26 jul. 2012

CORTEZ BANK ... the biggest wave on earth ??

Cortes Bank is a shallow seamount - a barely submerged island in the North Pacific Ocean. It is about 100 miles (166 kilometers) west of Point Loma San Diego, USA, and about 50 miles (82 kilometers) south-west of San Clemente Island. It is considered the outermost feature in California's Channel Islands chain. At various times during geologic history, the Bank has been an island - depending on sea level rise and fall. The last time it was a substantial island was around 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. It is quite possible that this island was visited by the first human inhabitants of the Channel Islands - most notably San Clemente Island, whose seafaring residents would have been able to see "Cortes Island" from high elevations on clear days.
The shallower reaches of the Bank comprise about 15-18 miles of sandstone and basalt and they rise from the ocean floor from 1000 fathoms - or just over a mile in depth. The Bank has been described as a series of mountaintops, but really it is more of the shape of a wave-scoured mesa - with a few hard, basaltic high spots along its length. The shallowest peak, the Bishop Rock - rises to between 3 and 6 feet (1–2 m) from the surface, depending on the tides. On very low tides, the rock can be visible in the trough of passing waves. Other shoal spots besides the Bishop Rock also spawn giant waves. These shoals range in depth from 30 to 100 feet and are a hazard to shipping. Nine Fathom spot is about 4.5 miles (7 kilometers) northwest of Bishop Rock and also rises to about 54 feet (18 m) below the surface. Both are noted scuba diving locations featuring clear water, vast kelp forests and abundant sea life. The Bishop Rock also creates a renowned big-wave surfing spot recognized as being capable of producing some of the tallest surfable waves in the world.

has long been reported that the Cortes Bank was discovered in modern times by the captain of the sidewheel steamship Cortes, TP Cropper. In 1853, during a voyage from Panama to San Francisco, Cropper reported seeing the seas "in violent commotion" above an uncharted seamount that would eventually be named after the ship. Cropper at first thought he was above a volcano. However, it seems likely that the very first modern sighting of the Bank was not by Cropper but by US Navy Lt. James Alden and Captain (eventually Admiral) Jonathan "Mad Jack" Percival. This occurred on January 5, 1846. At that time, the frigate USS Constitution was passing well off the US West Coast from Monterey to see duty in the Mexican American War. The logbook of the Constitution from this day puts the ship in the vicinity of the Bank and reads: “At 4-20 (p.m.) discovered breakers bearing N.E. about 10 miles distant.”
Alden would eventually become an officer with the United States Coast Survey, an organization charged with mapping the U.S. coastline. In the wake of the Cortes sighting, and because of his own earlier sighting, Alden dispatched the crew of the USS Ewing to discover the source of the open ocean breakers. Under Alden's orders, Lt. TH Stevens discovered and mapped the location and a rough outline of the Bank, which was for years incorrectly named "Cortez Bank." Interestingly, though Stevens discovered waters around 54 feet deep, he failed to discover the dangerously shallow area around the Bishop Rock - and it does not show up on the first Coast Survey map published in 1853.
Bishop Rock is today marked by a nearby warning buoy. It was named for the clipper ship Stillwell S. Bishop that reportedly struck the rock in 1855, then continued to San Francisco with a patched hull. There is some uncertainty over whether the Bishop actually struck the rock, though the captain of the ship, William Shankland surely at least encountered waves along its periphery - likely in 1854. In the wake of the Bishop's voyage, James Alden placed a talented navigator and inveterate explorer from Wilmington, NC named Lt. Archibald MacRae, USN in command of the Ewing and dispatched him to discover the Bank's shoalest reach. On November 3, 1855, the New York Times carried the story "Dangerous Rock off the Coast of California," which reported MacRae's finding - and the fact that he and the crew of the ship had anchored a pair of casks bearing a flag to mark the spot. Two weeks after the story appeared, MacRae committed suicide aboard the Ewing in San Francisco Bay - shooting himself in the head with a large caliber Colt revolver - while anchored alongside Alden's ship, the USS Active.
Among other notable events in the history of the Cortes Bank is the fairly disastrous exploration of the Bank for treasure in 1957 by Mel Fisher. In 1985, Fisher discovered the treasure of the Atocha beneath the sea off the Florida Keys - the richest treasure ever found on the seafloor. In 1957, Fisher was convinced that the wreckage of a Spanish Galleon lay on the seafloor off the Bishop Rock. The expedition found no treasure, but the ship carrying Fisher nearly burned to her waterline.In the summer of 1961, a surfer named Harrison Ealey of Oceanside, California became one of the very first people to surf a wave at the Bishop Rock. In around 1973, surfer Ilima Kalama, father of famed big wave surfer Dave Kalama, nearly lost his life when the abalone fishing boat he was aboard sank on the Bishop Rock in the middle of the night.
There have been at least two efforts to turn the Cortes Bank into an island nation. The most notable and well-planned fiasco - and nearest success in accomplishing this - occurred in late 1966, when a team of entrepreneurs planned to turn the Cortes Bank into the constitutional monarchy of Abalonia. The general plan was to scuttle a WWII era concrete hulled freighter - probably the Tampa-built McClosky ship Richard Lewis Humphrey, which was later badged Jalisco in Mexico- atop the Bishop Rock in very shallow water and surround the ship with an ever expanding ring of boulders so she could be used as a seafood processing factory. The group reasoned that international maritime law would allow them to become the rulers of their own nation - because the Bank lay in international waters. The ship was instead destroyed atop the Bishop Rock by the same waves that are surfed today and her crew was nearly killed. The wreck of the Jalisco today lies beneath the surf zone in three pieces in 6 to 40 feet (2-12 m) of water, and is a diving location.
When another company planned to form a nation called Taluga, the US government declared that the bank, as part of the continental shelf, was US territory.
On 2 November 1985 the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) struck the Cortes Bank reef about one mile east of Bishop Rock, putting a 60-foot (18 m) gash in her outer hull on the port side, ripped-off her port keel, and severely deformed her outboard port propeller blades. She continued operations, then went into dry dock at Hunter's Point Shipyard for repairs.

