George Hampson

Oceanographer Emeritus
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


During the winter in New England, right choices "comes hard" and often people get caught at sea in a storm with no place to "run and hide".  

Such was the case on the Oceanus during a Biology trip in the North Atlantic during the late 70's.  As the seas built, Captain Paul Howland cancelled all sampling, and secured all gear and outside hatches.  No one allowed on deck without permission.  The storm was worse than we expected and we used just enough power to keep our bow into the 20-foot seas.

I soon learned first hand, that the Oceanus lived up to her record as a safe ship in a any storm.  We stayed in a holding pattern for over 24 hours steering into the seas.  Occasionally during meal times we "came about" and steered with the seas for the "quiet runs".  Ironically, the R/V Endeavor was positioned not far from us and "crept over" to join us riding the storm...... just in case!

During one of the captains "come about " warnings, I crept up to the bridge to observe how this went.... how the helmsman picked the right time to turn about.  There were these huge "straight up" waves breaking over our bow, and then came a short reprieve ahead..with 15-foot  crests.  The Captain gave the call, and a deck hand cranked the ship around, adding a little power.  Within 30 seconds and a slight pitching and rolling, it was all over and now heading downstream.  My thoughts: the art of the Captain's timing and the ship's seaworthiness.... a perfect match.