.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A further recall of the encounter

I asked Karsten yesterday if he would care to recall and give some further details of that October 1977 storm he experienced onboard “Stolt Surf.” Here’s his response:

Regarding your questions about big waves - - - 
Yes, - I do recall this storm very well.
After all it is the most violent one I have ever met
during 37 years at sea, because instead of trying to
avoid it, - we headed straight into its very center - - -
The waves in this storm was not suddenly built up,
but made by a very strong wind which over great
distances pushed the water up.
It is normally like that on the big oceans, when
the "force" comes steadily from one direction over
a great distance - - -
There are other cases where it is not like that,
- where the waves seem to come from all directions -,
and then two big waves sometimes "kiss" and makes
one even bigger wave, before it collapses under its
own weight. You can also experience the opposite
situation, where it is not a "mountain" that builds
up, but a "hole", that suddenly appears in the ocean.
But not in this case - - - -
I have a strong feeling, that this was ocean waves
from one direction, pushed up by strong winds over
a great distance of open water. And it
happened many times - - - - wave after wave coming - - -
But, - of course -, some waves are always bigger than
others, and I cannot really say for sure if the one on
the picture you refer to was the biggest. Actually I do
not think so, since several waves actually broke over the
bridge, - smashing doors, windows and port holes -, and
the bridge deck was 22 meters above sea level, so they
were huge - - -
At the peak of such a storm, - you see nothing, so if an
even bigger wave was there, I might not have been able
to see it, because all is darkness and foam
everywhere with zero visibility - - -
Photography under those circumstances are of course not
possible, so my storm pics are all taken after the wind
had calmed down a little bit - -

These are truly insightful eyewitness accounts of an encounter with raging ocean waves in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during that terrifying autumn storm. It all makes a lot of sense. As Karsten alluded that the pictures he took may not be the largest wave he experienced that day. They were nevertheless large enough by any means. The waves that broke over the bridge covered them with water and foam when they can not see anything may certainly be much larger. I am just wondering if their decision of confronting the storm by directly heading into the center of the wave front might have actually contributed to their happy survival of the storm. Clearly trying to run away from the oncoming waves could be futile and much more dangerous. That should be a good lesson not only for navigation but also for life in general, I guess!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Story of a real life storm encounter

I don’t think anyone would connect internet surfing with treasure hunting. But when you were randomly looking for something on the internet and found something even better, that could be a feeling just like finding treasure. That’s how I found/discovered this marvelous web site yesterday called “The StormStolt Surf’ in the North Pacific, 1977” by Karsten Peterson of Denmark who describes himself as Sailor/Photographer/World Traveler/Adventurer. The site tells the story onboard the Chemical Tanker “Stolt Surf” that was voyaging across the Pacific Ocean from Singapore to Portland, Oregon of U.S. in October, 1977 and encountered a hurricane like storm. While in the midst of the height of the storm, as he tells it as: ”The howling wind tears off the top of the waves, and sends it as a horizontal spray across the ocean covering everything in a white mist He was able to managed to taking great pictures of the storm in action. Here are a few of his copy righted pictures showing the famed ferocious wall of water coming toward the ship as the ship was heading right into it which he granted permission for my non-commercial use.

I guess Karsten is confident that his pictures captured the inexorable fierceness and ferocity of the wave actions out there, as he commented “What is missing is the extreme sounds of the ship, - the howling wind and crashing waves,. . . “ which should make us all be thankful that we don’t have to be out there. Through it all when calm returned and they all survived, Karsten ably summarized a real sense of “the feeling of being very, very small and insignificant in this truly great, and awesome performance of "Mother Nature"!

I would like to add two comments: First, I think they have to be considered extremely lucky to encounter a storm like this and survived with only minor damages. Not quite three years after “Stolt Surf” voyage, in September 1980, the U.K. vessel MV Derbyshire encountered Typhoon Orchid and she disappeared in western Pacific near Japan with 44 people onboard all vanished. Second, these pictures and the story of “Stolt Surf” are all true. I can not help reminded of the fake Hollywood production based on that thrilling book entitled “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger. While the book was brilliant, the Hollywood production was all make-believes down to all that ridiculous crackbrained screamings of George Clooney. In the midst of howling winds and crashing waves what's the use of screaming?

