“Is this it?”

(Banedup, San Blas, Panama)

Of all the perilous events that could take us down here on Oceanna, it’s clear that Greg’s most dreaded one is the lightning strike. One bolt to the mast and you can say goodbye to every single electrical component aboard. Happens a lot more than you’d think. Seems everyone we talk to has either been struck themselves, or knows a good mate who has. And the average repair bill we’ve heard is $30,000 – $50,0000. Not to mention you’re now bobbing in the water completely devoid of navigation, and every other handy tech thing that helps you get around.

Our lightning dodging tactics to date have been slim and completely unreliable – as one would expect. One, park next to a bigger boat. Bigger boat means taller mast. Taller mast means hopefully they’ll win the lightning prize. Two, stay out of Panama. It seems every single lightning strike story we’ve heard occurred in Panama. To say the least dodging is out of the question.

Handyman Greg’s latest introduction to our two hulls – grounding wings. (A term I have just coined, regardless of its proper connotations.) The grounding wings consist of lengths of old chain and portions of the ever useful pool noodle. When wrapped around each side shroud and left hanging in the water, the idea is that they will offer a more desirable “path of least resistance” and ground out without frying everything with a cord inside. Their proposed effectiveness? Who knows, but at least we feel like we’re doing something.

So this morning when the black clouds started to roll in the wings went on! Lightning flashed and thunder boomed for a long time with comfortable amounts of “one one thousand, two one thousand, …” associated. As the gap between light and sound began to close tensions began to rise. One strike flashed with less than a fraction delay to the exploding thunder, then a bolt boomed closer than I could fathom. I can still hear the thunder cracking like a whip and Greg, with saucer-sized eyes, asking “is this it?” The boy was just waiting to get hit.

Luckily for us, and Oceanna, we dodged that one and as the storm passed over us we breathed a huge sigh of relief. Morale of the story, the wings stay on.

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A storm scare in the morning does nothing to deter the fisherman.

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Scary skies in the morning, to beautiful skies at night.

One comment

  1. This is a common misconception about lightening.. “It takes the path of least resistance”, its true, but thats not the misconception. The misconception is it takes ONE path. Unfortunately, “the path of least resistance” is ALL PATHS. So while your “wings” reduce some of the voltage load, not enough to matter.

    The other issue on a boat, is induced currents. Most electronics get damaged by induced currents. These are currents induced in wires that are not directly connected to the path that the lightening is travelling down. So if the magnetic field is large enough to engulf your whole boat, then all wiring will experience a short high voltage burst of current. One solution to induced currents is to have devices completely disconnected during a lightening event. Although it doesn’t offer %100 protection, it provides some protection.

    Anyway here is a PDF article on the concepts of lightening protection. Unfortunately a boat is a little different, but this might give you some more effective ideas.
    http://www.weighing-systems.com/TechnologyCentre/Lightning1.pdf

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