Rogue Waves, Wanderers of the Sea

In February 1933, on its way from San Diego to Manila, the US Navy ship Ramapo was caught in the teeth of a relentless storm. The wind had slowly gathered momentum across thousands of nautical miles of the open Pacific, piling up monstrous swells: twenty feet, then thirty, then higher. On the seventh day of the storm, with the east wind howling at sixty knots, the swells grew to an average of fifty feet. Every fifteen seconds a new behemoth — large as a five-story office building — shouldered its way into the stern.

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Late in Heart of Darkness, after Marlow has meandered deep into the jungle but before he meets Kurtz, who utters his now-famous judgement upon human nature, The horror! The horror! – before this, the most famous scene in twentieth century literature, Marlow finds himself making necessary repairs to the ship. He ruminates on these activities as distractions from the shadows around him, from the haunting underbelly of his own nature that he sees in the wilderness around him, in the passionate abandon of the local tribes-people. Here’s the full passage:

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Casco, The Ship of Robert Louis Stevenson

They were led, one at a time, from the smoky dark of the hold and up the narrow companionway. Each man was flanked by a crew-member who spoke in clipped and rushing tones. The ship was quiet, the sails slack.The men in the hold waited, unsure of what was happening. Dread spread among them. They did not speak the language of the crew, though they understood perfectly the gestures of the guns.

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