The unstable air in a thunderstorm makes the air and water vapor molecules bang into each other, scrubbing off the electrons and creating a net negative charge in part of the cloud. At the same time, some areas of the surface become positively charged. If the negatively charged area of the cloud becomes connected to the positively charged part of the surface, a lightning bolt is created that carries billions of electrons from high in the cloud.
If you’re floating on the huge flat conductive ocean surface in a piece of Tupperware with a metal stick poking way up into the wind, getting hit by lightning is potentially a bad thing. A near miss can wipe out all the electronics, including the GPS and communication gear, while a direct hit can blow holes in the bottom of the boat causing swearing and other negative behaviors.
So our buddy Rodney came to see what we’re up to. Rodney is working on that whole “clean water for the masses” thing and is a pretty busy guy (http://aquaaccess.com/), but he wanted to make something for the boat. So he spend the larger part of his visit unwinding a lightning dissipator, or “flower.”
The flower started as a six-inch piece of 7×19 Stainless Steel cable with a copper ring swaged (smashed) on one end. Now it’s a high-tech piece of applied science we’ll bolt on the top of the mast. Each (7×19=133) sharp wire bleeds excess charge into the wind, making the top of our mast exactly the same charge as the surrounding air. It’s like static electricity camouflage.