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Rouge Waves - Sailboats
From what I''ve read (not experienced), it depends a great deal on the shape of the wave and if it is breaking. Even if the wave form is relatively steep, the boat may not have too many issues with rising over it. If the wave is breaking, it''s a totally different story, because the breaking part of the wave is going to have a nasty effect on the extent of your exposed freeboard, etc. Thus, the idea of taking it at an angle with your bow, or adjusting course to try to avoid the breaking part of the wave.
I bow to others with real experience, however. In terms of the cruise ship, I believe it was hit a large, breaking wave.