Read and enjoy the real thing!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Semblance with earthquakes

I read an interesting blog post from the May 30th blog of the New Scientist magazine. (I know it's July now and I am talking about a post back in May since I did not follow their blog very closely. But it’s not a timely post anyway.) Here’s the post:

Another earthquake, this time in Indonesia, and the story follows a familiar, tragic arc: the tremor, the casualties, the call for aid, the ending of hope for finding survivors.

What stands out to me, in a gruesome way, is how many people have died – over 5000 as of today – for a relatively small earthquake. The quake measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale (there are about 120 tremors between 6.0 and 6.9 worldwide every year). By comparison, on 28 March 2005, a quake of magnitude 8.7 hit Sumatra. The logarithmic scale means this quake released about 250 times more energy and it killed more than 1000 people. In November 2002, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Alaska and killed no one.

The reason for the discrepancy is location. Huge earthquakes can rock the planet but if they are far from populated areas, they will cause little damage. But smaller, and especially shallow, earthquakes can cause devastation if they occur right under towns and villages. The other key factor is of course the quality of buildings – a seismologist once told me "earthquakes don't kill people – badly constructed buildings do".

I think there is an analogy with freaque waves here. If a very large freaque wave of 60 m or higher can happen, but there is no ship snarled nearby it, then there is no damages happen and no one would really care much about it. But if a minor freaque wave of a few feet high came out of nowhere that capsized a small boat full of people, that would be a dreadful tragic event nevertheless. On the other hand, every earthquake that occurs, large or small, get recorded and noted, but we still can not predict earthquake yet. Now we have no idea where or when freaque waves might happen out there and how high, and no one cares about making measurements, and there’s still this glowing talks about freaque waves prediction in a few years?!

A list of freaque wave encounters

This will be a slightly long post today, because I composed a long, and hopefully reasonably complete, list of the well known cases of ships encounter freaque waves. Because I did it only through quick searches on the internet, it is contingent on the information made available on the internet at the present, the list is necessarily cursory. I have tried to include their appropriate internet sources for easy check and reference. This list will be continuously updated when new information becomes available.

While on his third voyage on August 4, 1498, Columbus’ fleet of six ships was en-route along the southern tip of Trinidad to the Gulf of Paria when Columbus heard a fearsome roaring from behind his flagship. He turned to see a rogue wave as high as the ships masts and approaching faster than the fleet could escape. It lifted the vessels; hoisting them higher than anything the Admiral had ever experienced and then dropped the fleet into a huge trough. But it didn't stop the ships. Once the wave was behind, the flotilla hastened to escape the constricted passage they had just sailed through, to get to the Gulf. Columbus named the passageway "Mouth of the Serpent." (

1545: Mary Rose, four masted warship, built on the orders of King Henry VIII between 1510 and 1511. She was one of the first ships able to fire a broadside, and was a firm favorite of Henry VIII. After a long and successful period of service she sank on July 19, 1545. See here.

1881: October, 1881, Firth of Forth, North Sea, the Alice of Boddam had left Fisherrow harbour five days previously, while attempting to return to Dunbar following a spell of bad fishing encountered a devastating storm. 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. (Based from here.)

1883: On February 14, 1883 while en-route from Liverpool to Boston, the 320 - foot steamship Glamorgan was hit by an enormous wave that swept the captain and seven men overboard. On February 16, the ship was sighted by the steamship, Republic, which took off 44 survivors before the Glamorqan sank. (

1884: Steamer Daniel Steinmann, an iron ship of 1,785 tons from Antwerp to Halifax, was wrecked at Sambro south of Halifax the night of April 3, 1884. Ninety passengers and thirty-four of the crew were drowned. Only the captain and several men were saved. According to the captain's statement ". . . At the same time an immense wave came pouring over her, carrying off every living soul. . ." and also by second boastwain: ". . . Just at that moment a heavy wave swept over the ship under which it sank. . ." See here.

