Thunderbolts & Lightning, Very, Very Frightening …

Perhaps there are times when you wish your mast was a little shorter!

This month we are running an article about lightning at sea written by cruiser and regular All At Sea contributor Rosie Burr. It’s never our intention to frighten people but occasionally lightning strikes do happen. And it’s no comfort knowing that in a lightning storm the mast of your sailboat is the highest thing around and the masthead is arcing across the sky like a beckoning finger.

I have had several encounters with lightning at sea and my boat was once struck while at anchor, the lightning hitting the wind generator and melting the blades! I wasn’t on board but did see it happen and the puff of brown smoke as the lightning struck. Another close encounter happened in Boqueron on the west coast of Puerto Rico. A thunderstorm built over the anchorage and the mast of the boat not a hundred yards from us took a direct hit. The boat’s owner told me how seconds before he had been sitting below with his feet propped against the mast and had just removed them when the lighting struck. He said a ball of light shot out of the bottom of the mast and across the cabin. The strike also fried all his electronics and actually blew some of them right off the shelf.

While single-handing south of the Canary Islands, I was caught in a massive thunder storm and lightning was skewering the sea all around the boat. A strong smell of ozone filled the air and it was the first time I had seen St. Elmo’s fire dancing in the rigging. (Strange, how beauty can be found at the heart of a storm.) When I touched the stainless guard wires my fingers tingled. Was I scared? You bet, and with no one to share it with spent much of the time in the fetal position on the cabin sole with a pillow over my head feeling extremely sorry for myself.

Thunderbolts Lightning: Caribbean Editor's Log: Gary Brown, Perhaps there are times when you wish your mast was a little shorter!
Perhaps there are times when you wish your mast was a little shorter!

At various times lightning protectors and preventers have found their way onto the market and I remember seeing what I can only describe as a broom-like apparatus, complete with bristles, protruding from a few mastheads in the past. Steel boats are said to fare better in lightning storms because of the Faraday Cage effect. Steel boat or not, you need strong nerves to feel comfortable in a lightning storm at sea.

We have all seen changes, good, bad, and excruciating wrought on the Caribbean by development. My own island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten is a prime example of construction on a massive scale. The latest area to come under the gaze of the developers is Coral Bay in St. John, USVI, where those for and against the proposed building of hotels and marinas, where none existed before, are engaged in passionate debate. To say feelings are running high is an understatement as both camps thrust and parry using legal arguments to push through plans for development or stop them dead in their tracks. USVI resident and All At Sea senior writer Carol Bareuther talked to both factions and offers the case for and against on page 72.

What a nice thing they have done in Dominica, where a group of good folks have got together to present a ‘Yachtie Appreciation Week’. Hopefully Dominica has set a precedent that other islands will follow. There is nothing wrong with yachties being appreciated, genuinely made to feel welcome instead of feeling tolerated and then only while parting with their money. Appreciation comes in many forms, even a simple sign saying ‘Visitors Welcome’ costs very little to make and nail up yet means so much. Anguilla has one on their dock in Road Bay and walking under it always makes me feel good.

 

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