25 February 2015 | Puerta Galera, Mindoro island
The Normanton's arrival was our saving grace, deadlines are a necessity that sometimes prove a blessing!
The night before their arrival, we were up at 0100 to catch the last high tide for 10 days, and extricate ourselves from the spider's web of lines that crossed the 'dirty dock'. The chaps from the yard moved the intricate array of mooring lines, while the Republic Dry Dock had to get their blokes to move an enormous rusting hulk that blocked our exit. In the moonlight we crept through a tiny gap between two ships which towered over us, releasing us to relative freedom!
We tied up in front of the lovely Yacht Club building, so that when the Normantons arrived at 7 a.m. to wake us, they were initially under the illusion we had been in such a nice spot all along! This was quickly dispelled when they saw our thilthy decks and the fine black sand blasting dust that coated everything, in spite of my best efforts.
We now had a trickle of running water, so after breakfast they were set to work to scrub the decks!
Our plan to leave the next morning on the midday tide was rapidly changed when we met Zeke in the Danao market, who told us that our long awaited inverter had just arrived! He whizzed Giles back to Brother Wind on the back of his bike, and they set about organising Tony the electrician to come up from Cebu City early next morning. Meanwhile, we diverted Lando from the boat next door, to help fit the inverter in place, and put the new cupboard catch on the computer cupboard, which the Normantons had brought out.
Simon and Pippa were very relaxed and understanding about the delay, luckily they had a 5 week break and no particular itinerary, and were happy with the breezy Yacht Club and catching up on wi-fi. They begun to understand that although we had been in a pretty grim place, where else can you say to Alex the stainless steel fabricator, 'we need a new fairlead', and next day he has copied the others and made us one! There were many other similar small triumphs that we finally resolved!
By lunch time on the 10th February, almost 6 weeks since we got back to Brother Wind, we finally set sail!!
We had a lovely fast sail, impressing Simon with 7.9 knots (very unusual), and anchored at the south end of Pacijan Island, tucked around a little headland with nobody in sight. We were straight into the water for a swim before dark fell, and basked in a sense of release and well-being .
We had inevitably left Pinoy Boat Yard in rather un-seamanlike style, with a lot of stowing and making ship-shape to do, so after a late start by our standards, we weighed anchor at 08.30, and headed on to Leyte Island, and the small port of Polompon. It was Pippa's first trip to the Far East, so she was fascinated by the stilt village built over the water, while the rest of the town was a typical busy bustling place with motor bikes, motor-tricycles and trikeshaws everywhere, as well as a few jeepneys, the local minibus, usually very colourful, and often with people on the roof as well. As usual, we walked around in a cacophony of 'hellos', and 'what are you doing'!
We awoke next morning to find that our anchor had dragged, and we were caught up by a banka (the local boat). Actually just as well, as we might have gone rather a long way onto the muddy shallows!
When we got to San Isidro, further north in Leyte Island, we decided to do a foray into the interior, and cross the northern peninsular on which it sits to get to the east coast and cross to another interesting sounding island on that side.
I had assumed that there would be jeepneys running, but their timing tends to tie in with work times, so we accepted a ride on a couple of motor bikes, Giles and I pillion behind one chap and the Normantons behind another. It was 16 kms of climbing, windy roads, and then down the other side, and apart from the agony of legs too long to go happily on foot rests, it was a good ride. Once, there our driver found a banka who would take us across to Bileran island on the other side of the lagoon. Then more pillion rides on motorbikes, this time with built in roofs over our heads, and on we went to Caibiran water fall. The main joy of which was swimming in the gorgeous fresh water pool at the bottom. Bileran was very scenic, with paddy fields and water buffalo, and the whole journey was a fun way of seeing some of the interior.
Next day we sailed NW towards the large boomerang shaped island of Mabate. There were no obvious anchorages, so we thought we would try a tiny island on its SE, called Guinauay. We anchored just off the reef and fish traps there, and almost immediately a banka came out to greet us, eager that we should go and visit their island. Hilarious guide book dictionary language and much gesticulation, and we thought that we had arranged for them to come back in a couple of hours, giving us time to swim. Sure enough an hour and a half later there they were to fetch us ashore!
