This is a copy of the article published in Yachting Monthly
My wife and
I had traveled the Intracoastal Waterway from Key West to Norfolk, Virginia, in our Moody 36, - Bambola Quatre, then cruised Chesapeake Bay, up the Potomac River to Washington DC. From the mouth of the Potomac to Washington took two and a half days. Once under the final bridge (with 2ft to spare above the vhf antenna), we anchored near a metro station five minutes from the center of Washington.
After three wonderful weeks being tourists I had to return to the UK for a short time so
decided to leave the boat in a cheap
and safe marina not far from Baltimore Airport. We
needed to get back under the bridge at dead
Low Water so I started the engine and switched on my handheld VHF in order to communicate with commercial shipping. Then the US Coast Guard issued a storm warning, advising all boats in the Washington area to seek shelter so I dropped
the hook again.
I stood in the cockpit in the pouring rain, bare feet, in shorts and T shirt with water splashing around my ankles counting the sound of thunder claps. They were some 4 seconds apart, then 3 then two. Within five minutes the wind piped up and even in the sheltered anchorage it gusted to 45 knots. Just as suddenly it dropped the thunder claps were only a second apart and then there was an explosive bang: Like a huge artillery piece going off. A giant thunderclap directly overhead.
My wife screamed.
Drenching rain reduced visibility to a few yards and I saw plastic debris falling on to the deck. The wind came up again quickly to around gale force and went round 180°. The anchor started to drag.
I motored into the wind to take the strain off the anchor and keep us from the very nearby
lee shore. The engine alarm went off and I saw it
was overheating. Shutting it down and running forward, I threw the second anchor into the water and paid out chain and warp. We stopped about 6 metres from a concrete wall.
I went below to find out why the engine had overheated and I heard the little domestic radio receiving VHF transmissions -which it was not supposed to do.
Then it died.
My wife who really does not like boats or cruising, asked if it
was normal for her hair to stand on end? I did not realise she was speaking literally.
The main VHF glowed for a moment, then died. The SSB had switched itself on but the display
was blank. That was when I realised our yacht
had taken a direct lightning hit.
On deck again I found the wind instruments were all out and the masthead was
bare. The VHF antenna and wind direction/speed unit were gone; lying beside the
cockpit were the remains of the Hawk wind indicator.
People watching from the marina said a fireball had hovered around our masthead. It had been a severe strike. We were lucky to be alive.
In the engine room, investigating
the overheating problem, I decided that the
thermostat must have failed. With the nuts removed
I found that the steel engine bolts had
frozen themselves on to the alloy thermostat housing.
Close examination showed a core plug had cracked and was blown half out of the manifold. I was definitely not going to move
the boat that day.
We went ashore and I e-mailed the
information to Pantaenius, my insurance company. I also e-mailed an order to ASAP for a core plug and thermostat housing.
Next morning I spoke to Mike, the Pantaeneus Claims Manager, who was considerate and very helpful. His
advice: find a suitable marine electronics
yard to do the repairs -possibly in Annapolis - and
he would authorise them and send a surveyor.
He warned me to be careful moving the boat as occasionally lightning strikes damage the skin fittings and allows a major ingress of water.
I called ASAP to confirm that the order was on its way and found that it wasn't - I'd
asked for it to be sent FedEx and at £30 to ship it
(the order was only worth £ 12) they had considered it too expensive. I told them it was essential to have the
part by Friday. I
then went to find Bill, the excellent local mechanic, who said he would try to find a suitable core plug locally.
and I discovered the
'house' batteries were going flat. The battery control system was out. The multimeter showed that there was nothing coming out of the solar
midday and the wind generator
refused to function. We now
had no engine, no solar or wind power and some shorts in the system were pulling the house batteries
To my horror I
found that, because it
was late June, all the repair facilities in Annapolis and Baltimore were at full stretch. Then 1 was recommended to a company in Cambridge. Maryland, called
Mid-Shore Electronics .The owner Marty, said that if I could get to Cambridge,
on the eastern side
of Bay. by the weekend, they
could haul me out on Monday.
Pantaeneus told me he would
arrange for a surveyor lo be there on Monday. I called ASAP to be told that FedEx had not been able to guarantee the
core plug delivery by Friday so the order had not been dispatched in case it was too late -but I would get it on Monday next.
Bill, the local mechanic, found that no local US core plugs fitted my block so he would
try to get one engineered.
It was very
hot and the house batteries
were very flat. I was keeping my finger crossed that the
engine battery would have enough power to let me start up. Then I realised I didn't have an echo sounder. The Potomac and frequently the Chesapeake are very shallow with
anchorages that your creep into with just inches below your keel.
Bill drove me
10 miles to
West Marine where
I purchased a
Fishfinder echo sounder: it would have been almost impossible to motor-sail the 150 miles from to Cambridge, including overnight anchoring without it.
Monday dawned but
the FedEx parcel did not. However, on
Tuesday at 1000 the
delivery happened and by 1100 the engine was assembled. By 1130 we were u under way - and no longer concerned with the low
Bambola’s mast height had been reduced by the loss of the VHF antenna by 3ft.
days of motor sailing we entered the Choplack River, arriving at the yard in Cambridge, Maryland 10 minutes after it closed for the weekend.
from Mid-Shore Electronics arrived on Monday and went through the boat with me - virtually every
electrical item had been damaged.
had installed almost every bit of the
electronic equipment myself and it was
painful to see the results of so much time and effort destroyed.
Charles, the Pantaenius-appointed surveyor, arrived.
Quatre was hauled,
Marty was authorised to carry
out the work and Pantaeneus transferred a deposit. The final cost to Pantaeneus was $37.000 (about £23.000). II cost me almost four months' cruising and my deductible £1,000, plus 30% of the
cost of the new radar and VHF which were both more than 10 years old. Incidental costs such as air fares, car
hire and phone
calls have added around another£1.000.
I was lucky that everything in the boat was properly bonded to keel bolts, Dyna plate, sacrificial anodes and prop shaft.
My mast support is stainless and bonded to keel bolts in the hull. There was a lot of discoloration between the foot of the mast and the deck plate.
I recently delivered a brand new boat – a Bavaria - to the Mediterranean and was surprised to see that the bonding of the electronics was non-existent.