Lightning Strike!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

015-39.400 N
088-59.550 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

Fronteras, Rio DulceI realized that I've been posting updates to FaceBook, but not to my mailing list, so many of you don't know why you didn't get any updates regarding our cruising season. To summarize things in 1 sentence: BlueJacket got struck by lightning while stored on the hard in Guatemala and almost everything electrical was destroyed. For the longer version of the story, keep reading.

In February we flew from Boston to Honduras, where we stayed over night in San Pedro Sula. We decided to fly into San Salvador because the commute from San Pedro Sula to the Rio Dulce is actually shorter than going to Guatemala City and the customs people in Honduras don't try to impose duty on everything that you're carrying with you. This is quite important when you're carrying bags of boat parts. The next day our long time friend Bryan Buchanan (aka the Jungle Medic) picked us up and drove us to the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala. Bryan is still living in the area and bringing in teams of people to medical missions, so it was great to catch up with him.

BlueJacket was waiting for us on the hard in the boat yard, so we had arranged with the marina to stay in one of their rooms in one of the apartments that they have on the grounds. Some people tough it out and stay on their boats while in the yard, but for $25 a night we decided to stay in the relative luxury of their air conditioned rooms. BlueJacket looked fine when we got there and the next morning we headed to the boat to begin checking her out.

Burn marksWhen we store the boat I diisconnect the electrical system to minimize things that can go wrong while we're away. The first thing that I did was to reconnect the batteries and when I did that I saw smoke coming out of the bilge. Clearly this wasn't a good thing, but the smoke cleared quickly, so I began investigating what was going on. It didn't take long to realize that something major had occurred as many of the systems wouldn't come online and things like the LED lighting didn't work.

Last December we had received an e-mail from the marina telling us that in July (5 months earlier!) they had determined that our dehumidifier wasn't working and that they had installed one of their units to keep the boat dry. They said that the problem had something to do with the plug. We were approaching the holidays and I just ignored the issue, especially since we headed to the boat in a couple of months and there was nothing that I was going to do about a problem with the plug from home.

When I looked at the dehumidifier plug, I saw that the issue with the plug was that ground pin was welded to the socket of the surge suppressor and when they went to unplug it, the ground pin pulled out of the plug. What they failed to notice was that the reason that it was welded in was that the boat had been struck by lightning and a good part of the surge went out through the power cord.

VHF antennaAs I investigated what had happened, I realized that we no longer had any VHF antennas on top of the mast. From what I pieced together, the lightning struck the antennas, vaporizing them, and travelled down the ground wire from the masthead to the grounding system of the boat. The picture to the right shows what remains of the antennas. The cylinder is supposed to be filled with epoxy with a whip antenna coming out of the top. The entire electrical system is tied together via a grounding system, which include the kitchen sink. The dehumidified was sitting at the edge of the sink and you could see where the electricity had arced from the sink to the dehumidifier and then travelled through the power cord. The photo to the upper-left shows where the electricity arched from the sink to the dehumidifier, scorching and breaking the linoleum counter top. We were very lucky that the boat didn't catch on fire!

Pulling the mastWe immediately contacted the insurance company and told them what we had found. We then spent the next 3+ weeks going through all of the systems to determine what had failed and what was still working. What was quite surprising was that some equipment which was totally disconnected from the power system was also destroyed. For example, the hand held VHF radio could receive but couldn't transmit. We were also told that devices which seemed to be working right now would most likely fail within 6 months. Apparently electronic components (specifically capacitors) suffer damage which causes them to fail once they've been used for a while. The company who produced our generator told us that even though it appeared to be working right now, that the insulation on the windings probably suffered micro-burn-throughs and would eventually fail. Other systems, like the autopilot, were just dead. Other strange things included the stainless steel braided kitchen faucet hose being welded together where it crossed.

We pulled the mast to check for damage, but didn't find any physical damage to the mast nor did we find any damage to the hull. I will say that the system that they used to pull the mast was one of the most convoluted systems that I've ever seen before, but it worked well and they got the mast out without any issues. Check out the 2 photos showing them removing it! RAM marina just received a real crane, so putting it back in will be much easier.

Pulling the mastWe spent 3-1/2 weeks in the marina determining the extent of the damage. The insurance company had a survey done and while there was a lot of damage to the electrical systems, we didn't begin to have the damage that some boats have experienced. For example, some boats have had their hatches welded together and through-hulls blown out. I'm just guessing that while we had a strike, it wasn't a major one.

We returned home and for insurance purposes I began to pull together receipts for the items which were destroyed. Considering that I bought BlueJacket in 1998, it was was amazing that I actually had about 90% of the receipts that I needed and the ones that I didn't have were for small items like LED light bulbs. Our insurance company, Falvey Yacht Insurance, was extremely fair with their offer and now I'm in the process of selecting new equipment and getting it ordered. I want to consolidate as many of the items together to minimize the potential for losing items and simplifying Customs processing. Customs and shipping will add about 33% to the cost of the items we're shipping in.

Repainting hullRight now my plan is to get the parts ordered sometime in the next month, shipped to Guatemala sometime in June and then go down to the boat later in the summer to oversee and assist with the installation. My biggest concern is that I had tons of spares of the old autopilot system, but the new system uses all new technology, so we won't have those spares to fall back upon.

One of the key things that we discovered about being back for spring in New England is that we haven't been missing much by not being here. It's been a cold, raw spring and every once in a while I find myself pining for being back on the boat and enjoying the beautiful Caribbean waters. Oh well...In the interum we're having the transom re-gelcoated and they're AwlGripping (repainting) the hull, so at least when we come back down next year, BlueJacket will be looking beautiful!

I'll write again once we have BlueJacket re-assembled and the painting job is done. Until then, enjoy your spring!

-- Geoff & Sue

Log ID: 2285

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