TURKEY TO MALTA - 'PAN PAN'

By Alan England.Airframes

In 2003 “Tavi” our faithful Finsailor 36 was replaced by "Linga Linga", a 1990 Moody 376 which was being made ready at Yat boat yard in Bodrum, Turkey. So in May 2004, my partner Rose and I flew out of Malta for Bodrum, via Istanbul with our excess baggage distributed in our clothing; we looked like the proverbial Michelin-Man in their tyre adverts!

Upon arrival at the Bodrum yard things started to go wrong. The engineer, Ken Motson, told us that "Linga Linga" was not ready, despite having had nine months to prepare her. His remit had been to replace all standing rigging, including the forestay, to fully service the engine and to replace any such components as required. We also enhanced her sea worthiness with new sails, a new anchor and a further 35 metres of chain. We paid Ken Motson's bill, received his signed certificate stating that all rigging had been replaced, and launched her six weeks late.

Following the trials and tribulations of the Turkish custom's administration in giving us clearance to leave their country, our voyage took us from Aspat Koyyu, in Bodrum, Turkey, to Kos harbour, and the Greek customs officials, where all went smoothly.

We duly reached, and anchored, at Kiparissa, in Greece, to await a favourable weather forecast for the 250 nm hop to Malta; this was eventually to take nine days and 380 nm!

The next day, 14 July, on an assured NW F5 favourable met forecast, we set sail for the three day passage to Malta. However, at about 7am the next day, 100 nm from Kiparissa, and 150 nm from Malta, the wind was up to a F7 and, when I attempted to reduce sail by furling the jib - for non-nautical readers, the small sail at the bow - its self-furling gear fitting sheared; this was the only thing holding the mast up! Fortunately my brain was still functioning at this early hour of the morning and I immediately altered course to take the strain off the mast. After about an hour I had managed to jury rig the mast with spare halyards, though in the process I nearly became a "eunuch" from the flailing of the failed self-furling gear!

An assessment of the situation indicated that the sensible thing to do would be to return to Kiparissa with the wind behind us. However, had I taken that course of action, it would have seen us being stuck in Greece for months attempting to complete repairs, and I had promised "SWMBO" that I would get her to Malta by August! So I started the "Iron Lady" - our Ford "White Van" engine; all went well for the first five hours and we were making a good steady five knots in the direction of Malta when a major engine water cooling pipe failed - something Ken Motson should have replaced as it was well past its sell by date - and no amount of "DUCT" tape could fix the problem!

By now it was approaching darkness and things were getting serious so I sent out a "PAN PAN" call on the radio; this was to inform potential rescuers - including emergency services and other craft in the area - that a safety problem existed, whereas a "Mayday" call would make them drop all other activities and immediately initiate a rescue attempt. It was answered by a nearby small German coaster heading for Syracuse - the right direction - who advised us that the wind was forecast to reach F8 and offered us a tow. I realised that this would be the end of us as, in those conditions, we would very quickly be dragged under and sunk! So I declined the tow and spent the night "hove to"; I cannot say I got much sleep though. I assessed things in cold light of day the next morning, and decided to attempt to sail 200 nm to Porto Palo, Sicily, under jury rig; this would mean steering manually for the days to come, meaning little rest for us. Electricity would have to be conserved so as to ensure I had sufficient electricity in the batteries should I need to transmit a "MAY DAY" call.

The epic voyage had its moments for I decided I could not risk having much sail up in more than F4 to minimise strain on the mast and could not sail closer than 100 degrees to the wind, This was to have a great effect on us and we found, as the days went by, that we were not able to sail sufficiently close to the wind to make Porto Palo so we would carry on for Malta.

Sometime later we experienced the rare event of a complete calm sea with fantastic water visibility and we even had a visit from some turtles! We also called up a liner on our radio requesting that the Italian Rescue Authorities be made aware of our progress and it was reassuring when a clipped English voice responded and offered assistance; it was good to know that we were not alone!

Seven days later we were within 20 nm of the South East coast of Malta and mobile telephone range enabling us to call our friend for assistance, thinking he would send out a motor boat to tow us in to the Marina. The next day we were in nearly the same position with the wind staying from the north west, a direction preventing us sailing to our destination!

With no change in wind direction forecast it was possible that our next stop would have been Libya, and I was not sure we would have received a warm welcome from Colonel Gaddafi. At midnight we heard the sound of engines and were illuminated by a search light from the 20 metre Malta Armed Forces patrol boat, P51, the "cavalry" had arrived.

