March on MOKEN

March 1-31, 2017: We’re picking up right where we left off at the end of February, tied to a mooring at Puerto del Sol Resort on Busuanga Island. Obviously, this bay is one of our favourite places in the Philippines, as we keep coming back again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to leave, but it was finally time to get MOKEN underway and see more of the 7100-plus islands in the Philippines.

 

Our first leg took us a short distance around the southern side of Busuanga to the busy port town of Coron. Normally we approach the harbour from the east, taking the longer route which is most familiar to us. Today, however, we decided to try a different approach. This meant winding our way through Uson Bay and coming in from the west. It’s good to be able to see some of the routes other vessels have used in our OpenCPN charts. This gives us an added level of comfort when we’re going someplace new, as we’re never totally convinced of the accuracy of our charts for this part of the world. Richard and Ivy followed us on S/Y BEWITCHED and Dan from D’Divers joined us on MOKEN as crew for a few days.

After provisioning at the market and a few shops in town, we all trekked up to Sinugba Sa Balay for lunch, one of our favourite eateries in town. We met up with the owner, Cat, her partner, Oswald, and their three-month-and-one-day-old baby boy, Draego. What a cutie!

We picked up some pizzas from Il Trove before heading back to MOKEN for dinner on board. With an early start planned for the morning, we turned in early too.

Our voyage up the east coast of Busuanga was nothing like the last time, just a few weeks previously. It was fairly calm with only a little swell. We took turns at the helm, trying to make as few course corrections as possible with the auto pilot. We arrived on the moorings at El Rio Y Mar around noon, with Richard and Ivy limping in behind us. Turns out they had a fuel transfer problem that showed up just as they were about to enter Maricaiban Bay.

While Rich worked on that, Chris, Dan and I took the dinghy over to do an afternoon dive on the Kyokuzan Maru wreck. (Stay tuned for more on that dive in a future post.) Afterwards, we met up with Rich and Ivy for dinner ashore. It was another early night, not uncommon on cruising and/or diving days.

 

The next day, while Ivy remained on board BEWITCHED, the rest of us piled into two dinghy’s for the 3.5 nautical mile trip to dive the Kyokuzan Maru again. Chris and I sped off with all four sets of dive gear in our boat, with Rich and Dan following. We quickly lost sight of them as we zipped through the pearl farms, admiring the amazing clear water. We could see the structures of the pearl farm twenty or more feet below us in the water as we passed close to some of the buoys.

We arrived at the wreck and jumped in the water to cool off while waiting for the boys to catch up. When they still hadn’t appeared after about 30 minutes, we decided to go look for them. What could possibly be wrong? We found them paddling towards the dive site with a large distance yet to cover. They had outboard engine trouble. We threw a line and towed them to the wreck.

After the dive (wait for it), we left Rich and his dinghy behind with the dive boat from the resort and took Dan with us back to MOKEN, as we planned to leave later in the afternoon for Tara Island. We paid our bill at El Rio and set off after lunch, passing Rich as he putt-putted his way in just as we headed out of the bay. Poor Rich.

We anchored at Tara Island at 1715 hours and set about making a huge dinner with mashed potatoes, Dan’s favourite German-style brown gravy, ham and veg. It was a relaxing evening, with not much wind or swell to speak of.

The next morning we were all awake early, so we got underway in the dark at 0500 hours. The winds were up to 20 knots and there were some waves breaking over the bow as Dan and I stood watch until sunrise, while Chris stayed warm and dry inside at the helm.

Later that morning, the winds died down a fair bit and we were hopeful that it would be calm enough when we reached Apo Reef to anchor in the bay and dive the reef. But sadly it was not to be. The conditions were just too rough. Big breakers were crashing onto the reef, and although we spotted one sailboat anchored inside the reef, it was far too snarly for us to take the dinghy across the channel to the dive sites. We agreed to skip Apo Reef altogether and continued on to the west coast of Mindoro and our usual anchorage in Mamburao. That afternoon, the winds built up again, topping 20 knots, with snotty seas until we got close to the coast. We anchored at Mamburao in the late afternoon and had another lazy evening on board, glad to be out of that mess.

 

The next morning looked much more promising…at least until we reached Cape Calavite. We left at first light with conditions calm and partly cloudy. It was a different story altogether once we rounded the cape. The winds rose until we were averaging 25-30 knots on the nose, with gusts topping 45 knots. The current was also against us. It was some of the worst conditions we’ve experienced yet. We had big seas and waves regularly breaking over the pilothouse, making for very slow going. Some waves even stopped us dead in our tracks. We went from seven knots forward speed before the cape, to averaging 3.5 knots along the north coast of Mindoro, sometimes dropping as low as 2.3 knots. It made for a long, slow, uncomfortable trip. Nukaat never moved out of his basket until we entered the relatively calm waters of Puerto Galera well after dark. We were lucky to have a big, bright moon to guide us in. With strong winds even inside the bay and our late arrival, we opted to stay put on MOKEN for one more night. The pizza we’d been talking and dreaming about all day would have to wait.

The three of us spent the next morning cleaning all the salt off MOKEN. Chris and Dan worked outside with me focused on the inside. Finally it was time to drop the dinghy. First stop, hot showers at the yacht club. Then straight to Robbie’s for pizza. We were not disappointed.