1884: The yacht Nignonette set sail on May 19, 1884, from Southampton, England, bound for Sydney, Australia on a 12,000-mile voyage. Off the coast of West Africa the vessel was hit by a monstrous storm system. After four terrifying days battling towering waves and hurricane-force gales, a monstrous forty-foot "rogue" wave sunk the Mignonette. The captain and his three-member crew were cast adrift a thousand miles from land in a leaky 13-foot dinghy. After 19 days adrift, with no food or water, the captain resorted to killing the 17-year-old cabin boy for food and to try and save the lives of three left aboard. Five days later, a passing ship rescued them. (

1905: Late on the evening of August 27, 1905, the steamer Peconic was struggling to make its way southward along the Georgia coast. Bound from Philadelphia to New Orleans with a cargo of 1,500 tons of coal, she was in the midst of a fierce gale that she encountered earlier in the day. Just after midnight on August 28, the officer of the deck gave the order to put further out to sea, as he feared they were approaching perilously close to the beach. As the steamer was in the process of turning to port, an immense wave rolling in from the northeast struck the vessel. The unfortunate timing of the blow caused a shift in the cargo of coal, and the Peconic heeled over and almost immediately sank. The sinking was so swift that only two of her crew survived; twenty souls went down with the ship. Detailed story here.

1909: South Indian Ocean. On July 29, British SS Waratah disappeared on her return maiden voyage from Sydney to London, while en route from South African’s Durban to Cape Town. No trace of the ship with 211 passengers and crew was ever found.
( )

1909: On the morning of 3rd December 1909 the SS Ellan Vannin of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. left the Island at 01.13 bound for Liverpool. She was carrying 15 passengers, 21 crew plus mail and 60 tons of cargo. In command was Captain James Teare of Douglas with 18 years of experience. At departure the weather was not particularly rough, and though the barometric pressure was falling, the captain did not expect any trouble. As the passage progressed the weather rapidly deteriorated and by 06.35 when she arrived at the Mersey Bar the wind had increased to storm force 11 with 20 foot waves. She foundered between the Mersey Bar and the Q1 buoy on the Mersey approach channel. She filled with water and sank by the stern. All passengers and crew were lost. (See here and this)

1916: Lake Erie. October 29, 1916, the Colgate, a whaleback steamer, designed for heavy weather, but it couldn't take the waves during the notorious Black Friday, 1916. Three men managed to make it to the liferaft when the ship plunged nose first, but only the skipper would make it ashore. Today the wreck is upside down in 80 feet of water in the middle of Lake Erie. (See here.)

1929: Lake Michigan. September 9, 1929, the Andaste carried a load of gravel from Grand Haven heading southwest toward Chicago but never arrived. There was small craft warnings posted after her departure. The bodies of 14 of the 25 crew mem bers ultimately floated to shore, 11 of them wearing life jackets. (

1929: Lake Michigan. September 9, 1929, Andaste carried a load of gravel from Grand Haven heading southwest toward Chicago but never arrived. There was small craft warnings posted after her departure. The bodies of 14 of the 25 crew mem bers ultimately floated to shore, 11 of them wearing life jackets. (

1933: A 112-foot wave strikes the Navy tanker Ramapo in the North Pacific during a storm on February 7. The wave is so tall that it lines up with the ship’s crow’s nest.

1942: In December 1942, the Queen Mary was hit by a 23 meter (75 foot) wall of water while carrying 15,000 American troops from New York harbor to Southampton, England.

1943: North Atlantic. Cruise liner Queen Elizabeth ploughs into a trough and is hit by two massive waves in succession. The impacts shatter the bridge windows 28 meters above the waterline. (

1944: Indian Ocean. British Royal Navy cruiser Birmingham plunges into a deep hole then takes a huge wave over her bows. The commander reports wading through knee-high water on a deck more than 18 meters above sea level.

