Posted by: towmasters | November 6, 2010

Ride The Lightning

Ride the lightning, so sayeth the mighty Metallica, and proper metal protocol demands that you crank this up to 11.

Well, this summer we did. During the warm-to-hot months the Gulf of Mexico acts as a tremendous heat sink: soaking up the sun’s energy, then giving it back to the atmosphere in the form of evaporated sea water which rises and condenses into clouds…..

…..which often continue to grow into…..

…..powerful thunderstorms that can be unleashed at any time of the day or night,…..

…..and carrying a wallop that the storms of the higher latitudes usually can’t match. More heat equals more evaporation, condensation, and stored energy…..

…..and the release of it dramatically and temporarily balances out the atmospheric energy equation.

Part of this process includes the never-ending tug-of-war between positive and negative charges in earth and sky. Which sometimes leads to events like this…..

…..wherein the act of dissipating the electrical energy pent up in the clouds results in an impressive display of light, heat, sound and repair work for the electronics technicians.

This is all that was left of our 20+foot SSB radio antenna after we took a lightning hit off Pensacola. Not satisfied with just turning the whole thing into charred fiberglass confetti, the bolt also slapped the antenna tuner right off the overhead of the upper house…..

…..and, like shrapnel from a grenade, blew a bunch of the guts right out of it too……

It also wrecked the SSB radio itself. Nice work! I was really glad this didn’t happen while I was at the controls in our skybox. It is a truism that nature is a beautiful yet sometimes cruel and capricious mistress who…..

… the old saying goes, always bats last. But damn is she ever beautiful all the same, maybe even especially when she’s angry.

For more information check out Marine Lightning Protection, the National Weather Service’s Lightning Safety webpage, and How Lightning Works. For a good explanation for the difference between AM and SSB frequency modulation click here. What is Single Side-band? is a good primer for the layperson.

For those who’ve never seen it (is there actually anyone who hasn’t seen it?), here’s the classic Spinal Tap “these go to eleven” clip.




  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Miami Towing, San Francisco Towing, DC Towing, Atlanta Towing, Minneapolis Towing and others. Minneapolis Towing said: Ride The Lightning « Towmasters: the Master of Towing Vessels …: Mariner Associations. International Tugmaster… […]

  2. back to 1983:

  3. These pictures are awesome; the storm that is. I too have witnessed what lightning can do; however, that was aboard an HC-130J when the Coast Guard was still trying to figure out what to do with ’em.

    Not too many people get to see the end result of what a strike can do at sea and for that I thank you for sharing. ~R

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