For centuries sailors told stories of enormous waves tens of metres tall. They were dismissed as tall tales, but in fact they are alarmingly common.
10-story high, near-vertical walls of frothing water. Smashed portholes and flooded cabins on the upper decks. Thirty-metre behemoths that rise up from nowhere to throw ships about like corks, only to slip back beneath the depths moments later.
Evocative descriptions of abnormally large “rogue waves” that appear out of the blue have been shared among sailors for centuries. With little or no hard evidence, and the size of the waves often growing with each telling, there is little surprise that scientists long dismissed them as tall tales.
Until around half a century ago, this scepticism chimed with the scientific evidence. According to scientists’ best understanding of how waves are generated, a 30m wave might be expected once every 30,000 years. Rogue waves could safely be classified alongside mermaids and sea monsters.