Bolt from the blue

Places, technique, kayaks, safety, the sea...
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Jonathan Theobald
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Bolt from the blue

Post by Jonathan Theobald » Thu Jul 17, 2003 5:11 pm

Yesterday's thunder and lightning here almost had me ducking for cover in case Bush had unleashed a barrage of cruise missiles on Cambridgeshire. I had been set for a swim in the outdoor poor but managers shut up early, saying swimming too dangerous.

The lightning was so dramatic I was very happy to be indoors - even though two houses on my road were left with smouldering holes in their roofs, and wiring and appliances damaged.

But what if you're on the sea?

Are kayakers in danger from lightning? And what can you do about it? Do you just sit tight and hope for the best? Or is it a matter of watching sky and forecast and keeping ashore if lightning threatens?

Bill
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Lightning

Post by Bill » Thu Jul 17, 2003 5:42 pm

If my head was clearly the highest point around I would do a wet exit, duck my head into the cockpit of the upturned boat and stay put until the storm had passed.


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Douglas Wilcox
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Lightning

Post by Douglas Wilcox » Thu Jul 17, 2003 10:55 pm

I got caught out while windsurfing about 10 years ago. I was about 2 miles out and had a 5 meter carbon fibre mast and boom in my hands. I decided to drop the rig and stay in the water till the storm passed.

When I say I got "caught out" that is a bit of a euphamism. I had seen the towering cumulo-nimbus clouds building up, I had chosen to go out in the strong wind that was being sucked in to feed the updraft.....

OK, assuming you really are caught out and thunder clouds do appear out of a blue sky; well a kayak has a lower profile than a windsurfing rig but my paddle is carbon fibre, so I would still get into the water and be toasty warm in my new aquashell shorts and top until the storm passed.

Douglas

Jonathan Theobald
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Re: Lightning

Post by Jonathan Theobald » Fri Jul 18, 2003 4:05 pm

Getting out of your boat and taking refuge in the sea must carry its own risks.

It assumes rather too much for my liking. That you're dressed for immersion, f'rinstance; wind and tide aren't carrying you onto any rocks; and everyone in a group is capable of getting back in their boats.

Just how great is danger from lightning strike anyway? Dhingies and other small craft must be as mcuh at risk as kayaks, but I've never heard of one being hit. Does it happen?

Turning a situation that just might kill you into one that probably will kill you could smack of over-reaction.

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Douglas Wilcox
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just might kill you

Post by Douglas Wilcox » Fri Jul 18, 2003 6:23 pm

In the States (4 times pop of UK but different weather), there are 30 million cloud to earth strikes per year, an average of just over 300 people are struck by lightning every year, 56% are involved in outdoor sport (mostly golf then watersports), just under a 100 are killed and about 150 seriously injured.

One thing is for sure, if you are on open water and lightning is going to strike anywhere within a mile radius it's going to seek you out. That's why so many golfers get hit. What actually happens with a lightning strike is that a positively charged streamer rises out of the ground to meet the negatively charged "stepped leader" which descends from the cloud. once these two meet the main lightning discharge takes place. You might get a little warning that you are the conduit by which the positive streamer rises from the earth. Your hair will stand on end you might hear crackling noises then you know you are paddlin the green nautical mile.

Its probably best if you do get caught out not to paddle too closely together as close together makes a bigger exit for the positive streamer also lightning striking water can kill people up to 30 yards away.

The National Weather Service warn that the strike can be up to 10 miles from the rain below the thunder cloud. Their advice:

Preventing Deaths and Injuries from Lightning Strikes

When participating in outdoor activities, be aware of weather forecasts during the thunderstorm season (generally May through September).

Because lightning often precedes rain, preparations to avoid potential lightning strikes should begin before the rain begins.
When thunder is heard, seek shelter inside the nearest building or an enclosed vehicle (e.g., a car or truck).

If shelter is not available, avoid trees or tall objects because electricity may be conducted from that object to other nearby objects or persons.
Avoid high ground, open water (if in a boat get off the water as quickly as possible), open spaces (if in open, curl into a ball, do not lie down flat) and metal objects (e.g., golf clubs, umbrellas, fences, and tools).

