Q&A – #92

Captain Woody,
I am endeavoring to become a fellow cruiser in the near future and have been absorbing as much information as I can to make my transition smoother once it occurs. My biggest question so far…how do cruisers cope with being aboard during a lightening storm? I have read lots about safe guarding equipment and grounding the mast, rigging, etc, but nothing about being on the boat during a storm. After all, it would not always be an option to get off the boat. Could you shed some light on this for me? I live in the central Florida area and with the fast moving, strong thunderstorms we usually get, for now I just try to be off the water before a storm catches me.
I enjoy reading your responses in Latitudes and Attitudes…very helpful.
Thank you so much for any information.
Eric Banner
S/V Soul Provider

Lightning is magic. There doesn’t seem to be a sure way to keep lightning from striking a boat. It strikes randomly. Yes, if you bond the entire boat than it gives the lightning many paths to escape. Experience has taught us that if you get a large enough ‘bolt’ you will simply be blowing many holes out of your boat instead of just one.

This is old school but I like this solution the best. On Lost Sould we used to shackle a length of chain to the backstay and chuck it over the stern. I have adapted this technique by using a long piece of battery cable with the part that will be in the water stripped back to expose the raw wire. This is easier on the rail. Make sure you’ve got 6 or 8 feet of wire in the water at all angles of heal and pitch. I like this because it gives the lightning a direct path to the water outside the boat.

When you are out there sailing around in a lightning storm (sometimes it can’t be helped), keep in mind “the cone of safety”. They say you are safe from a direct hit to your body onboard a masted boat. As the theory goes, lighting will strike the top of the mast before striking anything within a 60 degree cone, where the point of the cone is at the top of the mast and the wide circle is in the water around your boat. Keep in mind that if we are routing the lightning down the backstay you and your crew should stay away from it.

Capt. Woody,
Wanted to drop you a note to wish you the best. Keep up the good work in “Latts & Atts”, we enjoy reading your thoughts and your observations are great. The pictures on your web site inspire us to dream the dream, as Bob would say. A great job, thank you.

The pictures are surreal for us and actually go beyond our experience! For 20 years we have been doing humanitarian/missionary work in the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and far West Texas. High, dry and dusty we know, but the aqua clear water, swimming each day, and what appears to be caring camaraderie with most cruisers looks so appealing … The wow factor is pretty great for us. …

Yes, but the dream boat? A Formosa Ketch holds all the romance of the seas we could hope for. Looks like the 41 footers are way more affordable but the 56 foot would be the dream! It seems to the untrained eye these are similar to the Lost Soul. The Ketch looks very safe and stable. How do they sail? Is 10 knots a reasonable expectation? … Please keep the dream going for us. Thanks for your time. Hello to Bob and Jody.
Best Regards, Gregg Harlow

Good for you guys in helping people. Most of us would like to help out … but we’ve got to work to make that next SUV payment. Yours is a much higher quality experience. I’m glad to have entertained you and I hope to continue to do so.

Formosas are reeeal pretty boats. Bob’s was an unusual design in that it had a fin keel. His boat could point into the wind better than a full keeled boat of the same specs. Most Formosas are full keels (or cutaway full). Full keels are another boat tradeoff, speed for safety. Besides being restricted in their ability to point they are also slower, both up and downwind. At the same time, abandon most full keel boats in a hurricane and, more than not, you will find that boat happily floating along after the storm. I suspect I could lose my lightweight coastal cruiser Low Key if I ever saw much over 50 knots. This simply means that I can not linger in areas where hurricane season is approaching. I’m not much for lingering anyway. For planning long passages I think we used 7 knots as an average speed for Bob and Jody’s 56, much less upwind. In very large seas, while running, we would see more than 10 knots of boatspeed for short periods of time (when surfing).

The 56 (68 overall) is a big boat which is one of the reasons that Bob let theirs go. He is looking at 50′. 50 is still big for a couple. With every 5′ of boatlength, the price of operation seams to about double. Sounds like you guys work outside. The best part of cruising is found ashore and on deck. You don’t need to be locked up inside a big boat all the time. A smaller boat will give you the funds and flexibility to do more exploring ashore – sites, meals, new friends – get the flavor of where you are.

Though ketchs are prettier, I prefer a cutter or sloop (one mast). You get the same speed without the extra work.

Most importantly, don’t load up the boat with systems you don’t need. I encourage people to do as much as they can with 12v, for example. There is talk about loading up the big guy’s new boat with some superfluous (to me) gear. I’m hoping he’ll remember that it was that extra gear that made the last boat as much work as fun (again, for me).

Correction: A few issues ago I listed the Compac in a group of boats I deemed appropriate for heavy offshore work. Though a great coastal cruiser and island boat, it was Cape Dory that I had in the back of my wee skull when I put fingers to keyboard that day. If you purchased a Compac as a result of my advice, chuck some food and a few sunset coldies onboard and I’ll come out and show you how I’d set her up for a safe (downwind type) ocean crossing.

Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yep, I got jumped outside a bar and tore a blood vessel in my abdomen. No, I wasn’t found on the beach bleeding. The docs went in and patched me up. I’ll be 100% by the time you read this. We’re still looking for the bad guys. I want to say thanks for all of the nice calls and emails and for the staff’s efforts to collect money on my behalf. I will be returning checks sent in. I don’t put myself out there so I can ask my friends to pick up the pieces. My “health plan”, though unconventional, has covered my medical expenses. Thank you again for the wonderful outpouring of concern and support!

I’m off to deliver a boat from Hawaii to Guam (never been to Guam – am very excited).


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