Illustration by Scott Pollack
It’s what happens when mother nature gets an attitude.
Lightning is not my friend. Sure, cloud-to-cloud bolts can be a spectacle to behold; they’re like a Fourth of July display but without the cleanup afterwards. (Ooh, and it’s so romantic, say those log-cabin-in-the-woods diamond commercials on TV.) And cloud-to-boat lightning can be a spectacle too, unless it’s your boat lighting up, and then it’s more of an—oh, say, heart stress test.
Depending on where you fall on the lightning-enthusiasm scale, I’ve either had the fortune or misfortune to have several run-ins with Mother Nature’s electrical discharge.
The first one was more of a close call, really. But it foreshadowed future events. After a midsummer’s day of offshore fishing several years back, my crew and I got caught in a squall just a couple of miles outside our homeport’s inlet. The sky grew black, and golf-ball-size raindrops pelted the vessel’s hardtop. As everyone was sitting back and going ooh and aah at the foul weather (like that damn diamond commercial), lightning struck the land off to our port side and then lit up our bridge deck a shade of purple very similar to that of Barney. We didn’t take a hit, but laughs immediately turned into expletives. And “Wow, look at that!” quickly changed to “Let’s get outta here!”
The next time lightning and I met up was early in August of 2004 off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. I was fishing a tournament as squall line after squall line passed. Every storm cell seemed supercharged, and I counted 32 lightning strikes around my team’s boat. We didn’t take a direct hit, but a brand-new 35-foot convertible about five miles away did and the boat’s electronics were fried. That crew even lost their computer-controlled electronic engines. But we’d dodged another bullet—err, bolt.
But my day was coming. About two years ago, my team was running offshore of Cape May, New Jersey, part of a fleet of 100-plus boats in a tournament. As our flotilla hit the 30-to-40-mile mark, a line of squalls loomed large over every inch of our vessel’s radar display. Unfazed, our boat’s owner, Capt. Tom D’Angelo said, “We’ll pick our way through it.” Then the rain started. Soon our 50-footer’s windshield wipers were feverishly swiping like a marlin coming up behind a teaser, but we still couldn’t see past the bowrail, and there was so much clutter on the radar that we couldn’t accurately pick out targets from the other boats weaving their way through the tempest. Somewhere between the drenching rain and kick-drum-like thunder, the lightning started. Bolts hit in the near distance off to our port side, then to our starboard. We all commented on how fortunate we’d been not to take a direct hit.
And then our luck ran out. A wicked-bright flash of orange light erupted from the water dead ahead of our boat. At first we’d thought it had struck a vessel that was beyond our view. But then alarms started sounding and lights began flashing at the helm console. After shutting off the alarms, we decided to keep running the motors and evaluate the full extent of our boat’s injuries after getting through the weather. About an hour later and safely out of the storm, our crew crawled around and everything seemed to be in order. We restarted both of our diesels, and they came back online without issue. The helm’s electronics all returned at 100 percent, and it looked like we’d beat the big bad bolt yet again.
After fishing all day in much-improved weather, our team hightailed it back to the dock. We secured our lines, cleaned the boat, and while consuming an adult beverage and talking about our ability to consistently beat Mother Nature at her own game, we took one last look up at the boat and someone said, “Hey, was that port-side outrigger always burned black?”
This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.