When indoors, turn off appliances and electronic devices and remain inside until the storm passes.

Best to avoid paddling in thundery conditions, there are plenty warning signs.

Douglas




Jonathan Theobald
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Gulp....

Post by Jonathan Theobald » Fri Jul 18, 2003 7:15 pm

Thanks Douglas.

You've talked me into it - I'll be in the drink quicker than I can spit.


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Jim
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by Jim » Fri Jul 18, 2003 10:16 pm

You can be caught out in a storm, some of our group were still on the water when one hit in the Summer isles.

Generally you won't be undertaking an open crossing in thunderstorm potential weather, for other reasons as well as the lightning. If near the coast you should definitely sprint for the land before considering bailing - who knows how long the storm will last or what sea conditions it's going to generate?

If the coast is flattish you can obviously land, ditch your gear and look for shelter, If you have huge cliffs, then getting under them will reduce your risk of a strike until you can find somewhere to land. Be aware that lightning strikes on cliffs may lead to rocks falling on you so look for somewhere to take shelter ASAP - in a cave would probably be good, and again ditch the carbon fibre equipment!

Obviously if you are sailing and attempting to make use of the squall preceeding the storm you're an entirely different case :-)

JIM

Terry
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Bolt from the blue

Post by Terry » Fri Jul 18, 2003 10:48 pm

The correct procedure is as follows:

1. Pull your spraydeck
2. Get your legs out of boat
3. Pull your knees back to your shoulders
4. Tuck your chin into your chest
5. Lean foward as far as possible
6.

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MarkB
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by MarkB » Sat Jul 19, 2003 12:56 pm

to complete Terry's last post...

6. Get swamped by the next wave and fall in anyway. :\
Mark

Terry
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Bolt from the blue

Post by Terry » Sat Jul 19, 2003 1:14 pm

Step 6. was actually going to be "Kiss yor arse goodbye".

Steve B
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by Steve B » Sun Jul 20, 2003 9:42 pm

The carbon fibre thing is a bit silly if you don't mind me saying so. Everything's liable to be wet so it'll conduct electricity anyway, as will your arm or head. With or without helmet.

Steve B.

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Jim
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by Jim » Sun Jul 20, 2003 11:53 pm

Carbon fibres are aligned nicely in their conductive orientation in a paddle shaft or fishing rod. The result being that it makes such a good conductor that it will attract the strike even better than all the water (I think). Anyway, my preference would definitely be to get on the land before abandoning kit, at that point it makes no sense to be holding a good conductor even if you are a fairly good conductor yourself - leave it until the storm passes, it ain't going anywhere!

JIM

Terry
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Bolt from the blue

Post by Terry » Mon Jul 21, 2003 12:24 am

Perhaps if you held your carbon paddle vertically in one hand at arms length with one end in the water and the other in the air a lightning strike would go straight through the paddle and the worst you would suffer would be a burnt hand.

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Jim
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by Jim » Mon Jul 21, 2003 11:24 am

"Perhaps if you held your carbon paddle vertically in one hand at arms length with one end in the water and the other in the air a lightning strike would go straight through the paddle and the worst you would suffer would be a burnt hand."

Maybe, but I remember the report about the angler who was walking home in a storm with his rods packed up in his bag. The lightning struck his rods and electrocuted him burning his back up a mess at the same time. The worst part is that his young son survived and was at the sort of age to not understand what had just happened. Several top anglers later reported that you shouldn't go near your rods in a thunderstorm, even at home, and described noticing a sort of static buzz around their rod bags during electrical storms, prompting them to store them in the garage rather than in the house..... (Do I keep carbon paddles in my bedroom?)

I would still go for the shore with my carbon paddle rather than get in the water - instant electrocution or slow hypothermia?????

JIM

Terry
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Bolt from the blue

Post by Terry » Mon Jul 21, 2003 6:17 pm

If you are in a non-conductive boat, which I imagine most are, then are you not electrically insulated from earth (i.e. the sea)?

If you are still worried about your carbon fibre paddle, tether it and let it float.

