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The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks,…

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (2010)

by Susan Casey

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Recently added byescapeartist, private library, mrmapcase, SnootyBaronet, hotsoup, tnoble, jillbone, cherobula, apostate
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A little geology, a little geography, a little oceanography, a little history, and a whole lot of adreneline roll together to make a fun beach read. Really enjoyed this! ( )
  ginger.hewitt | Jan 20, 2015 |
I found out a lot about surfing. The photos are unlikely to do justice to the experience of actually being there, but they do help to give a sense of scale. Casey does her best to describe the power of the wave, but any description is likely to fall short. However, the book did make me want to seek out some surfing footage, which I probably wouldn't have done before reading this book.

Also surprising is how little we actually know about what causes big waves and how difficult it is to predict what the weather will do. There are many occurrences of promising storms petering out with a whimper and ripples turning into mammoth surf. The book also made me want to visit the surfing hotspots it mentions. I'm not sure if Casey intended to cultivate an armchair interest in surfing, but it worked with me.
  Tselja | Oct 21, 2014 |
some repetitive, but startling facts. Good read. Got the book to see pictures of people and waves mentioned. I went looking for other books by Susan Casey after reading this.
( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
edited 3/12/11 to add references and some links

We are surrounded by waves: electromagnetic, light, radio, and water. They can be helpful providing power, light and communication; but they can also carry unimaginable force.

The science of waves and surf forecasting is relatively new. It began in earnest during WW II when scientists realized that successful amphibious landings required some ability to forecast surf sizes on the beaches. It didn’t hurt that there was oodles of money available and scientists, no different than anyone else, like nothing better than to specialize in something that has practical applications for war.

Reports of huge, 100-foot waves have traditionally been dismissed as typical seafaring exaggeration. Shackleton reported having his ship tossed about by the largest wave he had ever seen and one that towered over his ship. Large, seemingly unsinkable ships have disappeared without a trace. One ship that did, the Munchen, left a lifeboat that had been torn from its davits and which normally was suspended 65 feet off the deck. And yet, the physics of waves didn’t predict the possibility of such waves except in extraordinarily rare circumstances, so rare, as to be literally incredible.

Technically a “rogue wave inn oceanography, is more precicely defined as waves whose height is more than twice the significant wave height (SWH), which is itself defined as the mean of the largest third of waves in a wave record.”

A scientific discovery ship aptly named the Discovery was tossed around like match wood in a storm on the way to Iceland. Fortunately the captain was able to save the 200 foot vessel which was layered with scientific instruments which recorded periodic waves of 100 feet among normal sets measuring 45 feet.

Jan 1, 1995 something happened that made scientists reconsider. On a platform in the North Sea. Seas were high, running around 38 feet as measured by instruments on the platforms underside until an 85 foot wave hit the rig at 45 mph coming out of nowhere. The first confirmed measurement of a freak wave, more than twice the size of its neighbors. The engineers who designed the rig had built it for the one-in-10,000 year 64 foot wave. 85 foot waves were not part of the equation. The emphasis soon shifted from whether these waves existed to how and why they occurred. An oil rig, the Ocean Ranger, went down off Newfoundland that had been designed to withstand 110 foot seas. There were no survivors. (Things were a little more complicated than just the wave according to this entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_Ranger) Casey’s version is sensationalized and you have to take some of her descriptions with a dose of salt.

Interesting facts: two large ships sink every week, but the causes are usually just attributed to bad weather. Unlike when an aircraft goes down, rarely is there an investigation that’s more than cursory.

Casey alternates between science and the more prosaic, like surfing. (Her adulation for Laird Hamilton carries a sexual tension that should have had Laird’s wife, herself a striking former beach-volleyball pro, (http://gabriellereece619.typepad.com/blog/2010/10/gabrielle-reece-image.html) more than a little concerned. Their swim out to “Jaws” and back and then getting hosed off bordered on prurient.) Some of her similes border on the silly, likening a personal characteristic to being “as wide as interstate 10,” whatever the hell than means. We follow Laird around the world seeking the ever more thrilling ride, as Laird laments the ever-larger crowds, crutches like Surfline that forecasts huge swells with precision, and sponsors and contests. (It should be noted that Hamilton gets lots of endorsements so he can afford to be dismissive of those seeking greater glory.) There’s also little examination of the effect and controversy of tow-in surfing, really the only way to get to the right spot for gigantic waves. Hamilton’s long-time tow-in partner Derrick Doerner even though, as I understand it, he was a champion paddle-in surfer (true surfing??) many years before his connection to Hamilton. Perhaps he was less Adonis-like than Hamilton.

