Monday, July 30, 2007

Mackinac Bridge celebrates 50th anniversary

This post today is not about freaque waves. As much as this blog is more or less reactionary to news about freaque waves around the world, there hasn't been freaque waves in the news in recent days. That should be good news in itself, since it is usually "No news is good news!"

I came across this news item from the Cheboygan Daily Tribune about the maintenance of Mackinac bridge. Being a Michiganian (or Michigander) Cheboygan and Mackinac are not strange names I have to Google them up like I used to do with many of the foreign places I encounter. But what attracted my attention is this unusual picture:
as it is really not for or by tourists types. The article entitled "Mackinac's maintenance is top notch" detailed the Bridge's top notch maintenance efforts that make it the best maintained bridge in the world even after 50 years. As one who's afraid of height, just look at how those people are on their way to their maintenance works makes my knees shake! One sentence in the article is of particular interest to me:
Sometimes, during extreme wind conditions, locals will drive down to the shore to look at the waves and the bridge.
As non-locals, we have also enjoyed doing that -- looking at the waves and the bridge -- ourselves, even not necessarily during extreme wind conditions. That was in the good old days when my daughter was still very young, and we were eager to explore with her the beauties of the State we choose to call home.

Of course familiar pictures of Mackinac Bridge are like this one taken from the west side:
or this night view taken from the east side:The city of Cheboygan, Michigan is located to the east of Mackinaw City which is at the south end of the Mackinac Bridge. Here's another picture from the Cheboygan Daily Tribune showing the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Mackinac Bridge:
A good information source about Mackinac Bridge is from the Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dungeons reef waves

As the saying goes "A picture is worth a thousand words." But I think this picture is for us just to marvel, it does not need any word at all!

It is from an article in the online Daily Mail of London entitled "Surfing on the crest of a 70ft tall monster wave" written by Victoria Moore. The article is a short one:
Surfers like to say waves aren't measured in feet and inches but in increments of fear.

And when you look at this heaving mountain of icy, dark water, its edge already curling over as it prepares to slam down and engulf all in its path, you can't help thinking that this must be close to registering a measurement of pure, lurching dread.

The man braving the beast to ride this colossal wave is the South African surfer Mike Schlebach and the picture was taken at Dungeons Reef, just to the south of Cape Town where a series of cold fronts has brought gale-force winds to lash the South African coast.

It is a notorious spot that, in the southern hemisphere's winter, is said to produce the biggest rideable waves in Africa.

Incoming waves hit the sea bottom at the rocky reef, and rear up into giant monsters 60-70ft tall - the height of five doubledecker buses.

Dungeons is notorious not just for the great white sharks that sometimes lurk in the waters, but also because the peak of the wave has a tendency to shift suddenly, sometimes catapulting the surfer into a 30ft freefall as up to 100 tons of collapsing water for each metre of the wave roar down after him.

I guess a sliding fall in front of roaring waves that carries up to 100 tons of collapsing water for each meter of the wave is something only surfers can understand and be thrilled. There is nothing freaque or abnormal about it. I was once asked by a young writer for a surfing magazine if freaque waves can be tracked for surf. Since by definition a freaque wave is a total unknown, we don't know where or when it will happen, it is unaccessible even for the most fearless, or reckless, surfers. Just go to Dungeons Reef, it's made for the reckless/fearless ones!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No one saw it coming but it is "expected"?

I reported in this blog the case of oil tanker FR8 Venture last November, in which they encountered freaque waves that killed two seamen and seriously injured another as they passing through Scotland's Pentland Firth. The seamen were working on deck struggling to secure one of the ships main anchors when the ship slipped into Pentland Firth during a winter gale. According to the Scotsman and MidLothian Advertiser this morning, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) just issued their investigate report yesterday that basically concluded that the decision by the captain to leave the harbor during the storm caused the unfortunate accident as:
"The Master should have delayed the sailing so that the ship could have been secured for sea in sheltered waters.