1951: North Atlantic. In December 1951 as SS Flying Enterprise, a 6,711 ton ship, en route from England to the United States, she encountered a severe North Atlantic storm, suffered hull cracks and took on a heavy list to port. For nearly two weeks thereafter, Flying Enterprise's Master, Captain Henrik Kurt Carlsen, remained aboard his ship as efforts were made to tow her to port. He was finally forced to abandon her when the list increased to a fatal degree on 10 January 1952, only about 40 miles away from Falmouth, England. The ordeal of the Flying Enterprise and Captain Carlsen was World-wide news at the time and remains one of the great stories of endurance and courage at sea. See here and here.

1966: North Atlantic. Italian steamship Michelangelo is hit by a 21-metre wave en route to New York. The water smashes through the bridge and into the first class compartments, killing two passengers and a crew member.

1968: On June 13, 1968 the tanker World Glory, carry 49,000 tons of crude oil, encountered an abnormally large wave 105 km east of Durban, South Africa, broken in half , and both halves sunk within 4 hours.(

1973: A rogue wave off the coast of Durban, South Africa, strikes the 12,000-ton cargo ship Bencrauchan. The ship is towed into port, barely floating.

1973: The cargo vessel Neptune Sapphire on her maiden voyage, carrying about 15 thousand tons of various cargo. The impact of a single, large wave off the south eastern shores of Africa caused the bow and 61 m of the forward part of the ship to break away and sink. The remainder of the ship was towed to East London. According to Capt. DAI DAVIES, Smit Marine South Africa, this big wave just came out of nowhere, hit the bow and destroyed the whole bow.

1975: On November 10, 1975 the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. All 29 crew members were lost. Details here and

1976: The oil tanker Cretan Star in Indian Ocean off Bombay radios for help: “Vessel was struck by a huge wave that went over the deck.” The ship is never heard from again. The only sign of the vessel's fate was 6 km oil slick.

1978: On 7 December, 1978, the German merchant navy, super-tanker München, en route to America, disappeared off the face of the earth. All that was found of the München and her 26 crew was a lifeboat that had suffered an incredible battering. She was one of the biggest ships ever built - the length of two-and-a-half football pitches - and unsinkable, as it was claimed.

1980: A huge wave was reported to have slammed into the oil tanker Esso Languedoc off the east coast of South Africa. (

1980: On or about September 9th 1980, The MV Derbyshire sank off the coast of Japan in position apparently 25o 30' North, 130o 30' East. There were forty four people on board, including two wives; there were no survivors. The ship had been hove to in Typhoon Orchid (Typhoon 15, 16). There were no Mayday calls. She was en route for Kawasaki, Japan with a cargo of Iron Ore Concentrates (Caroline Concentrates) loaded at Sept Isles, Canada.

1982: Not only ships, Offshore platforms may encounter freaque waves and facing demise also. On 15 February 1982, a giant wave smashed through the ballast control room window of the oil drilling platform Ocean Ranger off the coast of Newfoundland, short circuiting the electrical system and none of the crew could be warned. The rough seas caused the platform to sink and all 84 onboard were lost with no survivors. Check here or here for details and aftermath.

1984: North Atlantic. On June 3, 1984 the three-masted brig Marques encountered a freaque wave 75 miles north of Bermuda and lost in 45 seconds. Of the 28 onboard, there were only 9 survivors. See here.

1985: On April 27, 1985 the tanker of former Soviet Union Taganrogsky Zaliv encountered a freak wave and a seaman was killed and washed overboard. According to the description of the ships crew, the unusual wave looked like a deep hole in the sea, which appeared so suddenly in front of the ship that it was practically impossible to make any precaution measures to avoid ship’s sliding down into the deep wave trough.

1991: On November 4, 1991 a major storm, originally referred to as the "Halloween Nor'Easter" and hence recoined the "Perfect Storm" by a meterologist and made famous by Sebastian Junger's book and a Hollywood production, harrassed boats from Nova Scotia down to the New Jersey coast. The 70' longliner Andrea Gail went down in that storm and with her went the crew of six swordfishermen. See details here and here.

