The 'yellow thing' that sits in the lake.

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The Beach Strip
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The Hamilton Spectator
August 22, 2000


Paul Wilson
StreetBeat/ 526-3391
It's a Hamilton landmark. Except most people don't know what it is,
"We get somebody asking every day," says Rick Creechan, manager of Hutch's eatery on the Beach Strip.
"A lot of customers think it's some kind of oil rig."
There is no black gold on our sandy shores, but there are mysteries to be studied. And that is why nearly 25 years ago, the National Water Research Institute installed a platform 1.2 kilometres offshore.
It became part of Hamilton's waterscape on March 26,1976. Officially, it is called the NWRI Waves Tower. We turn to Jim Bull, head of engineering, for the hard numbers.
The structure cost $75,000 to construct, $12,000 to install. It sits in 15 metres of water. It has two decks and the lower one is 3.6 metres above water. The top deck is 6.1 metres above water, with an area of 85 square metres, about the same floor space as a classic east end bungalow.
Some of the most interesting research is done when it's rough and stormy. That's also when it's hardest to make it out to the platform. No problem. Data is fed to a trailer on the beach via buried cables.
When Hurricane Opal hit five years ago, waves crashed over the platform's top deck and damaged equipment. After that storm, they did have to replace a section of I-beam, but ice is the big threat.
Vandals have not been a problem. At the security desk in the Canada Centre for Inland Waters beneath the Skyway, there is a speaker. Sometimes it carries the sounds of seagulls. But if some boisterous boaters are trying to clamber on to the platform, the guard hears that, too.
He then flips on the microphone and in a voice just like those radio ads for Alarm Force security systems, he says, "This structure is the property of the Government of Canada. Please leave immediately."
The platform was erected to study waves, to explore the complex relationship between wind and water.
Many of us didn't know it was complex. It's windy and you get waves.
NWRI research scientist Michael Skafel tells us it is much more than that and we will believe him. He has been studying water and how it moves for about 25 years.
"A lot has been learned in the 70s and '80s about the relationship between wind and waves," he says. 'There were a lot of gaps in our knowledge. It's not easy to come up with good quantitative relationships."
But when you can put sophisticated instruments on to a platform in the middle of the waves, that kind of study is possible. The relationship between wind and waves depends on three major factors: the wind speed, the duration of the wind, and the fetch — the distance over which the wind has acted on the water.
So if the meteorologist can predict the wind speed, that can be plugged in for a good estimate on wave size. And waves are important if you're a boater. In the longer term, they matter when you're looking at erosion.
But surely you can only study waves for so long. And indeed, the platform has not been as busy in the last live or six years. There has been work on how toxic chemicals move from the air to the water. But there are no studies taking place on the platform now.

It was built to last 15 years. But unless it gets damaged, it's likely to remain on our horizon for some time yet. Maintenance costs are minimal, just an annual check of the structure and a paint job every two years.
The platform is for rent. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Finnish Marine Institute have used it. So have the universities of Miami, Toronto and Washington. The Canadian Navy did radar studies there. The platform cannot be rented by the general public, not for fishing, not for parties, not for viewing the waves. But recreational wave watching is a sport Michael Skafel endorses. "The first thing I do is make sure I'm watching from a safe place," he says. "Many people don't know there are things such as a rogue wave." At Peggy's Cove, tourists have been swept into the ocean by a sudden large, or rogue, wave. Around here, Skafel likes to do his viewing at Burlington's Spencer Smith Park. You get lots of breaking waves and good "reflected" waves. They bounce, or reflect, off the breakwall instead of being destroyed. So just stand there. Let a symphony fill your head, let the waves crash, let the roar wash your worries away.
StreetBeat appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
E-mail address: pwilson@hamiltonspectator.com.

Photo#1- Forum photo, the cormorants have a another home.

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Photo#2- JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR
Stephen Acudi of Hamilton studies the mysterious structure that stands off Hamilton's shore. Hutch's restaurant staff say they're asked about it a lot.

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