Mahseer. Lightning Only Struck Once

John Leary
12th June 2005, 20:43
One the first of my two voyages on Mahseer as second R/O the chief R/O Harry Jefferson and I replaced the rather worn and outdated aerial changeover panel with a very smart modern replacement. (Modern for 1963 that is).

For those not familiar with the purpose of such a device it is the means by which the main and standby transmitting and receiving aerials were connected to the transmitters and receivers in the ships radio room. Remember that in those days the ships aerials were very long wires mounted as high as possible above the ships superstructure.

The new aerial change over panel was an open plate of mild steel, slightly over 2 feet square with a number of porcelain insulators mounted at right angles to its surface. The insulators were very similar to, but very much smaller than those you see on the top of todayís electricity sub-stations. The aerial feeder wires were connected to these insulators.

Connections between the aerials and the transmitting and receiving equipments were made by two pairs of knife lever switches that were able to rotate in order to connect the selected aerial to the required equipment. The panel was mounted on to angle brackets that in turn were welded to the bulkhead, the outside of which faced the number three hold. . The panel additionally was earthed to the bulkhead by a flexible cable.

The wireless operating position was to the right of and below the aerial changeover panel, so that it could be seen and was easily accessible when operating the ships wireless installation. The work of installing the new panel was completed successfully in Colombo and everything was in fine working order for the return journey home.

Now Harry was a man who had previously served in the Royal Navy during WW2 and had seen active service. He was well built, had a fine head of greying hair and a moustache that was animated, particularly when he laughed which he did very often. He could find humour in most situations, was not excitable and was rarely put out no matter what problems were encountered.

On ships carrying two R/Oís the radio watch keeping duties were shared between them. If a meal break occurred during a radio watch-keeping period then the R/O on watch would be relieved to allow the meal to be taken. It was again usual during my time at sea for there to be two sittings in the dining saloon with the junior officers eating at the first sitting.

One late afternoon on the return journey home when still in the Indian Ocean, I was on watch and was relieved by Harry to go to dinner. The weather was stormy and the ship was moving about quite a bit. This never curbed my appetite because apart from my first trip to sea when I was violently sea-sick travelling from Newcastle to the continent I never suffered any ill effects from bad weather. As food was part of your wages I always did my best to be very well paid!

What was on the menu that day I cannot remember but as I was walking up the internal staircase from the dining saloon to the radio room after my meal, I was feeling very contented and ready to finish off the watch by taking the traffic list from the Area coast station.

When I entered the radio room the electric lighting had been switched off, the only light coming in was from the single porthole. All the equipment was switched off and there was a very strong smell of ozone similar to the one you get from the ionisers and fly killers you find on the walls of a butchers shop.

Harry was sitting totally still and was gripping the edge of the wireless operators swivel chair. His face was completely drained of colour so it was impossible to say where his white shirt ended and his neck and face began.

Apparently as he was watch keeping the aerials had been struck by lightning. The energy had carried down the aerial conductors and had found a path to earth across the insulators of the changeover panel. He described the initial noise when the strike occurred like a clap of thunder within the radio room followed by a pyrotechnic display as the lightning jumped across the panel on its way to earth.

Harry couldnít say how long the discharge had continued (probably fractions of a second) but he did mention that arcing had occurred simultaneously across all the insulators on the face of the panel.

His instinctive reaction when the lightning struck was to pull all the power supply breakers to the equipment and to switch off the lights. After that shock set in and he just sat in the darkened radio room trying to recover. Fortunately apart from being shocked in the medical sense, he was unhurt. His recovery was aided significantly by a couple of chota pegs of some amber coloured liquid.

As we brought the station back to life we were pleased and relieved to find that apart from a little bit of paint scorching on the changeover panel all the ships radio equipments were undamaged, possibly a testimony to the way they were constructed in those days and also because they did not contain the voltage sensitive semiconductor devices and integrated circuits of modern equipments. I donít think anyone else on board knew the ship had been struck until Harry related the story later.

Although I sailed through a number of storms after that day, I never experienced a similar event and I have to admit I am happier to report that event second-hand rather than to have to describe it from personal experience.

Strangely enough although as I said Harry had a great sense of humour, to my knowledge he never ever made a joke about that incident.

Doug Rogers
13th June 2005, 02:41
Thats a good story with a happy ending. I have heard stories in similar vein, although never experienced anything like it personally. I most certainly agree with your comments about modern equipment as well, much more potential for serious damage to occur.

13th June 2005, 14:13
From what I can remember, I think that same changeover panel was still there
when I sailed on the Mahseer in '71.
I don't believe I ever experienced a direct lightning hit, but it was fairly common to get arc-over on the panels when sailing in or near a lightning storm due to the pick-up of static electricity on the aerials. Usually it only took one sharp 'crack' and the smell of ozone to remind you to earth the antennas!

10th August 2005, 19:03
A good site for R/o with a welcome in morse is I have no personal connection with this site, .
I am not an R/O. Came across site by accident

John Leary
10th August 2005, 19:30
Many thanks for the link. Will have to have a look.
Regards John

John Rogers
10th August 2005, 20:34
I was watching a show on TV last night about the effects of lightning strikes and how it effects aircraft if it sustains a direct hit. The old theory was that lightning bounces of aircraft and at times would blow a little hole in the skin of the plane. Now they have found out by more studying that not only is it Positive and Negative it is also Positive when it strikes the ground or a aircraft causing the aircraft to crash like the Pan Am flight in 1963.

11th August 2005, 10:39
Another great story John.
Coincidentally I had a similar experience on "Glenbeg" ex "Samjack" Glen and Shire Line, MF only.
The original RCA 4U transmitter had been updated to IMR with new IMR aerial changeover.
During a thunderstorm of the Philippines, I tried to move the changeover from aerial to full earth.
The belt I got sent me flying across the radio room!!
My chief just would not believe me!
I'm sure the reason for my incident was this particular IMR aerial changeover was wooden-handled. Others I sailed with eg Redifon had huge bakelite/plastic handles and Marconi similar.

Derek Roger
21st August 2005, 15:36
Harry Jefferson was Chief RO on the Maipura on my first trip to sea ( Eng apprentice ) He was a great guy with a good sence of humor. Also stood bye the Mahsud in Sweden and sailed the maiden voyage ; Harry was Chief RO ; I was 4th Engineer then .

John Leary
22nd August 2005, 11:15

Thanks for the info on Harry. In what years did you sail with him?

Regards John

Derek Roger
23rd October 2005, 15:21
Sorry for being so slow John ; I was surfing when I noticed you had asked a question . I sailed with Harry in 1965 on the Maipura ( I was eng apprentice ) then on the Masud in 1968 . Also the Markor I think later .