Lightning Strikes Twice
31 August 2010
Dear Friends and Family ~
The Great Wicomico River is situated on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore, mid-way between Norfolk, VA, and Solomons, MD. The town of Reedville, on the river's northern bank, was once home to the Bay's large Menhaden fishing fleet and a number of large processing plants. Now the site of the very last Menhaden plant, a couple of marinas and the Tangier Island Ferry, Reedville has reverted back to being a peaceful, picturesque backwater village like so many of the Chesapeake's estuarial communities. And it was there on the night of June 14 at about 8:30 pm that were struck twice by lightning.
That evening Jane and I walked to a large picnic pavilion near the boat to attend to email and phone calls. As dusk began to give way to darkness a low squall line passed overhead and as the first drops of rain began to fall, Jane ran back to the boat to close hatches and ports. I remained under the pavilion's galvanized metal roof, sheltered from the weather, to finish up the evening's communications.
The first bolt struck the VHF antenna atop our mast with a tremendous bang. A jagged yellow-white streak, conducting millions of volts of electricity, lingered at the masthead for a fraction of a second and then disappeared as a ball of sparks floated down to the water's surface. A cloud of grey smoke floated over the scene. As it began to drift away, a second bolt struck.
By the time I reached the boat a minute or so later, my hands were shaking. When I dropped down the companionway I found Jane standing in the saloon, her hands on her hips, in a mood in which I had seen her only once before. Speaking in angry sentence fragments she complained bitterly that "we had just installed new radar and a new VHF radio and now they were fried by the damned lightning and all that money had been wasted" and on and on. When she exhausted that particular subject, she still needed to vent some additional frustration and since I was nearby . . . well, you get the picture. Fortunately, that tempest blew over as quickly as the lightning storm did.
After assuring one another that we were unhurt, we did a quick inventory and drew up a list of all damages we could see inside and outside the boat. Then we called our insurer, BoatUS, to report the situation. Exhausted but unable to sleep, we turned in and talked about what to do next. We decided that, if we could get under way the next morning, we would head for Bert Jabin's Yard in Annapolis, about 75 miles to the north, where we previously had work done. Along the way we would stay overnight in Solomons, MD.
So at 6:00 am we cast off and followed our friends aboard s/v Blackfoot out into the Bay. For the next eight hours we enjoyed a pleasant sail under full main, genoa and staysail . . . undistracted by chart plotter, instruments, radar or radios . . . and picked up a mooring in Solomons well before dark.
The next morning we rowed ashore and met Mike McCook, a yacht damage surveyor sent to us by BoatUS. Together, we arranged for Zahniser's Yachting Center to short-haul the boat so that we could look for hull damage. Other than a bit of fairing compound and bottom paint which had been peeled off a few thru-hull bolt heads, we could find no structural damage. Jane and I got to know the Zahniser's folks through this process and decided to have them do the damage inventory, repair proposal and all repairs. Two days later we stepped off the boat and since then have been visiting in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania and house / pet sitting in Lancaster and York, PA.
For much of this time Zahniser's has been been busy examining every inch of the boat's interior and rigging to determine what had been destroyed or rendered inoperable by the lightning. They then put together a damage inventory which was both exhaustive and inclusive. From this list they prepared a $40K+ proposal for repairs which we reviewed and edited. The third draft of the proposal was subsequently forwarded to BoatUS for their review and approval.
In summary, the lightning destroyed all of the following electronics and electrical gear . . . chart plotter, VHF, single side band and AM / FM radios, radar, anemometer, depth sounder, knot meter, wind direction and velocity meters, wind turbine generator, auto pilot, 12 volt breakers, navigation lights, deck lights, hailer and more. Additionally, the plug end of our Dell 12 volt battery charger was melted.
Repair and replacement efforts, which began three weeks ago, will be complete in another two or three months whereupon we'll move back aboard. At that point we'll cruise the upper Bay for a month or so, shaking down and learning to use the new gear. Then, by mid-October, we will be on our way south to Southport, NC, where we'll jump offshore for the two day passage back to St. Augustine and a berth at Camachee Cove. There we'll celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and spend the early winter. Given a milder and less blustery winter and spring than last year, we'll head back to the Bahamas where we'll stay and explore until June of 2011.
It's been an interesting start to the summer, to say the least, and certainly not the one we planned. But by now we have learned that planning and cruising are not always compatible.
Bob & Jane Fulton