March 8, 2016

Three minutes of sheer panic

WHAT CAN YOU DO in three minutes? I ask because of this news article I found on the Internet:

A prediction tool developed by MIT engineers may give sailors a 2-3 minute warning of an incoming rogue wave, providing them with enough time to shut down essential operations on a ship or offshore platform.

It’s obviously very clever of the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to have created a computer program that can predict the formation of a rogue wave. But it does seem to have a  limitation that renders it impractical, if not useless.

I mean, c’mon guys, what are they going to do on a ship if they’re given a three-minute warning? What exactly is going to help, even if you can get it done? You could maybe turn the rudder or even shut the engines down, but that wouldn’t make any difference on most ships. It’s just not enough time, no matter what MIT thinks.

And what about the poor soul on lone watch at 3 a.m. in the cockpit of a sailboat? What could he or she do in three minutes, apart from panicking or saying a quick prayer? What would anyone expect a sailor to do, in any case? Would dropping the mainsail help the boat survive a rogue wave? Not likely.

Small sailboats have been surviving rogue waves for an awful long time without the help of the guys at MIT. Anyone who goes to sea should know that different trains of waves occasionally ride on each others’ backs, forming a wave higher and steeper than those around it. The odds of this happening can be expressed mathematically, but nobody expects to be given a warning, and I don’t doubt that many a yacht has ridden over a rogue wave at night without even being aware of it.

I expect MIT means well, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in their clever calculations unless they can also provide information about how to survive a rogue wave when it arrives, given enough time. But three minutes just doesn’t do it. You can hardly pee your pants in three minutes.

Today’s Thought
The mere apprehension of a coming peril has put many into a situation of the utmost danger.
— Lucan, De  Bello Civili

There was a young girl from Pitlochry
Whose morals were merely a mockery,
For under her bed
She'd a young man instead
Of the ten-times more usual crockery

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Greg said...

You could change the orientation of a vessel, announce the coming risk to passengers, move to a safer location on the vessel, brace for the motion, attach a tether to yourself to avoid being washed overboard, and turn off any systems that might be more sensitive to the motions or pose a risk if damaged. Any of which are an advantage to not being warned at all. There are plenty more surprises out there but one less might provide just enough added ease, to push a person further and discover more on the water.

3 minutes is enough to time do a lot if you are as prepared and aware as a sailor should be. Many quick-thinking actions on a boat have big impacts and take far less time to execute.

Should people not move during earthquakes to decrease their chance of injury? Do you not warn a crew member down below cooking of a large wake approaching?

So long as the warnings don't become frequent and false, bring them on.


Lexi said...

3 Minutes is enough to fetch the photo camera and prepare for a selfie on the wave. If you manage to survive at least you have a picture to show others and brag.