A tale of the unexpected

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had? Have you included it in one of your books?

Having spent a considerable part of my life at sea, I suppose I have had quite a few unique experiences.

Strangely enough, the ones that stick in my mind are not the things you might think. I was on a ship where the engine room flooded. I once had to go into an engine-room that was on fire to rescue someone. I’ve been around Cape Horn, up the Amazon. I was on a Jumbo jet that had to make an emergency landing. All these things were memorable.

I’ve been in some awful weather as well, the experience of a big ship at the mercy of nature gives you a unique awareness of its power. I always had confidence in the seaworthiness of my ship. My training had given me the ability to do the right thing at the right time to stay afloat and reach the next port.

The most unusual event I ever experienced happened one ordinary evening when I was third navigation officer. I was on bridge watch, in the Aegean Sea, during a thunderstorm. The sea wasn’t rough, we weren’t rolling or pitching. it wasn’t foggy, just rain squalls and a lot of thunder and lightning.

And then the ship, all 40,000+ tonnes of it, was hit by a bolt of lightning.

At first, I didn’t realise what had happened. I actually thought we had collided with something solid, even though I knew there was nothing in the vicinity. We were moving at about 15 knots, there was a flash, which seemed closer than the others had been, followed almost instantly by a tremendous blast of noise. The ship stopped, dead. Just for a split second, we were still. Then we carried on as before.

That sounds impossible but I don’t care. I know what I felt. I staggered forward into the radar. Dust, fluff, bits of paper and every loose item in the wheelhouse shot to the front and made a pile on the deck.

At the same time, all the lights went out and every alarm on the ship started buzzing, ringing, beeping or warbling. The lookout was sprawled on the deck and I helped him back up.

The Captain appeared as I was trying to reset everything and get the steering working. The engine hadn’t stopped but the rudder was stuck, we were swinging around. I cancelled alarms and changed to manual steering (we had been in autopilot), which did the trick.

“What happened?” he asked as we settled back on course. I had to tell him that I didn’t know but that we definitely hadn’t hit another ship or even a Greek island.

“I think we must have been hit by lightning,” he said.

We took the battery-powered Aldis signalling lamp outside and shone it on the mast, above the wheelhouse.

The once white mast was now black, with a large scorch mark running down it. The deck was littered with broken glass.

I could smell burning plastic and ozone.  

So far, that hasn’t featured in any of my work. Maybe one day.

Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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20 Responses

  1. Jack Eason

    It happens all too frequently in the South China Sea as well…

    • Richard Dee

      It was one of those incredible moments. I met the Captain again, years later. The first thing he said to me was, “do you remember when we were hit by lightning?”

    • Richard Dee

      I wish, although I can make chocolate disappear, does that count?

  2. Stevie Turner

    Wow, what bad luck for the ship to be in just the wrong part of a vast expanse of sea! I’m never really happy on a boat. I think it goes back to being in a rowing boat with my dad as a small child and being caught in a thunderstorm. Cruise ships I can cope with, but anything smaller I can’t wait to get back on dry land!

    • Richard Dee

      I used to love the solitude, the smell of Sandlewood on the breeze at 3 a.m. and the sight of so many stars.

        • Richard Dee

          You get used to it. The worst I recall was when my ship rolled 47° one way, then back to 48° the other. In very slow motion. I thought I was a goner.

  3. Marjorie Mallon

    Wow, that must have been frightening Richard. My hubby and I were once hit by a mini tornedo in Ibiza. We were on holiday. Hubby was fascinated by it all, taking photos. Luckily, it didn’t do too much damage. It was some experience. Like you I’ve never written about it in my writing, maybe one day I will.

    • Richard Dee

      Strangely, there wasn’t enough time. It’s far worse as the weather gradually gets worse. When you know what’s coming.

    • Richard Dee

      Thanks, there must be a place for it somewhere, perhaps I’ll save it for my memoirs?

  4. Darlene Foster

    Wow! I have a cousin who was struck by lightning. She survived but part of her face is frozen. It happens frequently on the prairies. n our boating days we had some scary experiences too and our boat wasn’t very big 28 feet. But I had every confidence in hubbies boating abilities and we always arrived intact, eventually. But we were never struck by lightning.

    • Richard Dee

      No matter how big your ship, there was always a wave that was bigger!

  5. phil huston

    I grew up in tornado alley. As teenagers, we used to get in the car and chase them. Two blocks from my house a girl went to school with? A tornado picked up a 1968 Mustand from her next-door neighbor’s garage and dropped it in her living room. Ah, the ‘we’re indestructible’ foolishness of youth. Lightning is a scary thing, especially close enough to smell it. Or holding onto a mic stand when it hits a nearby power pole.
    But – you had a great line up there I use a lot. I say, quite frequently, that Star Trek was Bonanza in space, and that every book ever written starts with a version of “Pa, we’re takin’ the wagon to Virginia City. (Set a course for Zeltoid 7)” And ends with “Golly gee, Wally, there for a minute I thought we were goners!”
    True enough in life as well as fiction.
    And you can’t tell us you have no place for sun shears or cosmic debris or space lightning to take out communication on a mining colony somewhere long enough for someone to deposit a body in the library.

    • Richard Dee

      I know where a few bodies might be buried, metaphorically speaking. And I never met a ship’s engineer who didn’t want to talk about cross-heads, whatever they were. Space ships are just ships, floating in a different medium, they still need to keep the outside…, well outside. And if you leave the ship, after the voyage, with no injuries and no damage, it’s been a success.

  6. Lela Markham

    My grandfather was terrified of lightning. He had good reason. He had survived about a half-dozen near-strikes. He was plowing a field once, and could see the neighbor plowing his own field (North Dakota prarie, flat as a pancake, when the conditions are right, you can talk to your neighbor a mile away). A clean blue sky, one thundercloud scudding across it. Lightning hit the lead horse, following the harness up into the plow and killed the neighbor. Of course, he was grounded. A ship in water — not sure of the physics on that. Now you’ve given me something to research.

    • Richard Dee

      I’m still here, water and electricity don’t generally mix so I don’t know why. But I don’t glow in the dark so it’s all good.

    • Richard Dee

      There’s a lot of power in one of those bolts, I’m glad I wasn’t standing outside, it might have hit me instead of the mast.

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