Paddling in a Thunderstorm

6 years 4 months ago #30878 by [email protected]
I made an error of judgement yesterday and found myself in the open ocean in the middle of a thunderstorm. What happened was this:

I launched under a cloudy sky for a Miller's Run. The wind was blowing 10-15kt (perhaps slightly more at the start) and I figured I was in for a regular mellow run, with small runs. And for the first 3km or so, that's what happened. I was cruising at around 14kph with peaks of 19 and 20kph.

3km I started hearing thunder in the distance. As I approached Roman Rock lighthouse, 6km in, the wind died and the lightning became visible; mostly off the bay in the mountains with a long interval between flash and crash.

Just after the lighthouse, the rain arrived, and the wind reversed direction, swinging to the west and blowing a proper 20kt, gusting nearly 30kt. I still caught a couple of runs before the wind peaked, but ran slap into the oncoming wind chop and the boat nearly went airborne... After that it was a matter of simply grinding on into the headwind. And now the lightning was striking all around me; one strike in particular resulting in thunder so loud it nearly deafened me.

25min later, the rain lifted, the cloud lifted, the lightning was behind me and the wind swung round to the SE again and I cruised home for one of my slowest times ever for a Miller's Run!

It gave me a sufficient fright that I'll never do that again. The forecast had mentioned a thunderstorm but was about 8 hours out and I'd discounted it (perhaps blind to anything but the thought of getting on the water).

While I was on the water I figured that most of the time I was below the level of the highest waves and that the possibility of my attracting the lightning was absolutely miniscule. Given the area of the bay and the fact that there were fewer than half a dozen strikes where the flash and crash were less than a couple of seconds, I figured that the odds of being struck randomly were also miniscule...

I searched on Google, but most of the replies involved sea kayaks on calm water. I still think the odds would be small on being hit, but does anyone have a definitive reference to the risks of being on a boat on a rough sea in a thunderstorm?


Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others...

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6 years 4 months ago #30880 by nell
Replied by nell on topic Paddling in a Thunderstorm
I don't know the right answer, Rob. I've searched online before and asked large boat (sail, motor) owners, and they didn't seem to know, either.

I've found myself in that same position of being far from shore and with lightning all around me many times, too. One of those times, I saw a sailboat, 12 meters or so length, and not too far away. I paddled over to it because I thought that it would draw any strike away from me, though I don't know if that is correct. I remember once either reading or being told that I'd be safer inside the "cone" of the sailboat, as measured from the top of the mast out at a certain angle. But then, I would think that I would then risk getting shocked through the water if the sailboat is hit... I still don't know what the right answer is: am I safer next to the boat, at some short/middle distance away, or far away? Or, maybe the mathematical difference between them all is so small that the chance of being hit by a strike is more or less random...

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6 years 4 months ago #30881 by LakeMan
Replied by LakeMan on topic Paddling in a Thunderstorm
I say you need to be thankful to be alive. Lightning travels sideways and therefore could have easily found you. I lost two classmates to lighting and it wasn't even raining.
My hometown has those kinds of storms pop out of nowhere. Thankfully where I live now that doesn't happen.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

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