As a young sailor and before I became an Officer and later a Master Mariner, I remember an elderly gentleman telling me, ‘The sea is safe until you forget it is dangerous’. This is absolutely true when considering the forces of nature. Theses ‘forces’ can include wind, waves, swells, currents, volcanoes, hurricanes and typhoons.
In my 50+ years at sea, nature twice dictated that her forces would have me very concerned as to whether I would get home. The first was in an area South of New Zealand, where ‘Great American IV’ will transit. In these latitudes a swell train goes virtually around the world coming basically from a WSWly direction. This voyage an extremely strong storm sent winds from the NW and thus with the standard swell and the storm swell from two different directions, there was a very confused sea state. Being in a quite small research vessel, it was impossible to sleep for almost two days as we struggled our way North to make the shelter of an island at the bottom of New Zealand. It is times such as this, that diligent ship handling becomes very necessary, otherwise serious ship damage can be incurred, with possibly, the loss of the vessel herself.
The second incident was in the South China Sea when caught in a Typhoon with very little room to manoeuvre. Winds in excess of 75 knots, and a swell height of at least 10 metres dictated that we needed to heave to, with the weather on our Port bow and speed rung on for around 10 knots. While the vessel pitched and rolled violently at times, we were able to hold our course, however our ‘speed over the ground’ on GPS showed that in fact we were going some 3 knots astern. The situation lasted some 12 hours until the weather abated somewhat, at which stage we were able to come back to our correct course. What was the most alarming bit, came next morning when the Chief Engineer informed me he had needed to nurse the main engine all night as there was a problem with one of the cylinders. Given that the engine was to stop, we would have been in dire straits.
Underwater volcanoes are not rare in the western section of the Pacific Ocean. Extreme forces of nature can cause an underwater eruption which sends great clouds of steam to the sea surface, and given that this eruption continues over a long period of time, a small island can emerge. A classic example is the ‘BigIsland’ of Hawaii. This started in the same way and over many thousands of years becoming as it is today, still forming further land mass. One product of these underwater volcanoes is pumice. Once while on watch crossing the Pacific, I glanced up from something I was doing and briefly thought we were about to run aground on a sand bank. Virtually totally impossible, the vessel having a very accurate position, but still extremely concerning. Eventuated that the ‘sand’ was in fact a large mass of floating, light coloured pumice, which had originated from a subterranean disturbance, more than likely a volcano.
Thus there comes from these few words, another saying: ‘Love the sea but respect it fully’.