Rogue Wave

March 14th, 2006 by Potato

Rogue waves are something of a nautical legend: recent recordings and sattelite imaging have shown that though rare, they do exist. For a long time, their existence was not quite as assured, although their possibility remained a very serious threat to ships. They could form at random, a towering wall of water slamming into a ship on an otherwise calm day. If the ship avoided sinking entirely, then there was still a good possibility that unprepared sailors on deck would have been washed overboard.

There are a number of theories as to how they might form, including focusing effects of various shorelines and underwater ridges, as well as simple non-linear interactions between waves, leading to occasional “spikes” — a summation of the energy of a number of adjacent waves into one large one before separating again. While large in magnitude, they are rare and tend to be very short-lived (which is why few of them manage to break on the shore where most observers are most of the time).

While not anywhere near as large as those seen on the ocean, we did run into a rogue wave once on the lake by the cottage. On a reasonably calm afternoon, the lake rocking by maybe 20 cm, we were out in our old boat, a ~14′, 4-person jetboat. All of a sudden, we hit a wave that was more like 2 m (6 ‘) high. Fortunately, nobody was thrown overboard, but it did kill the engine and had us really shaken for a while. We believe that one was caused by the wake of a lake freighter that had passed some time ago; it’s hard to say how long those wakes propagate.

On another occasion, while on the scuba trip to Jamaica in high school, we were on the boat returning from our night dive. Suddenly, we hit something and the boat tilted 45° or more, and came almost instantly to a stop. We didn’t lose any students (who managed to hold on to their seats), but one of the crewmembers who was standing got thrown overboard, as did most of the creatures we had collected to study (which were residing in buckets in the centre of the deck). We never quite figured out exactly what caused the mishap, but it was immortalized on the shirts we had printed afterwards. My theory is that the pilot missed the channel back into the lagoon and we hit the reef at full speed; many others hold that it was a rogue wave.

Today, as things are finally starting to settle back to some semblance of normalacy in my life (though to be honest, I doubt I’d recognize normal if I saw it now), I was hit with a rogue wave. After months of delays, I have finally completed my thesis (though it still isn’t perfected, the last few change requests have been more about formatting than content), and the graduate office is busy contacting examiners to find an exam date for me. I took some time to get some other much-procrastinated work done (my OGSST application, plus some software installation for the new imaging analysis box), when out of no where the other member of my committee walks in and says we have to meet tomorrow: there are major problems with my thesis that we need to talk about.

Someone throw me a line, I think I’m drowning.

3 Responses to “Rogue Wave”

  1. rez Says:

    Oh I get it. Metaphor!

  2. Potato Says:

    “Ah, the test group feedback report is here! Let me read that…” flips pages… “What does this mean? ‘No notion of subtlety.’ Is it a typo? Someone get me a dictionary. Hmm… ‘Subtle: DELICATE, ELUSIVE {a subtle fragrance} b : difficult to understand or perceive : OBSCURE.’ How is this a good thing? Why is this the first thing under the faults the test group found?”

    “Er… try the rest of the definition. ‘Subtle 2. PERCEPTIVE, REFINED {a writer’s sharp and subtle moral sense} b : having or marked by keen insight and ability to penetrate deeply and thoroughly {a subtle scholar} 3. a : highly skillful : EXPERT {a subtle craftsman} b : cunningly made or contrived : INGENIOUS 4. : ARTFUL, CRAFTY.’ In short, you’re a ham-handed writer, and people are calling you on it.”

    “Oh, well when you put it like that it makes perfect sense. Carry on then.”

  3. Ben Says:

    Is there a bell tower on that campus by any chance? I think I may have a solution for you…