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From: Henry Burdett Messenger@cup.portal.com
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 94 13:06:51 PDT
Subject: The Ninth Wave
A New Analysis of "The Ninth Wave"
Out of the cloud burst the head of the tempest
Murderer, Murderer of calm
Why did I go?
Why did I go?
It's always been clear to us that "The Ninth Wave" is about someone who's been in a terrible accident at sea and is trying to survive in the water. But these words had always troubled me -- these are the words of someone who had a choice when making the journey. Usually this isn't the case. We travel because we must, for the most part.
Several years after hearing "The Ninth Wave," I started sailing again. I learned to sail when I was 16, in a Cal 20 in Monterey Bay. I was a natural. Whenever they wanted to get the boat from point A to point B in the Bay, the instructors would give me the helm and the rest of the group would catch rays on the foredeck. I remember some screaming beats around Soquel point with great fondness.
Unfortunately, I didn't sail much again until I was 30. A good friend of mine married a woman who owned a Catalina 27. I became her partner in the boat, and later I bought it outright (they had a child, and the boat was no longer in the game plan). Now I sail about twice a week during the summer, and about once every two weeks during the winter.
Naturally, I wanted to become a better sailor, so I started reading sailing books. One very good book that I read is called
'Fastnet: Force 10'
by John Rousmaniere.
It's about a particularly disasterous ocean sailing race. It then occurred to me that the words of the protagonist in "The Ninth Wave" are those of a racing sailor. This is the introduction to 'Fastnet: Force 10' :
This is a sea story, and it is true. It is the story of how fifteen people died, not in wartime, or on a hunt for whales, or in a typhoon in the South China Sea, but during a yacht race only seventy miles off the coast of England. What began as a six hundred-mile sail in fine weather around a lighthouse off the Irish coast became, for twenty-seven hundred men and women in 303 yachts, a terrifying ordeal as one of the most vicious summer gales in the twentieth century swept east from the American Great Plains to trap the Fastnet race fleet in the shallow water of the Western Approaches to Britain.
The worst disaster in the one-hundred year history of ocean yacht racing, the 1979 Fastnet race is a startling reminder of man's vulnerability before the elements. As the official inquiry into the calamity concluded, "the sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy and those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in the full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order." From 10:00 PM on August 13 until 6:00 PM on August 14, those dangers were a shrieking wind that blew at force 10 velocity (forty-eight to fifty-five knots) and up to hurricane strength, and, more dangerous, a true maelstrom of a seaway. Steep waves as high as fifty feet formed towering breakers that collapsed on boats and sailors like surf on a beach, hurling twenty thousand pounds of water at twenty or thirty knots onto hulls that, on average, were only thirty-eight feet long and weighed about fifteen thousand pounds. More than one-third of the boats were knocked over until their masts paralleled the water. One-fourth were capsized entirely, many rolling over through a circle. Even the larger boats -- anoung them former prime minister Edward Heath's Morning Cloud and Ted Turner's Tenacious -- were battered. Many boats were damaged and some crews were badly injured.
Worse yet, six men were lost overboard and swept away when their safety harnesses broke. Nine others drowned or died of hypothermia in the cold water and air, either on board yachts or near life rafts that had capsized. In all, twenty-four crews abandonded their yachts, five of which sank. One hundred and thirty-six men and women were saved from sinking yachts, life rafts and the water itself by heroic helicopter crews, commercial and naval seamen, and fellow yachtsmen, and seventy yachtsmen were towed or escorted to safety by lifeboats.
What follows is the story of the case and the storm, told in the accounts of over seventy yachts and rescue vessels.
"This is the disintegrating power of a great wind: it isolates one from one's kind," Joseph Conrad wrote in Typhoon . Besides affection for the outdoors and competitiveness, one of the reasons why people undergo the rigors of racing boats out of sight of land in the opportunity that the sport offers for companionship. The Fastnet gale, however, showed how isolated and helpless we all can be. Human contact was difficult and and communication was impossible in the shrieking wind and and pounding seas. Even the security of the cabins was false, as galley stoves, tins of food, sails, and bodies flew from side to side below with every lurch and roll. While offshore racing had always been respected as a challenge, and, at worst, a risk, few people caught in the gale would have previously thought the sport to be actually dangerous. The realization that they, their shipmates, and their competitors were in danger dawned on the most unlucky sailors during the gale, and on many of the survivors after the storm passed and the fight for survival ended.
Acknowledging vulnerability has not driven this sailor from the sea. I had seen gales before the Fastnet race -- but none as bad -- and probably will see gales again -- I hope, none worse. Yet like many people at the turn of the decade, I feel considerably more aware of the limitations of both myself and of the increasingly complex technology that surrounds my sport and my life. Like many activities in late twentieth-century life, yachting apparantly has benefited from professionalism, specialization and rationality. In the year of famine in Southeast Asia, a revolution in Iran, and a frightening accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, the calamity in the Western Approaches seems to be yet another indication and our positivic faith in technology may be groundless. We appear to have been led by transitory successes into the heresy that we can completely manipulate our lives and our environments -- a modern version of the medieval doctrine of justification by works.
