Friday, November 26, 2010

A surfer encountered the freaque wave

I think we can all agree that of all walks of people, surfers are basically the ones that have most encounters with waves so that they may be regarded as the ones that know more about waves than most others in general, especially the nearshore surf waves. But when they are on board a vessel that encounters a freaque wave attack, do they have more insight on waves than ordinary people? May be!

Yesterday there was an article in the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot written by the well known surfer James Pribram:

Last night was the first night I slept more than four hours. We have been stuck in gale force winds for more than a week now, with frequent downpours and churning seas.

Two days ago while on watch, I was up on the deck by myself. I had just sat down, turning my head around over my left shoulder and swoosh — a rogue wave washed me clear across the deck and onto the other side of the helm.

I'm not sure if I would have been washed overboard, because I was able to grab on with my right hand and then my left, jerking me back. Even so, thankfully, I had just clipped in my harness before taking the wave at full blast.

My whole right side is a bit bruised, swollen and sore from holding on. I ended up lying on my back with the entire gully of seawater emptying out on top of me. I thought I was dreaming; it all happened so quickly. I remember thinking, "Just hold on. Let the water drain out and you'll be fine.

"Nothing was floating through my mind (no pun intended) at the time. No great revelations of life. Just a very clear vision of water pouring on top of me, like some sort of baptism. Time had slowed to an almost halt. In a strange way it felt very empowering.

There's a reason why I always say "I love you" to those I care for most. Because you never know when it will be your last time to say it. Especially on a journey in the middle of the ocean. Searching for the fourth gyre I had but one thought, one vision that day. Well, two, actually.

One: of treading water and watching the sailboat sail off into the distance.

Two: of a clean ocean one day.


It's not a long article so I quoted it here in full. It is of interest to note that he was really encountered the freaque wave in action and he provided the detailed action in detail: "I had just sat down, turning my head around over my left shoulder and swoosh — a rogue wave washed me clear across the deck and onto the other side of the helm." Ouch! He was out there by himself so no one corroborate him. We will certainly not have any doubt about the fact that a freaque wave washed him clear across the deck. It was out of nowhere, he did not seen it.. Just "swoosh" and there was the freaque wave. We can not expect any more detailed description than that. That was what really had happened. But still we have no idea what the wave was, where did it come from, and how and why it happened. That's the state of our knowledge. The only thing certain is that it had happened! He was bruised, swollen and sore. Otherwise I tend to think that he was very lucky. "Just a very clear vision of water pouring on top" of him. We appreciate that he shears this story with the rest of us. We wish all the encounters can be as lucky and able to recall what had happened. That may not be helpful to the research, still knowing what had happened is better than leave to theoretician's imaginations. Thanks to Mr. Pribram for an inspiring as well as philosophical article telling us what had happened to himself. May the luck be with him always!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Owen Phillips, R.I.P.

This post today is a memorial which may be unusual for this blog in general, but Owen Phillips (1930-2010) is an exceptionally eminent scientist in modern ocean wave studies who had passed away over a month ago and the news has just now come to my attention. It will be a stretch to say that he is a friend -- only to the extent that I usually shake hand with him whenever I see him in a conference. Some of my friends are his Hopkins students. I am just an admirer, if not a fan, of Owen Phillips. When some of my friends call him Owen, I always feel comfortable to call him Prof. Phillips.

I guess it's generally acceptable to think that all ocean wave aficionados know about Phillips-Miles theory as the corner stone of modern ocean wave studies. In 1957, independently Phillips and John W. Miles (1920-2008) published separate ocean wave theories in Journal of Fluid Mechanics. Phillips treats the resonance between turbulent atmospheric pressure on ocean surface, while Miles concerns hydrodynamical stability between surface waves and the atmospheric boundary layer. The combination of their theories constitute the linear basis of ocean wave models. Phillips also advanced the concept of equilibrium range in the spectrum of ocean waves that provided wave data analyst like me ample opportunities to play with wave spectrum data. Phillips also studied extreme waves theoretically with his students in the 1990's which has received less attention in the freaque waves community.

So one can safely regard Owen Phillips as one of the academic giants on the 20th century. I met him from time to time in different conferences, I wish I could be more assertive to talk to him more and learn from him. In one particular occasion he had some kind words on a poster paper I presented. I could pursue it deeper with him on that. Only much later did I realized that was a missed opportunity on my part. Prof. Phillips, R.I.P.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fishermen rescued after freak wave

It is always good to read a happy ending rescue story. This one from Sydney Morning Herald today with an encouraging title: "Fishermen rescued after freak wave":

A fisherman says he is lucky to be alive after a freak wave threw his boat 100 metres on to rocks off Port Kembla, south of Sydney.

Chris Howarth and his two crew were rescued on Sunday morning after they were left stranded on Five Islands Nature Reserve.

They were forced to abandon their $50,000 boat as they waited for a rescue helicopter.

The crew failed to spot the wave which forced the boat sideways during an early morning fishing trip, Mr Howarth said.

"Where that wave came from, I don't know," he told reporters.

"We didn't see it. The first thing we knew about it was the boat was going sideways and we were up on the rocks."

