I decided not to spend another rainy season in the Philippines. What makes the Subic Bay Yacht Club such a great typhoon hole also makes it have some of the worst weather in the Philippines. Those same mountains that keep out the typhoons trap hot air during the non rainy season. During the rainy season it will rain for weeks straight. Also, I decided I wanted to get the boat back to the USA. After taking care of business back home in Las Vegas and spending the holidays with family, I flew back to the Philippines in the middle of January. I had singlehanded my Nordhavn for the 4 years I owned it voyaging from S. California to South America. It is going to be a long trip home across the Pacific and I am not looking forward to those long sleepless days and nights. I am a loner but when I singlehanded before I was in my 40s. Now, in my 50’s I am very sadly realizing I have physical limitations. Getting old sucks! On findacrew.com you can use many different search criteria. You can set age and sex preference. In addition you can select whether you want paid or unpaid crew or crew who will contribute to boat expenses. Another variable is what level of experience you are looking for. If I was looking for someone to sleep with, I could also specify that. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. It is funny the way things work out. A young employee at my friend’s law firm was taking a break from college. He loved the idea of the adventure of a trip across the Pacific on a small boat. The issues were that he had no boating experience and had really not
left the USA before except on a luxury cruise ship. I figured I would give him a try. What he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm. Manila’s airport is rated the worst in the world. Most people going to Subic Bay will fly to Hong Kong and then fly to Clark Airport which is very near the Subic Bay yacht club. I decided to meet Jordan in Hong Kong and give him the grand tour and get a feel for whether he was going to work out or not. Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities. I dragged him all over Hk in search of boat spare parts and provisions. We visited the many friends I have made there over the years. In addition, he got to experience Mainland China. We took the ferry from Hong Kong to Doumen. Seahorse Marine, the company that built my boat, is located there. He did great. Anyone who does great in the real China, off the beaten tourist track, is to be congratulated. It is a completely different world. I could write a book on that. We then flew to the Philippines together.
We decided to do another shakedown cruise before leaving the Philippines for the trip across the Pacific Ocean to California. I also thought this would be a great opportunity for Jordan to see if he really liked the cruising lifestyle. Also, I have been a certified scuba diving instructor for the last 32 years. I was looking forward to teaching Jordan how to scuba dive and showing him this new world to him. I prefer to go places the tourists do not go which usually means uninhabited islands. I really enjoy anchoring out in the middle nowhere and having virgin diving. We decided to do a two week circle tour around the islands in the central Philippines. It was a great trip.
From Sufic Bay which is in the Northern Part of the Philippines on the island of Luzon we headed south. Our first day’s journey would take us across the large mouth of Manila Bay. From previous experience I knew that the wind, current and swell always seemed to be coming from different directions here which would make for very confused seas. Again, a good time to test out the boat for my big Pacific ocean crossing. My boat is a ketch rigged motorsailer. For those of you reading this who are not boaters, a ketch rig on a sailboat has two masts. A larger mast forward and a smaller mast and sail aft. One of the many advantages of having sails is that when deployed they serve to stabilize the boat and minimize rolling. The smaller sail on the aft mast is called the mizzen. It was amazing how much the ride of the boat smoothed out once just the mizzen was deployed. It is a very small sail that is very easy to furl and unfurl. Corrigidor Island sits at the entrance of Manila Bay. If you know your WWII history you will know that it played an important role in the fighting. After a long day of motoring we arrived at our first stop at Hamilo Cove. It is a cove with a dog leg entrance that makes it very well protected with a mud bottom for excellent anchor holding. There is a small village located on the shore mostly made up of subsistence fisherman. As is usual, once we anchored the village kids paddled out in thier canoes to meet us. Some brought fruits to sell us but most came for the packages of Oreo cookies I usually hand out. I had to been to this cove before and my bright red boat is easy to remember. Our second day would be another long day with the crossing of the Verde Passage
to Puerto Gallera. Verde Passage is also know as “typhoon alley”. It is a passage between two of the largest islands in the Philippines, Mindoro and the island where Manila and Subic are located which is Luzon. When trying to cross this passage to get to the Mindoro side where Puerto Gallera is located it always seems that the swells are going one way and then wind and tide are going another way. The passage depth is relatively shallow. In addition, the current seems to be always going the opposite direction you want to go and in a 6 knot boat, a current of 2 knots is a real pain slowing you down to 4 knots. You can walk faster. All of these ingredients make this passage one of the worst in the Philippines.. The seas are always very short interval and very steep and breaking. This means that your boat will “hobby horse” as it beats into the swells. Not only is it very uncomfortable but reduces your speed greatly and dramatically increases fuel consumption. After getting beat to death crossing the Verde Passage we arrived in Puerto Gallera just before dark. PG is one of the best natural harbors in the world. It is shaped like a cloverleaf with two entrances with many safe places to anchor. There is a small town which is good for limited provisioning and is home of the Puerto Galera Yacht club. The yacht club has a great “star wars” bar. This is my term that applies to most expat bars I have been to as I have traveled the world. The people who frequent these bars come in all shapes and sizes, ages, all income levels, and from all different countries around the world. Everyone is always very drunk and there is no telling what is going to happen. If you remember the bar
scene in Star Wars you will understand what I am talking about. It is big tourist area close to some great scuba diving. There are many restaurants and girl bars. The locals joke that many tourists come there and never leave. Unfortunately this place appeals to men in their 60s to 80s looking for a Filipino girlfriend or wife in their 20s. The cost of living is very inexpensive. As I said, the yacht club bar is an interesting place.
