Monday, February 14, 2022

Lake Forest: rogue wave; TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD; LUSITANIA; cold

Several of you have sent me links to recent articles about a 58’/17.6 meter high rogue wave recorded off Canada’s Vancouver Island.  All of you were correct that I would be interested and I thank you, but as it happens I had already read about the wave and planned to write about it.

By the definition of a rogue wave being at least twice as high as the surrounding waves, I have encountered them several times during my years at sea, most recently on GANNET’s passage from Honolulu to Apia, Samoa.

At just after noon three hundred and fifty miles north of Apia, Samoa, I was standing in the companionway when I saw two 10’ waves coming at us, high above the average 4’ waves.   They were steep and close together and coming at a right angle to the other waves.  As the first one hit, I ducked below, sliding the companionway over me.  However, the vertical slat was not in place and not reachable.  The second wave exploded into and over us, knocking GANNET down, masthead almost in the water.

With GANNET heeled 90º I braced myself from falling and stared down at the ocean.  GANNET’s lee rail was below water.  The ocean only a few inches from entering the cockpit.  The wave was gushing in and pressing us down.  It was a matter of whether the ocean would reach the cockpit before GANNET came back up.  Time slowed almost to a stop.  Probably a few seconds passed.  GANNET came back up.

I have learned from those occasions when I have been able to compare my estimates of wave height to those given by official metrological sources ashore that I tend to underestimate wave height.  One example is the gale off Durban, South Africa, in which the met service said the waves were 6 meters/20’.  I estimated them at 12’-15’.  So perhaps the waves that knocked GANNET down were a little bigger.  Whatever their height, I am glad they were no bigger.

As a writer I am probably biased, but I consider books to be the greatest bargains.  How could one have greater pleasure, entertainment and instruction for $3 than by buying a book?  I would not disagree with those who would make the claim for music, but there is not much music you can buy for $3.  This comes to mind because I have just finished reading TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Harry Thompson, recommended to me by Steven, for which I thank him.

The novel is quite long, really a trilogy, about Charles Darwin and Capt. Robert FitzRoy, who was captain of the BEAGLE during the circumnavigation when Darwin was on board.  Thompson claims it to be historically accurate and I believe it is.  He also states in an afterward that FitzRoy is the hero of the book.  He certainly is the tragic hero.  When first published in the UK, the title was the much superior, THIS THING OF DARKNESS, which is apt as it relates to Capt. FitzRoy’s mental state.  He was given to anxiety, rage and depression, some of which was appropriate considering the enemies he had in and lack of support from the Admiralty.  He bankrupted himself spending his personal wealth carrying out his duties as he saw them and ended committing suicide at age 65.

Excusing a couple of solecisms—Thompson writes in one place of a ship ‘keeling’ over.  Ships heel over, not keel over;  And in another of a storm ‘cracking halyards’—Thompson writes well about ships, the sea, the hardships of surveying the islands and channels of Tierra del Fuego.  He also writes well of the conflict between those who were beginning to interpret the world in terms of science rather than Biblical dogma.  Curiously FitzRoy was one of those who disparaged Darwin’s view of evolution, yet he himself was a pioneer in meteorology and among the first to believe weather could be understood scientifically and forecast.

The book spans far more than the BEAGLE circumnavigation.  FitzRoy was later Governor of the infant colony of New Zealand and I learned that initially the New Zealand Land Company had a monopoly and sold poor immigrants land to which it had no right or title.

I bought the Kindle edition of TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD from Amazon for $2.99.  Truly a bargain.

The other evening Carol and I watched a very well done docu-drama on Amazon Prime, LUSITANIA:  Murder on the Atlantic.  We have both also read Erik Larson’s book on the subject, DEAD WAKE.  I recommend both.

There are lasting controversies about the sinking of the LUSITANIA by a German U-Boat just off the Irish Coast in 1915.  

One is caused by her sinking so quickly, in less than twenty minutes, after being struck by only one torpedo, though as you will see from the film, the British Admiralty attempted a cover up claiming the ship had been hit by two or even three torpedos.

The LUSITANIA was carrying munitions.  It is now thought that they did not explode.  There was an explosion, but it was probably caused by ignition of coal dust in the by then almost employ holds or by cold sea water hitting super heated pipes and boilers.

The other controversy is whether some in the British government did not fully protect the LUSITANIA in the hope that if she were sunk with hundreds of U.S. citizens on board it would propel the U.S. into the war on the British side.  I have no conclusion on that.  But do I believe that there were some in the British government who would have considered the deaths of a thousand passengers a bargain price to get the U.S. into the war?  I do indeed.

For the past three mornings the temperature has been 10ºF/-12º or less when I’ve gotten up around 6 am.  The wind chills have been around -6º/-21C.  These are temperatures that many of you have never known and never will.  Well done.

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