It was a truly 'royal' reception, hundreds of children lined the shore to see us, and lots of adults too. The local Captain of the Baringay (elected head of the community), was summonsed, and took us on a walk around the island, accompanied by everyone! The captain and one or two others spoke reasonable English, and we gathered that in this tiny community there were 3,000 people, and 500 school age children. The soil was mostly sand, which made growing vegetables almost impossible, so apart from a few banana trees and coconuts, they lived off fish, and some people crossed to Masbate to work in the local town, and to sell fish at the market there. There was no running water, it all had to be collected from one pump, and that was unfit for drinking.
A week had flown by sine the Normanton's arrival, and they decided to jump ship in Manoan in SW Masbate, where we managed to get a jeepney into the main town an hour and a half away. We thought we would accompany them to see some of the island, whose speciality is grazing cattle. In May they have rodeo competitions, so they also have horses! All very unusual from the normal rice paddies and water buffalo, which they also have.
We were keen to move on to the Romblon group of islands, Sibuyan, Tablas and Romblon, and had an easy sail to the dramatically mountainous island of Sibuyan next day, where we anchored off the SW. Unfortunately we didn't get ashore here, which was a pity, as the island boasts five mammal species that are unique to the island, (not that we would have either seen or recognised them!)
However, our visas were a week away from expiring, and we read the erroneous details about immigration in the tourist island of Borocay, and decided we needed to get there for one of the alleged two days of the week it would be open!
To get to Boracay we were amazed by crossing quite a lot of commercial shipping, which put our new AIS to very good use. Usually our lookout duties are for the quantities of fishing buoys often a long way from shore, which can make watch keeping tedious. We cut through the narrow Tabon Strait at the south end of Boracay, and as we emerged on the SW corner of the island, an alarm went up from the engine. The fan belt had been making squeaky noises, so we guessed that was our problem, and luckily we unfurled enough genoa to sail gently into some shallow water near the ferry jetty, and dropped the anchor. We quickly got the dinghy out and me ashore to go and find immigration, while Giles remained on board to fit a new fan belt.
Eventually I had all the right photographs and passport copies to satisfy the chaotic little office, and they agreed to do a rush job and have our passports ready for collection next day; a bit of an act of faith, as they wouldn't give me any kind of receipt for the passports. Meanwhile we moved to a very busy anchorage, amongst lots of tourist boats, and a couple of yachts! Certainly our lumpiest and most uncomfortable anchorage so far this trip. The bonus was watching the fast local paraws trimerans like bankas, racing each other in the sunset.
Next day was the eve of Chines New Year, so after restocking, looking at the tourist tat and collecting passports, we ventured back ashore for a blustery and choppy dinghy ride, and enjoyed a delicious Chinese New Year buffet, which coincided with the first day of our Lenten abstinence!
We were pleased to see the back of busy Borocay, and headed off to the huge natural harbour of Looc on the SW side of Tablas island. Although it was a national holiday for Chinese New year, the market ashore was still operating, and after snorkelling on their protected reef, we had a delightful walk ashore up a sylvan fertile valley where small plots of vegetables, rice and fruit were being unusually well tended. Our path at one stage was lined with Pac choi growing. We were inevitably joined by some children for some of the walk.
Next day was windy, and we had to make our way northwards, which proved an ordeal, and a memory of last year! We fought our way up the Tablas Strait, hoping to go around the north and drop down to Romblon Island, instead of which we battled for 10 hours, motor sailing against 25 knots of wind and steep seas, and unable to make it round the top of Tablas island, we headed for a deep bay at the south end of Maestre de Campo Island, relieved and exhausted to get there before dark.
Romblon was still on our 'must go' list, so next day we back tracked with a nice beam reach for the 40 miles back to the island. We certainly did not regret it, and spent 3 enjoyable nights there on a mooring supplied by the embryonic Yacht Club.
We hired a motorbike and spent a day going around the island, mostly on very bumpy stony roads, met up with local ex pats, and spent a happy evening chatting with ex yachties who live on the island. Romblon is unique in the Philippines as they quarry, and make and shape marble. Inevitably we bought a few small bits, but the weight does not make it an ideal thing to transport. We were very tempted to import some home, as some of the pieces are lovely.
Time to press on, and last night found us in an open anchorage, off the island of Marinduque watching the tiny local fishing boats head off to sea for the night with sails stitched together from old umbrellas, they all wanted to say hello as they sailed by.
Now we are en route to Puerta Galera, where for once we will find a yachtie honeypot. From here we are planning a foray to Manila to collect a float switch which has been languishing for almost a year, and perhaps in spite of all the dire warnings against it we ought to have the Manila experience to get a better overview of the Philippines!