The Return Trip

On Friday, MOKEN departed Subic Bay on a new adventure. But if you’ve been following along on the blog, you might think we’ve been stuck in Romblon for the last couple of months. Not so. I’m just a little behind schedule on the blog. Now begins a mad flurry to catch up. Here’s the final post from our last MOKEN adventure…returning from Romblon via Puerto Galera and back to our moorage in Subic Bay.

February 28 – March 7, 2016: It was a 0540 departure at first light from Romblon to start our return towards home. On the first day we retraced our route to our overnight anchorage on Marinduque Island. There was a bit of drama en route. At 0853 we overheard a Mayday call on our VHF radio. A tanker was reporting a fire. We kept monitoring the radio to find out more but there was no further chatter on the subject. Scanning the horizon in all directions didn’t turn up any smoke.

Wind speeds hovered between 12 and 28 knots and our speed ranged between five and seven knots. So it was a bumpy ride in some spots.

There was more excitement about 0300 the next morning. I woke up to sounds of a bird squawking and Nukaat running around. Upon investigation, I found Nukaat and a small swallow in the forward head. It seems Nukaat had caught him on deck (there was feather evidence) and brought him inside. A gift for us, maybe? Instead, the bird got away inside and sought refuge behind the litter box where Nukaat couldn’t get him. I rescued the creature and released him back outside. I thought it might be injured but it flew away without any difficulty when I set it on the rail. Poor kitty lost his prize.

The next day we were underway by 0600 and arrived in Puerto Galera at 1430. We anchored near our favourite spot by the sandbar and close to our friends on the yachts Furthur and Slow Dance.

With the weather much better than it had been a couple weeks earlier, the next day we decided to take the dinghy over to the giant clam dive on the far side of the bay to figure out how to use our underwater cameras. At the site, we tied off to a small banca with a lone occupant. It turned out that he is the local clam police. We found plenty of giant clams on the dive, despite the poor visibility, so it must be effective. We played around with our gear and strobes, trying to figure out the settings, but the visibility didn’t make for great photos. We have much more experimenting ahead of us.

The clams weren’t our only dive this week. We finally got to Verde Island.

Chris’ first dives in Puerto Galera were back in 1998. Ever since we started planning our first trip here together in 2005, he’s been telling me about the incredible wall and drift diving on Verde Island, about an hour by boat across the fast moving waters of Verde Passage. Sadly, we were skunked after I developed a head cold and couldn’t dive anymore on that trip.

In the many, many times we’ve been to Puerto Galera over the last few years on MOKEN, we had yet to get to Verde Island. There’s been a litany of excuses. It’s too rough. The current’s too strong. There aren’t enough divers for the big boat. And my least favourite excuse of all…I’m sick. I was almost beginning to think the site was just a myth, except for the fact that we had spotted a group of dive boats on our return from Marinduque Island. Finally a date was set and we packed up our gear to go. The day started out promising, but the weather and the water conditions quickly deteriorated as we approached the end of the Verde Island where two currents converged. It was turbulent to say the least.

The premiere dive site, Verde Island Wall, is actually located around a group of craggy rocks off the east end of the island. As we made our approach, I was beginning to see why good conditions are so necessary. There were big swells and numerous boats jockeying to get their divers into position. This is serious stuff.

I was a bit apprehensive, and starting to feel a little queasy as our large banca was tossed about while we donned our gear. Once in the water, we rode the crest of each wave as we waited for the signal to descend. Up and down from peak to trough, this was bigger stuff than I was used to. Finally our guide Rudy gave us the signal and it was time to descend along the wall. What a relief. I quickly began to see what all the fuss was about. Current, a beautiful healthy reef, incredible fish life and other critters and deep blue, crystal clear water. Wow! With no camera gear to distract me, I just took it all in. I didn’t know where to look. There was so much stuff to see. If there was a downside, it was the water temperature. It was cold but I can honestly say I hardly noticed it. The dive was over far too soon and it was time to try and get back on the boat as the waves tossed us around like corks.

Our guides and the Fender boat crew made the executive decision that our second dive would not be at the same site. Despite the stellar dive, I can’t say that I was too upset by their decision. It seemed a wise choice. Instead to took us around to the very calm west side of Verde Island and we jumped in at a site called the Washing Machine. Although the first part of the dive was rather uninspired, the current and the gorgeous reefs in one particular area lived up to the name, although it was mostly a spin cycle.

Aside from diving, we invited a few of our friends to join us for sunset drinks and nibbles on MOKEN one afternoon and we triked out to White Beach with Brian and Donna (from Furthur) and their friends one evening for dinner and a floor show that included Bakla (transgender) karaoke and fire dancers.

We had hoped to stay longer and do some more diving with the cameras, but the next morning we discovered that our batteries were not charging from the generator. With a fridge in need of a lot of power and solar output not quite sufficient to keep up with it, we decided to head back to Subic a little early and figure out what was going on.

The return trip was calm so we skipped our planned overnight anchorage at Hamilo Cove (aka Papaya Cove) and made the long run to Port Binanga, arriving well after dark. During the day we dodged numerous tankers, ferries and freighters. After dark, we dodged poorly lit small fishing bancas and their extensive nets along the coast near Morong.

From Port Binanga it’s just over an hour to get back to the Subic Bay Yacht Club. I always wonder when the charts will finally be updated to match which aids to navigation still exist in the bay. Our electronic chart, just updated last fall, still shows several more aids than actually exist.

At the entrance to Subic Bay, we jockeyed for position to the designated shipping lane with a large freighter carrying trucks and heavy equipment destined for the local auctions. Of course, the freighter won. He was bigger and faster. Once inside the bay, we watched as a large tug boat came alongside and the local pilot climbed up the side of the tanker to guide the vessel into its berth. Then we tried to keep out of his way as we were both designed for the same far corner of the bay.

Back at our berth, Chris spent the next couple of days troubleshooting to find out why our batteries weren’t charging. At first, we thought it might be the generator, but once we hooked up to shore power and there was still no charge, we narrowed it down to the inverters. More boat projects.

Why so late with this post? There’s been a lot going on. Stay tuned and we’ll fill you in.

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