"Having decided to leave the shelter of Scapa Flow before the foredecks were secured for sea, the Master's assessment of the position by which the crew should have been clear of the foredeck of the ship allowed little margin for error."
As the accident happened when the vessel was struck by the two large waves, the MAIB report described the details:
"No-one saw the waves approaching. The ship's bow then pitched into the deep trough between the first and second wave. Able Seaman Ravindra and Able Seaman Kharva were swept off the winch platform and forced uncontrollably aft until they came to rest under the flying bridge - a raised walkway above the main deck."
That resulted in Mr Ravindra died from multiple injuries and Mr Kharva sustained a fatal neck injury. Clearly both should have been preventable. What I find interesting is that the report suggests:
"The height of these waves would have been at least 8.6 metres, which, although higher than the waves experienced up to that point, could not be considered abnormal and should have been expected in the prevailing weather condition."
So the waves that FR8 Venture encountered were not freaque waves, but something to be expected according to MAIB. While this is not really a far fetched reckoning, it does pointing out that this is a rather fuzzy area that different inferences can be drawn with similar uncertainty. Freaque waves can happen in calm conditions. Freaque waves can also happen in storm conditions. There is not even a universal definition of what constitutes freaque or abnormal. But the report noticed that "no one saw the waves approaching" which is somehow hard to mesh with the contention that it is "expected" in my mind. Perhaps because of the uncertainties confront the case, the report has issued no safety recommendations.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One year anniversary!

As this is not really a daily blog, I only post whenever there is something worthwhile to post or something that tickles my fancy. But I would like to make a special note about today, because it was this day, July 17, a year ago that I posted my first entry to start this blog. So today is the one year anniversary of this Freaque Waves Blog. It really does not feel that a whole year has gone by already. I guess as the cliche says time flies when you are having fun!

I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to my daughter Tina. It was her persuasion that got me started this blog after she started hers. I really did not know how long this will last or how far it can go when I confined it to just freaque waves. By human standard, one year old is still very much in infancy. It is still crawling. But I am having fun doing this blog. It turns out that this blog is literally of me, by me, and for me. For now, at least, I would like just to keep it going!

Freaque waves in the Great Lakes

I tend to be on the reluctant side to answer an infrequently asked question: Are there freaque waves in the Great Lakes? Because there is no reason to say anything other than an affirmative "Yes!" But the reason I have been reluctant is that I have yet to see reported cases per se other than the speculations that the 1975 sinking of SS Edmund Fitzgerald was caused by one and our former Director, Dr. Al Beeton, told me that he had actually encountered one in Lake Michigan off Ludington, Michigan in 1956.

Well, two recent news items may have served to change that perception now.

The first one is a July 13, 2007 Chicago Tribune article entitle "Survivors searching for missing friend in lake." It tells the story of a boating event by two brothers and a friend that was disrupted by an unexpected "giant wave" written by Alexa Aguilar. Here's the main part of the story:
The men had met at the auto shop where the brothers worked at about 5 a.m. Wednesday to take out the 16-foot Mark Twain outboard. They launched from Diversey Harbor around 6 a.m. The weather was pleasant, but they noticed a chop on the water.

"We thought it would get better, but the waves got really, really bad," said Art Lemus, 39.

The National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory at 7 a.m. Wednesday after reports of 6-foot waves and winds gusting at 25 knots.Art Lemus said they never learned of the advisory.

About a mile from shore, Ramirez took the wheel and Aris checked the bilge pump to see if it was working properly because the boat kept filling with water.

Suddenly, a giant wave crashed over the boat, the brothers said, and the craft quickly began to sink. The men weren't wearing life preservers so they grabbed onto whatever they could find. Aris Lemus clutched a seat cushion, Art Lemus grabbed a life preserver, and Ramirez held onto a loose fuel tank.

Panicking, they shouted at one another to "hold on" and "keep swimming," Art Lemus said.

Within minutes, they were separated. Both brothers describe a terrifying two hours of treading water and swimming alone with nothing but the vast expanse of Lake Michigan around them. Both were convinced they were going to die, they said, and thought of the families they would leave behind.

"I was ready to give up," Art Lemus said, "but that gave me strength."

He swam with the waves and ended up on the breakwater in front of the Navy Pier light tower, where he flagged down a passing sailboat. Police arrived, and he frantically told them his companions were still in the water. Police found Aris Lemus swimming a few hundred yards from shore.
But their friend Ramirez was not found. The essence of this story for me is the sentence:
"Suddenly, a giant wave crashed over the boat" which clearly signifies the occurrence of a freaque wave!

