Scary [somewhat]

In Voyages on 29/11/2011 at 01:18

People often ask us what our most scary moment has been at sea. Usually we answer that we haven’t really been in any scary situations, as we try to avoid storms and rough seas and that kind of stuff. Oh sure, we’ve sailed out of an atoll, along the wrecks of two big cargo ships, with 48 knots winds (10 beaufort) on the bow, heavy waves, an engine held together by superglue and cable ties and sails that were damaged and barely holding on; but that was a calculated risk. 😉 But now for the first time in 2,5 years of sailing Rolf ran into something he really considered somewhat scary.

First you’ll have to know that the area we’re sailing in now is riddled with thunderstorms at night. They build up during the day over the islands and at night when the islands cool off a bit, they drift out to sea. Second: a lightning strike is probably one of the most devastating things that can happen to our boat. If we were to get hit by lightning, chances are everything electrical on board will fail; from all our electrical systems to all electrical apparatus we may have. That means no more plotter (our GPS), so we wouldn’t know where we exactly are or where to go, no more auto-pilot, so hand steering for the rest of the trip, no radar, so we won’t see anything coming and no satellite or other phone to check with the outside world (not to mention we can throw away our laptops, radios and XBox as well).

So you’ll understand that lightning clouds are something we try to avoid on our trips. And then, on the way from Semarang (Indonesia) to Singapore Rolf ran in to this:

For those of you who don’t stare at a plotter/radarscreen every day: the little green boat shaped thing in the middle is Helena, the big pink blurs around it our rain- and thunderclouds. Yep, we can actually see these things coming from literally 50 miles away. This one however is about 8 miles off. As you can see they go on for at least 5 miles behind that, the actual size we can not see because at some point our radar can’t penetrate the clouds anymore. But we did know that those were some big scary thunder clouds heading straight for us. And things got scarier by the minute. The clouds got closer and closer over the next two hours.

Until they were almost on top of us and lighting strikes came out of them every minute, all across the horizon. Leaving the sky around Helena looking like this:

By then Rolf decided to try and save whatever he could and put our emergency GPS, the satellite phone and lots more in our oven, hoping that would work as a Faraday cage. Then he sent Boukje (who was in Singapore already) an email so someone would know Helena’s last position and what was happening. After that he locked himself and Russell inside and just hoped for the best.

And then this happened:

Really? Nothing? Yes really! As the thunderstorms approached Helena, they just seemed to evaporate. The strangest thing ever seen on our plotter-screen.

So what have we learned from this experience? That real sailors really do not run into that much scary stuff… 😉

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