Ridin' the storm out (boats & lightning)

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Jon_Are, Jul 29, 2006.

  1. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    Hi all,

    I just returned from a week-long vacation that included a tell-your-grandchildren moment.

    My brother and I were returning a rented pontoon boat when the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed. It was about a six-mile journey and we were not even halfway there when the sky darkened, the wind began whipping furiously, and rain/hail began pelting us mercilessly. To make it even more frightening…lightning. Huge fill-the-sky all-the-way-to-the-ground bolts coupled with thunder that rocked me right down to my colon. The lightning had us surrounded, visibility was nil, we were soaked to the bone and hurtin’ from the vicious hail, and….the motor quit. We freakin’ ran out of gas (the gas gauge still read nearly a quarter tank).

    It all ended well – we phoned the marina and they found us and towed us in – but it was quite the scary experience. We bobbed, drifted, and dodged lightning for a good 15 minutes before the weather broke. Let’s just say that prayers were said.

    Anyway, here’s what I’m wondering: During the worst of the storm, I strongly considered abandoning ship and swimming to shore. We had life jackets and it wasn’t a terribly long swim to shore, maybe the length of a football field.

    Would I have been more of a lightning rod remaining on the (aluminum) boat?
    Or swimming in the water?

    So glad to be alive,

    Jon

    Addendum: How weird – the TV news, as I typed this, related a story of a woman who was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course. She was in mid New York state, which is where we were. Must have been that very same storm (the reporter said it “came out of nowhere”).
     
  2. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    The lady that got killed on a golf course, I believe was in Rockland County, which is basically where the tappen zee meets up in on the west shore of the hudson.

    As far as boating and lightning, the only real safe thing to do is learn to read the weather, and try to get off the water before the storm hits. Don't think you want to be in the water during an electrical storm. If you did get hit by lightning in a boat, at least somebody else could call for a rescue and you would hopefully be visible (being in a boat). if you are floating in the middle of the water and get hit, if you still are afloat, your rescue would be much harder to find if you are unconscious and now not attached to your boat. At least that is my 2 cents. I might be wrong.

    Good information:

    http://www.cdc.gov/nasd/docs/d000001...7/d000007.html

    Jay
     
  3. mylan

    mylan Screenwriter

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    Unless it was a direct hit, I would rather the boat. A pontoon has two, very large metal conductors (in water, no less!) but I would think the deck would be insulated enough to (hopefully) keep most of the charge away from you. In water you have no place to go.
     
  4. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    Good link, Jay.


    This was my thought as well, which is why I remained on the boat.

    Jon
     
  5. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    Haven't been to the finger lakes since College. During my senior year, I took a trip out to Watkin's Glen State Park. A really nice easy hike up some waterfalls and cascades that I enjoyed.

    As a kayaker, I try to stay quite in tune with the weather, keeping an eye out on the wind patterns, the atmospheric pressure and I'll carry a NOAA weather radio on extended trips. A NOAA weather radio is a fairly inexpensive device that is a good thing to carry on a boat, if your electronics on the boat doesn't include it. Any alert issued by NOAA will cause the radio to alert you of any impending thunderstorms and you can also listen to marine forecasts and high/low tides if the body of water you're boating on is tidal. Tides may or may not mean much to boaters though it certain will help your gas mileage if you plan trips with the flood/ebb tide, it means a helluva lot to us kayakers who need to land/launch from places on shore.

    Jay
     
  6. Jim_F

    Jim_F Screenwriter

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    I'm glad you made it back safely. You're not getting out of work that easily. I understand HR policy dictates that fatal accidents must be scheduled at least 6 months in advance.

    I've had a couple of white-knuckle small craft moments myself. Nothing quite that harrowing, but they were magnified by the fact that I can't swim worth a sh*t.
     
  7. Mary M S

    Mary M S Screenwriter

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    Glad you made it Jon! I would have stayed with boat, - carefully not touching lifelines, gates, transoms, etc, and hope the boat would dissipate the worst - if the unthinkable happened.

    Our worst Lightning encounter, - we had to make a similar choice (prob incorrectly) yet we too survived!!!

    Canoeing in rented Aluminum on the Colorado river with young children. My husband had one son in his canoe, I had the other son and dog in second canoe. The boys were far too young to add muscle to momentum. (in fact their paddle skills often tended towards brake, rather than GO.) A sudden summer squall (not predicted) came up with horrific amounts of lightning, I was frantic to get off the river. We were several miles above take-out landing spot, in an area with tall trees very thick to shoreline. We could see cloud-to-ground hitting frequently amongst the trees. First thought was get on dirt, ....second ...was realization that the lightning- hated- the- trees. In our feeble attempts to protect, we had the boys hunker down in bottom of canoes on top of all towels/material in the boats we had at hand, - and asked them to fold hands in lap not touching gunwales of canoes.
    Then my husband and I literally pulled for our lifes. Deep and hard as we could, - I was sore for two days after.

    It was a wide section of river and the only other avoidance procedure we could think of, was to move from center stream close in to edge of shore. So that, (please God) if one hit nearby it would tend towards being attracted to the tall trees on our shoulder rather than our squatty selves (still the ‘tallest’ bump on the water).

    It was hair-raising, and I think I would have kissed ground when we arrived...but for the mud in the way!
     
  8. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    Another interesting link:

    http://www.spectrumthunderbolt.com/

    Supposedly makes this lightning storm detector and estimates arrival time. Don't know how accurate it is but I've read on a kayaking forum that the parasail folks use it to not become another Ben Franklin [​IMG]

    jay
     
  9. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    It didn't even occur to me to hunker. Stupid.

    Jon
     
  10. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    Hiking wise, they tell you to crouch on say your thermarest (air mattress thing) on the ground, not at the high point or under trees, etc...


    At least you're allowed 1 fatal accident per year!

    Jay
     
  11. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    Not that it applies specifically to pontoon boats, but this is an interesting article for boaters:

    http://www.marinenet.net/Lightning.htm

    I would assume the deck of a pontoon boat is aluminum and welded to aluminum pontoons (depending on manufacturer). Doesn't sound real safe from an electrical perspective....

    Another risk of pontoon boats is there inherent instability in a squall, especially without a working engine !!!! High winds can carry underneath the deck and provide a lifting moment causing capsize. A few people died a while back in Baltimore Harbor due to this.

    Not having an accurate gas gauge is sinful on a rental boat. You are very lucky and I would be hesitant to use that vendor again....
     
  12. Mark Paquette

    Mark Paquette Supporting Actor

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    The deck is typically some type of treated wood.
     
  13. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    I'm pretty sure the deck was, in fact, aluminum.

    The waves weren't all that fierce, I was primarily concerned about the lightning (as opposed to capsizing).

    As far as the gas gauge goes, the marina dude claimed it was working properly. When I pointed out that the speedometer didn't work at all - in an effort to demonstrate poor maintenance/gauge performance in general - he dismissed my remark saying, "nobody needs to know how fast they're going in one of these."

    He was really pissed, by the way, that he had to come and get us. He kept making remarks about how we never would have made it back to the marina in time even with enough gas, that the gas gauge was showing Empty when he looked at it, etc.

    Amazingly, he didn't try to charge us extra for the rescue operation, nor for the fact that we turned the boat in a half-hour late.

    Live and learn.

    Jon
     
  14. AjayM

    AjayM Screenwriter

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    As somebody who sailed quite a bit (inshore, coastal and offshore) you never ever abandon the boat until the boat is no longer safe to stay on. Which basically means that if it's floating (and it's not on fire for instance), it's safer than being in the water. I'm not familiar with the standards for inshore/lake type boats, but the boat should take a lightning hit, injuries to people on board should be limited as well (obviously if you're near the strike, or holding onto something metalic, etc), granted it may very well be the most scary thing you've ever experienced.

    Plus, you're talking about a 3+ mile swim in bad weather? Lots of people have drowned from much less of an effort (yes, even while wearing flotation devices), that will all depend on your physical shape, but it's a LOT more of an effort than you think it will be.

    Oh and you haven't lived until you've been in seas that are in the 30-50ft range (on a 40ft boat) with the wind blowing 50-60kts (peaked the anemometer at 76kts IIRC).
     
  15. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    Ajay brings up great points. The first thing is to never leave the boat until it looks like this:

    http://sailinganarchy.com/fringe/200...ing%20down.jpg

    (notice the knife ready to sever the raft's painter)

    Most pontoon boats I have seen have aluminum decks covered with some sort of covering similar to outdoor carpeting. Would anywhere be safe ? Tough call.... Definitely agree that swimming any kind of distance in rough weather is not an option, even if you're Mark frickin' Spitz. You are lucky to tread water.

    Ajay - your day at sea sounds like fun ! That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've been in some rough weather during a Gulf Stream passage, but nothing like that !
     
  16. Mary M S

    Mary M S Screenwriter

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    Ajay I wish I was you. Self taught ...just beginning to understand traveler adjustments, Jib car distance, backstay tensioning....(sail trim) [​IMG] its very frustrating, ...........on the cusp and so much to learn.
    But love the journey.

    Oh and you haven't lived until you've been in seas that are in the 30-50ft range (on a 40ft boat) with the wind blowing 50-60kts (peaked the anemometer at 76kts IIRC).
    I was on a fraking great PRINCESS cruise line, -in 50ft seas, (ship much larger than 40ft!)
    Half the crew got sick...Captain fell down walking through the shops.
    I loved every second....... I would have been scared to death in same seas; - on a 40 footer!

    Kirk, great pic...nice racer...I wonder if they saved it.

    My lake....they drown all the time, usually trying to swim for it, usually alcohol involved, sometimes with jackets on. Two in July at least I’m aware of.
    I do know some have survived swimming, when a boat sunk, but general rule of thumb is always ...stay with the craft.
    I know of one sailboat (fiberglass construction, alum mast, wire rigging et all) which took a lightening strike on our lake years ago. Everyone (and the boat) survived. I saw a pic on the news of her, rigging hanging off her decks, - on the rocks on the lee shore.
    Don’t know the details but do know that the two sailors survived the hit, though it de-masted the boat and caused her to drift in. Even during that (coming onto rocks) they stayed with the boat and waited for emergency crews before climbing off, after she was grounded.

    I would think (and don’t know) that with all that alum underfoot on a pontoon, it might hurt...singe you...even stop a weakened heart momentarily (necessitating CPR) but with all the conductivity of the boat to travel....you would tend not to get the full shock. Part would depend on what part of boat gets hit and your proximity I would think.
    I would not want to test it on a pontoon, at least mine has a fiberglass hull. [​IMG] Truly glad you and the brother are all right Jon!

    We had life jackets and it wasn’t a terribly long swim to shore, maybe the length of a football field. Since your boat didn't drive onto shore while she was DITW, unless you found the anchor and used it.
    ...this makes me wonder if the wave action was leading away from your closest shore. You wouldn’t believe how tiring it is to fight wave action even on inland lakes, and hypothermia starts acting immediately in water, even if the lake is at 80 degrees.
    Bodies lose heat 26% faster in water than in air. 50 degree water can equal 15 min consciousness with a life jacket on. In 80 degree water your conductivity is much slower ...but still occurs, and will reduce your physical capabilites while swimming.
    All these things; exhaustion from wave action (and exhaustion speeds hypothermia), - water cooler than 98 degrees, all conspire against you to make a swim to shore not always a sure thing even when land is in sight.
     
  17. AjayM

    AjayM Screenwriter

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    That was on a trip out to Bermuda, we got caught between two low pressure centers and sort of squeezed through the middle. The night before it went to hell though we had about 7-8 hours where we played racer and gave it hell. Since we were on a cat, the other boats we were with were 40-60 miles ahead of us (we had VERY light winds to start...like not enough wind to fill a chute), the wind came around just enough and off we went, I think we average around 15-16kts for that time period. Granted the rest of the crew (trying to sleep) wasn't very happy about it. Couldn't keep the grin off our faces though, everything "just right", flying along, had dolphins cruising along with us pretty much the whole night (fascinating animals...but they're freaking EVERYWHERE).

    Of course 16kts wasn't the fastest we saw on the trip, I think we pegged it out at around 21'ish or so....sliding down a wave.

    Gulf stream crossing...those are tons of fun, especially in the winter when you get a good gust blowing from the north. They're usually very predictable as well, every 5-7 days another one would come down. But get it wrong and it's just a nasty ride.
     
  18. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    We were three miles from our destination (the marina), not three miles from shore. Never would have considered a 3-miler (or anything like it).

    Anyway, seems as though I made the right choice, staying with the boat.

    There was no alcohol involved - except, of course, the beer I downed upon arriving at the house. [​IMG]

    Thanks for all the interesting info.

    Jon
     
  19. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    >>> Kirk, great pic...nice racer...I wonder if they saved it.

    Alas, this is the follow-up. A whale holed them 500 miles NE of Oahu....

    http://sailinganarchy.com/fringe/200...XL%20down2.jpg

    I do a lot of sailing on the Chesapeake where afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurence, similar to FLA. More cruising than racing now that I've got a family, and we've been lucky so far... Ok - I still race her in the Friday Night Beer Can series. Old habits die hard.


    >>> The tiring point was in a very confused 10-15ft seas, that was in some ways more scary to deal with, the boat was rocking and rolling in that crap.

    Amen, we had 15ft Gulf Stream chop on the nose for 3 days going from Mass to Bermuda in a 36ft sloop. 30-40knots with only a storm jib up.... the stories we could tell.
     
  20. Mary M S

    Mary M S Screenwriter

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    [hands on hip] ”When you're just out bobbing along”
    and just how am I supposed to win those beer can races if I’m relegated to ranks of Disneyland [bobbing] teacup.
    I put out one new jib last weekend, minding my own business, and had 3 boats chasing me across the lake, like cruisers at the local drag strip Friday night.
    ............ loves walks on the beach, long talks and pats on the head. [​IMG] I wonder, did Stern learn his craft on a Guarnerius del Gesù?
    Okay okay, back to my sandbox. [​IMG]

    Kirk, that last pic is a moment to make any owner sick to his stomach. Ouch. and such Beautiful water.

    Jon, didn’t mean to imply (at all) you were dumb drunk during that excitement, was just ‘Quoting’ the general facts at our lake, in which a heavy portion of fatalities include alcohol, and swimming. But not all, and some of the worse I’ve been around allegedly did not involve drinking, but reckless driving.
    A guy built; for a million or two, a new lakehouse on a another lake I get to (a lot of house for a simple weekender in the locale, this is not Calf. realty prices here) Had an sweet 4 slot stone & teak boat house, - very Ivy league look. A beautiful fully restored rare model antique Chris Craft. The family was using the house on a 4th of July when it was almost completed, the owner went out for a quick spin by himself at dusk and t-boned a pontoon boat filled with pre-teen girls and one Father right in front of his new place and barely out of his slip. Several drowned ...we left our dock from the opposite direction to avoid the area all weekend while emergency crews dredged. It was awful.... I am.......seriously glad your rental had a good outcome, - and I think you made the right choices, including the beer after a night like that. [​IMG]

    I got stuck on a lake once (with gas..it was the outboard) on a ski boat, no other boats to hail...it took us 4 hrs to paddle with one ski and one proper paddle just to get close in enough for one to swim (and he said..."I'll go get help" [​IMG] ) Broad daylight, no shade, 102, and the drinking water ran out!
    But unlike your night, it was just boring and HOT. [​IMG]
     

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