Pots and pans rattle. The television slides back and forth. Each time the bow of the Albatross IV slides up over the crest of a wave, something inside the 187-foot vessel bangs or rolls.

Twenty seconds later, when the bow descends into the valley of the next wave, the pots and pans bang back and forth again.

On this day, Sunday, April 3, the ship is on Georges Bank, more than 100 miles east of Cape Cod, so far from land it is not worth seeking shelter. The ship rides the waves at Cultivator Shoal, once a prime fishing area.


A dark gray sky hangs over the vessel. Rain lashes the pilot house, covering the windows with sheets of water. At times, the ocean turns black. Fog cuts visibility to a few hundred yards. The ship's fog horn sounds every two minutes.

This is Capt. Jack McAdam's last trip as skipper of the Albatross IV. And it will be his worst.

"This particular day, the confused seas just wouldn't quit," Captain McAdam will write later in a memo to the crew. "I would estimate the seas at eight feet with some up to 12 feet and coming from every direction: E, SE, S, SW. It was impossible to pick a primary swell direction. The Albatross IV is famous for its corkscrew rolling when the conditions are right. We took a roll and almost buried the port rail."

There is nowhere to hide offshore when a great ocean storm comes up from the south, loaded with warm moisture and mixing with cold air in the north. With no land nearby, air and water can cook up a pretty good tempest. And Georges Bank is a kettle where some of the worst storms are brewed.

Captain McAdam, who has spent 32 years working with scientists and taking them out to sea, will shortly shift to a desk job elsewhere in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But first he must get through this storm.

It is not the perfect storm, but it is pretty close. The waves are not only huge but chaotic when combined with fast currents and a changing tide.


The captain is stymied on which direction to point the ship to minimize the rocking and rolling.

Georges Bank is shallow water, the captain says. When strong, deep ocean currents encounter the bank, they have to go somewhere. "It is like pushing the same amount of water over a mountain," he says.

At one point that evening, the captain is thrown from his bed. The rug burns his elbow as he slides on the floor of his cabin.

A cup of coffee on the dining room table cannot stand by itself; a lost pen rolls across the floor. Orange juice sloshes around in the juice dispenser in the dining room, and it is not unlike watching a washing machine in wash cycle. Climbing stairs poses a challenge, like climbing a tree in a high wind when the branches are moving.

Fourteen scientists hunker down, dressed in street clothes. Some are in their cabins napping. Some are in the recreational room watching a movie - but even that is no escape. The television slides back and forth on its shelf.


For those who stay below, the cabin porthole offers no views, because most of the time the porthole is under water.

A few on board are seasick. In this storm, queasiness hits even the saltiest crew members.

Chris Mayo, a crewman and a fisherman from Maine, gently coaches a scientist who is not feeling well. It takes the body a while to adapt at sea, he says.

Mr. Mayo knew the weather would deteriorate even before the forecast came over the radio. Days earlier, he noticed sea birds were no longer following the ship.

"When there are no birds, that is not a good sign," the fisherman says. "They know they got to be somewhere else."


The 42-year-old ship left Woods Hole on Tuesday, March 29. At 3 p.m. the vessel had its last sight of land for 10 days, the tiny island of Noman's Land.

By nightfall, the ship had encountered the first of the storms that would mark the trip.

Three days later, on Friday, April 1, the ship is at Little Georges, 126 miles southeast of the Vineyard.

It is raining and the seas are starting to build.

The National Weather Service forecasts gale force winds. They start from the east, then shift to southeast and gust to 55 miles per hour.

Waves build to 12 feet. Visibility drops to 150 feet in fog.

"It is bad weather when the sea gulls fly high," says Tony Vieira, 55, a professional fisherman by trade, who with others is in charge of operating the vessel's research net.


"It gets pretty bad on Georges during a storm," says Sean Lucey, 26, a watch chief scientist. "You can't get on the lee of anything. The waves seem to come from all directions."

At about 8 p.m. on Sunday Mr. Lucey is tossed across the deck when a rogue wave hits the ship and rolls across the deck. His forehead is cut and he is bleeding. An alert goes across the ship.

Mr. Lucey makes his way to the science lab, where Rob Wint, an engineer and a trained emergency medical technician, offers help.

Word goes around among the scientists: Do not venture outside until the weather improves.

Captain McAdam writes about the incident later in his storm memo to the scientists and crew: "Water came aboard through a freeing port, swept the deck . . . he lost his balance and came to rest on one of the spare nets. He had a small laceration on his eyebrow and bruised his ribs."


As they wait out the storm aboard the Albatross IV, crew members tell tales from the high seas.

"My brother Manuel used to own the New England, a 77-foot stern rig steel hull fishing boat," Mr. Vieira says. The fishing boat was run over by an 800-foot Greek freighter.

"It was in summer fog," Mr. Vieira recalls. "There were five on board. Only two survived. My brother and the mate survived. The rest of the crew were below deck."

On Sunday evening, April 3, with the storm quieting down, the satellite television reports the death of Pope John Paul II. Gannets return and follow close by the stern of the ship. Sunshine appears the next day.

Captain McAdam later puts the Georges storm into perspective. "Cape Hatteras can be wicked bad, too," he says.