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Jim
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Re: Bolt from the blue

Post by Jim » Mon Jul 21, 2003 6:40 pm

If the voltage is high enough electricity will pass through insulating materials (depending on thicknes) - I don't think a boat would be thick enough to save you from lightning. Also as Steve said, everything is going to be wet so there will be a nice route to ground, the paddle will be making sure I am part of the easiest route :-)

How many of us are using carbon paddles anyway?

Anglers in rubber boots can be fried by powerlines, Climbers in rubber soled boots have been fried on mountains (amazing report a few years ago from a couple of guys that survived a lightning strike on top of a South American mountain!). Notice that powerlines are held up by big lumps of ceramic, not plastic or rubber! Electricity is strange stuff, I've never fully understood it (scraped my elec eng resit, mainly by avoiding AC theory) but I know enough to stay on the safe side with it!

JIM

spuffy
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bolt from the blue

Post by spuffy » Mon Jul 21, 2003 8:36 pm

Earthed, conducting and high up pointy objects have the largest electric field surrounding them near a charged thunder cloud. These are the points where streamers will go up and a lightning strike is likely to occur. I reckon that the roll position with the paddle placed along the side of the boat and with the paddler leaning forward with his/her head on the deck would provide the most rounded and least vertically conducting profile.

The "leg it to shore" philosophy also has its merits and to be honest if it is only a few minutes away this is probably the better option. Low and wide paddle stokes would reduce the chances of a strike.

Electric current will take the path of least resistance. The human body is a nice salty bag of water as far a lightning is concerned and hence easy to get though. Wood or rock are insulators and have high resistance. Lightning will jump from a tree to a person to get the easy path. That is why it is dodgy to stand under trees in a storm. Similarly standing up in a cave with your head near the roof will give the lightning an easy way to miss a couple of meters of insulating rock on its way down.

I remember reading in "mountain leadership" by Longmuir that the safest place when outdoors is in a valley or at the bottom of a cliff (but a reasonable distance away from it). The person should sit on a insulator in a ball or simply crouch (but not lie down because current may dissipate sideways and use you as the easy route).

Ships, yachts, tents and cars are safe places to be in a storm because lightning is simply routed to earth though the conducting materials and bypasses the occupants. A sea kayak surrounded by a metal cage would ensure immunity from lighting strikes although may raise other safety issues!

Hope that this helps

Simon

Steve B
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Re: bolt from the blue

Post by Steve B » Thu Jul 24, 2003 12:06 pm

Necky problem in thunderstorm:

www.azcentral.com/news/articles/...

Steve B.

Terry
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bolt from the blue

Post by Terry » Thu Jul 24, 2003 3:52 pm

It is relatively common for large quadrapeds to be killed by so-called "splash" lightning when, after the initial strike, the lightning spreads out through the ground. It can find a quicker path up the back legs of the animal, through its body and down its front legs than through the ground between the front and back legs. The lesson large bipeds should take from this is not to stand with your legs apart.

Tom Atkins
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bolt from the blue

Post by Tom Atkins » Thu Jul 24, 2003 8:14 pm

The most vulnerable humans must be mounted household cavalry troopers - high up, wearing brass helmet and breast plate, holding a metal sword up in the air and mounted on a large quadraped into the bargain.

They must be a very brave body of men.

Jonathan Theobald
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Any relation?

Post by Jonathan Theobald » Thu Jul 24, 2003 11:38 pm

Spoken like a trooper, Tom.


Tommy

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play -
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.


The rest of the Kipling verse is at www.zeitcom.com/majgen/09kipling.html

spuffy
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Trooper

Post by spuffy » Fri Jul 25, 2003 11:56 am

Actually the trooper's metal exterior would offer some protection - the current would go past him rather than through him. It might feel a bit warm though and the horse may only be suitable for export to France following the incident (or supermarket salami).

Actually, I have met climbers who have reported that the pointy ends of their ice axes have sparked and fizzed while climbing in stormy weather. I guess that they were quite lucky to come down.

spuffy

Ralph Mayhew
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Kipling

Post by Ralph Mayhew » Fri Jul 25, 2003 6:41 pm

Do you like Kipling, Ted?

Ted
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Kipling

Post by Ted » Fri Jul 25, 2003 6:42 pm

...I'm quite fond of the cream slice, sorr.

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