We were questioned about our plight and when we replied, requesting a tow, we were informed that the cost would be €1000/hour! We told them that we only wanted a commercial tow; they then sent a rib across to us and, as they had no painter themselves, we had to make them fast alongside using our lines. After much debate we negotiated a tow at a rate of €350/hour and signed a contract to that effect. Having made up a towing bridle and tow rope we started the tow; soon, though, we had to inform P51 skipper that he was not Michael Schumacher and could he please reduce his speed to 5 Kts otherwise we would not survive the tow? Six hours later we had our tow transferred to a 15 meter patrol boat, P23.

Shortly after the tow started I went into a sound sleep due to complete exhaustion. Six hours later I was woken up to find we had reached the marina. We were then, with great skill, nudged into our marina berth to be greeted by our English marina neighbours who made us welcome with the traditional "British Cup of Tea", the cure for all problems!

So in the early hours of the morning of 22 July my mission was accomplished, "SWMBO" reached our berth in the marina at Ta' Xbiex, Malta, by August as promised, after nine days and 360 nm, sailed without engine and with restricted sailing ability!

I was later to hear of a 15 meter Malta registered yacht, with a crew of six that was only 15 nm sailing from Kiparissa, en-route for Malta, when it suffered engine failure – only engine failure! They transmitted a "May Day" call and were rescued by a passing ship, having abandoned their yacht. The end result was that one of the crew was seriously injured during the transfer to a ship; a few days later the yacht was found afloat and salvaged!

So maybe I didn't do too badly after all? Hopefully our next voyages will be boring, some hope?

As we had departed from Greece, an EU country, and arrived in Malta, another EU country, I naturally assumed that this would not entail having to check in with customs! This illusion did not last very long as I was informed that I had to report to customs immediately, with all my documentation, despite being ready to collapse from exhaustion! Perhaps I should have arrived as an illegal immigrant; the reception would have been more hospitable.

However, this was only part one of the saga. The second part was to continue and not be finalised until February 2005! This was after more than seventy communications with Commercial Union Insurance, part of Aviva Insurance group! They had obviously read John Gresham's book "The Rain Maker", about an Insurance company deciding to boost profits as, for the most trivial of reasons, they refused all my claims. They would only pay out for any claims should I use a lawyer.

I immediately informed the CU agent in Bodrum, with whom "Linga Linga” had been insured for the last ten years! I was informed that I could proceed immediately to replace the damaged self-furling gear, and forestay, then submit the invoice, plus an invoice for the tow, and contact the Commercial Union Insurance office in Istanbul in September, after they had returned from annual holidays. I carried out these instructions and immediately replaced the self-furling gear and forestay, then was horrified to be informed that Ken Motson had not renewed the forestay as instructed. He had charged, and been paid, for this work and had issued me with a certificate stating that all standing rigging had been replaced! When I drew these facts to him he replied that I could take legal action against him in Turkey if I wanted to, knowing that, although this was a practical option for me, he was safe from prosecution. We were later to hear that we were not the first to suffer at the hands of Ken Motson, so perhaps I am both lucky and am still alive in order to tell the tale!

I contacted CU head office in Istanbul in September as requested, to be advised that my claim was being rejected! These are some of the reasons:

I did not contact CU first before commencing repairs: I then informed them we had indeed contacted CU before commencing repairs!

I did not get a surveyor's report: I informed CU we had not been asked to obtain a surveyor's report!

CU insurance did not cover us for our damaged rigging: I informed CU, quoting chapter and verse from the CU Insurance document, that we were covered for rigging failure!

The self-furling gear had not been serviced: I sent documentation to CU showing that servicing the self-furling gear only required washing off the bearings with water and that this had been carried out.

That the new forestay had been subjected to bad workmanship which would invalidate the insurance claim: I informed CU that the forestay was the only part of the rigging which had not been replaced!

In December I was informed that the senior British CU person in Turkey would review my case. Surprise, surprise, my claim was rejected!

In February 2005 I contacted the CU Chief Executive and my claim for €2000 was accepted, less a €250 excess for the tow, plus a second deduction of a €250 excess for the self-furling forestay! No doubt had I abandoned "Linga Linga", as would have been justified, and submitted a claim for €100,000, they would have paid up instantly? It makes you realise that you have no idea how good your insurance company is until you submit a claim?