NEWPORT, Rhode Island – A sail to Block Island proved dramatic when a major squall line approached the Spirit of South Carolina tall ship on July 27 and lightning poured down around the ship. In one big, bright, blast, the ship’s electronics and engine power were lost. The subsequent evaluation has included multiple dives on the hull, through-hull inspections, examinations of the rig for melting, charring or damage of any kind, and thorough investigation of damage to the top mast, running rigging, standing rigging, shackles, mauzings, ironwork, lightning rod, and lightning wire. The tall ship was hoisted out of the water Monday, August 18 at Newport Shipyard in Rhode Island to investigate the total impact of the incident.
Thus far it has been concluded through exhausting efforts by Captain Tony Arrow, the crew, and U.S. Coast Guard inspectors that there is no damage to the structural integrity of the hull and no visible signs of damage to the masts and rigging. In determining where the lightning actually stuck the vessel, all evidence leads to the likelihood of a proximity strike which would have hit the water very close to the vessel and traveled in through the propeller shafts directly to the engines.
The engineering evaluation of the ship illuminated the brunt of the impact revealing all navigational, communications, and computer equipment non-operational. Any and all equipment that has a circuit board will require replacement, including electronics and engine controls. Cummins Marine and Raymarine have remained resolute in their support of the Spirit of South Carolina, both with representative in Newport lending support to the recovery mission. Newport Shipyard is also proving that South Carolina doesn’t hold the patent on hospitality, with consistent expressions of support. The ship will remain hauled out of the water, as the crew works with specialists to make all necessary repairs from the strike and also conduct their planned biannual maintenance.
This time period was coincidentally, and fortunately, scheduled as a maintenance period for the ship, with dozens of other preventative “to dos” on the list and repairs to complete from the ship’s first year of programs seeing more than 2,500 students across the deck. As the 150-ton ship was hoisted out of the water, the crew anxiously got started on a litany of work to accomplish. Activities of the next few weeks will include realigning propellers, adding the final sail called the Fisherman Staysail, and adding cleats to the bulwarks. The captain also noted that there was heavier than anticipated worm activity on the hull. The ship launched in March of 2007, and spent the larger part of the last year in the warm waters of South Carolina where the Wando and Cooper Rivers meet. Virtually all wooden boats are susceptible to worms, but it is important to monitor the ongoing challenge of these natural underwater pests and repair any damage in a timely and efficient manner. There are few preventative measures available, other than regular inspections via hoisting the vessel and reapplying paint.
The extent of the repairs at hand following the lightning strike, added to the planned maintenance that is required at this time, will force a change of the ship’s schedule as well as incremental expenses. The Spirit was planning to head north following maintenance to participate in a schooner race around Prince Edward Island. The Spirit regrets to miss this opportunity but the ship’s integrity and safety always reign supreme. It is anticipated that the ship will return to South Carolina as planned for educational programs in early October, following all repairs and approval from the U.S. Coast Guard. The South Carolina Maritime Foundation will face its challenges dealing with considerable expenses to repair the lightning induced damage, as well as lost revenue from the change of schedule. Support may be provided to the foundation through their website at www.scmaritime.org, or by participating in one of their upcoming fundraising events, the Spirit Ball gala (October 11) or the Captain’s Cup Golf Tournament (October 7). More information about these events and supporting the Spirit is available online at www.scmaritime.org or by calling the foundation office at (843) 722-1030 ext 17.
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