Sunday, August 26, 2012



Life is strange--.

13 years ago on  22nd Sept 1999, at 1200 UTC, my ship was just 34 miles off super typhoon Bart at the same area off Okinawa.

My ship , a huge tanker, was getting stripped off most of her hard epoxy paint.  The sea was milky white .

I was tired having not slept for 3 days.

I was upset with my ship owners in London, who tried to remote control my ship , which forced me to tell them to "lay off" in a stronger manner than FO..  

For I had decided NOT to take the beaten track. 

The US naval fleet plus the entire shipping of this area, had scooted 48 hours before, into clear open Pacific seas.

I was supremely confident of myself-- had NO choice-- as my officers and crew were watching every move of mine , and checking me out,  for drop in body language.

And to add to my woes, my ears were paining due to a extremely low barometric pressure of 898 Hpa ( milli bars ) .

Today Typhoon Bolaven ( a less intense Cat 2 )  is doing the honours at the same place-- 

--and here I am watching a soccer match between Arsenal and Stoke city-- 

--well the time here is 1400 UTC on 26th Aug 2012. 

I am sipping a chilled beer, and I can see my wife pottering around , among the aroma of freshly ground spices, and my younger 16 year old son playing X box on the other TV.

My mind started chattering -- I stepped out and had a look from the balcony --  so serene--  so calm -- some girls are splashing around in the swimming pool, below.  

I gulped in some air and got my bearings.

Well I am in the midst of civilization, now-- at home sweet home ! 

13 years ago, I was at sea --  a Captain before a storm, is a lonely man.. ( Bart was the MOST POWERFUL storm ever to be recorded on this planet ).  

This is one time , the buck stops on his table.

When I said 35 miles from super typhoon Bart, you must know that this is NOT normal --




Bart would soon kill more than 30 people and  destroy more than 80000 homes in Japan and cause 4 billion USD in damages. 

The previous record was a category 5 typhoon Vera on Sept 26th 1959 -- less powerful than Bart.

Punch into Google search-- SUPER TYPHOON BART, THE PERFECT STORM- VADAKAYIL,  to see a blow by blow account of what transpired 13 years ago.

Year 2012 is a El Nino year.  West Pacific is gonna be battered by typhoons. Australia will have droughts and forest fires.

Correspondingly the hurricanes in the S Atlantic , Carriebean  bearing towards the East coast of USA will be  less, due to wind shear tearing them up.
During El Nino, the waters in the central and eastern Pacific are warmer than normal, and the effects on global weather can be drastic and far-reaching.

You get to see "Super Typhoons" during El Nino years.

The El Nino starts after a pool of hot seawater almost the size of USA, ( more than 15 million square kms ) appears off the west coast of the Americas.  The ocean would heat up right around Christmas time, so fishermen call the phenomenon El Niño, for the Christ Child.

Usually, the wind blows strongly from east to west along the equator in the Pacific. This actually piles up water (about half a meter's worth) in the western part of the Pacific. In the eastern part, deeper water (which is colder than the sun-warmed surface water) gets pulled up from below to replace the water pushed west. So, the normal situation is warm water (about 30 C) in the west, cold (about 22 C) in the east.

In an El Niño, the winds pushing that water around get weaker. As a result, some of the warm water piled up in the west slumps back down to the east, and not as much cold water gets pulled up from below. Both these tend to make the water in the eastern Pacific warmer, which is one of the hallmarks of an El Niño.

But it doesn't stop there. The warmer ocean then affects the winds--it makes the winds weaker! So if the winds get weaker, then the ocean gets warmer, which makes the winds get weaker, which makes the ocean get warmer ... this is called a positive feedback, and is what makes an El Niño grow.

The ocean has a wave called a Rossby wave that is quite unlike the waves you see when you visit the beach. It's more like a distant cousin to a tidal wave. The difference is that a tidal wave goes very quickly, with all the water moving pretty much in the same direction. In a Rossby wave, the upper part of the ocean, say the top 100 meters or so, will be leisurely sliding one way, while the lower part, starting at 100 meters and going on down, will be slowly moving the other way.