1995: In September, the cruiser liner Queen Elizabeth II encountered a 29-metre rogue wave in the North Atlantic that Captain Ronald Warwick described as "a great wall of water - it looked as if we were going into the White Cliffs of Dover"

North Atlantic. Schiehallion, a BP Amoco floating production platform, is struck by a wave which smashed 18 meters above the waterline on November 9, 1998.(

2000: September 28, 2000: The P & O luxury liner ORIANA was hit by a 40 foot wave which smashed through six cabins as she sailed to Southampton from New York. ORIANA was 600 miles west of Ireland in rough seas when the wave hit.

2001: In the week between February and March, two tourist cruisers, the Bremen and the Caledonian Star, had their bridge windows smashed by 30-metre rogue waves in the South Atlantic. (

2001: On September 5, 2001 the bulk carrier Ikan Tanda, ran aground off Scarborough on the southern Cape Peninsula's Atlantic coast, at the mercy of what has been described as the worst storm for 50 years. The same storm blew a fishing vessel onto the breakwater in Table Bay. Details here.

2002: December 15, 2002, MS Hanseatic of the Radisson Seven Seas was struck by a large rogue wave while on a coastal cruise of New Zealand. It broke out one of the bridge windows and damaged electrical systems, there were no major injuries reported. See here and here.

2005: MV EXPLORER (ex OLYMPIC EXPLORER, OLYMPIA EXPLORER) was struck by a fifty foot wave while sailing 650 miles south of the Aleutian Islands and about 1,600 miles from Honolulu. The wave smashed through the bridge windows of the 591-foot ship around 2:30pm January 26. The salt water poured over electrical instruments and disabled all four engines. One engine was brought back online about an hour later and still later, a second, giving about 10 knots. (

2005: Medterranean, February 14, 2005, The cruise ship Grand Voyager encountered Force 11 gale and ferocious waves up to 46 feet high (some say 50 feet), knocked out electric power, stopped the engine, and the ship was left helplessly adrift. See here. (

2005: April 2, 2005 the commercial fishing boat Tracie Lynn. The Tracie was hit by a rogue wave approximately 30 feet tall during a heavy storm off the shore of North Carolina. Two of the crew members were recovered. Johnny W. Brown, 38 years old fisherman out of Murrells Inlet was never seen again. ( see here.)

North Atlantic, April 16, 2005, A "freak wave" more than 70 feet high slammed a luxury cruise ship steaming for New York. The Norwegian Dawn, an opulent ocean liner almost 1,000 feet long, limped into Charleston, S.C. after it hit vicious seas in an overnight storm off Florida - then was creamed by the rogue wave after dawn. What's really relevant here is the comment by the Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson: "The sea had actually calmed down when the wave seemed to come out of thin air at daybreak. Our captain, who has 20 years on the job, said he never saw anything like it."

2006: May 14, 2006, Trawler Kotuku, The 50 ft Trawler Kotuku sunk in Foveaux Strait, between Bluff & Stewart Island, NZ with a loss of 6 lives. Four of them were from the same family and covered 3 generations. There were 3 survivors. It was reported that two big waves struck so suddenly and violently that no one caught in the Foveaux Strait trawler tragedy had a chance to react. (Noted from here and news reports, e.g., here. )

2006: May 22, 2006, Brittany Ferries was forced to divert its flagship vessel, mv Pont-Aven, to a port in northern France last night after it was hit by a freak wave that smashed a cabin window and flooded several cabins. The 41,000-tonne Pont-Aven,with 1,149 passengers onboard, was sailing from Plymouth to the Spanish port of Santander through a force nine gale when it was hit by a wave thought to be 40 ft high.

2006: On the morning of october 18, the 58 ft fishing vessel Ocean Challenger rolled over and capsized in the stormy northern Pacific Ocean about 90 miles south of Sand Point, Alaska. According to the Coast Guard, in the frenzied moments before the boat capsized, the fishermen launched a life raft. But none of them were able to get in it, overtaken by waves two stories high. A Coast Guard C-130 plane rescued one. The C.G. rescu swimmer was able to reach two others, including the skipper of the boat, but both were pronounced dead by the flight surgeon. There is still one crew missing.

