Channel 16, the boater's distress frequency, was filled with the chatter of "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" as Wayne Holin tried to navigate his powerboat on the Chesapeake Bay yesterday.
"Lightning bolts were all around, and everyone was calling for help. I thought for sure someone would be killed," Mr. Holin said after making it safely back to shore at the Goose Harbor boatyard in Bowleys Quarters.
Holin was right. In fact, two people were killed by the lightning. They were his neighbors, Robert and Penny Chatterton.
The couple, in their 50s, were experienced boaters who, like many others in yesterday afternoon's violent storm, ran their boat to the shore of Carroll Island for cover. Natural Resources police believe both died of injuries they suffered when a lightning bolt struck them.
High winds and rough water caught many boaters off guard yesterday as the storm blew inwithin seconds, capsized two boats and created a panic on the water. Witnesses reported that many boats attempted to anchor, only to be knocked off their ties by the wind.
"It was insane. We were in a 32-foot boat, and we were getting tossed around like we were in a rowboat," said Rob Ali, a boater from Towson who was out with five friends during the storm. "The wind was pushing us all around, and we kepthearing the lightning going, 'Kaboom! Kaboom!' on the island."
Another man, Bill England, 26, also of Towson, said the storm came up so quickly that he barely had time to be pulled in from water skiing.
"It was dead calm when I went in; and before I knew it, everyone was yelling for me to get on board because they could see lightning all over," he said. "Then the wind started up just like that, and they had to reel me in. I barely made it."
Police believe the Chattertons, who made their home less than a mile from the Seneca Creek inlet of the bay and had been boating for more than 13 years, panicked when their 16-foot boat was tossed about off the southern tip of Carroll Island.
Their boat, most likely made of fiberglass, would have provided them good cover from the electrical storm, said Officer Robert Grate of the Natural Resources Police. But many boaters are often overcome by panic during a sudden storm and either forget or just simply don't know safety measures, Officer Grate said.
A standard rule of safety for boaters in a thunderstorm is t anchor the boat a distance off shore that is equal to six times the depth of the water under the boat, Officer Grate said. All power in the boat should be turned off, and the boater should then wait out the storm.
"But in a crisis situation, a lot of people just aren't going t remember that," he said. "It gets scary out there. It gets awesome."
The Chattertons' modest gray cottage on the edge of Gooseneck Road is within walking distance of the boatyard, and the couple often spent their weekends boating together,their neighbors said.
Mr. Chatterton, the owner of a gas station in Essex, had probably made hundreds of trips on his two boats, said Mr. Holin, who lived down the street from the couple for more than 10 years.
Mr. Holin said he frequently sees flash thunderstorms on the bay. "Anyone who does a lot of boating has seen them," he said. "It's just that you forget them, because you look out at it now and it's so beautiful that you want to go out there again."