“Welcome back to Florida,” says Lightning Strike

We arrived at our marina on a Wednesday. On Thursday, less than 24 hours later, we were struck by lightning…well, not us, the mast.

Before the storm, we had had a great 24 hours! We scarfed down amazing dinner at Scotty’s Brewhouse. Spicy BBQ chicken wrap with pineapple, mmmmmm. We found and bought our summer car, a Ford Focus.

Thursday afternoon, a pretty typical scenario for an afternoon summer thunderstorm in Florida ensued. A nasty cell moved in quickly and the winds picked up, giving us a nice heel in our slip. According to our wind speed gauge, gusts were nearing 40 knots (about 46 mph). The sky was an ominous black. And as usual, there was a ton of lightning. Troy went outside on the dock to adjust a fender…not having been in the marina for even 24 hours, he wanted to make sure we weren’t rubbing the dock. I stood in the companion way watching the lightning flash from every direction.

The loudest clap of lightning happened while Troy was still on the dock. I yelled at him to get inside. But before I could get the words out, I began smelling a burning/electrical smell. As he climbed back aboard, I immediately shouted, “Something’s burning!” We quickly shut off anything powered…the house battery bank, the outlets, the ac, and the shore power.

Once we realized nothing was on fire, Troy immediately went into search mode. He was looking for any signs of damage. The burning smell was coming from the air conditioning in the forward hanging locker. No smoke or fried wires. Instead, the burning came from the electrical board.

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At this point, we still didn’t for certain know we were struck by lightning. When that giant clap of lightning happened, my hair wasn’t standing on end and nothing exploded, shook …or whatever is supposed to happen when a boat gets struck by lightning. We thought it might have been a power surge from the shore power.

Next, Troy got on the phone with a company who had the replacement electrical board for the a/c. It would be here by 5:00 the next day! That was AMAZING…since the boat was already getting hot!

Troy continued searching for damage. After checking all systems, we discovered that these items weren’t working…

-a/c electrical board

-refrigerator

-mast light

-wind speed transducer and display

-autopilot

-depth display

-VHF antenna

-propane on/off switch

-spreader and steaming light

-a few random lightbulbs in the cabin

-Wi-Fi antenna and router

-TV antenna

All in all, we thought we got pretty lucky. No severe damage to the boat itself. No fried wires. No blown through hulls. We were fine…and the sunset that evening was not too shabby.

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The next day, the harbormaster emailed me a video of the strike from the surveillance cameras. And there you can see it…a clear lightning strike to a mast at our side of the marina. After the strike, we can see a nice fiery spark off the side, which we presume was our VHF antenna going for a ride. The camera was far away, so we couldn’t not see that it was our boat specifically, but no one else reported any damage…so it had to be us.

Over the next several days, Troy went to work diagnosing each non-working system. Thankfully, we found that many things could be narrowed down to smaller parts and it wasn’t that we had lost the entire system. For example, the depth transducer was fine, we just needed a new display. And the propane solenoid needed to be replaced…we didn’t lose the wiring. When the fridge went out, Troy discovered that the only thing that needed to be replaced was the cooling fan…which we found at Best Buy for $10.00. The cooling fan is EXACTLY the same as a computer fan.

At this point, we only have the autopilot left to be addressed. As long as we don’t have to replace it entirely, we’ve estimated total damage to not reach more than $1,000.00. Yes, it stinks to lose a grand…but it could’ve been a lot worse. I think it is pretty safe to say, I HATE thunderstorms now!

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