Sunday, June 26, 2011

Freaque wave in the high seas

When I first saw the title "Freak wave in the high seas" of this article of Discovery News published a couple of days ago, I thought it's another science writer's rehash kind. I was wrong! Unbeknown to me at the time that the author of the article, Kiern Mulvaney, is actually a real sea going writer who was the author of the book "Whaling Season" and "At the end of the earth" among many others. He really knows what he was talking about in this article:

It was February 1993, and we were nearing the end of a Southern Ocean voyage that could charitably be described as vexing. A Force 11 pounded us, wave after wave coating the decks with bitterly cold water that rapidly froze into layer upon layer of ice. Our captain turned us into the storm, the wind so strong that even with the engines on full ahead the ship was making but a few knots. Overnight, as we struggled to sleep, the ship suffered a powerful blow, as I described several years later:

Nobody saw exactly what happened, but as best as anyone could figure out, the ship was hit broadside by an enormous freak wave. the wave was so powerful that it lifted the two-and-a-half ton Hurricane [a rigid-hulled inflatable boat] up in its cradle, snapping the straps that secured it in place. Only the stanchion next to the boat cradle prevented the boat from flying across the deck, although the pole itself buckled with the strain. Thwarted in its efforts to rip the Hurricane free of its shackles, the wave threw itself across the deck and slammed into the helicopter

The jolt from the wave shook the ship and its occupants; a few poked cautious heads out on to deck to survey the damage, and in the dusk saw the helicopter splayed sadly to one side, its leg struts snapped in half by the onrushing wave.

Some months later, safely back on dry land, I sat dockside and described the incident to a couple of friends who had not been on board. One, not accustomed to long spells on the open ocean, seemed disbelieving; if we had been steering into the waves, how could one have hit us directly from starboard? The other, a captain with whom I would later return to the Antarctic, stared ahead quietly.

"The sea," he said with the air of a man who is all too uncomfortably familiar with his subject, "does strange things."

That's a fabulous first hand experience of an encounter with real life freaque wave in 1993! I am wondering if their encounter with a freaque wave ever made it into the statistics counter. Most likely not. But that was clearly a freaque wave they had encountered, eventhough "Nobody saw exactly what happened" that is probably should be another characterization for freaque waves!

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