During a land-based thunderstorm the other morning I was reminded of a bizarre conversation I was once part of during a thunderstorm in an ocean race. We were sailing towards a cold front, which was creating the storm. There was no way to avoid it.
As the lightning flashed and the hail bombarded us, a layer of iceblocks built up around our feet. There came a particularly bright flash which lit up the whole scene and the sea around.
One of the crew asked: “What happens if lightning strikes us?” Nobody could give a good scientific answer, but we were all aware that only a few weeks earlier, a very well-crewed racing yacht had disappeared on a voyage from Australia to New Zealand. No distress call, no sighting. Nothing.
There was discussion on whether the VHF aerial at the masthead could give any protection. I wondered whether doing a good job of rigging the mast – linking the rigging screws to the chainplates and the chainplates to the keel – might create a dangerous path for the lightning, even blow a hole in the side of the boat.
Does anybody have experience of a lightning strike at sea? I’d love to hear from them. In the meantime I’ll have to do some research myself.
Read more about emergencies you may face.