When Lightning Strikes Nearby Part I

Introduction by Scott: This is our post about a subject that many of you may have heard or read about and almost always in an “oh my gosh”, how could that happen and glad it didn’t happen to me point of view.  What we would like to do with this post is help those fellow cruisers and others understand that this can and does happen more than you might think. We want to share our approach to this occurrence and how we are going to make sure Orenda comes out better than before this occurred with regard to serving our cruising mission.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), in the U.S. there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the odds of a person being struck by one of them is about 1 in 500,000. It’s more dangerous for boats; based on data complied from BoatUS Marine Insurance claims, boats have about 1 in 1,000 chance of being involved in a lightning related event. The CDC says Florida is the “lightning capital” of the U.S.; BoatUS also says about one third of all lightning-related marine insurance claims come from Florida. The majority of lightning strikes happen on sailboats as an aluminum mast makes a great lightning rod. In the powerboat world, trawlers, most of which also have masts, are the primary targets, about four times more likely to be hit than other powerboats in general. Source: OCTOBER 2021 / POWER & MOTORYACHT; Mike Smith One Strike, You’re Out!

It was July 18th, 7:21 AM. I was sipping my morning coffee in our stateroom, listening to the rain on the boat deck and hearing thunder all around us when I saw the brightest light flash I’ve ever seen out the corner of my eye!  Yikes!!! Scott, did you see that??  Not knowing anything amiss, we finished our morning java and decided we would leave the marina in Port Washington around noon, when it was closer to high tide.  When the rain stopped, we walked out to say good bye to “Captain Chris” on the 105-foot yacht moored next to us when all of us noticed his Port VHF antenna.  Captain Chris exclaimed “oh @#!! The top of the antenna was missing with the remaining mid-section end just frayed copper wires!  We felt bad of course but actually thought the damage was limited to that yacht and Orenda had been spared as we did receive a strike and there was no damage visible on our boat. We didn’t understand what really had happened yet.  

Later, as Scott prepared Orenda to depart and had fired up the main engine and began to put the navigation and hydraulics systems into normal operations our understanding of things changed quickly! Immediately alarms started to sound and system errors appeared. Now it was Scott using “@#!” language as he tried to clear alarms and reset systems to no avail.   We had definitely been affected by the nearby strike by what most likely was electromagnetic pulse energy (EMP) that occurred at 7:21am that morning (cameras went down with time/date stamp).  Needless to say, we changed our plans to leave and began the arduous process of trying to quantify and respond to what had happened to us.

Fast forward to today, we are in Baltimore Harbor with what Scott describes as a “seriously wounded” but still safe navigation suite on Orenda. We have been very focused on responding to this event the last two months. First we contacted our boat insurance company to report the possibility of damage and to initiate a claim. Scott contacted many of his knowledgeable contacts/vendors who all willingly provided input based on their experience with this type of event which we learned was not all that uncommon. Scott identified damaged LED lighting both inside and outside the boat, damage to our stabilizer fin position sensors (he had to dive the boat), a watermaker controller, Direct TV receivers and so on as he methodically investigated all the systems on the boat for normal operations. Within the first week, we were able to secure the services of Ocean Currents Marine from South Florida to help quantify our navigational electronics issues. We worked jointly with another nearby affected Nordhavn owner to bring this vendor to Port Washington, NY to perform repairs or if necessary, a “lightning survey” for insurance purposes. Rob is the owner of Ocean Currents Marine and well known in the Nordhavn community for his knowledge and expertise specific to Nordhavn Yachts.

Scott and Rob spent a few hours troubleshooting systems before concluding a lightning survey and complete system replacement would be necessary. The lightning survey involved preparing a very detailed list of damaged instruments, electronics and equipment and replacement options.  Rob’s summation to me was “you need a total navigation electronics re-fit.” Ugh! Replacing almost everything is necessary because replacements for older and burned-out components are either not available or won’t interface with new equipment or the ones that appeared to survive the event!

The other significant part of responding to this event is working with the insurance company.  This took an enormous amount of time for the insurance adjuster to inspect the boat and provide his report to the insurance company, then for the insurance company to process the claim and issue a payment for damage. It is very important to expect that there will be more things that surface that can likely be attributed to the event as time goes on, so the claim needs to remain open until satisfied the vessel has been returned to pre-event status.  In the meantime, while waiting for the process to execute, Scott began to ready the boat for cruising to Palm Beach, our destination for the re-fit process. He continues to reach out to “expert and service” friends for information and advice.  Thank you all for your assistance!!

Well, we finally untied the lines on August 26.  Our insurance policy stipulates that we cannot be south of Cumberland Island, GA until November.  Plus, we really didn’t want to be running from hurricanes, so we decided to spend some time in Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay.

On our route to Baltimore, we anchored in Port Jefferson and Sag Harbor on Long Island. Scott contacted an old friend he worked with at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  He and Leo had fun catching up, talking about the “old days” when both were still working folks.

Our route to Baltimore was via Delaware Bay, then the C&D Canal to the Chesapeake and eventually into Inner Harbor in Baltimore. We really like Baltimore, it is alive with people, music, activities! We were lucky to have front row seats in the cockpit of Orenda during Fleet Week.  Fascinating to see the war ships enter the harbor!  While in Baltimore we were able to get together again with Larry and Sue, N46 Beverly S.

USS Minneapolis St Paul War ship coming into the harbor with the help of tugs.
Fleet Week Baltimore Fire Department showing off!
Fleet Week Coast Guard water rescue.
Scott on the gun deck of the USS Minneapolis St Paul War Ship

We took advantage of the time and accepted an invitation to attend the Blues and Brews Festival in Telluride, CO in mid-September.  It was the best weekend ever, spending time with friends Bob and Debbie and seeing their beautiful daughters again. We also met their two spunky and sweet grand-daughters.

This past weekend was the Baltimore Trawler Festival in Harbour East Marina.  We enjoyed time spent with the Yacht Tech Crew who were there showing N52 Dirona and Jason and Rochelle on N57 Alliance.  

We actually consider ourselves quite fortunate given the seriousness of the event. The electromagnetic pulse did not affect our engines, generators or the galley appliances.  And by the time we reach Florida for our scheduled haul out and now our electronics refit, we should have had enough time and nautical miles under our keel to have any additional issues identified! More to come in Part II

2 thoughts on “When Lightning Strikes Nearby Part I

  1. Karen Colpak

    Awesome post! Great detail, interesting, and informative! Best part is you continued to find the silver linings! Well done!(As usual)😊

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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