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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

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!


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Anonymous said...

I also boat on the Great Lakes and have seen some big waves in some big weather. But after 22 years of being on the lakes, I truly believe I witnessed rouge "wakes" shall we say, twice last summer on Lake St. Clair. Don't know where from or how it was possible for them to travel as strongly as they did, for as far as they did. A nice sunny day with no sizeable yachts or freighters on the horizon. Just a 2'-3' chop and this bizarre 7' sea snake type wave that just curled along its way. The boat easily recovered, but it put at least a 1/2' of green water across my bow!

Anonymous said...

In 1996 or 97 I was in my 14 foot boat perch fishing on Saginaw Bay. Water was dead glass flat, was dead quiet out there. I was the only boat out there. My motor was off and I had two poles in the water. It was quit but I kept hearing a boat or something behind me. When I did look I seen a wave coming, maybe 10-12 inches tall. It was coming slowly, calmly and evenly and extended as far as I could see in both directions, it was just big enough to roll and make noise, and it wasn't a wake from a boat, it did not dissipate at all for the half hour or so that I had it in sight. It looked strange with the water being glass flat and no wind. It bounced my boat a little as it went by and I watched it keep going. I started the boat, pulled my poles and followed it. I tried surfing my small boat on the little wave and went back and forth through it for about 15-20 minutes. It was traveling at about 10 MPH is my best guess. Once the novelty wore off I went back to fishing. I'm 65 years old and have spent a lot of time on the bay, I have only seen it once. As I set there starting to fish again I could see it in the distance still moving in the same direction ( heading north east)at what looked like the same speed and hight.

Kate said...

Quiet night on Sunday September 6 on Lake Huron then from the cottage, we heard 2 large crashes. The wave came up 2 meters as we could see the debris and wet it left behind when we went down to the beach.

John Cottrell said...

In the early 1970s, my family and I were crossing Lake Michigan from Sturgeon Bay, WI to Ludington, Mi. We were in a Morgan 30 sail boat with a Boston Whaler Squall dingy trailing 60 feet behind to keep it from surfing into our transom in heavy 15-18 ft. following seas. The wind was very strong and we were running down wind under a small headsail and changing to storm jib. A wave came up behind us that had the 30 ft. boat, 60ft. of dingy painter and 9ft. stretched tight on the face of the wave. It was so steep that I was sliding forward on the seat and had to hold onto the stern cleat to keep my place. I looked up and thought the dingy was going to fall on me. Its displacement hull had it dragging down acting like a sea anchor to keep the boat from broaching.