February 21-25, 2015: When Chris arrived back in Subic on February 17, he had a couple of projects to tackle before we could set off on our Palawan adventures on MOKEN.
Top of the list was installing our new Raymarine GPS antenna. Our old one stopped working on our last time out in December. It wasn’t simply a matter of replacing new for old. The new model wasn’t compatible with our older system, so first we had to do an upgrade of the chartplotter software. That was a project in itself. Try buying a 128MB Compact Flash card anywhere. Can you say obsolete?
Lucky for us, one of our neighbouring boats happened to have one on board which we were able to borrow for the upgrade. I looked after the software update before Chris got home so he’d have one less thing to worry about.
Next up was removing the old antenna and cabling, installing the new cables, antenna and a converter so the new antenna would talk to our old system. When Chris powered it up, everything worked beautifully.
The other project was fixing our fuel and water gauge, which stopped working the day Chris left for work in January. Turns out there was a blown fuse caused by a stuck relay in the engine room bilge pump system. Go figure! First though, Chris had to repair his multimeter, another casualty of tropical humidity, before he could fix the real problem.
While Chris worked on the boat, I was running around buying provisions for our trip. We had to stock up on beverages, fresh produce, meat, snack foods and treats. And fill our water tanks.
We cast off our lines mid afternoon on February 21st with Rolly on board to take us to the fuel dock just around the corner from the marina. We wanted to top up the tanks and take advantage of the cheap fuel. Diesel was just 30 pesos per litre (less than $1 Canadian). It took us about an hour to fill three tanks. Total volume, 3000 litres. Buy 3000 litres, get a free t-shirt. Woo hoo.
With our pantry full and all our fuel and water tanks full, we were finally ready to head out.
Our first day was a short one. Just out of Subic Bay and around the corner into Port Binanga where we anchored for the night. This gave us a jump start the next day on our crossing to Lubang Island, about 50 nautical miles south. The crossing was rough with winds gusting up to 25 knots on our port beam. Nukaat spent the entire day confined to his basket. I spent part of the morning leaning over the rail. Chris felt no ill effect.
At Tagbac Cove on the SW tip of Lubang Island, we dropped anchor in 60 feet of water for a few hours in the evening while we made dinner and tried to get some rest. We were going to try the next leg, the crossing to Cape Calavite and Mindoro Island at night. Partly to get some practice in overnight cruising, and partly because we had heard that the notoriously rough waters around Cape Calavite were calmer at night.
We weighed anchor at midnight and ran the gauntlet of small fishing boats around Lubang then headed SE for Cape Calavite. Once we passed the protection of Lubang Island, the winds picked up from the East and topped 30 knots at times. It was a rough crossing made worse (or possibly better) by virtually no moon to see the approaching waves. At one point when I was at the helm, Chris looked up in time to see a big wall of white water just before it slammed into MOKEN’s port beam. Our autopilot didn’t like the rough seas so that meant extra work on our shifts to steer on our heading. We were both relieved when we reached the lee side of Mindoro just as dawn approached.
The rest of the day was calm but not uneventful as we continued south along the coast to North Pandan Island, our anchorage for the night. We discovered that we lost one of our life rings when the wall of water hit us broadside. We came across a pod of dolphins, a few of whom briefly rode our bow wave. And we found our first flying fish on board, with scales littering the deck. A victim of the previous night.
At Pandan, we did a little stainless washdown, kayaking and snorkeling, and enjoyed a brilliant sunset before setting off early the next morning for our crossing SW to Busuanga Island. There were lots of fishing boats about. At one point we were escorted by one boat about a mile off our course as they guided us around their extensive string of nets. Even with binoculars you could barely see the marker flag at the far end.
We also encountered a second pod of dolphins who chose to play in our bow wake. Much longer this time; long enough that we were able to capture some of it on video. What fun!
That evening we anchored in Minangas Bay. Our deepest anchorage to date at 125 feet but totally protected from the wind. I snorkeled along the shallow reef close to shore. Some of the coral was in really good shape. Some not so much. Lots of little fish, but not so much of the bigger variety.
We were visited by a friendly couple from the local fishing village aboard their small banca. They shared tips on other spots to anchor, gave us two fresh eggs and relayed information about the area before setting off on their way.
The next day was an easy cruise south along the coast and in to the bay in front of Coron town, where we anchored in about 25 feet of water. The wind was still howling from the east so we waited for it to slow down a bit before putting our dinghy in the water for a trip to town to buy fresh supplies. That’s when Chris discovered our outboard engine was again behaving badly. He managed to get me to shore so I could go to the market. When I got there, it was gone. Turns out it was moved further east of town along the waterfront to make way for more tourist shops and restaurants in the centre of town. The new location is far from convenient for anyone. I stocked up on as much fruit, vegetables and chicken as I could carry back and we limped back to MOKEN in the dinghy, where Chris spent a good hour or more fixing it. A gummy carburetor this time.
Our second run into town went much smoother. We watched the sun set along the waterfront over a plate of kinilaw (raw Spanish mackerel marinated in vinegar with ginger and chilis) before heading to our favourite restaurant in town, Sinugba Sa Balay. Even though it was more than a year since our last visit, Cat, the young chef and owner, remembered us and served us up an incredible fish curry and tanigue steak (Spanish mackerel again). The perfect ending to the first leg of our Palawan adventure.