Ancient mariners were famous for their stories of peril on the high seas. They spoke of the
multi-tentacled Kraken that splintered whole ships; a vortex called the Maelstrom that pulled
vessels down a kind of oceanic drain; a precipitous drop-off where the flat earth came to its
edge; and warlike mermaids not likely to end up in a Disney animated film. In the 21 st century
we can safely say such accounts were just fanciful myths.
But one other enduring “tall tale” has proven to be all too real: the rogue wave. Rogue waves
are defined as walls of water more than twice the size of other waves in the vicinity. Sailors
have been reporting such monsters or killer waves for centuries. Such stories were typically
dismissed as nonsense.
But consider the wave that hit the Eagle Island Lighthouse along the Irish coast on March 11,
1861. The lighthouse sits a full 200 feet above the high water mark. At midday, for no
apparent reason, an incredible wave of water suddenly materialized and slammed into the
main tower, breaking the glass at the very top and flooding the interior. That was a 20-story-
Despite such evidence, scientists stubbornly held to the view that seeing isn’t always
believing. All that changed in 1995, when oceanographers were finally in the right place at
the right time to measure the so-called Draupner wave, a rogue wave at least 84 feet high
that slammed into the Draupner oil platform in the North Sea.
Today it is widely accepted that monster waves are not only real, but are probably rising
somewhere on the planet at any given moment. They are frightening-not only because they
are unpredictable, but because they have demonstrated capacity to do significant damage.
It’s possible that many of the ships (both large and small) that have vanished without a trace
over the centuries were lost to rogue waves that seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
How do they originate? Researchers have learned that most ocean waves move
independently of one another. But every now and then a “pack” of waves will form a coherent
group. In a process called modulation instability, all the waves in a group pour the energy into
a single rogue. With little or no warning, a towering mass appears. Then it collapses and
disappears quickly as it formed.
Every now and then it can seem as if a “rogue wave” of a different sort suddenly smashes into
Lots of little frustrations-each of them independently manageable-come together at the same
time. A sick child. A malfunctioning air conditioner. Smoke from Canadian fires. Financial
problems. That moron who cut you off in traffic. An emotionally charged argument with
someone you love. That’s all it takes. Without warning you feel as if you are drowning.
There are no rogue wave verses in the Bible. But we do have this word from King David,
who, in a moment of desperation wrote: “Save me O God, for the floodwaters have come up
to my neck”. (Psalm 69:1)
There is no wave too high, or ocean abyss so deep, that we can ever find ourselves beyond
Ron Naylor, Chaplain