From PG we headed due east to an island called Marinduque. We had heard that there was a great harbor there with a nice town and friendly people. We trolled for fish for the 10 hour trip to the island. We caught nothing. This body of water in the middle of the Philippines is known as the “dead sea”. Just like the majority of the places in the Philippines it had been fished to death. Very sad. A perfect example of this was displayed as we approached the island. The locals had stretched miles and miles of gill nets all around the entrance to the harbor. It took us extra hours to work our way through the maze and not entangle our prop. The poor fisherman will mark thier nets with a palm frond on a plastic bottle. Very difficult to see. The last thing you want to do is destroy some fisherman’s ability to feed his family. The gill nets would trap anything bigger than a couple of inches. When we toured the island we saw these small fish on drying racks. These tiny fish are used to season dishes by the Chinese. The harbor was very well protected with a dog leg entrance. The island’s claim to fame is a 30’ tall statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the bay. It lights up at night with blinking lights. To each his own but to me is looked
very tacky. We anchored safely in the harbor. We launched my supercharged intercooled 260hp SeaDoo and had fun zooming around the bay and out to sea at 70mph. The locals had never seen anything like it and lined the harbor walls watching. In addition, we launched the stand up paddle board and got some exercise paddling around the bay. Later, we left our inflatable with the local coast guard station which consisted of one guy asleep on a bench with a small boat tethered nearby. As we hiked through the town the people who were not used to seeing foreigners came out of their homes to say hi. As we walked by the school all of the classes stopped so the kids could run out and say hi. Everybody was so warm and friendly. We saw this all over the Philippines. What were houses in this town, we would call shacks in the USA. All of the people were very poor but went out of their way to be friendly and we never felt like we were in any kind of danger.
Our next stop was the very small island of Banton. It had a small semi protected bay on one side. It is in the middle of nowhere. Without tourists or many fisherman around the diving was spectacular. 100+ visibility with coral gardens of every imaginable color and variety. We could clearly see the anchor sitting in 70 feet of water. The sun is brutal, the humidity and temperature high so it is really great to be able to jump into the glassy calm, warm and crystal clear water whenever you wanted. Most of these small islands are volcanic. The island drops steeply into the ocean with very little shelf to anchor on. This is another reason no one visits the island. We usually ended
up anchoring on a sloping bottom with my oversize anchor and then set an anchor watch with both the GPS and depth sounder. If the boat drifted into deeper water an alarm would sound or drifted far from its current location an alarm would sound. Most boat GPS and depth sounders have these features. I would usually go down with my scuba gear and make sure the anchor was set securely before going to sleep.
We next headed to the Romblon Island group. The town of Romblon is a provincial capital for the area so is a larger city but still VERY small by USA standards with one main road. The Romblon Yacht club consisted of an unmanned shack on shore, a fenced in yard with some small boats and 4 moorings offshore. All of the moorings except one were too small for my boat. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, these islands are all volcanic with no shelf to anchor on so having a secure mooring to leave the boat on while we went into town was great. As I did all over the Philippines and have done as I have cruised the world, I never trust these moorings until I scuba dive on them myself. I have heard and seen over and over again boat’s being damaged because people trusted these moorings. This particular mooring was surrounded by dangerous reefs. Fortunately this mooring looked well maintained underwater. Romblon is known for marble craftsmen. The marble is mined from the island hills and the craftsman make unbelievable stuff by hand. Everything is carved out of solid chunks of marble. Jordan bought two marble coffee cups and saucers that were hand craved from one block of marble. Beautiful! Total
cost $10. The water around the boat was crystal clear and calm so we spent our time wandering around town, swimming and eating at the small local restaurants and interacting with the local people.
From Romblon we headed to the very south tip of Mindoro Island. We just picked a small uncharted cove to anchor for the night. Like most of the Philippines there was the small shelf close to the beach and then a steep drop-off. Using the forward scanning sonar, depth sounder and putting Jordan on the bow to watch for coral heads in the crystal clear water we slowly safely worked our way in at 1 knot. I was piloting from the flybridge and being to look down directly in front of the boat to see the surface of the water and having the forward scanning sonar display showing me what was under the water was invaluable. We would not have been able to anchor and explore half of the remote places we did without having both of these options on the boat. We anchored on the small shelf. The drop-off was filled with spectacular corals and fish. It looked like no one had ever been here before.
From unnamed cove on the Southern tip of Mindoro we head up the west coast of Mindoro island to Apo Reef. Apo Reef is a coral atoll which takes a couple of hours to motor to off the coast where the top of the atoll just breaks the surface off the coast. Because there is no land nearby and the reef is constantly washed by the deep ocean currents making for spectacular visibility, coral and fish life. The colors and shapes and sizes of coral was amazing. We spent a couple of nights anchored off the Pandan resort which is located on Mindoro. It is a dive resort that
has daily dive trips to Apo Reef and has a beautiful reef directly in front of the resort. The anchorage was very exposed and we had to anchor in 80 feet of water to avoid damaging the resort’s reef. We wanted to sample the resorts restaurant and bar but were unable to leave the boat due to the strong wind blowing. After a couple of days we continued heading north back to Subic. Directly in our path was the Lubang Islands. There was a small passage between the islands that would save us hours in travel time but it is very shallow and narrow. Again, thanks to the flybridge and forward scanning sonar we safely made our way through with only 10 feet under the boat. Keep in mind that most areas like this off the beaten track are either not charted or poorly charted. We then made an overnight passage to Subic arriving in the morning. The boat ran great averaging 5.8 knots and burning 1.4 gallons per hour. Overall, a great two weeks of exploring, diving and interacting with the locals.