Steve, Linda — Happy 2011 !!
There was a readers´ letter on this month’s Yachting World (btw, the same that brings your article – congrats!) mentioning that lightning strikes often seriously damage electric/electronic equipment on yachts … given that on the FPBs some basic functions are supported by electric/electronic stuff (fuel pumps, autopilot, etc), I was wondering whether you had to build some contingency for that? Moreover, are aluminum boats more prone to lightning strikes than their fiber/composite/wooden counterparts? Has Windhorse ever been stricken?
Lightning is something that has been very much on our minds for many years. There is a lot of scientific debate on how it works, risks, and what to do to mitigate the risks.
We think that a metal boat provides two benefits. First, the hull and deck create a form of “Faraday cage” and does a better job of protecting items within it than is the case with fiberglass. Second, the metal hull has a lower tendency to build up the charge that launches the “leader” to the cloud which ionizes the air creating a path for the high power strike from cloud to boat.
Regarding basic systems, the damage that occurs is hard to predict. But a major strike – a really powerful one – is probably going to kill everything electronic. For the engine this means potentially the CPU and injection pump. Both have spares. The fuel system can be controlled manually, and the solenoids which send power to the pump(s) are easily replaced.
Should total pilot failure occur you would reduced to hand steering (or could carry a third system, wrapped in foil, as back up).
For electronics and comm gear, if you are worried, a hand held VHF, GPS, and sat phone should be stored in the microwave during lightning storms to add a layer of protection.
Personally, we have never had a direct hit. But we have seen more than enough water strikes in close proximity to have a healthy regard for the risks.