The Perfect Storm

A discussion of science and suspense in “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger.

This paper reviews the novel “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger in about the loss of the boat Andrea Gail with all hands. It examines how the author lays down facts surrounding its disappearance and then increases the reader’s understanding of what may have happened with accounts of the experiences of those who survived the October storm and other similar ones. It also looks at how he offers a layman-friendly explanation of scientific phenomena and describes not only the creation of storms, the nature of the Atlantic fishing industry and the mechanics of drowning, but also the physics of wave action and the behavior of vessels under storm conditions. By educating the reader, he makes the loss of the boat and the series of events that led to its disappearance seem suspenseful, a challenge in a book with a fore-gone conclusion.
The consequence of such enormous height is that the wave will become unstable and break when the ratio of wave height divided by wave length is larger than or equal to one divided by seven. When the period between waves is also abbreviated, as it was in the high-velocity winds that battered the Andrea Gail, the chance of the waves’ breaking is also increased. To make matters worse, the higher the wave, the greater the extent of its angled face; a 45-foot wave might have a 60 to 70-foot face, but a 70-foot wave has an angled face of 100 feet or more. (Junger, page 115) With a short period between waves, a boat the size of the Andrea Gail would be unlikely to be able to get up the 100-foot face before the crest broke on her.