Crews from three sailboats had gathered on Dupwala—Happy Times, North Star and Kamaloha—to share cocktails and appetizers on the beach in the late afternoon. We lingered past sundown when the wind suddenly picked up and turned chilly. Lightning and thunderclouds on the horizon sent us scurrying back to our boats for cover.
Mike, Mikayla and I sat down to dinner on Happy Times around 8 p.m. when the show began in earnest. Lightning flashed all around, sometimes lighting up the entire anchorage in the Eastern Coco Bandero Cays. The wind piped up some more and the rain fell in sheets.
We had returned to the boat in time to batten down the hatches, secure laundry and release the dodger. Mike attached our water catchment system to HT’s water tank and quickly topped it off. He filled one five-gallon container after another with rain, enough to wash a few buckets of laundry and a few rounds of dishes.
We disconnected all our electronics from the outlets and shut down several breakers as the lightning continued. We left on the anchor light and VHF radio for a while and eventually turned them off at the electrical panel. Some cruisers place computers and cell phones inside their ovens for protection during electrical storms. We’ll do that next time.
Suddenly a large bolt of lightning struck, and Mikayla and I jumped a foot in the air. The anchorage lit up like Times Square, and we stepped into the cockpit to check on Happy Times and the other boats.
North Star took the hit. The bolt traveled down the mast and disappeared somewhere, but not out the through hulls, which might have sunk her. The 51’ Tayana, lying only 200’ from HT, lost its alternator and two battery chargers, which fed four banks of batteries, a voltage regulator, two chartplotters, a spare handheld Global Positioning System (GPS), single sideband radio (SSB), VHF radio and a tricolor masthead light.
As soon as the immediate danger passed, Steve appeared outside and shined a flashlight on the mast, sails and elsewhere to assess the damage. The scent of smoke hung in the air and the shards of North Star’s tricolor lay on the deck.
I tried to raise Kamaloha on the VHF to check on its status. Charlie and Maureen maintained radio silence as lightning still broke on the fringes of the anchorage. North Star overheard my call and returned it with a brief report. A British monohull lying 300 yards away saw the lightning strike and called North Star. When the lightning quit, the Brits hopped in their dinghy and headed to Steve’s boat to offer assistance. Little could be done at the time, yet Steve appreciated their concern.
North Star’s engine and generator remained in operating condition. The battery chargers, however, proved to be the greatest loss. The electric flush toilets were among many things that no longer worked. It’s a good thing they had a bucket onboard.
A lightning strike never happens at a good time. Steve, Kim and 17-year-old Tim had left Manzanilla, Colombia, only two weeks ago after spending seven long months there, stuck in the boat yard as they wrangled to get the teak removed, the bottom painted and other major repairs completed. Yet in all this, there were things to be grateful for.
Moments before the strike, Kim was about to make cocktails in the blender and Steve reluctantly agreed to turn on the generator. Only when the generator is running can Tim play on his Xbox so he headed right away to his berth. At any other time Tim would be stretched out in his favorite spot in the salon, the one where he rests his feet on the mast. Made of metal.
Steve and Kim are thankful that no one was injured due to the accident. They can always replace boat parts, but not a son.