Paddling in lightning^

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chris-uk
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Paddling in lightning^

Post by chris-uk » Sun May 24, 2009 7:36 pm

Would you paddle through a thunderstorm? I have never heard of anyone being struck and incapacitated whilst paddling, but I have read of people experienceing St. Elmo's fire whilst out on the water in a storm.

The reason I ask is because I'm planning to paddle tomorrow and the forecast is fine except for thunderstorms in the afternoon (winds aren't forecast to be above F4).

Chris

Owen
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Owen » Sun May 24, 2009 8:11 pm

Try it and see what happens, if we never hear from you again we'll assume it wasn't a good idea. (only joking).

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Mike Marshall
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Mike Marshall » Sun May 24, 2009 8:17 pm

Carbon Paddles?
:-)
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chris-uk
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by chris-uk » Sun May 24, 2009 9:01 pm

Thanks Owen, but I guess someone has to be first?!?

Glass paddle, less conductive than carbon, but at 300,000V I think most things would conduct to a greater or lesser extent?

So far Owen's plan is the winner (mainly because it's the only plan...)

Chris

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Sgian Dubh » Sun May 24, 2009 10:38 pm

Chris I have done some laborious open crossings, only made interesting by an arriving thunder storm. It can be spooky at night, but I have never been struck despite on occasion, being in the thunderbolt, eye of the storm area. I was once carrying ice axes on the SoF Anas foredeck off of Rubha Hunish & they glowed purple. There must have been a hell of a charge because it also reset my mobile to factory default somehow. I wouldn't like to try my luck again...

A comedy approach would be to fill the rear hatch wi quick drying cement, insert a scaffold pole & head out like a bumper car & see if you can attract any attention. :o)

The old rule is, if your hair stands up suddenly through static, a strike is imminent. Get your head as close to your knees as you can & kiss your Mukluks.
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chris-uk
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by chris-uk » Mon May 25, 2009 6:30 am

That's a cool tip. Just checked the forecasts again and out of four there is only one that includes possible lightning. I like those odds and so I'm of out for the day. Like Owen said, if you don't here from me you know it was a dumb idea..!

Chris

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by John N » Mon May 25, 2009 10:16 am

Justine gets caught in a storm in one of the TITS series and it certainly gives her a scare. Anglers are warned about the use of carbon rods near O/H electricity and during storms so I'm guessing carbon paddles might be a problem, especially as there is nothing else to attract the lightning. I'd be interested in hearing how it goes.

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Mike Marshall
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Mike Marshall » Mon May 25, 2009 10:53 am

Sgian Dubh wrote: A comedy approach would be to fill the rear hatch wi quick drying cement, insert a scaffold pole & head out like a bumper car & see if you can attract any attention. :o)

The old rule is, if your hair stands up suddenly through static, a strike is imminent. Get your head as close to your knees as you can & kiss your Mukluks.

Classic...LMAO!!!!!

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Mike Marshall
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Mike Marshall » Mon May 25, 2009 11:08 am

John N wrote: Anglers are warned about the use of carbon rods near O/H electricity and during storms so I'm guessing carbon paddles might be a problem, especially as there is nothing else to attract the lightning. I'd be interested in hearing how it goes.
I can vouch for the Anglers poles being a serious problem, there have been several accidents due to contact with the overhead power lines (tis my profession).
Carbon is the main problem,(and incidentally certain types of Nylon become conductors after 6000volts).
We actually utilise glassfibre rods for Live Line working on 11kV lines and they are tested on an annual basis. So glass units are definitely far more insulating than a carbon mix.
There are also insulated aerial trucks where the linesmen work on the line directly, being insulated by the fibreglass boom. I have actually worked in America on 230kV live, where you strap yourself onto the line wearing an equipotential suit (Faraday cage). It was as near to an electric chair that I want to be ;-)
Even though you are at the same potential as the line, any minor difference in resistance through your body has a noticable effect. Bending of the arms causes tingling in the elbows, and drinking the night before leaves salts in the liver and kidneys which is very irritating prickling, to say the least :-) Yet statistics, (HA!) showed no real long term effects on the Linesman in America.
Bear in mind that the voltage in a lightning storm, is way beyond any voltage you could come into contact with on the power network.
Best thing you could do is build a Faraday cage around the kayak and yourself, alternatively reduce the risk of a strike, choose the weather.
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CaptainSensible
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by CaptainSensible » Mon May 25, 2009 12:49 pm

Lightning can strike up to several miles away from wherever the clouds are; if you can see lightning strikes on the horizon, then paddle in the other direction (or get off the water if you can).

Our club is ultra-cautious re thunderstorms (sessions will often be cancelled if we can hear thunder), mainly because some of our most experienced paddlers witnessed a fatal strike many years ago whilst they were paddling (in France I think); two people on the beach were killed, and the storm was very far away. A freak accident perhaps, but one which has made them adopt a zero tolerance (of risk) policy re thunderstorms.

