Pan Pan

Water was gushing into the engine compartment and filling up with diesel fumes so we declared a Pan Pan.

We had at last escaped Conwy, the weather was pleasant and we could at last feel the wind on our face and enjoy the sail. I went downstairs to make a cup of tea, which we both enjoyed up on deck as the sun went down. As we approached Puffin Island, we discussed which way to go around the island. I wanted to sail for longer, which would mean going around the far side of the island, it however gives no wiggle room, you have to get everything right, so Beverley, who is the more cautious sailor said we should drop the sails earlier, so that if we had an issue starting the engine we had time to manoeuvrer. So we went with Beverley's suggestion, she of course was proved right, the engine struggled to start, but we had the time to deal with it. The only issues with going on the near side is the sands, but we had plenty of water to cross them.

As the wind was directly on our nose and we were in a narrow channel I took control of Salty Lass, rather than Annie our auto pilot. Beverley and I rely on Annie, when there is plenty of sea room, but as soon as there is serious navigation to be done then we rely on ourselves. It was fun, steering Salty Lass, there was plenty to do and plenty to look for. When Beverley went downstairs to check things, she said that something was not right, Salty Lass's engine sounded different. So I said,

"Well, we can always go to the mooring field in Beaumaris"

We however decided that we would go to our intended mooring which is just two nautical miles further down the channel. By this time it was quite dark, so I steered close to the reds, and asked Beverley to get a touch so that she could look for the mooring field, which was on my starboard side. As she went downstairs, she started coughing, so as soon as she was down stairs, she lifted the stairs to see water gushing into the boat. She shouted at me,


With this one word, I knew that there was a serious problem, so I turned Salty Lass towards the mooring field. Beverley got onto the radio and declared a Pan Pan with the words

"Pan Pan, Pan Pan, This is sailing yacht Salty Lass, We are 100m south of Beaumaris pier, we are taking water aboard. We require immediate assistance".

Once the call had gone out, I got Beverley to play the touch over the water, so that we could look for a mooring. I saw one, so I told Beverley, where it was, she located the mooring buoy I had seen, so she went up front with the boat hook, while I manoeuvred Salty Lass, towards the buoy.

While I was getting us to the buoy, Holyhead coastguard, came back to us. So I had to give them a quick update, saying that I had seen a buoy and I was getting Salty Lass to that. They realised straight away that I was busy, so they left me to get on with my job, but they still sent the Lifeboat out to our position. Beverley, picked up the buoy and as soon as she shouted that we were moored up I switched the engine off, quickly followed by the ignition switch.

It was only then, that I went downstairs into what I thought at the time was a cloud of smoke, but was in fact diesel fumes. I realised that the bilge pump was already going, so Beverley must of started that at some time. I opened the hatches to get some of the fumes out of the boat, then I lifted the floor to see how the bilge pump was doing.

While I had been checking the bilge Beverley had come downstairs and started looking at where she had seen water coming out, so I asked her what the problem was and she told us that it was the exhaust elbow.

We had got ourselves safe, we were already pumping the bilges and we had diagnosed the problem, when we heard Holyhead coastguard on channel 16 to Beaumaris lifeboat. So we went upstairs to welcome our guests aboard. From the time, we had made the call to the RNLI turning up, had been some incredibly crowded minutes, but realistically it takes time to get people and assets on scene, so it is vitally important to make the call as soon as you can.

So the RNLI were on our boat again, one of the volunteers was an engineer so he looked at our exhaust elbow, the volunteers also checked everything with us, so while Beverley went up on deck and showed the RNLI volunteer how she had secured Salty Lass, another engineer asked me what I was going to do to sort out the problem, so I quickly told him,

"Close the engine sea cock so that no more water can come on board, use the electric bilge pump as much as possible to remove water, then the manual bilge pump and lastly a bucket and sponge."

He was well satisfied with my answer, so he was quite happy for us to remain on board, he had just gone upstairs for a few minutes, and I was checking the sea cock and closed it, that way no more water could come on board as the leak was after the sea cock.

I followed him up to wave the RNLI off, the volunteer that was asking Beverley questions was well satisfied with what she had said, so we were allowed to stay on board. I asked the guys to give us a big smile but with it being so dark, we could not see anything.

Once they were gone, we went below decks to assess the damage, this is when I noticed that the air filter was damaged too, I suspect this was from people looking at our exhaust and not being cautious. It was on my hit list, so quite frankly I was quite happy, it was at this point that Beverley told me of another issue. Apparently the diaphragm on our manual bilge pump was damaged, so just another thing to add to the list.

Beverley used the dinghy pump to get most of the water out, then she decided to go upstairs and check the mooring lines one more time, while she was doing that I continued to remove water from the bilges, but now I was on the sponge and bucket stage. While I was getting on with that job, I reflected on our situation and although it was a Pan Pan, we both knew what we were doing, so we got on with it.

That night we slept really well on our pilot berths because we knew we were safe, but we were also tired out.

The next day we had what I colloquially call UK clag, but even with the low level cloud we were still pulling in between 40 and 60W of power, which was a good thing seeing as the engine was knackered.

I looked at just how far we had gone down the channel before we had turned around and quite frankly, it was no distance at all. We also went through our check list, especially looking at the mooring. Looking at it all we needed to do was put a fender between the chain and Salty Lass and we would be good to go.