Struck by lightning

September 9, 2013, Las Brisas anchorage, Panama City, Panama

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 was a fateful day for On Delay. Pete, Gayle, Tony and Jane were happily settled into a quirky apartment overlooking the Las Brisas bay where On Delay lies at anchor. We had just finished listening to cruisers’ net on the VHF radio, it was about 8:20 am, and a terrible thunderstorm hit the area. The storm was right on us — the thunder and lightning crashed and flashed simultaneously.

After the storm had passed, Tony and Pete went to the boat and discovered that she had suffered a lightning strike. As they approached the boat, they heard an electronics alarm going off. When they got on deck, they discovered the mast antenna and plastic from the mast-light casings shattered on deck. That was just the tip of the damage, literally and figuratively.

Shattered antenna from the top of the mast found on the deck.

Shattered antenna from the top of the mast found on the deck.

Here's where the antenna broke off. Eric took this photo at the top of the mast.

Here’s where the antenna broke off. Eric took this photo at the top of the mast.

It actually took weeks to figure out everything that had been effected by the strike. (For example, because we have to run the generator to power the water maker, the guys had to fix the generator before discovering that the watermaker didn’t work.) Here’s a partial list of things we need to fix or replace:

  • Generator circuit board
  • Water maker: two circuit boards and a pump
  • Gauge for the port-side fresh water tank
  • Fridge circuit board
  • Air conditioning units
  • Stereo
  • Just about all of the navigational electronics, from the depth gauge at the bottom to the anemometer (for wind speed) at the top through all the Raymarine chart plotters and instruments.
One of our many fried circuit boards.

One of our many fried circuit boards.

The boat was equipped with some lightning protection. In theory, lightning was supposed to hit the mast and travel down purpose-built conducting wires to a through-hull grounding plate in the starboard engine compartment. And, in a way that happened, the 1-cm dia wire to the grounding plate was found melted! However, there was a lot of induction damage as the electricity moved from top to bottom.

This is the wire, melted right off.

This is the wire, melted right off.

Further up the wire, every strand was blackened.

Further up the wire, every strand was charred.

Along with all the other fixes, we are working with a lightning consultant, Ewen Thomson of Marine Lightning Protection, to design better lightning protection for On Delay. We’ve nicknamed him Dr. Lightning; he really does have a Ph.D. in lightning research.

We had already planned to stay a while in Panama City to do boat work: we had a number of leaks to fix that needed professional help, we wanted to get our interior upholstery recovered, we had left our old sails on the Atlantic-side and needed to take delivery of the new sails, the unsatisfactory teak work done at Shelter Bay had to be done again and again, the anode that had fallen off in the canal needed to be replaced, etc. Because of these plans, we’d rented an apartment for the month of September. We’ve now rented it through to the end of November.

A fellow cruiser joins us for dinner in our temporary home. There is no dining table, so we stacked the coffee tables to make one. There is a nice view of Panama City from all the windows.

A fellow cruiser joins us for dinner in our temporary home. There is no dining table, so we stacked the coffee tables to make one. A fine view of Panama City is visible from all the windows.

All in all, it could have been much worse: we were able to put in an insurance claim that covers most of the damage to the navigational electronics (though not for the other damage). Nearby is recently opened Lagoon dealership. An Italian Roberto Bracco has given up selling Lagoons in Italy and has started selling and servicing them in Panama. He’s got two employees who are working on our boat: Gianni from Italy and Diego from Colombia. Both are great guys and skilled workmen and here in Panama City without their families; they work long hours for us, 6 days a week.

Gianni, standing in the foreground. October 19th was the official wear-a-shoprag-on-your-head day on On Delay. Sorry you missed it.

Gianni, standing in the foreground. October 19th was the official wear-a-shoprag-on-your-head day on On Delay. Sorry you missed it.

Repairs are coming along. The new electronics has been ordered and should be arriving in Panama any day now.

12 thoughts on “Struck by lightning

  1. +1 to grateful that our friends are safe! The apartment sounds just right for now.

    Glad to hear repairs are coming along. How in the world do you find so many experts!?

  2. Amen and ditto to the safety of all crew. May the remaining repairs go smoothly and look forward to hearing stories of Halloween in Panama!

  3. Wow, aren’t you having the most electrifying time in Panama City! :) +1 on the “good luck no one was injured”, and don’t turn into land-lubbers while you’re on “shore leave” ;-). Thanks as always for keeping us posted on your grand adventure!

  4. Thanks for all your good wishes. I’m glad we weren’t on the boat for the strike— I expect it would have been loud and scary but not fatal. There were four other boats in the anchorage that morning that were hit and suffered electrical damage but no one was injured. We also met an Australian couple who reported that their engine started when they got struck by lightning… Spooky.

  5. Wonder how my old method (used on my Cat 27) would have worked. Automotive jumper cable clipped to the stays and thrown over the side. Might have helped anyway. Glad everyone is OK! Hope you enjoy your stay landside.

  6. Seeing no new Posts since 9/29 (written 8/21) made me wonder what was happening, but I didn’t think to worry about you guys. “Life is Happening, with No Time to Write” is what I thought. Obviously, foremost in my mind now is that I’m very happy you all are safe. Good luck with the repairs, and onward with the adventure!

Leave a Reply