Fearing for their safety, the drenched crew abandoned the boat, with one of them calling for help from his mobile phone.

"Me being the skipper, I ordered everyone out while we could," Mr Howarth added.

"I have just got to thank all of those guys, the police, maritime service board, everybody.

"We caught a hell of a lot of fish, they're all gone too."

There are some telltale details regarding the encounter not usually included in this kind of general reporting, e.g. the crews simply did not see the wave until the boat was forced onto the rocks. This is clearly an evidence that the wave must be a freaque one. Unfortunately we are still left with not known exactly what kind of wave that was -- a wave that we know it had happened, we can only describe the aftermath, but we can certainly not able to give any explanation for its happening. That's the essence of freaque wave encounter we face presently. No amount of theoretical mumble jumble can remedy that!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tragedy at Newport, Oregon

Lori Tobias of Oregonian authored this tragic story with a long detailed title: "Woman drowns, man missing after big waves wash both off jetty at Newport." It is so well presented, I have to excerpt her whole article here:
NEWPORT – George Bulawka, 48 was supposed to head home to Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, but the weather on Oregon's central coast was so beautiful he couldn't bear to leave. So he hung around and went to the South Jetty on Yaquina Bay, hoping to find conditions nice enough to stroll to the end.

Instead, about 1 p.m., he ended up watching a tragedy unfold as a couple made that same walk.

"The waves were so high, they were crashing over the pole at the end of the pier," said Bulawka, a schoolteacher. "I kept watching. I just thought they would stop. They kept going."

And then they were gone.

The U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of a woman about 1:15 p.m. The search for her companion continued into the late afternoon. No identifications had been released by Wednesday evening.

Skies were blue, the temperature was mild and the sun shining. But the seas were huge, tumbling high and white and measuring 18 to 20 feet, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bulawka was resting on the beach near the jetty when a wave came in and soaked him. He stood and that's when he saw them. "I noticed those people had parked their bikes and were walking out to the pier," said Bulawka.

Not long after, Larry Prantl, of Waldport, passed the couple on the jetty.

"I was coming back," said Prantl. "I saw some fairly big stuff breaking. I wasn't in any danger, but I could see if you were out farther, it was going to be really, really dangerous. I passed them a third of the way where the east end of the jetty would start. I said hi to the guy. The gal smiled at me, " said Prantl, who estimated the couple were in their 20s. " I kept walking back, and I looked back and I saw they still kept walking."

Bulawka watched, too. Even as they started getting wet and catching the spray from waves, the two continued on.

"It looked like they had walked rocks before," Bulawka said. "They were in good shape. They seemed to be a fit couple."

He watched them reach the end of the jetty, and by then assumed there must be a safe place to take shelter that he just couldn't see.

"I have pretty good eyesight, and I saw a taller person, I assumed to be the man, holding on to the white pole. I could see another person crouched down behind him. I saw several waves coming over and he was still holding on, and the next wave they were gone."

Prantl asked a woman to call 9-1-1 and in a short time, the rescue-turned-recovery efforts were under way. Police recovered the body of the woman about 40 yards southwest of the jetty in the ocean.

Wednesday afternoon, the police cut the couple's bicycles from a log, retrieved a cell phone and other personal items and went about the grim business of learning who they were.

"I've lived here my whole life," said Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Dave Peterson. "This happens all the time. I don't know if they think those waves are just little sprinkles or what."

Wednesday evening, Bulawka was in his hotel room, still trying to make of sense of what he witnessed.

"I am in shock, I guess," said Bulawka, his voice wavering. "Even at the end of the day, I wanted to go to the jetty; the waves had gone way down. But I wouldn't do that now that I saw how quick the waves come back up. It wasn't just one rogue wave; they just kept coming and coming and coming."
Picture by Lori Tobias -- A Coast Guard motor lifeboat plows the water
between the south and north jetties outside Yaquina Bay.

Well, indeed, waves may be " just kept coming and coming and coming" and all are seemingly harmless splashes. May be that's what the couple felt. But it all takes is that one big one in a fraction of a brief moment and all are too late after that! We'll never know if that big one will ever come, when, how, or where. But it will come, somewhere, some time, for certain! Danger is everywhere, not just around the corner. Stay safe by all means! Don't take any chance. What can be more important than your own safety?

Remembering the loss of the Big Fitz

Found from the Times of the Internet .

On this day, remembering the loss of the Big Fitz 35 years ago, I think the most important, significant development over the laqst 35 years was the publication of the paper of Hultquist, Dutter, and Schwab in the May 2006 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). In this paper the three NOAA scientists made the best possible hindcast of the weather condition surrounding Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, using the best possible wave forecasting model available. *

Now after 35 years there is not much more science and technology can do to find out what was really happened beyond speculations. We still don't know how or why it had happened. That's the way it's going to remain from 35 years ago until, well, what ever!

Of course we do sincerely extend our sympathy to the 29 mourning families still grieving on the loss of their love ones. Here is the list of the whole crew from S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online.

