Lightning Strike

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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.

 

Tuesday dawned 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 panel at 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 down.

 

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.

 

 

Mike at 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 bridge as Bambola’s mast height had been reduced by the loss of the VHF antenna by 3ft.

After two days of motor sailing we entered the Choplack River, arriving at the yard in Cambridge, Maryland 10 minutes after it closed for the weekend.

 Marty from Mid-Shore Electronics arrived on Monday and went through the boat with me - virtually every electrical item had been damaged.  I 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.

 

Bambola 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.

French Canal Routes to the Mediterranean

Gentle Sailing Route to the Mediterranean

Gentle Mediterranean Routes to the Islands

For books and French canal charts please go to

  gentlesailing.com

                  

Strait Sailing to Gibraltar

Living Aboard Around the World

Easy Navigation

French Fluviacarte Canal Charts

Home Up Sailing Experience Lightning Attacked Victual Red Sea Pirates Watch Keeping Crewing Atlantic Medical Canal Routes to Med Panama Canal Bambola PROUT OWNERS ASSOCIATION Eloise Diary Blue Water Destinations Canals Trip Canal du Midi Log Biscay log Book Helicopter Rescue 1st Time with VHF Boat Import CE plate ELOISE Prout Quest 33 E BOOKS BOATS SPANISH LAWS  FOR BOATS North Spain West Coast France La Rochelle Storm Damage Admiralty Charts Avon Life Rafts help our cousins? AIS