April 13, 2024

Retired British couple stranded in hurricane belt after lightning struck their boat and burned out electrical parts

A retired British couple who spent their life savings on a yacht are now stranded in the Bahamas after being struck by lightning.

To make matters worse, the couple now faces a race against time to get moving before hurricane season arrives.

Mike Beech, 63, and his wife Helen, 61, from Lowestoft, East Suffolk, were moored on a small island near George Town when lightning struck the mast of their sailing boat at around 6.30pm on March 23.

The couple – who have three children Alice, 30, Charlie, 29, and Jessica, 27 – were preparing for dinner when they suddenly heard an “almighty boom” and saw a powerful flash of white and blue light.

The lightning, which was captured on camera from a distance, destroyed almost all of the boat’s electrical equipment, which will cost at least £36,000 to repair and means that, for now, they cannot move forward.

Although their insurer is expected to cover most of the bill, they could face costs of around £6,000 and fear their retirement dream could come to an abrupt end if their beloved boat is written off entirely.

Mike, who has had a number of careers – including as a lorry driver, and Helen, who was an NHS midwife for 34 years, cannot afford the repairs themselves as they have spent their life savings on buying and refurbishing the boat, and only receive a modest pension.

Mike Beech, 63, and his wife Helen, 61, crossed the Atlantic in their 38ft yacht Mistral Dancer (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

But time is of the essence as the Bahamas prepares to enter the hurricane and tropical storm season on June 1, for which they are not insured.

“I never want to experience anything like that again,” Mike said.

“It’s really scary right now because all the other boats are heading back to the U.S. to get out of the hurricane and tropical storm belt and we’re stuck here.

“I have never seen an electrical storm like this.

“But we’re alive, because I’m not sure what would have happened if we were on deck.”

Mike and Helen bought their 38ft yacht, Mistral Dancer, from Hamble-le-Rice in Eastleigh, Hampshire, for around £50,000 in July 2018.

“As a child growing up in Trencrom Hill, Cornwall, I always wanted to sail across the Atlantic but never got around to it,” said Mike.

“Obviously it’s money and then we had three children and family life came first.

“So it wasn’t until my wife retired that we were able to afford it, because it’s really her pension that drives us and keeps us afloat.”

The lightning burned all his electrical navigation equipment (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

Before facing the Atlantic, the couple decided to put their nautical skills to the test in the Mediterranean.

“We had done our captain’s check and were off,” he said.

They set sail from Lowestoft a year later, passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and headed east until they reached Finike in Turkey before turning back.

The trip proved to be a success and in December 2022 Mike and Helen began the 35-day Atlantic crossing, stopping in Lanzarote and Cape Verde along the way.

“We had a great trip to the Canary Islands,” he said.

“Then we really picked up speed, we were flying.”

They arrived in Saint Lucia and spent the year traveling from island to island before anchoring at Crab Cay, a small island just a few miles from George Town in the Bahamas.

This is where the disaster occurred.

The couple decided to change anchorages after hearing that an electrical storm was heading their way.

What was left of the mast’s electrical wiring after being struck by lightning (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

Helen was preparing dinner at around 6.30pm on March 23 this year, and Mike was reading on his phone in the living room when lightning struck the mast.

“First we heard the crack and then there was an almighty bang,” Mike said.

“At first I thought someone had hit us in the side or something – it was a big bang.

“With it came a huge flash of white and blue light that illuminated the interior of the boat.

“It was like a flash, but 100 times brighter and with blue light added.

“Obviously it’s all over when you hear it.

“There is no time to panic.”

Mike peered out the saloon window and saw the boat’s wind direction indicator and antenna fall into the water.

“I didn’t know what it was at the time, all I saw was a cloud of smoke with sparks,” he said.

“That’s when I realized we had suffered a direct attack.”

The screw was captured on video by other boaters who were anchored more than 300 meters away.

“You can’t see our boat, but you can see the impact doesn’t hit the ground because that’s where it hit our mast,” Mike said.

Mike and Helen spent their savings on buying and renovating the boat (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

Although they were unharmed, the wave destroyed all of their electrical devices except a few light bulbs.

In particular, the GPS system, cruise control, depth sounder, speed log and short range meter are all fried, as are the alternator and electrical relays.

It will cost at least £36,000 to repair the boat, according to research last week.

“The surveyor’s bill is horrible,” Mike said.

“He reckons it’s about $20,000 (£15,900) in parts and about $25,000 (£20,000) to get someone here with the relevant knowledge.

“I didn’t imagine it would be so expensive.

“That was almost what we paid for the boat, which represented all of our savings and a portion of Helen’s pension.”

The couple, who depend on Helen’s pension to live, are unable to pay for the repairs out of their own pockets.

They are also extremely concerned about the mast and fear that their insurance company, Pantaenius, may decide to write off the boat entirely.

“The guy who did the research said that since an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) passed through the boat, none of the things are reliable for sailing in the ocean right now,” Mike explained.

Another challenge is that Mike and Helen’s visas will expire later this week, as will their cruise permit, unless they pay an additional £400 ($500).

Mike and Helen were anchored a few kilometers from George Town, in the Bahamas (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

The couple has yet to find out how much their insurance will cover, but said the local boating community has been extremely helpful and supportive.

To help them get back into the water, one of their friends, Tony Wells, launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe for £6,000.

Mike and Helen planned to stay just a few more days before leaving for Jamaica and then heading south to Colombia.

If everything had gone as planned, they hoped to continue their journey and visit their son Charlie in New Zealand.

“We were just passing through, we weren’t supposed to stay,” Mike said.

“Maybe it wasn’t meant to be and my mom is there laughing at me.”

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