January on MOKEN

January 1-31, 2017: Chris is officially retired now. That makes us full-time cruisers and we were itching to get away from the dock and start exploring more of the Philippines during the best of the boating season, which usually lasts from about December until May.

We’d tried to get out of Subic Bay before Christmas but it was not meant to be. A couple of items we needed before our departure were on hold due to business closures and staff parties. That turned out to be a good thing in the end, as our intended first stop, Puerto Galera, was hammered by Typhoon Nina with winds topping 70=100 knots the day after Christmas.

Glad to escape the worst of that storm, we next planned to leave before New Years. But we were foiled again. The weather continued to keep us hemmed in. Finally on January 3 we were ready to go.

Or were we?

We advised the yacht club of our departure and paid our bill. We stowed everything away and readied MOKEN for our departure. But when Chris turned on the engine and instruments, we discovered that our depth sounder and auto pilot weren’t working. The depth sounder is a pretty critical instrument, especially to avoid reefs or when we need to know how deep the water is so we can anchor. So we shut her down, muttered a lot and Chris got busy investigating the problems.

The next day we decided to go to the fuel dock and do a short sea trial to see if the depth sounder would kick in. After taking on a mere 2147 litres of diesel, MOKEN was full but we still had no depth readings. So it was back to the dock for more troubleshooting. At least by now Chris had the autopilot working again.

Lucky for us, another Diesel Duck based at the yacht club had a spare depth sounder on board and let Chris test it. It worked fine, so Chris determined that our transducer had packed it in. Rigo generously offered us his spare so we could get underway. The transducer sits under the waterline, so that meant hauling MOKEN out of the water for the swap. Meanwhile we ordered a replacement for Rigo and two for us (one for a second installation at our next haulout and the second to keep as a spare).

The next day MOKEN was in the sling and lifted just far enough out of the water to switch out the transducers. We ate lunch while waiting for the sealant to dry and popping her back in the water to check for leaks. Chris wired everything up and suddenly we had depth again. Boating is fun.

We were underway by 1300 hours and made our way to our overnight anchorage at Port Binanga, just outside the entrance to Subic Bay. It was meant to be a leisurely start to our trip but that evening a water pipe in the aft head burst, spraying water all over everything stored under the sink. As this wasn’t our first experience with a broken water pipe on board, Chris had it replaced in less than an hour. Did I mention that boating is fun?

On a positive note, our next two days of cruising (first to Hamilo Cove and then on to Puerto Galera) were fairly calm and uneventful until we rounded Cape Santiago and started across Verde passage. Here the winds picked up to 28 knots. It was rough and bouncy but not particularly unusual for this stretch of water. It’s a notoriously tough crossing, due to currents, fetch and lots of big ship traffic.

Finally anchored in Puerto Galera, the power had only just been restored and evidence of destruction from the Christmas typhoon was everywhere. We heard stories from friends that had weathered it aboard their own boats (Brian and Do Na on FURTHUR and Captain Ron and Rose on SHALIMAR). It sounded horrible. They dodged boats that sprang free from their moorings and were busy repairing damaged equipment.

We spent four days here catching up with yachtie friends, diving friends and Rob and Snooky who were visiting from Banff. One day we kayaked around the point to Sabang with Rob. Just to see the look on Rob’s face we paid a small banca driver to tow our kayaks past him. Power kayaking. Priceless.

Rigo and Jeannie arrived a couple days after us on PAPERINA BELLA and we made plans with the FURTHUR crew that our three boats would travel together to Busuanga Island. We got underway at 0420 on January 12 and travelled in convoy along the north coast of Mindoro. We made good time on this stretch of coast with a current pushing us along and the main sail up to provide stabilization in a rough following sea. At least until the clew ripped out from the bottom of our main sail and was flopping about. Did I mention that boating is fun?

Around Cape Calavite the wind dropped to nothing and the current switched directions. We went from making eight knots to as little as four knots at times, arriving in our usual anchorage in the fishing village of Mamburao mid afternoon.

The next morning we were underway at 0515 after unsuccessfully trying to hail Rigo. We later learned that he had some equipment problems and decided to return to Subic to have it fixed. We continued on with FURTHUR to Apo Reef. We anchored by 1030 and had lunch before meeting up with Brian and his newest crew member Lisanna for a dive at a mooring on the north side of Apo Island. The visibility was excellent and lots of fish.

We did another dive later in the afternoon at a mooring near Minor Island. Not knowing what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised to see a couple of reef sharks hanging out in sandy patches.

The next morning we were underway again early and cruised behind FURTHUR to Coron. It was only 1300 hours when we got near the harbour so we decided to continue on to the moorings at Puerto Del Sol, while FURTHUR stopped in Coron.

We spent the next two weeks hanging out, diving on the WWII Japanese wrecks, relaxing at poolside or on the beach, doing a few odd boat jobs, catching up with friends (Richard on BEWITCHED; Gunter, Dan, Mensoy and Michelle at D’Divers; Mike and Ann, Skip and Tally and everyone at Al Faro) and meeting new ones (our new dive buddies: Stephan, Kay and Tamara; fellow cruisers: Phil, Chris and Cindy; Darren, Jake at BBL, and Luke and Danica at the backpackers).

Busuanga Bay is beautiful and peaceful, but its remote location comes at a price. 3G service is patchy, there are no banks and grocery shopping is basic at best. Thus, we made two trips into Coron to do some banking, stock up on provisions and arrange for a Philippines visa extension. The road conditions are much improved each year making the 37 kilometre trip to town much smoother and quicker than in previous years.

One evening, I was asked to be one of the five judges of the Mr. and Miss Pearl Bay contest. What a hoot. There were 14 teen-aged girls and boys, ranging in age from 14 and up, and all students from the local high school. We graded them on confidence, poise, stage presence and audience interaction in casual wear and resort wear categories. Most of the girls were fairly shy and nervous, but several of the boys really strutted to the encouragement and approval of the guests. Between segments, the local high school dance troupe performed a variety of modern and traditional dance numbers. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, but it was fun nonetheless.

On January 28, Chinese New Year, we somewhat reluctantly left our mooring and made our south around the outside of Culion Island to Halsey Harbour. After overnighting there, we continued on to Corong Corong Bay near El Nido. We’ll pick up from here in the next post.

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