The other one took place ten days earlier in Saginaw Bay off Lake Huron reported by Steve Griffin in July 3, 2007 issue of Midland Daily News entitled "Saginaw Bay teaches safety lessons" that told a couple's Saturday fishing trip:

Saturday afternoon, the Schleckers, from Alden in northwest Lower Michigan, were four miles out on Saginaw Bay south of Au Gres, headed out for some walleye fishing, trying to duplicate the success Kirk had enjoyed the previous weekend.

The marine weather forecast called for waves of 1-2 feet, fine fishing weather. But the waves seemed a little rougher, said Kirk Schlecker.

"A sailboat guy came on the radio and said, 'I've just experienced a microburst,'" a small but violent wind event, "registering winds of 60 miles per hour plus on a gauge at the top of his mast. He said, 'I'm not in trouble, just advising people.'"

The waves already were building, and Julie Schlecker was feeling a bit nauseous. "I said, let's go in," said Kirk. The pair pulled on life jackets, and headed in.

"On the way in," said Julie, "the waves turned to 3-footers."

Said Kirk, "We quartered into the waves, like they say you should, and all of a sudden a huge wave came over the top of the windshield. A second one came just seconds later, and pushed us under."

The boat had "submarined," its nose buried in the wave.

"It was like a rogue wave on (the television show) 'The Deadliest Catch,'" said Julie.

Quickly, the big boat was full of water and settling deeper. "We were standing crotch deep in water," said Kirk.

"I got on the radio, called mayday, and stayed on as long as the radio worked. Then we got on the cell phones, until they quit working."

This one has a happy ending as the couple were successfully rescued by the Coast Guard. Kirk's description of "all of a sudden a huge wave came over the top of the windshield. A second one came just seconds later, and pushed us under" accurately accounted the nature of freaque wave they encountered. It is interesting that Julie recognized their freaque wave encountering from watching the TV show "The deadliest catch." And she was right!

So I'll say "yes" to the question regarding the existence of Great Lakes freaque waves a little more affirmatively now than before. There are freaque waves in the Great Lakes as well as the Oceans. In case anyone would ask about the size of these waves, please remember that it's not the size that makes a freaque wave, it's the unexpectedness. Put yourself in those occurrences, any waves comes all of a sudden, out of nowhere that submerges you will be a monstrous one regardless what the real size might be. Just beware!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another dreadful swept off case

This is the depressing headline one would not like to see on a bright Monday morning: “Rock climber swept off cliffs to his death.” It is from The Times. It's another dreadful swept off case.

He is the world’s leading free solo rock climber from California. According to The Times, free solo rock climbing is a sport where ropes and other safety equipment are not used. He had traveled the world seeking to climbe some of the most demanding cliff faces ever known. In his website he described himself as “Michael Reardon, Life Without Limits.” Last Friday he probably encountered the limit as he was in Ireland climbing on Atlantic sea cliffs on Valentia Island.

Her's the picture that's reporting and previewing the stage of his adventure:

Here’s what happened according to his friend, the photographer, Damon Corso, who was there at the time as reported in Climbing magazine:
"We had arrived on Valentia Island in a slight fog and drizzle. Mike took me around the bottom of Wireless Point to an inlet merely 15 feet above the roaring Atlantic, a situation we were now used to. We arrived at a spot he had climbed at alone two weeks prior. Mike up and downed two different climbs while I shot photos trying to combine him and the raw force of the waves crashing all around us. He finished the two climbs and was waiting, on an-algae covered platform, for the big swells to pass by so that he could walk back over to me on the opposite side of the inlet. A rouge wave came into the inlet and curved rightwards as it crashed into Mike. He tried to stabilize himself on the platform but the water was too powerful and sucked him in. The current pulled Mike out 150-plus meters in mere seconds. I ran up the hill to the Valentia Coast Guard station a mile away. Mike was still conscious in the water when I left him. The Coast Guard arrived on the scene no more than 15 minutes after the incident. Mike was nowhere to be seen at this point. Twelve volunteer rescue boats, the Coast Guard Lifeboat and Chopper were on the scene that evening."
Here’s the picture in Climbing magazine showing him celebrating after his successful climb probably right before the freaque wave swept him
Here's the word of another photographer with them, Valerie O'Sullivan, according to The Times:

"He was standing below a climb he had just completed and the photographer, Damon Corso, was about 30ft away taking pictures of him.

"Michael was on a real high after the climb. He was about 10ft above the sea and he let go and had his hands out, celebrating, to say he had completed the climb of his life. But then a rogue wave just came in.