* The adjectives I used here, i.e., most important, significant, best possible, are in my opinion in the generally objective sense describing my honest feelings. That, of course, may or may not be in consonance with conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom at the present has unfortunately mostly politically contaminated. Political correct conventional wisdom in science is the most disgusting thing one can think of in science. I don't blame my colleagues who have to play the game sometimes. That's how I finally realized the beauty of being retired -- being relieved from all those PC concerns is so refreshing and liberating. Freedom is such a wonderful thing!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A survaval story at Sunshine Coast

Gail Forrer-Arnold of Sunshine Coast Daily reported yesterday this fisherman's survival story after he was encountered a freaque wave that rolled his boat over:
The adventure began on Tuesday night when the avid fisherman went to Noosa River to check his crab pots.

“But it was such a lovely night, I thought I would just duck out and head up the beach. It was beautiful, really flat.”

Following his heart and led by his line, Andrew boated down the river, over the bar and across to Teewah.

“I was about 100 metres off shore from the beach, and I had my back to the shore,” he said. “I was fishing in the gutter off the beach.”

A rogue wave gave little warning of its 9pm arrival.

“I just sort of heard the noise of the wave starting to break – I had the motor running.”

The wave rolled the boat over.

“Instead of going into shore, I was sucked out to sea,” he said.

He swam under the boat to get his lifejacket, found the V cover and wrapped his legs in it to stay warm.

“I lashed my hand to the front of the boat – just in case I passed out or fell asleep. And I had my legs tucked up into the front of the boat.

“I could have climbed on top of the boat, but the chill factor stopped me.

“I was warmer in the water.”

When the sun rose he watched as a trawler, helicopter and light planes passed by him.

Except for the trawler, he said he was not panicked.

“The only time I was a bit worried, was when I saw the trawler,” he said.

“I used to work on trawlers in the Bass Strait, so I know sharks follow trawlers looking for scraps.”

By 9am, Mr Taylor had decided he could not wait any longer for a rescue.

“There wasn’t anyone on the beach,” he said. “I decided I’d had enough.

“I’m not fit, but I’m determined, so I just swam in.

“Going through the surf break was the hardest.”

Mr Taylor said it was well after lunch when he reached home ground and phoned Noosa Coast Guard.
This is a very tough fisherman who made his survival sounds easy. But it was most definitely not easy at all. That was a calm night, "beautiful, really flat" as he tells it, which must accounts for his easy survival. He heard the noise the wave made before the encounter. So freaque waves must making some sound -- but so far no one in the academic world pay attention to the sound effect yet!

What I would suggest is that he should have his life jacket on all the time out there instead of swam under the boat to fetch it.

Other than that I just wish to congratulate him for his lucky survival.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Now a happy rescue in Northern Ireland

Now today we have a nice survival story from Northern Ireland. Here's the reported story according to Connaught Telegraph:
A coastal community in north Mayo is celebrating this week the survival of two young local men after their trawler capsized when swamped by a freak wave in a heavy swell while they were hauling crab pots. John O'Donnell (18), from Porturlin, Ballina, and Nathan Flannery (25) from Rossport, Ballina, didn't even have time to send out an SOS as their vessel 'Léim an Bhradán' (Leap of the Salmon) began sinking. They took to a liferaft but to their horror the emergency craft initially failed to open.

The young men, who were both wearing lifejackets, eventually managed to right the raft and climb into it.

They then spent nearly 12 uncomfortable hours bobbing about in the Atlantic, some 13 miles off the north Mayo coastline at Belderrig, before they were spotted by the crew of a Sligo based Coast Guard helicopter.

The helicopter crew directed the Ballyglass RNLI lifeboat to the scene and the young men taken ashore at Ballyglass to recover.
These two young fishermen are extremely lucky indeed according to the rescuers. During the 12 hours they spent adrift the men had fired a smoke signal when they spotted a helicopter. But the crew of that aircraft failed to spot their signal. Eventually they were spotted by the crew of Coast Guard helicopter. Thank God for the wonderful happy ending!

While not all reports had mentione freaque waves as the cause, as usual no more detail is available at any rate. This report by, for example, has this fair description but did not characterize the wave as freaque:
The pair were moving crab pots closer inshore when the incident occurred. Their vessel, Léim an Bhradáin, was in a heavy swell and the pair were hauling pots when a wave came across the stern.

The boat broached and capsized. The pair were thrown into the sea, with no time to reach their VHF radio to raise the alarm.

Fortunately, the vessel’s life-raft released and floated to the surface. However, although it began to inflate on contact with water, its straps were jammed. Mr O’Donnell found a car key in his pocket and managed to cut the straps, allowing the raft to fully inflate.

The pair clamboured aboard and tried to keep warm, estimating the time at about 1pm on Saturday. Weather conditions were southerly force two to three with moderate sea conditions, but this particular area of coastline is known for its heavy seas.

Now we have here may be some thing new: a freaque wave in heavy swell! I doubt anyone knows what exactly a freaque wave in heavy swell is. Swell usually can be expected to have regular patterns approaching or refracting toward the nearshore area. Clearly freaque waves can happen in the swells also.

By the way this RTÉ News has video on location for the rescue.

Wouldn't it be nice if every encounter case can be solved and rescued successfully like this one!