Lightning Strike

Alex Rust

22 November 2010 | Bismark Sea, outside of Madang

We had nice 6 knot breeze from the east and so raised the spinnaker as we tried to make our last 100 miles across the Bismark Sea to the port town of Madang. Having each raised the spinnaker several times in the past few weeks the process went as smoothly as it could with the massive sail filling up nicely as I pulled it out of its condom. The sail blocked the sun cooling the boat while its yellow and green tint sparkled on the water. We were moving along nicely at 4+ knots in a flat sea with a volcano island to our north and a mountain range to our south. We got three hours of wind (more than I expected) before pulling down the sail and motoring over a sea of glass for the rest of the day.

By nightfall two lightning storms could be seen and each were closing in on us. Wind started to show up and within a couple hours we were moving along nicely under partial jib in 25 knots of wind out of the southwest. Short steep waves began to build and I had forgotten what waves were like because we hadn’t seen any in a month. Lightning was striking all around us and you couldnt go a full minute without a strike being seen for most of the night. I put a spare gps in the oven which would act as a faraday cage (to protect it ) should we be struck by lighting which seemed ever so possible.

Tree and I were in the cockpit and I was sheeting in the jib when it struck. The light was blinding and the first thing I noticed was the wave of heat that overcame me. The thundering boom that accompanied the strike shook the boat and everything on it. Tree and I just looked at each other for a reality check before I ran downstairs to check the electronics. Everything appeared ok and later Tree told me that she thought I was being struck by lightning much like the cartoon character looks when struck with only their skeletal outline in view. It couldn’t have been more than 50 feet from the boat and probably closer.

Because of the wind that came with the storm and our lack of any detailed charts for the area we reduced sail and headed out to open sea as not to hit land in the darkness. The lightning actually helped in revealing the outline of land and guiding us away from it. By the time the sun rose the storm had passed and the winds had died to nothing once again. Ben woke up coming on deck and asked how our watches went as if nothing happened. He slept through the whole night and thought the thunderstorm was just a dream.

We motored the last 10 miles to Madang as it came into view we were all pleasantly surprised to find a well maintained light house, palm studded sea walls and even a well manicured ocean front park with walking paths. Not the Papua New Guinea the Australian media makes it out to be. Hundreds of huge bats flew overhead in the midday sun. Being PNG’s nicest town and most protected harbor city I expected to see some other sailboats but we were it. We pulled up to the Madang yacht club to check out the local beer supply to discover that there was an alcohol ban on in town. Apparently the locals weren’t holding their liquor very well and their unruly behavior forced the local government into prohibition. The good news was the yacht club could still sell beer and that’s where we decided to post up.

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