The wave hit him on the knees and he lost his balance and slipped on the algae. He was shouting for help but there was nothing Damon could do.”

According to the Irish

Although described as a rogue wave, such waves are not infrequent against the high cliffs along the north face of Valentia island, particularly in winter. A number of people, including anglers, have lost their lives having been been swept out to sea from high ledges.

So it's no need to warn anyone about the danger of the place. Suffice to say that freaque waves are everywhere! Of all the expertise and daring courages of rock climbing Mr. Reardon demonstrated times and times again, freaque waves are probably the furtherest from his mind. That's when it happened!

Up to early Monday the rescue efforts have not been called off. The Times may have already drawn the conclusion. But his wife and 13 years old daughter are clinging to hope that he is still alive. Let’s all pray for a miracle!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Swells tracking across Indian Ocean

My internet friend and fellow blogspot blogger Rob Storm send me this news this morning that says "Satellite image radar captures giant 36 ft wave that hit Reunion Island." I blogged about the giant/freaque waves at the Reunion Island in mid May. But the EU scientists are really making the best use of the satellite technology. In particular Bertrand Chapron of IFREMER, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, and Fabrice Collard of France's BOOST Technologies in Brest located and tracked the swells using standard processed Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) ESA products. Their results of tracking swells propagating across the Indian Ocean is just fantastic! Please see their super cool annimation at the ESA site. (I might add Bertrand Chapron is a friend, I met him when he was a care-free, brilliant young Post Doc at NASA while I was participating on the ONR SWEDE program and visited NASA's Wallops Island facitity a few times. In fact many of my wavelet analysis studies were based on a MATLAB program written by Bertrand.)

There is still no indication of where or when freaque waves have occurred if ever. But this is certainly a major step forward toward further advances. Whereever giant swells go, freaque waves may or may not be just around the corner. Nevertheless, beware!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Deadliest Catch, et al.

Unlike rumors that get around faster than light, real news usually does not. For instance this U. S. Coast Guard press release did not make it as a worldwide news or even the attention of Google Search with this real life human tragedy that happened south of Bearing Sea last October:
JUNEAU, Alaska - The Coast Guard has responded to the fishing vessel Ocean Challenger, 60 miles south of Sand Point in the Aleutian Island Chain after receiving a mayday call relayed by the car carrier Overseas Joyce at 9:39 a.m. today.

Three of the Ocean Challenger's four crewmembers were recovered after falling overboard during the capsizing.

The three recovered crewmembers were hoisted by a Coast Guard rescue helicopter and flown to a medical facility in Cold Bay.

Two of the recovered Ocean Challenger crewmembers have been pronounced dead by a Coast Guard flight surgeon.

Names of crewmembers will not be released until next of kin have been notified.

The search continues for the remaining crewmember.

It was not exactly a case of freaque waves, so I was not aware of the case until today. But waves were deeply involved in this case nevertheless. A couple of bloggers reported the case. Peter Stinson of Tidewater Musings reported it a couple of days after the occurrence:
Two men died and a third was missing after a commercial fishing boat capsized south of the Alaska Peninsula. A fourth crewman from Lynchburg was plucked from the North Pacific and was in critical condition.

The 49-foot, 50-ton Ocean Challenger, whose home port is Adak in the Aleutian Islands, disappeared about 60 miles south of Sand Point, a community on Popof Island off the tip of the Alaska Peninsula.
But Stinson is from Portmouth, Virginia. It was really the Safety Engineer Kenneth Lawrenson of Ken-and-Julie-in-Alaska, who actually was part of the Coast Guard rescue effort provided hands-on report in his blog here and here. And of course Anchorage Daily News reported the case completely with relevant picture and map.
I came across to this case belatedly this morning from reading a commentary by Carey Roberts entitled: "The Deadliest Catch: A Tale of Exceptional Men" which he starts his article by recount this Ocean Challenger case last October. "The Deadliest Catch" is of course the Discovery Channel's on-going TV series. Not having cable TV at home, I was glued to the Discovery Channel in the late evening watching this Deadliest Catch show when attending a meeting in San Diego recently. So I find myself reasonably familiar with his description as:
The mind-numbing routine is repeated dozens of times each day: bait the pot, plunge the 800-pound cage into the frigid water, and let it soak on the muddy bottom.