People do paddle in thunderstorms, but it isn't something they do if they can avoid it (as Justine Curgenven will no doubt tell you; she didn't have any other option).

During last year's Jersey Symposium, myself and the rest of my group were stuck on the Ecrehous for 2-3 hours (much longer than we wanted to stay because of the tides) whilst we waited for a thunderstorm several miles away to start moving away from our route back. One of the group leaders (one of the people who saw the accident in France) wanted us to turn back on the way out, but too many of the group (we were split into a fast, not so fast, and a slow group) were over half of the way there.

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TechnoEngineer
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by TechnoEngineer » Mon May 25, 2009 1:08 pm

Sgian Dubh wrote:The old rule is, if your hair stands up suddenly through static, a strike is imminent. Get your head as close to your knees as you can & kiss your Mukluks.
Do you think it's a good idea to let go of the paddle (let it go over the side, supported by the leash) - or tuck it under your arm, running alongside your body?

Or perhaps capsize and roll back up a few seconds later?
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by ChrisS » Mon May 25, 2009 4:48 pm

Here is a report of a lightning strike by Jo Dounias
As beautiful the journey was, it was not all smooth sailing. At one stage, Jo found herself blown on to a reef by strong winds, suffering numerous gashes. At another point, her kayak was struck by lightning.

“Some days, the seas were volatile and the weather extremely rough. There are naturally a lot of electrical storms over the ocean, so I guess I became a magnet to lightning.
I was struck once and it melted part of the plastic on my boat. Luckily, it wasn’t a direct hit or I would have been killed.”

“I broke out in hives and became very nauseous and dizzy. I was numbed and couldn’t possibly paddle further. I was near a little rocky outcrop on a tiny island called Arkoudi. I just got out over the reef, pulled my tent out and went to sleep. It rained all night and the following day. I couldn’t stop vomiting. I was alone, miserable, scared, and I felt really stupid!”

“In retrospect, it was all part of the experience, but at the time, it was horrible. I didn’t know when the storms would end, but thankfully, they eased the next night. I forced myself to eat my packet food and paddled the six kilometres to the next island. I tracked down a doctor who gave me cortisone injections. By the following day, I was as good as new, and ready to re-embark on my adventure.”

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chris-uk
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by chris-uk » Mon May 25, 2009 5:40 pm

Well, whilst I appreciate all the advice (and on the back of it all I'll plan not to paddle with lightning in the forecasts in future) the forecasts were as wrong as they get :-/

I had expected rain all afternoon, with the lightning mixed in maybe, but wound up with a tinge of sunburn (I was 2km out to sea when the cloud broke and so it took a while to divert into the beach to get the sunhat and cream out) and heat stroke!!!!

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Adrian Cooper
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Adrian Cooper » Mon May 25, 2009 6:39 pm

Phew! I call that a lucky escape.

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Jim
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Jim » Tue May 26, 2009 2:07 pm

TechnoEngineer wrote:
Sgian Dubh wrote:The old rule is, if your hair stands up suddenly through static, a strike is imminent. Get your head as close to your knees as you can & kiss your Mukluks.
Do you think it's a good idea to let go of the paddle (let it go over the side, supported by the leash) - or tuck it under your arm, running alongside your body?
It will make no difference. The thing that is understood least about lightning strikes is that apart from height and conductivity (which is a little relative since there is enough voltage to arc through the air so a minor difference in route is not likely to hae a big effect) some materials seem to send out 'feeler' currents which tend to attract the lightning. Carbon in a random form should not be a problem because as a semiconductor the conductive path is broken and misaligned, but in carbon fibres the stuff is all aligned molecularly creating a good conductive path, and it is a material that attracts lightning....

Back when I used to fish, apart from avoiding overhead powerlines, there was advice going about to avoid carbon fibre poles/rods in thunderstorms - keep them in the garage not the house, that sort of thing. I can't remember if this sage advice was around before or after an angler was struck and killed carrying his rod bag away from the river in a storm (young son with him survived, but obviously quite disturbed) - the lightning had hit the bag of rods and then gone to ground via his shoulder and back.

I've also read stories of climbers in some of the higher ranges being struck by lightning and surviving - there is much about the stuff that isn't very well understood!

Just because you are the highest thing around with a conductive thing in your hands doesn't mean you will be struck, but it will significantly increase the risk, I head for shore as soon as I can if I see a storm, and a forecast for storms might change my plans (i.e. only go where I can get off the water quickly). The same for kiting, first sign of a thunderstorm and I get the kite on the ground (and packed up because they don't like rain).

Jim

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Edwindle » Tue May 26, 2009 7:00 pm

Jim wrote:The thing that is understood least about lightning strikes is that apart from height and conductivity (which is a little relative since there is enough voltage to arc through the air so a minor difference in route is not likely to hae a big effect)...
Why does the lightening not just strike the sea then? If it can jump such a big gap between the clouds and the paddle shaft, surely a 6ft paddle being waved about won't make that much difference. And the sea is enormous compared to a paddle. Could you also explain to me more about these 'feelers' (or link me) as I'm interested.

