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Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

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Published by Kathy Clark

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Published by: Kathy Clark on Jul 18, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Lightning Strike
On August 25, 2011 Shear Madness, our 72-foot Nordhavn trawler, was docked atColonial Beach Yacht Club on the Potomac River in Virginia. We selected thislocation to be nearby for the closing on the sale of our house in Oakton, VA on
September 7 and to be well north of the “hurricane zone”.
Hurricane Ireneapparently failed to get the memo that hurricanes are supposed to stay wellsouth of our location and she was headed right for the Chesapeake Bay. Bradleyand I spent most of the day at the boat making preparations for Irene by securingextra lines, stowing all awnings, cushions, or anything that blows, and reducingwindage as much as possible.Two hours later, a small but intense thunderstorm cell, unrelated to Irene, passedthrough Colonial Beach. As the storm approached, the boat was disconnectedfrom shore power and most systems were turned off. The exceptions were asingle navigation system and the communications computer that were being usedto track the storm.Suddenly, there was a searing flash and terrifyingly load crack; Shear Madnesshad sustained a direct hit by lightning! After the disorientation of those on boardcause by the strike cleared, an immediate inspection of Shear Madness wasconducted and it was determined that there was no fire and the boat was not inimmediate danger. No leaks were detected in bilges or thru-hulls. It is notuncommon for a lightning strike to create an exit hole in a vessel that has beenhit. On this front we were lucky, as we found no signs of hull damage and nowater ingress. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a complete loss of power andthere were pungent electrical burning odors in the Pilothouse, Salon, and EngineRoom.With continued lightning in the area we had to sit tight for about an hour andhope for the best. Thankfully, we were not struck again and all aboard wereunharmed. Once the cell passed and safety was assured, the boat was restored to
shore power and a methodical inspection and testing of all systems ensued (seeseparate report on initial damage assessment).We determined that the lightning had hit the port VHF antenna. The extremelyhigh current then passed down the antenna and through the metal bracket thatsecured the antenna to the flybridge roof 
. At that point, the strike’s charge
sought its way back to earthen ground and spread through wiring in the roof toalmost every piece of electronic and electrical equipment on board via all theelectrical interconnections on the boat.It is worth mentioning that we were not the tallest boat in the marina. Indeed,there were several sailboats with masts higher than our superstructure. We werealso equipped with a Forespar Lightning Brush (which is meant to lower the
exposure to a direct lightning strike by controlling the conditions which trigger adirect strike). These types of products are intended to reduce the build-up of 
static ground charge and retard the formation of the ion “streamers” which
complete the path for a lightning strike. Forespar does not
nor does any anyoneelse for that matter
claim that this is 100% effective. Clearly, this is a wisebusiness decision.The day following the lightning strike, hurricane Irene passed through, bringingwinds of up to 70 knots. Fortunately there was no further damage to the boat andIrene moved north, bringing rains and floods to the entire northeast coast.
The Process
Lightning damage is covered by our insurance policy with ACE, a well-knownprovider of insurance for the marine industry. We immediately reported thelightning strike to Ace and they acknowledged the claim and dispatched a marinesurveyor, Steve Knox, to visit the boat and assess the damage. By the time thesurveyor arrived, we had conducted preliminary tests to determine what systemshad obviously been damaged (see Initial Lightning Strike Assessment).
As Steve had handled lightning strike repairs before, he was able to provideexcellent guidance and we worked with him and our insurance adjuster todevelop a plan of action. This plan is summarized as follows:1.
Get engines operational so that the boat could be moved to a facility thathas the ability to haul it. Conduct a thorough inspection of the boat anddevelop a comprehensive list of repairs needed.2.
Conduct critical repairs at the initial facility.3.
Conduct sea trials and when safe to do so, move the boat to Florida tocomplete less critical repairs, e.g., watermakers and entertainment systemswhere it is not cost-effective to pay travel expenses.4.
Keep the process on time and costs under control, as we were
ACE, by staying involved with all vendors.
Step 1
Get Shear Madness Running Again
Like modern cars, our Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines have Electronic ControlModules (ECMs) on each engine with display units in the engine room, pilothouseand flybridge that monitor and provide information about their operation. Wealso have six remote throttle control stations, located in the Engine Room,thePilot House, the Flybridge, port and starboard Portuguese Bridges, and in theCockpit (stern). All of the ECMs, all the display units and all of the throttle controlstations were inoperable and had to be replaced.With limited methods to control the engines, the first step in our repair processwas to order the new ECMs, displays, and throttle controls, which took fourweeks to arrive. There is a manual override to allow the engines to be started bybypassing the electronic components, but as we were already in a marina whenthe lightning struck, we had no need to risk attempting an engine start until theengine mechanics were on board. Upon receiving the parts, Western BranchDiesel dispatched mechanics from Norfolk to come to the boat. With theirguidance, we conducted a test of the manual start procedure, which worked well.This was reassuring as we had wondered if we could have restarted the engines

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