View Full Version : "The Wave"

Ian McColgin
02-19-2011, 01:04 PM
Subtitled “In pursuit of the Rogues, Freak, and Giants of the Ocean” (Doubleday, NY etc, 2010) is Susan Casey’s brilliantly readable bringing us up to date about the current understanding and experience of ocean waves, especially the not so rare double size waves and the rarer super waves that in mid-ocean may be over four hundred feet.

Casey is a former distance swimmer of note, nature reporter tending towards the human-nature interactions like her tale of obsessive life with great whites, and editor-n-chief of O, The Oprah Magazine. So, no surprise that she unfolds the story around people, with alternating chapters spinning the evolution of Laird Hamilton and giant wave surfing with chapters about the likes of Dr. Penny Holliday surviving a desperate research cruise turned survival exercise and tsunami horrors like the wipe-out of Kodiak and the waves encountered by salvage masters like Captain Dia Davies.

The extensive personal stories help round out how very little we actually know about wave formation despite the incredible advances made possible by satellite records and a few more vessels surviving pelagic horrors simply dismissed as stories and excuses even just a decade ago. By folding in the unique relationship between the sea and the really big wave surfers, we learn how much about wave understanding is really empirical in that people can make certain predictions on the basis of personal vast observation and modern communications that lets them monitor off-shore weather, and people can increase our understanding of wave mechanics simply by surviving some of the giant falls and crushes, but the detailed modeling that would satisfy a deterministic physicist remains a dream.

We are, happy to say, learning more about how ships, off-shore oil rigs, and ‘long shore structures should be planned but at this point while our understanding is well out in front of the evolving standards, the horizon of what we know that we don’t know recedes even faster.

A book worth reading at so many levels.

David G
02-19-2011, 01:12 PM
Thanks, Ian. I'll definitely check it out.

02-19-2011, 01:22 PM
Got it for xmas but haven't gotten to it yet. Still working through a few others. I will though.

02-19-2011, 01:57 PM
over 400 feet!? Maybe I need to rethink some things...

Ian McColgin
02-19-2011, 02:30 PM
Glancing through my memory exagerated. 200'. Scarey enough.

02-19-2011, 02:45 PM
Oh, just 200 feet, well then no worries eh?;)

02-19-2011, 03:04 PM
200' mid ocean? 400'?

Didn't I read somewhere ( was it in K Adlard Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing? ) that the maximum mid-ocean wave theoretically couldn't be higher than the mid-hundred foot range?

There was that 400'+ wave that smashed into an Alaskan fjord as result of an offshore tsunami, but that was the result of the water wall being compressed between the mountains and HAD to climb up.

02-19-2011, 03:37 PM
200'. No biggie :)

02-19-2011, 03:38 PM
There's a great line in Ice Bird by David Lewis, he's planning a solo circumnavigation of Antarctica and reading the pilot, he's sees an entry for height of waves to be expected and it's 30 meters. He thinks "that can't be right, they must mean 30 feet"

I'll see if I can find the Casey book, sounds like fun.

Ian McColgin
02-19-2011, 03:43 PM
Tsunamis can rise amazingly as they run ashore, In 1958 a 1,740 wave stripped the forests around Litunya Bay. Arial photos of the bay show what's like a high water tidal line that high on the surrounding mountains. Storm waves that are in the 20'+ bracket at sea may rise remarkably high in good surf conditions. Hamilton may have done 100'. Really super ocean waves seem to break up or unform nearer shore and surf over 100' is controversil. It's now well accepted that hundred foot pelagic waves happen far more often than previously thought. The sattalite data for 200 footers is so controversial that those data are excluded by the computer before wave scientists even get at them and there is huge controversy as to their existence.

Worth reading the book. It reassures one that almost everything we think today will be different tomorrow.

02-19-2011, 04:32 PM
When its your time its your time. Somewhere there could be a wave with my name written on it.

Ian McColgin
02-19-2011, 05:31 PM
Fatalism is fine, skill and foresight are better, and luck never hurt. Not all seas are survivable but the mariner should plan the voyage around a clear understanding of the conditions and the vessel's ability. Even so, sneakers can get you. Near the end of the book, Casey describes a dive catamaran anchored a little off an island off South Africa so the adventure tourists could sime with the Great Whites. Yeah, people pay good money for this. Any a a solitary in just that spot picked the cat up hurled it about and upsidedown. Dive boat anchored nearby had their hooks stripped out but were not in the exact place where this demon peaked. Forensic analisis put the rogue as a small set - like three peaks close together - probably not over 20' high but so fast and short a period that the walls on both sides were nearly verticle.

Despite the other boats converging and deploying rescuers, a number of the cat's divers were trapped in the wreckage and drown.