In July 1997, I was on leave.
It was raining cats and dogs, which is nothing new in our neck of the woods. During the SE monsoons in Kerala , it pours -- it does NOT rain.
At around 1500 hrs I told my wife that I will be keeping our car at my friends house, on a hill. I said "I expect the car porch to be flooded and water will enter the car".
As I was driving away, all my friends in the neighborhood were having a bullshit session. They waved out to me to join them for a moment.
All wanted to know where I was going off in a hurry. I said " I expect all the houses in our neighborhood to have water inside in another 16 hours".
They all had a nice laugh, as our area had never been flooded in recent memory, of at least 150 years. And in any case, our city was at the seashore.
After I came back, I got all valuable furniture in the ground floor raised , by putting bricks. This also included the fridges, washing machine, electric oven etc. I bought a bottle of kerosene and kept it standby.
We went to sleep at around 10 PM.
We were woken up in the morning at around 5 am, by a call from my neighbor, that water had entered their house. So I came down with my wife and found we had another 11 inches to go before water entered our home. Within another 50 minutes I saw 11 inches being covered up, and water started pouring inside the house.
I poured some Kerosene in all the flooding rooms. The water stopped rising and remained steady when it was about 10 inches above the floor. I had predicted the stop in rising water too.
At sunrise there was a huge collective effort to push all the cars in the neighborhood to the highest place . Water had entered into all the cars, and none of them could be started.
Then I got a call from another neighbor that a small snake had been found in one of their bedrooms, and there was general panic. I said, in my house kerosene has taken care of it. And then all were tripping over each other to do Kerosene honours. Snakes dread Kerosene, as it destroys their skin and burns it, causing severe pain.
So pretty soon, the talk in the neighbour hood was " Ajit is the only smart fuc#er amongst us, as usual —he did NOT lose a dang thing!".
Some of their houses had ruined their super expensive drawing room sofas , costing them a huge financial package.
My wife told me “ So far so good-- how did your know, that the water will enter our houses? “
I said : “Blame it on El Nino!”
She looked at me as if I had gone crazy.
Then she asked " How did you know the water will stop rising ?”.
I said “ It is obvious that the nearest dam operators , have clandestinely opened the locks , to release excess water, above the red danger mark, the dam is NOT constructed for, or capable of handling. Of course they will never ever admit it. Water from heavy rains cannot raise ground water so fast, when we are at the sea coast .”
After a month I joined a ship at Coos bay Oregon, ( West coast USA ) in the end of Aug 1997. This ship was a nice multipurpose bulk carrier. There was an emergency as the Nickel concentrate from New Caledonia loaded in heavy rain , had liquefied, and company wanted me to handle the discharge, though I was NOT a bulk carrier man.
While at the hotel before joining , I read in the newspapers about local fishermen complaining that they cant catch a single fish in usual fish rich waters. Well the fish had swum up to colder waters to survive.
After sailing off from Coos bay to Manzanillo, Mexico to load cement in Bulk. Enroute, I saw several dead whales floating on water. Obviously they died due to the heated water.
On the way, I planned my passage to be away from a Hurricane area on the West coast of Mexico. The Charterers and Passage planning whizkids frowned. But I was right, there was indeed a vicious hurricane which formed suddenly, almost out of thin air —and we were lucky to be seawards and safe. As the mid ship hold could NOT be flooded with heavy weather ballast.
Then we proceeded to Chile to discharge the cement, at a small port on the seaside of the Andes. The Atacama desert, the driest on the planet, where NO life sustains, lay on the other side.
As we berthed , I told my Chief officer still at forward stations. “ There will be NO cargo work today, after the hold cargo surface inspections , and draft survey is done , I want you to shut all the hatchcovers”
The pilot intervened “ Why Captain, are you afraid , it will rain? . Rest your fears , it has NOT rained in this port Antofagasta for the past 100 years. My wife got sick and tired of daily rain at Valpraiso ( Asthma ) , South of this port, and this is why we got ourselves transferred here.”
I said “ It will rain tonight!”
The pilot looked at me as if I was an unreasonable tyrant cum nut-case , shrugged his shoulders and left.
The next day, morning at 0700 hrs I get a knock on my door and there stood the pilot, with a beaming face. “ Captain, it rained yesterday night for one hour “
I said “ I know, for while coming back from the strip tease bar, with my Chief officer, we got drenched in rain”.
And then the pilot would NOT leave till I told him my secret.
So I told him “ Well, pilot , 1997 is the El Nino year!”
After discharge at Antofagasta, we sailed to Equador ( Esmeraldes ) to load logs. This ship could be converted to a Timber carrier or a Container ship.
There is a river which flows across the mouth of the entrance to this port. The pilot came on board with his trainee, and just at the entrance , sensing impending disaster, I wrested control of the ship from him, and did the berthing myself.
The pilot was terribly upset, that I did this in front of his trainee, and naturally he confronted me, telling me that this is the first time in 23 years someone has belittled him in this fashion.
I said “ You have positioned the tug at the wrong place, you have NO idea how the strong current of the river in todays flood torrent, which will jack knife the ship using the wind.”
Sure enough, as soon as we berthed, even the Agent, Customs, Immigration, Port health etc knew that I was a racist Master who did NOT trust the local pilot. I could sense the hostility.
The agent told me “ Captain, tomorrow the Harbour Master wants to have a word with you. Be careful Captain, these pilots are all very proud of their expertise and you have just rubbed their faces into the ground. Better keep a good explanation ready. It is a small port, and we all know each other ”.
