Rogue, freak, or killer waves have been part of marine folklore for centuries, but have only been accepted as a real phenomenon by scientists over the past few decades.
They are relatively large and spontaneous ocean surface waves that occur far out at sea, and are a threat even to large ships and ocean liners over 250 meters long.
Rogues, called extreme storm waves by scientists, are those waves which are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves; they are very unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves.
Most reports of extreme storm waves say they look like walls of water. They are often steep-sided with unusually deep troughs.
“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.”
– James Joyce, Ulysses
Since these waves are uncommon, measurements of this phenomenon are extremely rare, making it a very hard natural occurrence to analyse. It is only since 1995 that the by then almost mythical freak wave was substantiated by something more than anecdotal evidence.
The Draupner wave or New Year’s wave is often believed to be the first freak wave to be detected by a measuring instrument, occurring at the Draupner platform in the North Sea off the coast of Norway on 1 January 1995.
Minor damage was inflicted on the platform during this event, confirming the validity of the reading made by a downwards-pointing laser sensor. In an area with significant wave height of approximately 12 metres (39 ft), a freak wave with a maximum wave height of 25.6 metres (84 ft) occurred with a peak elevation of 18.5 metres (61 ft). The freak waves are real, and as yet (conclusively speaking) unexplained by science.
Through the centuries that man has roamed the seas, freak waves have probably been responsible for countless of deaths, and tragically continue to do so, even in modern times. “Seems Neptune has claimed another soul.” (Firth of Fifth – Genesis, 1973).
The European Space Agency stated in 2004 that “Severe weather has sunk more than 200 supertankers and container ships exceeding 200 metres in length during the last two decades. Rogue waves are believed to be the major cause in many such cases”.
“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek