Quentin Wilson
07-13-2001, 05:27 PM
Lightning hit us last Sunday at 2130 hours while anchored in a cove at Heron Lake, NM. We survived the night by my denying that we had been hit and explaining that the smell was ozone. Ignorance and denial gave us a good night's sleep. Gypsy is a 24-foot cutter built with the WEST System of cold-molded wood veneer/epoxy composite. Two five-inch delaminations of the outer layer or two are at the waterline port and starboard at midpoint in line with the shrouds. Inner laminations seem to have held. Mast light circuit blown, others damaged. Engine wiring seems fine. Aluminum mast (apologies in advance) shows some discoloration and might have lost "temper." We will finally pull the boat out of the water tomorrow but hope to find no more damage to the hull.

Schooner Creek Boat Works in Portland, Oregon
built "Gypsy" and could handle repairs. David Whalin at Gulf Coast Composites near Houston over the phone seems similarly competent. Portland is a long way off over two formidable mountain passes, Houston is downhill a long way into unbelievable heat and humidity.

The question is: does anyone know of a competent professional boatbuilder capable of handling hull repairs (electrical and rigging capabilities would be similarly useful) who might be closer to Northern New Mexico?

I have to start with someone professional enough to produce an estimate of repairs acceptable to the insurance adjustors. Any marine surveyors closer than San Diego?

Thanks, Quentin

Bob Cleek
07-13-2001, 07:39 PM
Wow! Some story. In all the lightning strikes I've ever heard about, the mast and rig act as a lightning rod and convey the bolt in a cone shape down to the water. Sounds like that is what happened in your case, save for the wrinkle on the delamination. That's a new one. Very interesting. I'd love to hear what some of the science wonks in here might be able to say about that phenomenon. If nothing else, it sounds like another reason why traditional plank may be better than laminated and glassed hulls! LOL It sort of sounds like she "burst her britches."

Oh, and sorry to hear of your misfortune. Sincerely. I doubt that you will find a competent wooden boat marine surveyor closer than San Diego. Check with the surveyor's society... they should be able to give you a lead. Let's hope it is just cosmetic. Sorry to treat you like a guinea pig, but a truly fascinating story!

Ed Harrow
07-13-2001, 08:00 PM
On the limits of my knowledge (but that never stopped me), my guess is that all went according to Bob, with the shrouds acting a bit like a faraday cage (which is why a car is safe, nothing to do with the tires) conducting the charge down to, in this case, a bit short of the water. I think the story would have ended on a happier note had there been a connection between the chainplates and the water. (It would be interesting to know where the chainplates end with respect to the delamination).

Lighting is powerful stuff, I've had some experience... Hopkinton (that's home) just lost a well pump from a lightning strike, toasted the pump's motor.

Good luck, but be pleased that you are both still with us. Ed

07-13-2001, 09:20 PM
I once had a plywood molded hull boat hit by lightning while on a mooring. The forestay totally melted with burning globs of it falling on the boat and burning smallround holes in the deck. The juice continued down the shrouds and exited to the water by blowing a hole in the hull just below each chain plate you could put your fist through. So, after the mast dropped (wood by the way)water filled the hull and she was awash when I found her. Total loss the insurance said. But a couple of weeks work in the backyard and she was good as new. It's better when you learn to fix her yourself. Then you can spend the insurance money on new "stuff!"

07-16-2001, 11:11 AM
Well if it makes you feel better...

Yes it can be fixed!

You need to pull out the damaged area making the cut wider as you go out.

Get yourself a copy of Parker's book, and it will show you how.

Quentin Wilson
07-16-2001, 05:49 PM
Thanks, Gentlemen but keep racking your brains for resourses. I would love to do my own boat repair but we have a short sailing season here; I just finished a monsterous amount of work painting the hull and doing the brightwork and adjusting the trailer. I have been building adobe homes for 25 years so I know there is always room on the fragmented hard drive to add in some new skills, but this just is not the year.

"Gypsy" is out of the water now and we can see that part of the charge followed the outer forstay (once the jib came off there are scorch marks on the sail and the Harken roller foil at its section joints) to the bronze collar at the end of the bowsprit and down the dolphin striker to the stainless
skidplate strip. At the end of the skidplate, for some reason, deadwood in the forefoot of the keel erupted. My clever keelguide on the trailer blocks much of the view, but there seem to be small eruptions along the keel corresponding to the enclosed lead.

Inner forestay and afterstay seem untouched. That is good as there is no apparent impact on the shaft, propeller and cutlass bearing. Engine and its wiring seem perfectly fine. All eight shrouds seem to have carried some of the burden and there is even black soot on one - maybe two but my stove keeps that one sooty all the time anyway. There are no chain plates. Shrouds come down to stainless u-bolts that go through a beefy 1.3" by 2.2" mahogany thing at the hull/deck juncture. The nuts are visible inside. Just why the charge did not route itself through the interior of the boat is a mystery to me. Glad, though. My head was about 2.7' from the closest nut. Maybe the Gougeon Brothers saved us. Glass cloth and epoxy outside the pine speed strip and mahogany veneers may have had higher electrical conductivity. Might also have been the thin film of water on the hull from the rain.

Add in replacing the electrcal panel and much of the house wiring and navigation wiring. Sail repair or even replacement.

We will definitely be trailing stainless and copper warp from all the standing rigging in the future. Plus little fuzz balls of wire at the masthead and bristles of lightning rods at all the spreader tips.

I will get Parker's book and check with the Surveyors Society. So far I have ten surveyors in the Pacific NW! I am getting lots of feedback from insurance folks, dock buddies and passerby's at the ramp. Looks as if no particular hull type short of metal is totally safe. One man claimed lightning sucked all the nails out of his cousin's carvel planked boat. At one point the country's foremost expert on lightning was at the Lightning Institute at New Mexico Tech. Her husband was killed by lightning walking across the campus!

Thanks, Q