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by TechnoEngineer » Tue May 26, 2009 7:40 pm

It's because it's a pointy surface - electric flux "travels" at right angles to surfaces, so a small radius concentrates a lot of flux. Concentration of flux leads to a "path of least resistance" where the current eventually travels.

Lightning "travels" up from the surface as well as down from the clouds.
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by CaptainSensible » Tue May 26, 2009 11:38 pm

Yep, the main strike (what you see) actually consists of an upstrike connecting with a downstrike = kaboom! I think high points (or kayakers on the sea) are where the induced opposite of the charge in the clouds/the downstrike ends up being concentrated.

There are lots of stills photos and slow-motion videos/animations on the web which show you the bits that human eyes are too slow to see, like this one from here:

Image

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Jim
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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Jim » Wed May 27, 2009 2:18 pm

Excellent link from captain sensible - it seems that some of these things are understood quite a bit better than I understand them so there is some nonsense to filter out of my previous reply.

I think the significant thing is about the influence of a conductor - basically if the lightning was going to strike the sea within a paddle length of you anyway, it will be attracted to the paddle, otherwise it will hit the sea. Same goes for standing in a field you will only get hit if the lightning was going to hit the ground within your height of you ayway. I suppose this does have a bearing on the old contradictory advice on lightning - 'shelter under a tall tree because it will be hit intead of you', and 'don't shelter under a tall tree because if it gets hit it might fall on you", since you would have to be within the tree's height of it for the first bit of advice to work, then the second naturally comes into play, you will defimitely be within the possible drop zone!

Anyway it seems that paddles may not be tall enough to create leaders (not feelers as I originally called them), I was probably confused by remembering some top anglers reporting that they had felt tingles and heard noises coming from ther carbon poles in thunderstorms, which may just have been BS to make the story better or increase awareness by going OTT. Either way, I think I'll continue try and get away from my paddles and off the water in a thunderstorm.

As for kites on 15-30m lines in the middle of a flat beach, don't know if that is tall enough to create leaders but it gives a much wider radius to attract a strike - 2 feet for a paddle, 100 feet for a kite - eek!

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by TechnoEngineer » Wed May 27, 2009 2:21 pm

Jim wrote:'shelter under a tall tree because it will be hit intead of you'
Only do this if you're covered in Kevlar. The lightning current causes the tree to, err, explode, sending out shreds of shrapnel.

If you're out in a field, the best thing to do is roll into a ball as much as you can; if you lay flat on the ground, the potential difference on it between your hands and knees is enough to deliver a shock in the region of hundreds of volts.
Jim wrote:it seems that paddles may not be tall enough to create leaders
It's not about the length, it's about how "pointy" they are; as I indicated before, the "feelers" look for regions of high electric flux density. Holding a paddle upright would be a good way of inviting a strike!

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by Jim » Wed May 27, 2009 2:43 pm

TechnoEngineer wrote:
Jim wrote:'shelter under a tall tree because it will be hit intead of you'
Only do this if you're covered in Kevlar. The lightning current causes the tree to, err, explode, sending out shreds of shrapnel.
Yeah but it's only wood, not metal :-)

Presumably due to instantaneous boiling of the sap with not enough ventilation for the steam to get out?

Captain sensible's link definitely seems to be certain that only things that are very tall send out leaders for ground to cloud strikes, perhaps I am mixing up ground to cloud and cloud to ground? My first thought was that the electric/magnetic field was probably what tends to draw lightning to conductors in the first place, and then I got onto leaders which are related but not quite the same since they are about making the strike go the other way.... You probably create an EMF in your paddle whislt paddling which will do something to the field too????

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by PeterG » Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:08 pm

Caught out with visible strikes nearby and the shore about 1/2 mile away, our debate was whether to group up or spread out. Apparently the BCU does not include this in their 4 star sea leader syllabus.

I have lived in the tropics where lightening plays around almost every evening some seasons so you just get used to it. The chance of being struck is small. Once my hair started standing up, but as it is much thinner these days, I am immune to that. Another time a bolt came down about 50m away making me jump out of my flipflops.

Windsurfing I used to lie in the water under the sail, mainly because of the cold rain and hail accompanying the storms.

We worry about it because it is comparatively rare.

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by PeterG » Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:15 pm

Jim wrote:Yeah but it's only wood, not metal :-)
Having seen crashes in West Africa with lorries rebuilt using local wood, the effects of splinters are far worse than injuries from any sort of metal object. I think Nelson's navy found the same.

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Re: Paddling in lightning

Post by CaptainSensible » Sun Jun 07, 2009 8:33 am

Jim, their article on cloud-to-ground lightning is the one I should have linked to (it uses the same animation).

I think the difference between the two (cloud-to-ground vs ground-to-cloud) depends on the relative size/"weight" of the downstrike vs the upstrike; in ground-to-cloud lighting, tall buildings seem to play the role that clouds play in cloud-to-ground lightning.

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