Capone Island and diving the Philippines

Capones Island in the PhilippinesCapones Island 02/29/2016

My friends who live in Hong Kong came for a visit. Since they were going to only be here for 4 days I wanted to go somewhere close by. Pulling out the charts I noticed that there was an uninhabited island about a 5 hour cruise up the coast with many interesting bays along the way to explore. After checking the weather which looked really good off we went. I was also very happy that I had my new Iridium Go system with me. It creates a wifi hotspot using the Iridium Satellite phone system. I could now get weather information and make phone calls where ever I went. That means you get reception anywhere in the world. “Reception” does not mean you can surf the internet. You download weather, phone and email apps to your phone and all communication takes place through those at the old “dial up” speeds. The voice phone call and text system works similar to a cell phone system but it will cost the person calling you an arm and an a leg. it is mainly for calling not receiving. The system hardware runs about $1000 and a monthly communication package with unlimited data and a decent amount of voice phone call minutes is only $125, so all and all very reasonable. It is just amazing that with this new technology you can have reliable email, get weather reports, have text and phone service anywhere in the world very inexpensively. The system comes with a fixed antenna that you mount outside the boat. I would get the maximum signal indicated by the number of bars on the satellite phone, just like on a cell phone, in all but the heaviest seas as the boat moves around and can loose the signal.

In addition to my Iridium Go system I had also bought a new dinghy and outboard. My new aluminum bottom Highland dinghy and 5 hp 2 stroke Mercury outboard work great. Together the outboard and dinghy only weight about 110 lbs. It is sad that 2 stroke engines like this are no longer available in the USA due to emission standards. These outboards are very lightweight, inexpensive and reliable. They do require you to add two stroke oil to your gasoline, are noisier than a comparable hp four stroke and the exhaust smokes more but the advantages far outweigh the negatives. With the addition of the dinghy, outboard and Iridium system I was just about ready to leave for my Pacific Crossing.

Even though I have owned 10 boats over the last 32 years I still am learning something new each trip. I usually single hand the boat which makes me extra careful. With my friends on board I got sloppy. We were preparing to anchor in a bay that I had never anchored in before. My depth sounder which shows depth under the boat showed 120+ feet. Much too deep to anchor safely. My forward scanning sonar which measures depth in front of the boat showed 12 feet with the bottom rising quickly after that. My boat has 7 feet of draft and I was not sure whether it was high or low tide. There appeared to be an underwater shelf coming off the beach and then the bottom very quickly dropped off like an underwater cliff. I figured I would drop the anchor on the 12ft shelf. If the boat then floated out over the deep area it would not be a problem.

After anchoring I always throw on my scuba gear to check the anchor to make sure it is secure. That insures a very peaceful worry free nights sleep. When people ask me about what gear is absolutely necessary when outfitting a boat, based on my experience, I always say that being scuba certified and having a dive compressor on board the boat is necessary for a safe cruise. There is nothing like personally checking the underside of your boat before a long voyage to insure everything is OK. Turning the prop by hand and inspecting it, checking the cutlass bearing, checking through hull fittings etc., again, gives you peace of mind once you leave. Would you really trust your safety/life to someone else? Back to my story and off my soap box, I anchored on the underwater shelf, turned off the engine and all of my electronics and put on my scuba gear. I jumped in the water and started heading down the anchor chain. Immediately I noticed that something was wrong. The anchor chain was going straight down and not going out in front of the boat like it was supposed to. I couldn’t see the bottom. I had put out 70 feet of anchor chain and the bottom was supposed to be only 12 feet deep. What had happened was that I had anchored on the very top edge of the underwater cliff. Once I jumped into the water the anchor had slipped off the ledge and was not hanging freely. I quickly surfaced to see the boat floating away from me in the strong current towards a shallow reef. My guests on board saw what was happening and tried to start the boat engine. Starting the engine is not like a car. It is a 5 step process. They were unable to get it started. Fortunately they heard me yelling to drop more anchor chain as quickly as possible and they know how to operate the anchor windlass. With the anchor now on the 120ft bottom the boat came to a halt and I was able to board. All of this excitement because I had failed to set the anchor properly. For those of you who are not boaters, setting the anchor after deployment involves backing the boat up under power to securely dig the anchor in. Floating in the water in the middle of nowhere while your boat drifts away from you is a extremely scary experience to say the least. You can be sure it will never happen again.

We had a great time checking out the islands which had crystal clear warm water and beautiful coral. The only problem is that there was almost no fish life. This is something very sad I saw over and over in the Philippines. The local fisherman wipe everything out. As thier catch diminishes over the years they go to smaller and smaller hole nets. They kill everything. I talked to the local fishermen and asked what they do with the tiny fish. These fish are dried and sent to China where they are used in various dishes. I quickly learned that if I did not go to uninhabited areas in the Philippines far away from civilization there would be no fish life.

This trip was just one of many day trips to various places in the area to work the bugs out of the boat before heading across the Pacific. Grande Island sits at the entrance to Subic Bay. There are many areas around it with great visibility and lots of colorful coral for some fantastic diving. In summary, diving in the Philippines is spectacular but only if you can get away from the fisherman and tourists.