Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsBoat

ON THE LAM

A glimpse of what was -- in a flash

September 16, 2003|Nan M. Williams | Special to The Times

Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica — This may sound like whining from someone who's left behind the workaday world to sail a 37-foot sloop to tropical beaches until the bank account runs dry. But rain, a constant companion lately, comes with lightning. And sailboats are floating lightning rods, inviting targets for those restless ions in the sky.

In the middle of one exuberantly ignited night, somewhere between Mexico and El Salvador, I read that lightning "has been known to melt rigging, as well as to blow through-hull fittings away from the hull."

The rigging -- stainless-steel wires -- holds the mast in place. Through-hull fittings let seawater into the boat to feed the watermaker, cleanse the head and cool the engine. Without them, seawater would pour right into the boat. Just so we're clear: That would be bad. Seasoned sailors are shaking their heads about now. But having set off on this adventure with only Catalina Island trips under my belt, my realization of lightning's potential hazards came with a bolt.

I had just spent four months cruising the Mexican coast, where night sails were so smooth I did yoga during my watch. But as we crossed into Guatemala, there were hours when not three seconds went by without another brilliant burst hungry for riggings and fittings.

I watched one hit the bull's-eye just the other night. Coming back late from an inland trek, I stood 100 feet off the beach when it struck. I remember the eardrum-piercing crash more than the burst of light. My entire body jerked uncontrollably. And for an eerie second, the four boats in the anchorage flashed like ghosts on the water.

Come morning, one boat was a ghost of its former self. All its navigation -- Global Positioning System, depth finder, radar and VHF radio -- was gone in a crack of cosmic shock treatment.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|