Pan-pan’s etymology is from the French for “break down.” Three calls of pan-pan over the radio signify there is an urgency on board but, for the time being, there is no immediate danger to life or to the vessel.
Over the past three years we have heard numerous pan-pans. In at least one case, we were in the vicinity and responded to such a call. Now, as we completed our crossing of Albemarle Sound and sought to enter the Alligator River, Eulalie was on the radio calmly and firmly repeating “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan. This is the Sailing Vessel Elizabeth Jean.”
In our newly acquired vocabulary, our situation had “escalated” and was quickly becoming “nautical.”
We were not alone. Just as we were nearing the navigational buoys around the Alligator, the wind frenzied. A cluster of vessels around the buoys signalled trouble. Summer Wind, a forty foot ketch, was aground and Journey, a beefy motor yacht, was asking us to hang back as the latter pulled the former free. The shoal then found and embraced Journey’s keel. We sought to pass around her as our knot meter showed 25 knots of wind, the rain slashed and the shallow water roiled.
Now we were also aground, the waves making Elizabeth Jean with her six foot keel a hobby horse on the sand five feet below the waves. Drakka and Gypsy Soul arrived; we advised them to keep moving. They passed safely.
A power boat we will call Angel wrested Journey free after snapping one line in the attempt. As she prepared to depart, Journey called over the radio and asked if we wanted her to try a rescue. There was just one catch: we had to get our line to her as she was not going to risk another grounding.
Fortunately, our dinghy Schooner was in the water off our stern rather than lashed on our pitching deck. The outboard was stowed, however, and Eric would again be rowing. After testing his ability to make way, Eric rowed towards Journey. Eulalie bent on another line each time Eric reached a line’s limit.
After Schooner had covered more than a half-a-football field of distance, Journey caught our tossed line. The knots and line held as Journey muscled us off the bar.
Our timing couldn’t have been better, the wind pitched to 40 knots and the rain went horizontal. Faithful Perkins responded to Eulalie’s throttle as we raced down the Alligator River.
“Elizabeth Jean, Elizabeth Jean” our radio called out. Gypsy Soul was hailing us to report an anchorage ahead.
As suddenly as it had broken loose, hell subsided. We nosed into the anchorage. Almost as if nothing had happened, we rowed over to Gypsy Soul for pumpkin spice cookies with her and Drakka‘s crews. ICW groundings and rescues had come full circle.
The calm after the storm; anchored on the Alligator River.