Whirlpools that go bump in the night

pgeweather@pge.comJuly 13, 2013 

As a young child, I had a recurring nightmare of being sucked into a whirlpool at sea.  In reality, the vast majority of whirlpools are not very powerful. They are usually caused by underwater currents that are forced to rotate, by some under-water obstacle. They tend not to be the possessions of my nightmares of enormous circular vortexes that reach the bottom of the ocean pulling in everything in sight.
Whirlpools can often be seen at Deception Pass in Washington State where strong tidal currents give rise to energetic swirling whirlpools, and roiling eddies.
Some of the strongest whirlpools on earth occur in the Saltstraumen located on the west coast of Norway. The Saltstraumen is a narrow strait were over 500,000,000 cubic yards of seawater is forced through a 500 foot wide, two mile long strait with daily high and low tides; water speeds in the strait can reach 22 knots or about 25 mph. The strong currents generate large whirlpools or Maelströms up to 33 feet in diameter and 16 feet in depth!  Kind of like the stuff of my childhood nightmares.
In 1881 Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story called "A Descent into the Maelström". In his story, a supposedly old man recounts how he survived a shipwreck and a whirlpool. In the Poe tale the man confesses "You suppose me a very old man”, he says, “but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves."
Needless to say, this American writer and master of tales of terror always seemed to resonate with me. In the last months of his life Poe started to write again about stormy seas and those lost there in a story unofficially called: The Lighthouse. Upon his death, it was only 4 pages long.
About 160 years later, local movie director and writer Benjamin Cooper completed the story. The adaptation expands on Poe’s story and tells the tale of a ship sailing along the coast at night while an intense storm with gigantic waves rages. The ship runs aground on a rocky shoreline due to the fact that the single beacon at the lighthouse was not lit.

The story was adapted as a screenplay by Carl Edge. With permission and oversight by the Port San Luis Harbor District and the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers, Benjamin Cooper, produced, directed and filmed the movie at the Point San Luis Lighthouse this past June and early July. The movie stars Vernon g Wells, who you might recognize from Mad Max or Commando, as the lighthouse keeper along with a cast of other characters.  The movie is expected to be released early next year. And luckily for me doesn’t involve any whirlpools.

For more on the movie visit http://www.lighthousekeepermovie.com  For information about the Point San Luis Lighthouse visit www.sanluislighthouse.org
Land stewardship is important to PG&E. The company manages 12,820 acres that surround Diablo Canyon Power Plant. This has allowed for coastal hiking trails open to public use, including the Pecho Coast Trail that leads to the restored Point San Luis Lighthouse. To learn more about these preserved lands, visit www.pge.com.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and a longtime local meteorologist. If you have a question, send him an email at pgeweather@pge.com.


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