After a while they switch directions. Everything happens very slowly and inside the ocean, and you can't even see them on the surface. These things are so slow, they can take months or years to cross the oceans. If you had the patience to sit there while one was going by, you'd hardly notice it; the water would be moving only 1/100th of walking speed. But they are large, hundreds or thousands of kilometers in length (not height! Remember, you can hardly see them on the surface), so they can have an effect on things.

Another wave you rarely hear about is called a Kelvin wave, and it has some characteristics in common with Rossby waves, but is somewhat faster and can only exist close to the equator (say, within about 5 degrees of latitude around the equator). El Ninos often start with a Kelvin wave propagating from the western Pacific over towards South America.

When an El Niño gets going in the middle or eastern part of the Pacific, it creates Rossby waves that drift slowly towards southeast Asia. After several months of travelling, they finally get near the coast and reflect back. The changes in interior ocean temperature that these waves carry with it "cancel out" the original temperature changes that made the El Niño in the first place. A strong El Niño can last a year or more before conditions return to normal.

Punch into google search  EL NINO, A MARINERS OVER VIEW - VADAKAYIL,  to check out my experiences with El Nino.

My thoughts are with the poor sailors who lose their lives every year in stormy seas -- never to be talked about or remembered-- 

-- while if a rich banker in a passenger airplane of the first class section spills beer on himself, as he was inebriated-- 


-- due to an air pocket,  the event becomes BREAKING news in Time and Newsweek.



  1. hi,
    what are your views about being vegetarian? i have been a vegetarian since childhood.(although i eat eggs) Its very difficult to survive on the ship being a vegetarian.i rarely find another vegetarian on board!

  2. hi anand,

    make sure there is planty of FROZEN vegetables on board.

    peas, cauliflower, spinach, brocolli, okhra, beans, mix vegetables etc

    stock it up in good ports.

    capt ajit vadakayil

  3. yes typhoon Bart was a powerful storm but it was not the most powerful storm ever Date: October 15, 2005–October 26, 2005 in the gulf of Mexico a hurricane named Wilma had the Lowest pressure: 882 MB it is the lowest recorded pressure ever for a storm Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded Highest winds:185 mph This image of Hurricane Wilma was taken by the crew aboard NASA's international space station as the complex flew 222 miles above the storm. Wilma's eye was two miles across at the time, the smallest eye ever observed, indicating an extremely intense storm. At the time, Wilma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history, with winds over 185 miles per hour, a record low central pressure of 882 mbar. The storm was located in the Caribbean Sea, 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico.

  4. hi jonathan,

    i was in the jamaica area in 2005.

    wilma was category 5 for a VERY short time.


    -- and the readings of 882 Hpa and 292 kilometers per hour are ABSOLUTELY suspect, as there were no shore stations to record this at SEA LEVEL repeat at SEA LEVEL -- unlike okinawa US naval base, who had the hardware.

    when we get hurricanes at sea, a sailor is more worried about the wave height. for a wave to build up there has to be FETCH. large oceans like pacific afford the build up.

    i remember a houston pilot telling me that when he boarded a huge tanker, the chief officer was in command.

    the captain lost his marbles, and was sleeping under medication.

    as the pilot climbed up the stairs to reach the bridge, water was pouring down the steps like a mini water fall.

    and when he went to the bridge wings ( as every porthole was smashed ), the bridge wings on either side had been cold bent back wards by 3 metres.

    no need to suggest that this is a terrific and unique sight indeed.

    by the time wilma crossed yucatan peninsula and entered the gulf of mecixo, she was cat 4, and by the time she hit US coast from tampa side she was cat 2.

    just my perspective, jonathan.

    no sailor will argue that my storm was the worst--

    -- the way a blonde will cling to her boy friends arm and tell her brunette friend --

    " ours is the biggest".

    capt ajit vadakayil