On November 11, the 42,000-tonne oil tanker FR8 Venture was hit by huge waves while passing through the Pentland Firth, one of the world's most notorious stretches of water. Two crewmen,who have been standing on the deck, were killed and another seriously injured as the ship was caught in a gale force eight storm and buffeted by waves over 20 feet high. "The ship may have got hit by a freak wave." said the coastguard. (See here.)

2006: On November 17, a rogue wave sank a 35 ft commercial fishing boat off the coast of Florida nearly killing the captain and another crew member. (See here and here.)

2006: On 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. (See here.)

2006: On Dec. 16, a commercial fishing vessel, F/V Ash, sank after hit by two sneaker waves in a treacherous bar near the Rogue River. Aboard the Ash, a 43-foot fiberglass boat, were owner and Capt. Rob Ashdown, 44, of Port Orford and three crewmen: Mark Wagner, 40, and Joshua Northcutt, 30, also of Port Orford; and Louis Lobo, 39, of Las Vegas. The crew was fishing for crab in the wake of a powerful storm that left the river running high, and a buoy 17 miles offshore of Port Orford reported waves of between 13 and 16 feet that afternoon. According to the manager of the Port of Gold Beach "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." (See, e.g., here and here.)

2007: On Jan. 25, The 58-foot fishing boat Starrigavan, while trying to cross the bar of Tillamook Bay along the Oregon coast about 9:30 pm, was hit by three 20-foot waves and rolled three times, one of four crew members was killed, and the vessel was threw onto a jetty. (see here.)


This list has been published in the journal Geofizika as:

LIU, P. C., 2007. A chronology of freaque wave encounters. Geofizika. 24: 57-70.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On a 2004 Discover Magazine article

Google is really amazing. Every time you Google you are going to find something new. I Google “rogue waves” from time to time, but today I really found something new: I found a two year old article in Discover Magazine I did not know it existed. I confess that I don’t usually read Discover Magazine. An article by the title of “Rogue Waves: The physics of pure hell at sea” would usually caught my attention real quick, directly or indirectly. Somehow I missed this one and I did not see anybody else mention it either. I guess July of 2004 was also the month that ESA announced the discovery of over 10 monster waves from three weeks of satellite pictures. Most of the world attentions must have occupied by this earth shaking ESA news that overshadowed this Discover article.

Nevertheless it is still a fabulous article. It basically reported an exciting rogue waves laboratory experiment conducted by Professor Al Osborne of the University of Turin of Italy along with his two young colleagues Miguel Onorato and Carlo Brandini at Carl Stansberg’s huge wave tank in Trondheim, Norway. (For the freaque wave aficionada/aficionados these names are by no means strangers.) The three theoreticians from Turin succeeded in theoretically creating likely rogue waves in the wave tank even their local host was doubtful if they can really do it. The writer followed through the whole proceeding and aptly described all the lively excitement of the experiment in the laboratory. Obviously the professor continuously providing detailed explanations with play by plays through out of the experiment. Here is a short segment:

“The first wave starts to live its own life. Then it eats from the other waves”

A wave lifts.

“There. That got to be the leading-edge effect.”

Then two-thirds of the way down the tank, a wave rises higher than the ones before or the ones behind. It has a steep face and a narrow crest.


As he speaks, the wave jumps the pool wall.


Is that what happen in the ocean? We don’t know; but they can certainly enjoy the success of their theory in the laboratory.

But what I like most about this article is that, toward the end, he pointed out an important fact that no one else seem to have ever touched upon. I am not certain if the following quote reflects Osborne’s view point or the writer's own observation. Anyway here is the gem of this article:

. . . there is a serious lack of data. The main means of measuring seas and waves is around 50 years old: Buoys at sea record the heights to which they’re raised. Although many buoys are now supplied with electronic transmitters and high-tech electronics, the likelihood of one being in the path of a rogue wave is small. Even if it is, its anchor will most likely pull it down off the face of the wave before the wave’s true height has been measured. Satellites and aircraft can measure only large-scale effects, and they’re limited by cloud cover.

