Penzance, Pirates, and Panic
Along the 400 km coast of Cornwall, there is no less than 6000 ship wrecks. Someone even compiled a list of all registered wrecks, which you can see on Wikipedia here: List of shipwrecks of Cornwall. How many of these wrecks that were caused by the Pirates of Penzance is unknown. However, one thing that is certain is that you don’t want to be on that list!
The thoughts running through my head were not as concrete as this, when Nanna after a couple of hours of motoring asks: “Is it supposed to be this much water in the boat?” This was the beginning of minutes, not sure if it was 5, 10 or more, which no one onboard wish to experience again.
We had departed from Penzance at 9am, going around Lands End (Longships Lighthouse), which we had seen from land the day before. We were motoring as there was almost no wind and the destination was Milford haven in Wales approximately 24 hours away. The engine was cooling as it should, as opposed to what happened on the Bay of Biscay.
And yes, there were way too much water in the bilge, or rather above the floor in the cabin. A quick estimate would be somewhere between 700 and 1000 liters, a few of these were from the work the engineer did in Penzance to fix the problem with the cooling, but that could by no means explain the amount of water now. Unless you have trained this situation well, panic will hit you. The Offshore safety training I attended during fall last year was mostly addressing preventing any issues, or what you did once you realized you had to leave the boat and go into the life raft. This situation was right in between these two topics, a situation where you need to figure out if this will go well or bad, and what to do to make it go well.
Despite the panic I managed to act rationally. The following might seem thought through and following an organized plan, but in reality it happened from instinct and adrenalin. First of all I wanted to locate the leak. The engineer in Penzance tested the seacock for sea water for cooling the engine – maybe it had broken? I opened to the engine, but there was too much water spashing around from the shaft still rotating. Another option was the shaft seal, so we stop the engine, but I still can’t see any water coming in.
Next thing is to pump out water. It is vital, that we can pump out the water faster than water is coming in. I start the electrical bilge pump – why did it not start by itself? I get Laura and Nanna to start pumping using the manual pump and start using buckets to get water out as fast as possible. I can’t hear the electrical pump running.
In the middle of all this I see, that June all by herself has set sails and we are now heading back towards Penzance, that will be our nearest harbor. Well thought and acted by the 1. helmsman and crew.
So many thoughts have passed through my brain. What can be used for stopping the leakage. We have wooden plugs, rubber plugs and some paste that should work quite well. Why didn’t we change that seacock… How is it the PAN PAN signal goes, which is the call you make on VHF when no lives are in danger, but potentially can be if the situation doesn’t change. We have boats within vicinity, they might have pumps we can borrow? Or they can pick us up in worst case scenario. How long time do we have before the water level reaches the electrical wiring shortcutting the long reaching VHF (as opposed to the hand held VHF)? Should we use the life raft this close to shore? etc. etc. It scares me just thinking of what thoughts went through June, Nanna and Lauras heads as they were less in control of the situation and what to do than I was.
After a few minutes pumping it looks as if we at least are able to get the water out of the boat as fast as it enters the boat. This is really good news, but for how long can we keep this pace? Probably a lot longer than we think. A few minutes more, and I dare to conclude, that vi can actually pump out water faster than taking water in.
A relief brushes through my body even though the situation is not yet completely in control. I want to shout to the others that the water level is falling and everything will be OK, but somehow I can’t find the words, so all I shout is “It’s going down“. It wasn’t received as well as I planned it to, and before I found the right words and explain it is the water level in the boat that is going down, the catastrophic thoughts had free play with the girls. However, the relief spread to them as well.
We stopped using the buckets settling for the manual pump – and the electrical pump which was actually working as well. I now put my focus back on locating the leak, checking all seacocks. I find nothing. Was there a connection to the motor running? We start it, and then I see water coming into the boat from the exhaust pipe, which had fallen off the exhaust silencer, thereby pumping the “used” water out into the boat. New relief, there is no leakage.
We could actually fix this and sail on, but we continued back to Penzance. The most important now was to make sure everyone was comfortable with sailing on again. Because of the tide, the harbour was closed for the next 8 hours, so we anchored at a buoy. I checked the pipes and seacocks again, and attached the exhaust pipe again, using an extra jubilee clip.
Over lunch we had an honest talk about how we reacted and felt, and whether we were comfortable sailing on. We agree that the problem was small, and we were safe to sail on. Without knowing at the time, we had not been in danger at any point of time, even if we were actually having a leakage as there were fishing boats nearby. Yes I know – sitting back home in the couch would have been safer. The plan now was to test that no water was coming in when running the engine, and then sail off again, due to a good weather window and to “get back on the horse again”.
The unattached exhaust pipe was a bit stupid, but I was able to deliver a bigger “brain fart”. The test revealed that the sea water for cooling was blocked again. I went through the entire cooling system, and called my brother for ideas. I tested many different things which I had also seen the engineer do a few days before. Nothing helped. We had nothing else to do than go back in the harbour and have the engineer fix it again. My mood wasn’t fantastic at this point. I cleaned up and decided to read in the pilot book. After a little while it hit me. My first suspicion was the seacock for cooling water. Didn’t I, in the middle of the adrenalin rush, close the sea cock? I went very determined down the cabin opening to the engine. June saw me and knew right away from my determination, that I had fixed it. And yes, the sea cock was closed. DOH! At least an easier and cheaper solution than having the engineer find the problem, and listen to polite taunting as well.
At the same time as the gate opened to the harbour, we sailed off in the opposite direction, finally at a new attempt to escape the pirates of Penzance. As in Lagos last year, we succeeded in second attempt. We ended up motoring all the way to Milford Haven, an undramatic and a bit doll trip. The climax of the trip was quite good: Lands End at sunset, which was very impressive and beautiful.