Going to See a Man about a Duck

What had we done? We had basically bought a boat, sight unseen. We hardly told a soul at this point. They might start to wonder about us. At least it wasn’t a done deal just yet. We still had an out. We could cancel the deal if BELLE didn’t meet our expectations. We still had to fly to the Philippines to see the boat, take it out for sea trials, get it surveyed and haul it out of the water to inspect the bottom. It wasn’t as hard to coordinate all this from across the Pacific as you might think.

We booked our flights to Manila to coincide with Chris’ return from West Palm Beach in Florida, where he spent a month completing training in preparation for a new overseas contract. Robert, BELLE’s owner, coordinated the haul out at a boat yard near the marina, and even booked us a room at the Subic Bay Yacht Club.

We wanted to use a marine surveyor accredited with a recognized professional association. We found two in the Philippines. But we couldn’t use either one. One was in a conflict of interest. His company looks after the boat on behalf of the owner and handles warranty work for the boat’s manufacturer. And although the other one had an office in Manila, he included travel costs from Australia in his quote, making it outrageously expensive. With not many days left and our anxiety level rising, we asked around and ended up booking a Filipino marine surveying company that came recommended.

We spent September and October doing our homework, researching the boat and the manufacturer and starting a list of things to check when we got on board.

Finally, the day arrived to fly to Manila. With Nukaat in good hands, we left for the airport and our long flights via Vancouver and Tokyo. We touched down at the new International airport in Manila near midnight, grabbed our bags and took the 2.5 hour taxi ride to Subic Bay.

Despite the long day of travel and late arrival, we were up early the next morning, excited to get our first glimpse of BELLE. We ate breakfast overlooking the marina and then went for a walk along the docks at the yacht club. And there she was, her green steel hull and stainless railings gleaming blatantly in the early morning sun. Impressive!

We went out into Subic Bay for four separate days of sea trials and Robert let us play with all the systems. We motor sailed. We tried out the paravanes. We fiddled with the radar, the chart plotter and the autopilot. We made fresh water with the water maker. We tested the genset and the fuel polishing system. We took hundreds of photos. We asked tons of questions.

One day we even rounded Binictican Point and headed out into the open water of the South China Sea, going as far as the entrance to Silanguin Cove before turning around and heading back in.On the morning of the survey, we waited. And waited. And waited. Just when we were about to give up, the surveyor finally showed up just in time for lunch. A young fellow in new jeans and boat shoes with a little digital camera. Turns out he had already done another survey that morning. We were double booked, I guess.The survey turned out to be a bit of a joke, as we had to explain to him what the sea chest was and we kept asking him if he wanted to look at the different systems on the boat. He seemed more interested in making sure the cabinet doors opened and closed and that there were life jackets and flares on board.

Then it was time for the haul out. We had to wait for a high tide to have enough clearance to get BELLE into the Travelift.

It was a bit nerve wracking to stand watch on the decks as we came into the narrow confines of the haul out. Luckily we had additional help from Rollie and Spanky, the boat hands who guided Robert in. The towering concrete walls closed in on BELLE’s sides very quickly.

After the crew working the Travelift got the straps positioned under BELLE’s hull, we clamoured off and they started the lift. We watched in awe, with a healthy dose of scepticism, as the thick webbed straps lifted all of BELLE’s 35 tons/tonnes high enough out of the water so that we could get a good look at the hull, bottom paint, bow thruster, rudder and propeller.

Haul out complete, BELLE was lowered back into the water and taken out for a short sea trial into the bay, presumably for the benefit of the surveyor, who seemed to enjoy the ride but didn’t really do much of anything.

Each evening during our week in Subic, Chris and I would go over the events of the day and make notes on what needed to be fixed, what we wanted to buy for the boat and what upgrades we’d like to make. We also managed to squeeze in time to check out some of the duty free stores in the the freeport zone, and explore Olongapo City and nearby Barrio Barretto, where we had moved to Sheavens Seafront Resort on Baloy Beach after staying two nights at the yacht club.

We met some of the locals, including our regular taxi driver, Onay and his wife and daughter, Ray and Rollie, who take care of BELLE, and Rob and Kim, from down the dock on the boat BOB THE BOAT. Rob is an another escapee from Vancouver Island.

We drank frappucinos at Starbucks, mango shakes at Blue Rock Resort and San Miguels everywhere. We tried kinilaw (similar to ceviche), sinigang (a tamarind noodle soup) and pancit canton (noodles with vegetables similar to chow mein). I haven’t decided whether I like bitter squash or not.

It was hot!!! Every day was stifling with hardly a breath of wind. You certainly didn’t want to be out much at midday. One day as I went to pick up lunch, I watched four enormously big U.S. Marines in full camo uniforms and boots march down the road in front of the yacht club. My guess is they were on their way to Starbucks.

Our visit coincided with Mardi Gras and All Saints Day, so we watched the progress as people came to spruce up their family plots in the steep hillside cemetery between Olongapo and Baloy Beach. We walked for miles in the heat to check out the market and rode in a jeepney on the way back.

In the end, we got a good feel for BELLE and the area. It will be a great place to provision and use as a home base. It’s a hurricane hole, so a good place to keep the boat during the hurricane season. It will be a safe place for me to stay when Chris has to leave for work. And the people are friendly and helpful.

And so, without making a big deal out of it, we finalized the deal with Robert to purchase BELLE before heading home. He was kind enough to give us until April 30, 2012 before we owed the final payment. We were committed. There was no going back.

All that was left to do was sell our house, tell our family and friends and get ourselves back to Subic. How hard could that be?