For our exercise during the creative writing class I attend, the tutor gave us the subject of a lightening strike. For some reason I came up with the following short piece.
The sea stretched flat and calm deep blue to the horizon. The sunlight sparkled on the wake as it rolled away from the stern. The steady hum of the engine provided a background to the swish of the sea against the hull.
A ping from the consul lining the front of the bridge made the second officer look down at the electronic chart. The position of the ship was highlighted as a flashing dot and the second officer adjusted the course slightly to head the ship in the right direction The captain joined him for his afternoon tea. They stood looking out across the containers stacked on deck talking quietly as the ship ploughed on through the calm sea.
“ Whats that?” the second officer asked pointing to the horizon ahead of the ship.
The Captain picked up the binoculars and stared into the distance. The cloudless sky over the ship had been replaced by a dark smudge low down. They watched as the dark stain slowly took up more and more of the sky. Soon they could make out the clouds racing towards the ship. Towering above the thick blanket of grey were columns of black flat topped clouds. The rumble of thunder was now audible. Suddenly the sky was ablaze with streaks of lightening. Racing across the heavens in horizontal streaks or jagged sparks driving vertically into the sea. The view of the sea had disappeared, veiled in torrential rain which beat down the waves which had been forming in the storm.
“ Warn the crew that they will need to take cover while the storm passes,” the Captain ordered looking along the deck at some sailors painting the bulwarks. “ It will ruin their painting when it hits but there is nothing they can do about it.”
The second officer spoke into the telephone and soon a sailor appeared on the bridge.
“ Yes sir?”
“ Look out there.” the second officer said pointing. “ Tell the crew to take cover until the thunderstorm passes.”
“ Right you are, Sir!” He turned on his heel after casting a worried look at the approaching storm and hurried off off the bridge. The Captain and the second officer watched as the crew collected their paint pots and hurried back to the accommodation structure.
The thunder was now very loud and the sea was now like a sheet of grey steel. Like a curtain being pulled across a window cutting out the light, all about the ship was dark. The thunder crashed shaking the ships structure and lightening streaked in jagged forks across the sky. Rolling onward, the rain approached the ship, crossed the bow and was then streaming down the bridge windows. It was like driving through a waterfall. The Captain stood his face illuminated by the glow of the radar screen as he intently searched for any sign of other ships. The second officer stared through the revolving clear view screen which cleared a section of window.
Flashes of lightening lit up the structure and the thunder rattled the windows. A violent jagged pulse caught the mast sending sparks along the aerial. Alarms on the bridge started to sound as another strike hit the ship. The control panel sparked and flashed and then went dark. The ship yawed as the gyro compass stopped and the auto pilot failed.
“ What the hell?” the Captain shouted as the radar stopped.
The radio officer rushed onto the bridge. “ What is happening? The radios are exploding around me. We have lost all communications.”
“ It appears we have been struck by lightening. Get the sailor up here and put the steering into hydraulic manual.”
The second officer pulled a lever and took the wheel. “ There is no compass.”
The Captain shook his head. “ Pull down the visor and steer by the magnetic compass. I know we have not used that for a long tome if ever but do it.”
The Chief Engineer came running up the ladder to the bridge, panting from the effort. “ The computer which controls the engine has gone down. We are getting all the controls on manual.”
The sailor appeared and took over the wheel.
The second officer looked around the ship and the bridge. “ What do we do now?”
The Captain grunted. “ While the electrician wis trying to restore the bridge equipment, we will have to do things the old fashioned way. Get out the paper chart for the ocean.”
The second officer shook his head. “ Except in college I have never used a paper chart.’
He pulled out a drawer and shuffled some charts. Selecting one he smoothed this over the chart table which had come to be a place to put the coffee making rather than the centre of navigation. He scratched his head.
“ Don’t look like that. Where is the last printed position from the sat nav?”
The second officer searched through a file lying on the consul until he extracted a piece of paper. “ The print out from two hours ago. It is the best we can do because we print out the position from the chart every fur hours.”
With a pencil and parallel rulers, he marked this position on the chart. He then marked a line representing the course to be followed. Measuring off the distance travelled since that last reported position, he placed a mark on the chart.
“ Get out the sextant. To measure our position we will have to start taking sun and star sights.” The Captain watched as the second officer found the sextant case in one of the cupboards.
“ There is no way we can take a sun sight at the moment because of the cloud.”
“ Just get all the necessary stuff ready and when the clouds clear away, we will be able to calculate our position. I know. You have never done this in practise before only in theory but you have done it. Lets see how it goes, shall we?”
It opened my mind to the thought of what would happen if all electronics were suddenly inoperative. This is no theoretical problem. All the electronics in a shop I went to were down but they tried to keep the store operating by using hand held battery powered calculators. When the girl demanded £125 for five items priced at approx £5 I could only shake my head.
Has anybody thought of a contingency plans if this happened?