and sail. There was no escaping the knowledge that I was captive to forces more powerful than me and that it required my skill and a seaworthy craft to sail into the gray sky and changing landscape of a foaming, stormy sea.

I write these pages in my friend Andy Youngquist’s boat, Sitting Tall, a 46-foot Bertram. It is a superb sports fisher, powered by two Detroit diesel engines capable of pushing it to 20 knots. At this early hour, just before sunrise, we are on a mooring in Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island, rocking to a gentle swell. Quite different from yesterday, when a Santa Ana wind came up suddenly on the mainland around 26 nautical miles away, and shortly after we’d left the harbor sent waves 3 to 6 feet high into the harbor, bouncing floating docks and causing one boat to founder and sink. This was a perfect example of the interaction of wind and sea; the average height of the waves is determined by the speed of the wind, the length of time it blows, and the fetch, or distance of open water, over which it blows. These were not large waves, but in the tight confines of a small harbor, they had the potential to cause a great deal of mischief.

So, the sea reminds me—there are small waves and there are very large waves. As you can see from this book, giant waves—waves so large they tower as high as a 10-story building—are more common than previously believed. Most of the merchant and passengers ships that ply world trade routes today are likely to come out second-best in an encounter with an extreme wave of this height. Along the coasts of the oceans, tsunami are another source of high and destructive waves. My purpose in writing this book is to increase awareness of the hazard represented by giant waves and to suggest ways to mitigate the risk for those of us who live near the sea or whose occupations take us across oceans.

May you have fair winds and following seas.

Craig B. Smith

Balboa, California



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement