British couple stranded after lightning strike causes £36,000-worth of damage to their boat

British couple stranded after lightning strike causes £36,000-worth of damage to their boat

The couple now face a race against time to get moving before hurricane season arrives (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

A retired British couple are stranded in the Bahamas after their yacht was struck by lightning.

Mike Beech, 63, and wife Helen, 61, face a race against time to get moving again before hurricane season arrives.

The lightning fried electrical navigation equipment, causing £36,000-worth of damage.

They were moored off a small island near George Town when the bolt, which was captured on camera from a distance, hit the mast of their boat on March 23.

The couple – who have three children Alice, 30, Charlie, 29, and Jessica, 27 – were getting ready to have supper when suddenly they heard an ‘almighty bang’ and saw a powerful flash of white and blue light.

While their insurance company 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 should their beloved boat be written off altogether.

Mike and Helen Beechwere moored off a small island near George Town when a lightning bolt hit the mast of their sail boat (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

Mike and Helen bought their 38-foot yacht, Mistral Dancer, from Hamble-le-Rice in Hampshire, for around £50,000 in July 2018 (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

Mike, a former truck driver, and Helen, who was a midwife with the NHS for 34 years, cannot afford to pay for the repairs themselves. They spent their life savings on buying and renovating the boat, and only receive a modest pension.

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.

A friend and fellow sailor has launched a fundraiser to help them cover their insurance excess and any extra costs including renewing their visas and cruising permit.

‘I never want to experience anything like that again, at all,’ Mike told PA Real Life.

What is left of the electrical wiring on the mast after it was struck by lightning (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

The lightning bolt has destroyed almost all of the boat’s electrical equipment, which will cost at least £36,000to repair (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

‘It’s really scary at the moment because all the other boats are racing back to the US to get out of the hurricane and tropical storm belt and we’re stuck here.

‘I have never seen an electrical storm like it.

‘But we’re alive, because I’m not sure what would have happened if we had been on deck.’

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

‘As a small child, growing up on Trencrom Hill in Cornwall, I always wanted to go sailing across the Atlantic but never accomplished it,’ said Mike.

Mike and Helen cannot afford to pay for the repairs themselves as they spent their life savings on buying and renovating the boat (PIcture: Handout/PA Real Life)

The couple could face costs of around £6,000 and fear that their retirement dream could come to an abrupt end (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

‘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 could afford to do it, because it’s really her pension that drives us along and keeps us afloat.’

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

‘We had done our skippers ticket and off we went,’ 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 circling back.

The journey proved successful and in December 2022 Mike and Helen began their 35-day Atlantic crossing, stopping in Lanzarote and Cape Verde on the way.

‘We had a great sail down to the Canary Islands,’ he said.

‘Then we really did pick up some speed, we were flying along.’

They arrived in St Lucia and spent the year island hopping before dropping anchor in Crab Cay, a small island a few miles away from George Town in the Bahamas.

It was here that disaster struck.

A friend and fellow sailor has launched a fundraiser to help them cover their insurance excess and any extra costs (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

The couple set sail from Lowestoft a year later, passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and headed east until they reached Finike in Turkey (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

The couple decided to move anchorage after hearing that an electrical storm was headed in their direction.

‘First we heard the crickle crackle and then there was this all mighty bang,’ said Mike.

‘At first I thought someone had crashed into the side of us or something – it was that big a bang.

‘With it was this massive flash of white and blue light that just lit the inside of the boat up.

‘It was like a flashbulb but 100 times brighter and with blue light added to it.

‘Obviously it’s over and done with by the time you hear it.

‘There’s no time to panic.’

Mike peered through the saloon window and saw the boat’s wind direction indicator and aerial 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.

Helen was cooking dinner and Mike was reading on his phone in the lounge when a lightning bolt struck their mast (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

While the couple were unharmed, the surge has destroyed all of their electrical devices bar a few lightbulbs (Picture: Handout/PA Real Life)

‘That’s when I realised we had had a direct strike.’

The bolt was captured on video by fellow boaters who were anchored more than 1,000 feet away.

‘You can’t see our boat but you can see the strike doesn’t actually hit the ground because that’s where it’s hit our mast,’ said Mike.

While they were unharmed, the surge has destroyed all of their electrical devices bar a few lightbulbs.

In particular, their GPS system, autopilot, depth sounder, speed log, and close-hauled gauge have all fried, as well as the alternator and electrical relays.

‘The bill from the surveyor is horrendous,’ said Mike.

‘I had no idea that it would be so expensive.’

The couple, who rely on Helen’s pension to live, cannot afford to pay for the repairs out of their own pocket.

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

‘The guy who did the survey said since an EMP (Electromagnetic pulse) has gone through the boat none of the stuff is reliable for ocean sailing now,” explained Mike.

The hurricane season starts in the Bahamas on June 1, and time is running out for Mike and Helen to get their boat to safety.

‘That’s really worrying,’ he added.

Another challenge is that Mike and Helen’s visas are set to run out later this week as well as their cruising permit unless they pay an additional £400 (500 dollars).

The couple are 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 on the water, one of their friends, Tony Wells, has launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe for £6,000.

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Mike and Helen had only been planning on staying a few more days before setting sail for Jamaica and then heading south to Colombia.

Had it gone to plan, they were hoping to continue their journey and visit their son Charlie in New Zealand.

‘We were just passing through here, we weren’t meant to stay,’ said Mike.

‘Maybe it wasn’t meant to be and my mother is up there laughing at me.’

You can support Mike and Helen via their GoFundMe page.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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