This “serious lack of data” and the inadequacy of the conventional wave measurements are the crux the whole freaque wave study should seriously confronting today. Because we really don’t know what is really going on out there in the ocean. We don’t know why freaque waves happen, we don’t how freaque waves happen, we don’t know where freaques happen, and we don’t know when freaque waves happen. We only know that they do happen, perhaps more frequent than rare. We need real data, we need real measurements to tell us what's going on. Until a whole new generation of ocean wave measurement is developed and implemented. The research will continue to be listless and sea captains will continue depend on their own luck for safe sailing like they were years and years ago.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tsunami is not freaque wave

The Australian newspaper “The Age” carried the following news commentary today:

AN EARTHQUAKE measuring 7.2 magnitude struck roughly halfway between Java and Christmas Island on Monday. The 300 residents of Christmas Island received a 20-minute warning of an impending tsunami. The residents of Java's seaside villages received none. At least 300 Indonesians died in the freak waves that swamped Pangandaran beach near the town of Ciamis. More than 400 were injured. Buildings have been washed away. Australians living in the region escaped by racing up a nearby hill to safety.

There is one thing distinctively striking in this news item from my vintage point: as the subject is all about tsunami, but it said “300 Indonesians died in the freak waves. This is a continuous confusion persisting out there in the media and general public – treating tsunami as synonymous with freaque waves. In fact they are really two distinctively different phenomena. Tsunami is a shallow water wave with very long wave length and wave period, it is harmless while traveling through the deep ocean at a constant speed equal to the square root of the product of the acceleration of gravity and the water depth. Only when its wave-crests reach shallow water region then all of their energy swiftly squeezed into much smaller spaces and cause huge walls of water to rise up, rushing along at speeds often too fast to apprehend. The resulted terrible destructive forces of tsunami are all too familiar. But its arrival time to some extent can be considered as predictable, although the prediction may not always be accurate. Freaque waves, on the other hand, are deep water waves with relatively shorter wave length and wave period, and it simply surged up into an unexpected high crest or deep trough out of the blue. Its destruction is sudden, instantaneous, and transient. We don’t know how or why it happens, we don’t know when it happens, and we don’t know where it happens. It is totally unpredictable at the present. Because of the long standing, continual confusions of calling tsunami as freak waves, it would be advantageous using our new term “freaque” waves for what it really is and averting any advertent or inadvertent confusions.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Literary waves

Fluctuations at the ocean surface, in the form of surface wind generated waves, are probably the most easily visible part of the oceanographic environments. Any casual observer who strolling along a beach or riding onboard a ship, would inevitably dazzled by the awesome power and beauty of the ubiquitous existence of the ceaseless surface fluctuations that marks a “rapidly changing, intricately woven boundary between water and air.” The vivid impressions of wind waves have inspired ample scientific imaginations as well as literary achievements.

The close connection between wind and waves was clearly noted around 11th century BC as Homer described in Iliad that

when the sea runs high before a gale –
for it is the force of wind
that makes the waves so great


As when a wave, raised mountain high by wind and storm,
breaks over a ship and covers it deep in foam

Later on in history we found this observation in James 1:7

“. . . like a wave of the sea that is driven
and tossed about by the wind.”

Later still, around the tenth century, Fung Yen-Sze (903-960), a Chinese poet and probably not a sea going sailor, ably observed that

The wind suddenly rises, and ruffles
the surface of the newly melted pond. . .”

Nevertheless, if we can somehow manage to enjoy watching waves safely without worrying about freaque waves or storms, we can certainly always bear to be poetic! But how calm and poetic can you still be when your boat is heading into a mountainous wall of water?

On Rogue Giant at Sea

Last Tuesday the science section of the New York Times published an article entitled Rogue Giants at Sea. I read it in the morning and later my daughter was nicely emailed me the article in case I missed it with the comment “may be the fact that it’s published in the NYtimes may draw more attention (and hopefully more research $$s) for this subject.” The research $$ part was her wishful thinking to help my research. But any article published in the NYTimes is news in itself and draw attention automatically. I noticed a couple of news articles already appeared based entirely on this NYTimes article.