The answer to the formation of these freak/rogue waves was found in quantum physics and Schrödinger’s equation (for you math types: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger's_equation) which describes deep water waves (they have found some waves 600 feet high rumbling around below the surface) and surface waves that become unstable and a central wave will “rob energy from its neighbors” making the troughs on each side of the enormous wave very deep. (The BBC series cited below has some spectacular graphs showing this.) What makes these waves especially dangerous for ships is that they aren’t the typical waves with sloping sides that ships are designed to handle. Rather, these have very steep sides and deep toughs on either side. The captain of the Queen Mary who saw one of these said it reminded him of the cliffs of Dover, straight up. And they break, which means you have millions of tons of water dropping on you, about 100 tons per sq. meter as opposed to a 12 meter wave that’s about 6 tons per sq. meter. (That would make a great Disney ride although it would be guaranteed to bring on massive puking.)

For the truly paranoid or apocalypticly oriented types, I recommend reading the section on the side of the mountain in the Canary Islands that's due to collapse into the ocean generating a 100 foot wave along the east coast of the United States; or, Latuya Bay in Alaska that generated a 1,000 (yes, that's one thousand) foot high wave following an earthquake in 1958. I mean, really. (The USC Tsunami Research Group found evidence the wave may actually have been 1,720 feet high. - http://www.usc.edu/dept/tsunamis/alaska/1958/webpages/lituyacloseup.html - I thought Casey was exaggerating so I had to look it up. The wave snapped trees that were six-feet thick.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the section on salvage tugs and their crews. Those who have read other reviews of mine will understand the attraction I have for these stories. Farley Mowat wrote a wonderful novel about ocean-going salvage tugs: [b:The Grey Seas Under: The Perilous Rescue Mission of a N.A. Salvage Tug|785655|The Grey Seas Under The Perilous Rescue Mission of a N.A. Salvage Tug|Farley Mowat|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1178331496s/785655.jpg|320111]. One of the hazards Mowat doesn’t even mention was dealing with dangerous cargo. The worst is undeclared pesticides or herbicides. The regulations in carrying such cargo are so onerous –and properly so– that the incentive to carry them illegally is huge. When a ferry, the Princess of the Stars – capsized off the Philippines the salvage experts discovered an extremely hazardous pesticide, Endosulfin, that would have caused devastation on a nearby Sibuyon Island, environmentally pristine sanctuary. Other hazardous cargo such as phenyl, a common ingredient in plastic causes paralysis when its fumes are inhaled. In one case cyanide powder had been labeled as flour.

These intrepid souls head out in the absolute worst weather to rescue ships in distress (For a great video of one such French ocean-going tug see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8K2B1nRRyA&feature=fvst. (I get seasick just watching this video, notice the wave breaking on the bridge.) For a high seas rescue check out the video of the Flandre’s sister ship, the Bourbon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5Na8EY1irA.

For a very unusual salvage story see [b:In Peril: A Daring Decision, a Captain's Resolve, and the Salvage that Made History|480255|In Peril A Daring Decision, a Captain's Resolve, and the Salvage that Made History|Skip Strong|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1175110353s/480255.jpg|468652]

I would have preferred a little more science (the title is misleading, it’s really more hagiography of Laird Hamilton) and a little less surfing (I'm exaggerating a little, perhaps I'm just jealous.) She’s a good writer although I should point out one never says 25 knots per hour; 25 miles per hour or 25 knots. John McPhee, Casey is not. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating read.

Confirmed from space: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3917539.stm

The BBC has a nifty series of videos with some great footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Htq57DK1YrE&feature=related

Popular Mechanics article Dec 1972 “Little Boats that Go Out to Save Big Ones”: http://books.google.com/books?id=69QDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA84&dq=ocean+salvage+t...
( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Her first book was one of my favorites. I liked this one, but it's a little too surfer heavy for me. She definitely delves deep into their word, and she's very descriptive, but I still had a hard time picturing what these surfers were doing. But a wave swallowing a ship - that I can understand a little better, even if it is outrageous. So I guess I enjoyed what she was writing during the chapters about waves eating ships, but I enjoyed the actual writing itself more when she was writing about the surfers. ( )
  AmberTheHuman | Aug 30, 2013 |
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When you look into the abyss,
the abyss also looks into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche
In memory of my father,
Ron Casey
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The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Sea out of the darkness.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767928849, Hardcover)

From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal,  ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out.

For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dis­missed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.

As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of peo­ple as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100­-foot wave.

In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.

Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:43 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Investigates colossal ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out. For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100 feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories; waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a number of ships have vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something was brewing in the planet's waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea, including several approaching 100 feet. Scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon. Yet extreme surfers fly around the world trying to ride the ocean's ultimate challenges. The sport's pioneer, Laird Hamilton, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board waves of 70 and 80 feet. The exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists' urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves, from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740 foot wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast. The book portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious. -- Publisher info.… (more)

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