One last ear shattering bang and all the lights went out. We just got struck by lightning!” Alex said in a shaky voice. Panic quickly set in while we tried to work out what to do next.
Keeping a vessel in Florida during storm season, means not only dealing with higher winds and storm surge but also many more lightning storms. While anchored in Fort Pierce we were making great progress on making our Hunter 33 ready to sell. Almost every afternoon we enjoyed a beautiful lightning show from the comfort of our cockpit. I love watching the beauty and power of these storms from a distance.
Today we had a front row seat as the lightning was striking all around us. One strike after another followed quickly by a extremely loud crack and bang less than one second apart. This storm was way too close for comfort and for the very first time I found myself getting nervously paranoid that we would get hit. The storm seemed like it was sitting on top of us.
Keeping an eye on a Live Lightning Watch Map we could see one strike hit the island right behind us 0.1 Nautical mile away followed by three others within seconds in what seemed like every direction.
Each of them accompanied by a pound in our chest with every crack of the thunder. Our neighbouring vessel with taller masts provided little comfort as the lightning was striking everywhere.
One last ear shattering bang and all the lights went out. We just got struck by lightning!” Alex said in a shaky voice. Panic quickly set in while we tried to work out what to do next. Trembling we checked on Coral (our 10 months old daughter) who was napping in the v-bert. Lightning can act very unpredictable and can even jump through the air while finding its way to the ground. So we were terrified that she might have gotten struck. Thankfully she was sound asleep. How can she possibly sleep through such a loud noise?
Still shaking and now extra paranoid that one of the many strikes still happening around might make contact with our smoking mast again, my main concern was keeping my family from touching anything metal. If stuck again the compression post would no longer be a handhold for moving around the sailboat and instead turned into a potentially deadly live conductor.
Despite my fears we had to check the boat over to make sure we didn’t blow a hole through the hull. Not wanting to push our luck inspecting the bilge right beside the compression post we started looking around the boat for anything the strike damaged. On deck we found some parts from the masthead that had been blown to bits.
Without a full inspection we will not know if it has affected the rigging but the mast is still standing, so that’s a plus. Our depth metre is still functioning which is surprising but of course our VHF radio is fried. A quick look around the cabin and we realise that we lost everything with an LED in it; all displays, all lights, our solar charge controller and even our fridge stopped working. Luckily our lithium batteries and its BMS seem to be fine. Any motors like our fans all seem to be working.
Despite the fact the storm was still going strong around us we needed to check the bilge. Tentatively I lifted the floor boards terrified at what I was going to find. A puff of what looked like smoke came out as we exposed the bilge. Smoke!? Instantly my heart raced. “ Where did it come from? Is there a fire? No burnt plastic smell and no water coming in, that makes me feel a little better. The bilge pump and float are still somehow working and even the keel bolts all seem fine. The ground wire connecting the compression post to the keel seems intact. The bilge does seem dryer than usual so maybe the “smoke” was just steam from the heat of the strike. Afterall a neighbouring vessel did message us wondering about our smoking masthead.
We are not sinking and everybody on board is fine. The rest is just money and with some time we can fix it. So overall I feel extremely lucky, with a newfound appreciation and respect for these storms. Unfortunately some of the enjoyment has been replaced with a nervous tension each time a storm with lightning approaches. With time and the realisation that the chances of being struck, even in Florida, are quite low, eventually I hope I will see the beauty and enjoy the storm the way I once did.
After more inspecting and a haul-out we found a crack in a lower shroud (may not have been lightning related) and many pin holes throughout the keel. As the keel is bolted on and not encapsulated it seemed to just chip the bottom paint off and didn’t cause any serious damage to the hull.
For a raw look at the aftermath of being struck by lightning be sure to check out our YouTube channel “Wildly Intrepid Sailing”.
Cory and Alex share their adventure with weekly videos on their YouTube channel “Wildly Intrepid Sailing” and share stories on their website www.wildlyintrepid.com . Their dream is to travel the world and to live without any regrets.