“The biggest wave hit the bridge, on the seventh deck. The captain later said that the vessel was pitching up and down when the wave hit the bridge. He said it was 45 feet high. He told us that the ship was not in a storm but was experiencing waves from two storms, one on either side of the vessel, and that the swell from these distant storms came together and created the rough conditions. On the bridge, the wave knocked out one window and damaged the electronics. This caused all four engines to stop operating. Someone came on the P.A. system and told us to put on life jackets and move into the halls.
“After about 20 to 30 minutes the crew was able to get one engine started, and a while later, a second engine. The ship wallowed in swells with no steerage for a time. We had a hard time opening cabin doors with the ship heeled over. Two crew members were injured, one with a concussion—not sure about the other. One faculty member had a broken hip. Initially there was some talk the ship would divert to Midway Island, but then it was determined that we could make Honolulu. Seas continued to be rough for two more days, and then the last four days into Honolulu were better.”
Even the largest vessels are not immune to rogue waves that arise during storms. On April 12, 1966, the Michelangelo had a frightening encounter with a rogue wave. This 902-foot-long passenger vessel was about 700 nautical miles east of New York in the midst of a storm. The significant wave heights were 20 to 30 feet. Suddenly she was hit by an extreme wave of such violence and force that the steel bow of the ship was damaged, steel railings on the upper decks were torn free, the bulkheads under the bridge were crumpled, and windows in the bridge were broken. Large quantities of seawater poured into the ship through damaged bulkheads. The bridge windows, of 1-inch-thick glass, were located 81 feet above the waterline. Three people were killed and 13 others were injured.16
In 2002, I had the pleasure of sailing in a chartered sailboat from St. Martin Island to St. Barthélémy, and then to Anguilla. The weather was perfect, the sailing wonderful, and we enjoyed diving and some great fishing as well. I remember one evening in particular, when we were anchored in Cove Columbier on St. Barts—you could not possibly find a lovelier spot. I was awake in my bunk, a hatch open over-