A day later the captain retraces his path. As the boat approaches, the deckhand snags the buoy line with a 4-pronged hook and the winch yanks the careening pot over the rail. The men extract the squirming snow crabs and shuttle them to a holding tank.

If Lady Luck is smiling that day, the pots are brimming with four or five hundred opies, what they call “red gold.” At times like this the deckhands don’t worry about the 18-hour work shifts, towering waves, or aching hands.
And certainly this:
A fisherman’s biggest fear is being hit with a rogue wave, a 50-foot high wall of water that comes barreling out of nowhere and hits the boat broadside. If you’re lucky, the boat rights itself within a heart-stopping minute. But if your crab pots are coated in three inches of ice and stacked high on the foredeck, your only hope is a rubberized survival suit.
Clearly no one could disagree with Roberts' comment:
The tragedy calls to mind the words of Sir Walter Scott: “Those aren’t fish you’re buying; it’s men’s lives.”
And no one should complain why the crabs in the supermarket are so expansive. I agree those crab fishermen are truly exceptional. They put their life on the line in their daily work -- and three of them in Ocean Challenger paid with theirs. I can not last more than a few minutes out there even when I was young and healthy. At any rate "The Deadliest Catch" is an exceptional TV series with real life ventures. It may be worthwhile to get the cable just to watch this one show. But I'll wait for the DVD!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mad dog wave

Freaque wave is a term that combined the commonly used terms of "freak" wave and "rogue" wave. But they are not the only terms that describe a physical phenomenon occurs in the oceans. For instance, in the west coast of U.S., notably in California or Oregon, they are frequently known as the "sleeper" or "sneaker" waves. In mainland China, under the Communist regime, they were called "killer" wave (殺人浪). On the other hand, in Taiwan, Republic of China, the phenomenon is well known among fishermen as the "mad dog" wave (瘋狗浪). I think, however, the terms of sleeper, or sneaker, or killer, or mad dog, are all pertaining to nearshore freaque waves. Therefore a reasonable simplification of these variety of terms, is to simply call them the deep sea freaque waves and nearshore freaque waves. Indeed Didenkulova et al. (2006) classified the cases as "freak waves in the open sea" and "freak wave events on shore."

From what I can sense, anglers in Taiwan seem to have more awareness regarding "mad dog" wave (瘋狗浪). Still reports show that there are dozens of fishermen yearly in Taiwan being victimized by the mad dog waves. Here's a picture of a Taiwan angler:
And here's a warning picture that shows what can happen to some one if and when an unexpected nearshore freaque wave sweeps over:
Whatever it is called, the danger is the same. Beware!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

They call it a fishing accident

This news from Ireland is very brief, entitled "Man dies in Clare fishing accident" and it consisted just 4 sentences:
A 24-year-old Lativan man has died in a fishing accident off the coast of Co Clare.

He was part of a group of four men that went fishing in the Blue Pool area of Doonbeg early this morning.

It is thought that a wave swept the man off the rocks.

The coastguard in Valentia has said weather conditions in the area at the time were poor and say the area is notorious for freak waves.
But there is no longer any surprise to this blog on this kind of news anymore. It has happened before and it will happen again at another time and another place. This time it's Co Clare Ireland. The key point is the third sentence: "It is thought that a wave swept the man off the rocks." I guess there is no way as yet to predict where or when a wave will come sweeping the rocks. There is no one, as far as we know, is even attempt to do this kind of research or measurement -- both are utmost needed. So, for now, the only safe way to prevent being swept off the rocks is not to get on those rocks!


On July 2, 2007, another report of the same case appeared in wriiten by Pat Flynn entitled "Angler swept off rocks drowns in sea blackspot." This new report identified the victim angler as of "Moldovan" national rather than "Lativan" as it was identified in the earlier article. This new article, however, also listed two other recent victims from within the same general Co Clare area to justify the area be called a "sea blackspot."

Last November, while he was fishing at the Blue Pool, a 27-year-old Latvian man was swept into the sea, in front of his wife and child. The Latvian man had been living in Athlone.

On October 29th, a Polish man drowned when he was swept out to sea while fishing at Tullig Point, also in Co Clare. Rescuers recovered his body after several days.

I said "It has happened before and it will happen again at another time and another place." But it is downright depressing to see such frequent occurrences in this same "blackspot." It is also of interest to note that all victims are foreigners. May be this is really a matter of the locals knew better!