I’ve just finished The Wave by Susan Casey, an interesting amalgam of big wave science, climate change and extreme surfing. I’ve long been fascinated with waves, especially those beautiful turquoise monsters that they get in Hawaii. I’ve never been fortunate enough to see them in person, but Casey does a pretty fair job of describing their beauty and their treachery. The book is held together with tales of the exploits and sub-culture of a band of aging surfing legends that Casey befriends. Her story takes some side trips into the world of rogue waves, a subject that I ultimately found much more fascinating. It seems that the world’s oceans are showing the effects of climate change through more frequent generation of waves that fall well outside of normal ranges, even outside of engineering design norms. This has huge implications for global commerce and for the companies that insure the ships that shuttle our goods around the world.
While The Wave falls a little outside of what I’d consider weekend reading, there’s a really great, much shorter, companion piece that ran in Wired Magazine a couple of years ago — High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace. While the troubles that beset the Cougar Ace were not big wave-related, the scenario of ocean salvage that plays out in the story is typical of the drama that attends when ships founder in heavy seas. It happens a lot more often than I had ever imagined — Casey indicates that on average, 2 large ships per week go missing in the world’s oceans. That adds up to a lot of salvage work for these cowboys of the seas. The work they do is ridiculously dangerous, mitigated only by some high tech wizardry and lots of experience with close calls. It’s an exciting tale expertly told by Joshua Davis, well worth your time to read.
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