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Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page P01

cruise news

Riding the Rogue

Rogue waves like the 70-foot monster that hit the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship this month are more common than CoGo would have guessed, but are less likely to cross paths with a ship than CoGo imagined.

Oceanographers until several years ago believed rogue waves were part of folklore, said David Feit of the Ocean Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But then the European Space Agency erected satellites to scan the oceans, and found 10 rogue waves in three weeks. Luckily they don't last long or go far, and are spread over Earth's 139 million square miles of ocean. That, noted Feit, makes the odds of their crossing paths with a ship "extraordinarily small."

Rogue waves are defined not by size, but by being unexpected. Given stormy weather conditions the day the rogue wave smashed windows on the Norwegian Dawn, the averagehighest waves should have been about 24 feet. One wave out of 1,000 might have been as high as 48 feet. Beyond that, you've got a rogue.

Scientists do not yet understand the physics of rogue waves. Beyond knowing that they tend to occur along the eastern boundaries of continents where there are currents like the Gulf Stream, they can't predict them. But given the ocean's vastness, don't worry, says Feit.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet added that cruise ships are "built to high survivability standards," and noted that "all passengers on the Dawn were okay in the end."

They also got half of their money back, and half off a future cruise.


Acela Watch

Amtrak will add 13 Metroliners daily to its D.C.-to-New York schedule to substitute for the 15 Acela trains that will be out of commission until summer. Although that's two fewer trains per day, Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski said the company anticipates that it will be able to accommodate all passengers wishing to travel.

Officials last week could not offer an official timetable for fixing the brake problem that has sidetracked the high-speed trains, but said they hope to begin phasing in trains by summer as each is fixed. In the meantime, customers will lose a bit of time but gain a bit of cash. Acela trains were scheduled to make the D.C.-to-New York run in 2 hours 25 minutes; Metroliners generally take 20 minutes longer, but sometimes the difference is closer to 10 minutes. Prices for the Acela ranged from $126 to $157 each way; the Metroliner ranges from $109 to $137.

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