Hunger, religious fervor, and nuclear energy may eventually be channeled or controlled, but only with the deepest respect for their latent powers. More certainly, wind and water will again be used for emotionally satisfying ends, but only by people who acknowledge that catastrophe is always possible.
'Fastnet: Force 10'
This book was written in 1980, and the Fastnet disaster was front page news in England at the time:
The events that occurred in the Western Approaches on August 13, 14, 15 and 16 received immense international attention, and the accounts published at the time in many newspapers and magazines were important sources...
London -- Daily Express , Daily Mail , Daily Mirror , Daily Star , Daily Telegraph , Guardian , Lloyd's List , Observer , Sunday Telegraph ...
I don't find it coincidental that "Hounds of Love" was released in 1985. This is enough time to have written "The Ninth Wave" and the rest of the album and then record and release it. Kate certainly would have known about the Fastnet gale, and it's possible she actually read 'Fastnet: Force 10' .
Most of the clues are in "And Dream of Sheep" and "Hello Earth." Compare these passages:
My face is all lit up
My face is all lit up
If they find me racing white horses --
They'll not take me for a buoy
("And Dream of Sheep")
Yet with 600 feet of line dragging over the stern, Grimalkin was barely in control. She surfed wildly down the faces of waves like an elevator cut loose from its cable, and threatened to pitchpole, or somersault over her bow...
Ward... frantically looked to port and starboard for a flat spot to aim for... but all around was broiling white foam and ahead was a black wall -- the back of the next wave rising out of the narrow trough.
( 'Fastnet: Force 10' )
The "white horses" were the breaking Fastnet seas that destroyed five racing yachts and caused twenty-four crews to abandon their boats.
The storm that hit the Fastnet fleet was known to the meterologists. They had tracked it from the American Midwest all the way across the Atlantic. It was just much stronger than they anticipated, and took a turn to the south that they didn't expect:
Start to form
Can't do anything
Just watch them swing
With the wind
Out to sea
Compare that with John Rousmaniere's description:
The storm was born [on August 9] in the northern Great Plains of the United States, where hot air over baking wheat fields frequently tangles with cold Canadian air to produce tornadoes and violent thunderstorms.
On Friday [August 10]... seventy-eight boats boats competeting in the J/24 sailboat class were swept by unpredictable, violent gusts from the south-west and north-west. The boats finished the race under a black sky and made it safely into the protected harbor of Newport just before the Coast Guard issued an alert warning for all sailors to seek shelter.
Moving east at speeds as high as fifty knots, the swirling air was over Nova Scotia at about the time the Fastnet race started on Saturday [August 11], and was in the open Atlantic a day later.
In the predawn hours of Monday, August 13, the dangerous little depression changed course and headed northeast... British forecasters realized at about noon on Monday that Low Y [the Fastnet gale], swinging around Low X, would sweep across southern Ireland and the Western Approaches that night.
('Fastnet: Force 10' )
And I'll leave you with a description of force 10 conditions:
Force 10: Wind speed, forty-eight to fifty-five knots. Very high waves with long overhanging crests. The resulting foam in great patches is blown in dense white streaks along the direction of the wind. On the whole, the surface of the sea takes a white appearance. The tumbling of the sea becomes heavy and shocklike. Visibility affected.
"Beaufort scale of wind and sea conditions"
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 94 23:26 CDT
From: email@example.com (chris williams)
Subject: Re: The Ninth Wave
Many thanks to Henry Burdett Messenger@cup.portal.com for posting one of the cleverest pieces of Love-hounds detective work in years.
I can supply some collaboration. Kate has stated that she doesn't read much fiction, that her tastes tend to run to non-fiction. I am a bit out on a limb, but it really *seems* like the sort of thing that Kate *would* read, based on the sort of supposition that a friend might make about what sort of book to buy for a birthday present. (I'm *not* claiming that I'm one of Kate's friends, I'm just offering an opinion based on reading a whole *bunch* of interviews.)
And Kate does tend to let things bubble around in her subconcious for quite some time before writing about them. It was years *after* seeing the TV version of Wuthering Heights that she wrote the song. Same thing with the space between seeing The Innocents and writing The Infant Kiss, reading A Book Of Dreams and writing Cloudbusting , and other less well established inspirations. Suffice to say, a gap of five years between experience and response is not uncommon for Kate.
I got chills re-reading Kate's words in this new light. I'd say you have it exactly.
This is one of the best pieces of Love-hounds detective work since Jorn Barger's discovery of the original lyrics to The Sensual World .
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Serge Gorodish)
Date: 15 Aug 1994 11:15:49 GMT
Subject: Re: The Ninth Wave
> Many thanks to Henry Burdett Messenger@cup.portal.com for posting one of the cleverest pieces of Love-hounds detective work in years.
I'll second that: nice work! If this incident was truly Kate's inspiration for The Ninth Wave--and it seems hard to believe that it wasn't--this only confirms Kate's genius for turning the tragic into the beautiful.
On to The Ninth Wave (Unofficial) screenplay
written by Love-Hounds
compiled and edited
Sept 1995 June 1996