This article starts by telling the case of the Cruise Ship Norwegian Down that survived a seemingly rogue wave attack in April, 2005 a full year and three months ago. There were plenty of articles written about this case since then. As a matter of fact since July, 2004 when ESA (European Space Agency) announced the identification of more than ten individual giant waves around the globe above 25 m in height after an examination of three weeks’ worth of world wide radar satellite data, there had been all kinds of giant/rogue/freak wave articles written all over the world. There was also a smaller rush of rogue wave news articles recently in connection with the release and review of the 2006 movie “Poseidon.” With all these backgrounds, one can not help wondering why NYTimes chooses to publish this article now.

With all kinds of article that have already been written, some are truly outstanding, what should we reasonably expect from NYTimes? How about some competently researched facts and reporting just the facts without hyperbole?

May be the editor and the writer are counting on people only give a quick glance or read it once and not again. Because, alas, when I read it again, I begin to wonder is this from NYTimes or it is from some tabloid? The sensationalism seeped through loudly.

Here’s an example to show what I mean:

Enormous waves that sweep the ocean are traditionally called rogue waves, implying that they have a kind of freakish rarity. Over the decades, skeptical oceanographers have doubted their existence and tended to lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.

Rogue waves are known to happen momentarily, it appeared out of nowhere; it took place, and then disappeared like nothing had happened. It never “sweep” the ocean. There is no such thing as “traditionally called rogue waves.” Rogue wave is a fairly recent term. The use of the term “freak wave” was started by Laurence Draper in 1964. There was no firmly established term before 1964. The existence of unusually large, great waves was nevertheless very much on all sea going oceanographers mind. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would “lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.”

I find the sentence “scientists are now finding that these giants of the sea are far more common and destructive than once imagined” irresponsible. I doubt they can find a single scientist today would agree to testify to this effect. Finding ten giant waves all over the world in three weeks may question the notion of “rare” cases but certainly can not be considered as “far more common.” An irresponsible expression like this can spread widely and quickly because it’s from the NYTimes.

This next sentence “The upshot is that the scientists feel a sense of urgency about the work and growing awe at their subject” is pure nonsense. On record this reporter talked to three scientists, one of the three is not working on rogue waves and another one is not active on rogue waves, only Wolfgang Rosenthal is in the forefront of rogue waves research but he just retired. The reporter did not seem to know the three year EU “Max Wave Program” Rosenthal managed successfully. The article cited the 90 feet wave in the Gulf of Mexico during 2004 Hurricane Ivan and the 95 feet wave off Scotland in 2000 are really large wave but they are not rogue waves. The article talked about the Brest Rogue Waves conference in 2000, but totally ignorant of the second one in 2004. With all that half-baked information he gathered, this reporter managed to fictionalize for all scientists about “a sense of urgency.” Scientists interest only in study to understand the nature. There is no sense of urgency in science.

May be I am over reacting to a merely newspaper article. May be I am! May be this article should really “lump together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.

Here we go

Here we go, with the posting of this first entry, my blog is now open for business!

A word about the title of this blog: Freaque Waves. No, I don't think the word "freaque" is in the dictionary yet. It is a composite of the two words "freak" and "rogue" --  a portmanteau word.  Because at the present "freak waves" and "rogue waves" are exactly synonymous, used only according to people's personal preferences to describe exactly the same phenomenon.  So I thought may be using this one single word can save me and everyone else from writing "freak waves or rogue waves" repeatedly. My colleague Dave Schwab helped me finalized the spelling with a "q" instead of a "g" I first used. Prof. Y. Papadimitrakis of Athens once told me "freaque" is actually closer to the original Greek word than "freak":

Beyond the coinage of a new word, I hope I can, without bashfulness, presenting my personal views here on waves, freak waves, rogue waves, and everything about wind generated waves and then some, that can be worthy readings for someone -- myself in particular since these are my personal views! Any disagreements please feel free to flame me in the comments.