[edit] Surfing.

“I’ve made some heavy missions out to Cortes Bank,” said Greg Long, one of the surfers who ventured out Saturday. “But this time, it was all on the line: The biggest storm. The biggest swell. The biggest buoy readings ever seen. And as far as the risk factor, it was off the charts.”
Long, a 25-year-old Californian, made these comments while watching a video of the experience with the surfers who had joined him: Grant Baker, 34; Brad Gerlach, 41; and Mike Parsons, 42.
They sling-shotted one another from behind their 140-horsepower Jet Skis onto some of biggest swells ever ridden. They gawked as Parsons froze the screen on an image of an avalanche of water swatting him like a fly. “We couldn’t go fast enough,” Long said. “The waves were moving so fast that it felt like we were moving backwards.”
Before the first storm passed the Cortes Bank, surfers were stunned that weather-buoy readings showed massive swells that had the potential to become breaking waves of 80 to 100 feet. As they studied the weather maps, Parsons, Long and the surfing forecaster Sean Collins thought there might be a brief period of calm between storms.
“They had this tiny window,” Collins said, adding that if the weather had changed it would have created poor surfing conditions.
The surfers committed to the trip just as the big storm roared to land late Friday. But, Long said, he woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday to calm winds. The surfers converged at dawn on the Dana Point Harbor between San Diego and Los Angeles with the surf photographer Rob Brown and a videographer, Matt Wybenga. When they left midmorning, the ocean was still so disrupted that they could carry only one of the two Jet Skis aboard Brown’s boat. So the surfers, wearing an emergency survival suit, took turns following the boat in the other Jet Ski.
About 50 miles offshore, the weather continued to ease while the deep swells continued to grow. Just past noon the surfers cautiously launched their Jet Skis toward the waves.
“We looked out to the north at these giant mountains of water,” Gerlach said. “And the wind was just perfect. It was creating these giant, giant tubes.”
In the past seven years, all four surfers have either won or been nominated for Billabong XXL Awards, considered the top honor among the big-wave set. Gerlach, Long and Parsons are considered the most experienced surfers of Cortes Bank. Several waves, they said, far eclipsed anything they had ever seen.
The surfers traded vast, swooping carves and dropped down vertical blue walls 80 feet high or more at perhaps 45 miles an hour — faster than they had ever surfed. They rode cautiously, they said, realizing the consequences of a collision with a 20-pound, lead-weighted surfboard, or a harrowing pummeling beneath the dense foam.
“There was so much water moving, and so much turbulence, that you could have had a worst-case scenario of a guy getting flushed through the white water and you simply might have never found him,” Baker said.
Still, Baker and Parsons endured horrifying wipeouts, managing to bob to the surface thanks to their flotation vests. Then with Gerlach precariously skiing behind him on his foot-strap-equipped surfboard, Parsons was unable to outrun a giant wave — even with his ski at full throttle. After they were driven under water and tossed around, the surfers and the Jet Ski emerged, sputtering but unscathed.
The surfers waited until it was nearly dark before they headed back to shore, barely outrunning the second storm before pulling into the harbor entrance at midnight.
When asked to gauge the size of the biggest waves, Baker pointed to a poster of Parsons that promoted the 2002 surf movie “Billabong Odyssey.” The photo was of a stunning Cortes Bank ride that XXL judges deemed greater than 60 feet high.
“That doesn’t even come close to what we were seeing,” Baker said.
Long added: “It just all came together. Definitely the best surf session of my life.”

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