Carbon Fiber Masts and Lightning: Myths, Assurances And Risks

Let’s start with the myths:

  1. If a carbon fibre mast gets struck by lightning it is toast, end of story.
  2. If a carbon fibre mast gets struck by lightning, there is no way to tell if it has been damaged or not, so it must be junked.

These two statements are right up there with “drop a penny in the bilge of an aluminum boat and it will burn through in a week”; in other words, rubbish.

I can say this because I have personally seen a carbon fibre mast that was struck by lightning and then pronounced undamaged by a large and reputable mast manufacturer using ultra-sound. And before anyone says that the manufacturer can’t be trusted, do you think that any manufacturer in their right mind would pronounce a mast safe, with the attendant liability, if they were not sure of their methodology?

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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