The Bolt

Yachting's Editor-In-Chief Patrick Sciacca recalls a close encounter with lightning.

editor's letter, Patrick Sciacca
Photo by Tom Serio.Tom Serio

Weather on the water can change in an instant. It was early summer, and our six-man crew was headed offshore on board my friend Tom’s Viking 50. The Atlantic was unusually calm on this morning. Greasy calm. Thick clouds hung low in the sky, like a light-gray comforter blanketing the water, but nothing severe was predicted, and the sun was trying to poke its head out. Our hopes were high for a storm-free, beautiful bluewater day.

About an hour offshore, we noticed rain streaking toward the sea surface in the distance. A sizable squall was approaching, rapidly. Looking at the now fully green radar, we tried to weave the Viking’s way through the rain bands. There would be intense, blinding downpours — the kind of rain that gets you wet when the seemingly baseball-size drops bounce up off the deck. Then it lightened up. Then buckets. The rain didn’t deter us, but there was lightning. Lots of lightning. Zeus-is-upset kind of lightning.

Every once in a while, we’d see a thick bolt light up the sea and sky. The high-voltage mayhem was getting closer, like a boxer outstretching his arms to gauge an accurate punching distance against his opponent. We thought an overhand right would soon be inbound.

The rain didn't deter us, but there was lightning. Lots of lightning. Zeus-is-upset kind of lightning.

One bolt hit just forward of the bow. The sea lit up bright orange and purple, as did the boat’s bridge deck. I could feel the hair on my arms tingle. Engine alarms went off and electronics went on the fritz. A chorus of, “That was close!” came out of our crew, all huddled wide-eyed around the radar display.

With the engines still running, we pressed on through the squall. In about an hour, the storm faded. The sun came out. We restarted each engine. All good. We rebooted the electronics. All good. The rest of the day was spent relaxing under a blue sky.

We joked on the ride in about our brush with the bolt. One crew member asked, “What if the boat had been struck directly?” Hmm. All tied up, we turned our attention to making our salt lick of a vessel back into a glistening sport-fisherman. Almost done with the chamois, a friend on the dock said, “Hey guys, look up.” The top 18 inches of the portside outrigger were charred black. Maybe that bolt was closer than we thought.