The next day at around 0800 hrs, I was on the bridge wing. I could see another ship approaching to take the berth ahead of us. The Pilot lost control at the entrance and put the engines full throttle, the tug pushed the wrong way, the way it always did, and sure enough, the ship was coming to hit us at right angles.
I raced down to my cabin , got the camera , and started taking shots, in succession. The last 30 metres of the approach, how the ships bows crumpled at our hull near No 2 hold, severely damaging 3 timber staunchions and the entire bulwark, all was captured in the camera, with time shots of the GPS in between-- a no contest situation.
Within one hour the Harbour Master was in my cabin.
He said “ Captain, I had interviewed the trainee pilot yesterday, he is related to my wife . He told me that you had predicted this yesterday!. He had told me about the strong river cross-current , you pointed out at the entrance . The pilots on board the other ship, are the same two. How did you predict all this? ”
I said “ Well , it is the El Nino year!”.
To my surprise he knew what the El Nino was.
Then I took a lot of provisions, and told the Charterers and the company that I expect a delay at the Panama canal with our max Panama canal draft. They disagreed with me.
Sure enough, we were delayed at Balboa for more than one week. It rains in Panama canal daily, so much that they need shelters at the bridge wings for the Pilot. But now, in 1997 there was no rain at all.
Nobody was willing to declare that there is less water in the Gatun lake. Every time, they opened the locks, they lost precious fresh water from the lake. So they were doing the operations in such a way, that they lost minimum water. At Gatun lake I told the pilot I do NOT want to anchor in the usual area.
The pilot asked me why? I said there is less water. Immediately the pilot said. “ Damn! , Captain, you are absolutely right. On my last 3 ships, I felt the drag under the ship, with vibrations and muddly wake. All on the bridge including myself, Master and OOW pretended all is OK.
We all pretended to sleep and expected the other to wake us up. But the angry Engineers demanded by several telephone calls—what the hell is happening on bridge?
Then we went to Spain , Huelva, to discharge , and all there said the weather is totally unseasonal.
Soon we were in Parana river Argentina. The river had flooded 4.5 metres above normal. Even the quay godowns were under water, and we could see just the tip of the roofs. I was told by the greedy shippers, to load to a deeper draft, and I refused.
I was alone against everybody--the bag unreasonable guy. I said, the river might be deep, due to excess rain in the Brazilian rain forest of Matto Grosso. But where the river meets the sea, at Recalada, and else where the depths are still the same.
After lot of missiles by telexes up and down, I won. I knew my rights. Nobody can arm twist Vadakayil.
The ship had to go to Montevideo to top up with logs and then go to Tofte, Norway. At Montevideo, the ship was sitting merrily on the bottom mud.
After the deck level came two high ( of unbarked Eucalpytus log bundles ), I gave sufficient notice, that I will load only 3 high—NOT 4 high as originally planned by the British Supercargo Captain, who had been doing this for 18 years--on sister ships.
I gave my reasons, several of them -- including Stability calculations , with virtual loss of GM due to upthrust . And to top it all even NAABSA clause did NOT exist in the charter party.
The last of the several reasons was the "snow factor", on arrival Norway. That the ship with GM of about 40 cms , would be destabilized by the weight of snow on the 4th layer.
The Norwegian Director of the Charterers ( no names ) send me a sarcastic telex . “ Captain, we are already into March 1998 , and so far Norway did NOT have a single minute of snow.
My daughters are very disappointed over this. The winter is over, Captain--period!. We require you to load the 4th layer, failing which we will take your company to court!”
My Tech managers shat green peas, as soon as they read this , and they ordered me to load the 4th layer, "under protest".
All I said was “ This is the El Nino year. I will bring snow to Norway, in the end of March 1998 !”
The day we arrived Norway, a technical team was earmarked to have a Stability Mathematics calculation Olympiad with me. They all came on board, along with the Top Gun of the company.
This man said “ Captain, I was NOT supposed to come. But-- here is the telex, where you declared that you will bring snow to Norway. How right you were!. All or roads are blocked by the most severe blizzard of the decade, and the winter is officially over 1 month ago !”
I broke the seal of the company mail packet, and took our the Company magazine, in which I had written a piece on El Nino and La Nina, and gave it to the Big Boss.
After reading it said : “ Can I take this copy with me ?. You and me are the same kind-- we don’t care for past practice. We carry our own lamps and we chart our own way.”.
After this statement, the Maths Olympiad party looked pretty deflated, and melted away with their tails between their legs.
So here is a gist of what I wrote about El Nino.
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.
The 1997/1998, is the strongest El Niño in recorded history, and it had more energy than a hundred Hiroshima bombs
El Nino causes droughts and forest fires in Australia and also bleaching of corals ( loss of CO2 due to warming of waters ).
The hurricanes in the East of USA reduces , by the typhoons in the Pacific become more and stronger.
In 1997 , the surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru rose to about 5 C above normal. Instrumentation Buoys in the Pacific Ocean.
The giant El Niño of 1997-98 had deranged weather patterns around the world, killed an estimated 2,200 people, and caused more than 35 billion USD dollars in property damage.
2010 was the year of the La Nina—the strongest in recorded history.
The Nina is the Yang of the Nino Yin.
Australia had horrific floods. The name La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning "the girl", analogous to El Niño meaning "the boy"..
La Niña is often preceded by a strong El Niño.
The picture below is from a ship I commanded.
CAPT AJIT VADAKAYIL