Freak waves can be a vast ship-killer. However, as Pete Goss discovered, their baby brother could easily lurk off Cornwall's coast.

Salvage tug captain Nick Sloane can claim a library of feats of derring do amongst freak waves. He even salvaged the Costa Concordia, which was a wonder of engineering.

If you haven’t done so, check out the YouTube footage of this astonishing accomplishment. I had the great pleasure of sitting next to him at a dinner in London recently.

Capt Sloane introduced me to The Wave by Susan Casey; a fascinating book about big- wave surfers in which Nick is featured.

It dives into the psychology of this obsessive crowd and their relationship with the sea, ranging from the spiritual respect of Laird Hamilton to a younger, perhaps shallower hunger for fame and fortune.

It digs into the complex science of wave formation and the researchers who are wrestling with this growing area of interest.

It turns out to be extremely complex, particularly when it comes to freak waves which we now know, through satellite imagery, to be more common than we thought.

Looking back I think I might have experienced a freak wave off the Cornish coast in 1985. We were tooling along in the sunshine with full main and poled-out headsail as we recovered from a brutal Biscay crossing.

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Falling into freak waves: ‘A cavernous hole appeared under the bow’

The warmth of the sun on my back was wonderful. There was a huge residual swell but it didn’t detract from what felt like a balmy day.

Suddenly, with no sound or other indication, the sea humped up behind the boat. All proportion was thrown out the window.

Looking forward a cavernous hole appeared under the bow and we seemingly plunged off the edge of the world.

Wrapping my arm around the tiller I found myself standing on the forward cockpit bulkhead and leaning back into the cockpit seat.

I can still remember the horror of that plummet into the unknown. The headsail backwinded with a crack at the velocity. The hatches were open to dry out the boat.

If we didn’t sink we would certainly pitch pole. I wasn’t wearing my lifejacket. Time stood still. With a shudder we buried to the mast and teetered on the fulcrum of fate.

Cascading water, we popped back out of its grip like a cork. Rather than a feeling of release or reversal, I was left with a sense of the sea relaxing back to normal around us.

The glitch, this pent up knot of energy looking for release, had found its escape, its energy dissipating in its heave for the heavens.

Suddenly, back sailing in that lovely balmy day, we were looking at each other for reassurance that it had happened at all. A pervasive unease troubled the rest of what remained an unremarkable trip.

We clipped on with one of us facing aft to watch for further anomalies.

Freak waves are defined as being at least twice as high as the significant wave height in the area. It can, but doesn’t have to, be a vast ship killer; its baby brother can just as easily be lurking off the coast of Cornwall.

Over time, through a sense of relief, the experience subsumed into one of those oddities that I would return to now and then. I now think it was a rogue wave.

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