Making waves

The sea always has been and always will be a
great test of man and machine.

Thank you for raising the subject of ocean-going vessels and large waves (‘Rogue elements’, Feature, 25 February).

However, like so much other ‘environment-related’ material, this is principally a case of data that has existed for years, but that previously went unreported.

It is well known that when two or more waves coincide then a larger wave can be formed. This is simple physics. Nothing new there.

Also simple is the fact that until recently we only had personal experience and anecdotal evidence on which to base discussions of ‘unusually large waves’.

Now we have pretty satellite pictures to tell the wider world (which is not affected) what most of those who go to sea (who are affected) knew already. And of course now we can ‘see’ far more of the damned things.

It should also be emphasised that it is not the size but the length of a ‘large’ wave that causes the danger. A modest but short and steep sea is of far greater danger to a rigid man-made object (such as a ship) than is a giant wave of proportionate wavelength — the short sea may break while the long sea should not.

Finally, it is worth reminding readers, in our health and safety cocoon, that any sea-going vessel can be sunk if improperly handled in rough conditions. Unlike many other forms of transport, there is no default ‘escape’ when trying to survive exceptional conditions in a ship or yacht.

Most vessels survive great storms because of skilful seamanship, and sometimes good fortune, rather than particularly exceptional engineering. It is a risky business and seafarers on the whole are a pretty spiritual bunch.

Professional yachtsmen accept that if they are regularly racing at sea it is only a matter of odds and time before they encounter a lifethreatening wave. The sea always has been and always will be a great test of man and machine.

Keep up the good work, we greatly enjoy your magazine.

Andrew Hurst,


Seahorse International Sailing,