 

From there we took a trike to Sabang. We hit the dive shop to make arrangements for a trip to Verde Island the following day. After that, we wandered around town, stopping in to say hi to different friends along the way. Dan stayed in town for a big night out, and Chris and I returned to the boat.

We were back in Sabang early the next morning, hunting down coffee and getting our dive gear ready for the trip to Verde Island. With just four divers and our guide, Amil, we had plenty of room to spread out on the big dive banca. Unlike our previous trip to Verde, it was a fairly smooth crossing and easy entry. On our first dive, we had excellent visibility and not much current on the south side drop off, but plenty to see. (More about that in an upcoming post about our diving exploits.) Needless to say, Dan was stoked. We could hear him chattering excitedly underwater. Our second dive, on the north side, was also stellar with lots of big fish, but conditions were starting to get rougher. It was a bit nerve wracking when we exited from the dive and climbed back onto the boat, as it tossed about. But we got back on safely and the dives made it worth all the effort.

After lunch at one of the German places in town, Chris and I took the dinghy back to MOKEN, fed kitty and got ready for a final evening out in Sabang with Dan. The next morning, Dan left bright and early for his return bus and ferry trip to Coron via San Jose. We met Paul in Puerto Galera for burgers then spent a leisurely afternoon and evening on board.

 

Now it was time for a visa run. Our tourist visas were set to expire soon, so we rented a motorbike and rode to Calapan with Paul for a visit to the immigration bureau. After some confusion, we left with two-month visa extensions in hand. Along the way, the sole fell off one of my trainers. After limping along with a dangling sole, I managed to find some super glue at the mall and stick it back together, at least until a better repair could be made.

Calapan is a busy town with lots of traffic, but nothing like we’re used to in Angeles and Manila. Back in the more relaxed atmosphere of Puerto Galera, we met up with Rigo from PAPERINA BELLA for another pizza night at Robbie’s.

Our next few days were spent around Puerto Galera, doing more cleaning and stainless polishing, stocking up on supplies and catching up with friends, including Lars, visiting from Sweden. One morning, a sailboat near us untied from its mooring and was drifting dangerously through the anchorage. Chris jumped in the dinghy to help along with the crew off another yacht nearby. Eventually they managed to get the boat tied up again. It turns out the steering wasn’t working.

Now it was time to set off again and make our way to Marinduque Island. It was another long, slow, uncomfortable, frustrating day with winds reaching 20 knots and our speed dropping below five knots. Both our Navionics and OpenCPN charts were off when crossing Verde Passage to the eastern point of Verde Island, but this auto-corrected as we got closer. The GPS signal didn’t seem very good for this stretch of water.

 

We anchored in the inner basin at Balanacan Port at the northwest tip of Marinduque and spent the next three days sitting out a tropical depression that passed directly overhead. MOKEN got a great bath and we also managed to get rid of the green stuff growing along the waterline. Who says you don’t have to mow the lawn when you live on a boat? Kitty watched us through the scuppers as we took turns in the water while the other was on jellyfish watch.

We had originally planned to cruise as far as Malapascua Island to dive with the thresher sharks, but here we revised our plans and decided to get back to Subic Bay by the middle of April so we could get an early start on our upcoming haulout and hull painting. This would give us more leeway before the start of the rainy season.

 

After the tropical depression we had stunning weather. It made for a calm, beautiful crossing to Romblon Island. We had to dodge several ferries as we exited Port Balanacan, and a few small fishing bancas and fish attractive devices (FADs) along the west coast of Marinduque, but otherwise it was completely uneventful and smooth. We arrived at the Romblon Yacht Club moorings in the late afternoon and made dinner on board.

 

We spent the next eight days here. Romblon is another one of our favourite islands thus far. It’s not too touristy, but it does offer a few good restaurants and hangouts. Plus it’s fun to ride around, there’s some good diving and the scenery and beaches are amazing. There’s plenty to see and do. We explored a couple of marble factories, rented bikes and rode around the island and explored the old Spanish fort overlooking the town. One day, we took the dinghy to Bonbon Beach and did a beach cleanup. We made a big pile of plastic and mismatched flip flops, hoping the caretakers of the beach might take it away for disposal (or, in more likelihood, burn it). A little later, Brian and Donna from M/V FURTHER arrived and we did a dive near Guinojoan Point on Lugbung Island with Brian, while Donna played boatman. On the few days when the weather was bad, we copied movies and TV series off a stack of DVDs onto external hard drives and spent rainy afternoons watching movies.

All too soon it was time to start making our way back towards Subic and we ended of the month by retracing our route to Marinduque Island. The crossing from Romblon to Banton Island was a little rougher this time with winds to 15 knots. The seas calmed down some as we got closer to the Tres Reyes Islands (Three Kings), enough so I was able to make lunch. The winds dropped even more as we continued up the coast to our anchorage in the inner basin. We topped off dinner with some of the mango cheesecake made specially for us at Romblon Deli before we left we said farewell to David and Tess and the gang. A tasty way to end our March adventures on MOKEN.

Next up, we’ll be heading back to Puerto Galera before the final push to Subic Bay. Stay tuned.

 

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