Excerpt from The Vortex by Scott Carney , Jason Miklian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Vortex

A True Story of History's Deadliest Storm, an Unspeakable War, and Liberation

by Scott Carney , Jason Miklian

The Vortex by Scott Carney , Jason Miklian X
The Vortex by Scott Carney , Jason Miklian
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2022, 528 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 14, 2023, 272 pages

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The catch was that the radio operator had to actually find another ship's signal. As far as Nesari could tell, there wasn't a single transmission coming from anywhere in the Bay of Bengal. This meant that if the Mahajagmitra proceeded onwards it would be the first to brave the swells. It would be their job to report back to other vessels contemplating the journey.

Barring radio contact, Nesari had only one other tool to understand the weather system: Buys Ballot's law. In 1857, the Dutch meteorologist Charles Buys Ballot invented a method for determining the direction of a storm. He wrote that if a sailor in the Northern Hemisphere stood on deck with his back to the wind, he could use his senses like a human compass. The pressure would be low on his right and high on his left, which meant that his right hand would point to the center of the system—the most dangerous part. As long as Nesari could steer clear of that point, they'd avoid the most intense wind and waves. The ship and its crew would be safe, and they'd save valuable days at sea.

The problem was that Buys Ballot's law was really more of a guideline than a law. It was about as accurate as navigating through crowded Calcutta streets using only the North Star as a guide, which is to say, it was not very accurate at all. Nevertheless, Nesari walked out onto the deck, turned his back to the growing gale, and guessed that the Mahajagmitra would make it safely through.

It was his call.

An hour later, the ship reached Gasper Light, a repeating signal tower that marked the last point on the river system before open water. Das recorded in his log that the ship was in fine sailing shape after he handed control back over to the captain. Das also noted that the waves were growing and the weather was "not at all good" but "not so bad as to make boating impossible." With those mixed messages he left out any mention of whether he agreed with Nesari's decision to push out into the bay. His job done, Das disembarked, then watched as the Mahajagmitra's silhouette diminished in the distance, until it was just a dark speck on a sinister orange-green horizon.

The ship moved forward under Nesari's confident hand. He'd worked on oceangoing vessels like this one for most of his career and knew every compartment, bolt, and line of rope on board, but this storm already felt different from any other he'd pushed through. The wheel pulled against his hand, and it became more and more difficult to keep his ship on course. First mate Machado tried to comfort his wife as the ship rocked back and forth on the waves. Perhaps he told her that this was a large ship and they would be fine.

The Mahajagmitra's engines strained as the boat pitched through the churn. Though there was no way for Captain Nesari to know it, he was sailing directly into the center of a cyclone. The vortex cast a wide disk of clouds spanning almost the entirety of the Bay of Bengal, an expanse of water about the same size as Texas. The swirling storm gathered strength from warm waters and conjured winds that screamed across the sea at a hundred and forty miles an hour.

The system whirled around a perfectly still eye. Clouds spun like the hands of a clock turning backward, yet inside the eye, the winds fell to a whisper. Here, an impenetrable cloud wall touched the sky as it rotated slowly. This gyre fed on the power of the earth itself, dragging the ocean along its rotation so that the sea formed a gigantic whirlpool, pulling everything toward one ultimate point.

An hour after Das disembarked, a nearby ship named the Desh Alok picked up the dots and dashes of a distress call from the Mahajagmitra's transmitter. The radio operator deciphered the line of Morse code inside his damp radio room:

AFRAID OF DRIFTING INTO STORM CENTER.

Captain Nesari didn't know it yet, but his ship had already crossed the point of no return—the storm's event horizon. Its fate was sealed as if it were light entering into a black hole.

Excerpted from The Vortex by Scott Carney and Jason Miklian. Copyright © 2022 by Scott Carney and Jason Miklian. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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