Posted by: powellpjc | May 3, 2011

The Philippines. In the path of Magellan.

I’d estimated 10-12 days, Palau to Philippines, because although it is only 650 miles I knew it to be an area of light winds and I don’t have a light air sail (yet) and I have fuel only for 350 miles. It took me 8 days—better than my pessimistic estimate—but still slow, slow, slow. For the 1st three days there was no wind. And I mean NO wind. The sea was a glassy, rolling mercury Salton Sea.

This is what I mean about a mercury sea. I should know from mercury after 35 years in the little shop of horrors.

I went swimming once but the water is deep here. The Philippine Trench is 35,000 feet deep—deeper than Mt. Everest is high—and when the water is that much over my head I don’t like it. I motored during the day and let her drift through the night. There was a fair amount of north-south big ship traffic and I talked to a couple of them when they got close (less than a mile in one case) but invariably the Asian form of ship’s English does not make for much of a conversation.

This is how mad dogs and sailors hide from the sun.'Get your motor runnin'---out on the ocean'

When I got within 100 miles of the Philippine coast I was visited often by fishermen on their way home from the fishing grounds. They always asked for beer or cigarettes and I gave a few cans away. Never was offered a fish.

The fishermen in their spider boat about 100 miles offshore. Looking for smokes and beer.

So I reached the coast with almost no fuel left in my tank. Maybe 10 gallons and I don’t know how well the last few gallons will be picked up with the boat rolling so I was keen to find a spot to pull in and anchor for the night and buy a few jerry cans of diesel. On my chartplotter I saw a congregation of big ships in one suitable and nearby harbour so I started my engine and decided to motor the rest of the way, using up my last fuel. Surely, with seven, 700-foot general cargo ships at anchor there would be an off-loading dock and services for so many sailors. It did mean I would have to enter the harbour—a strange one—at night. Fine, done that before. I began to get nervous about 11:00 p.m. when I turned the corner to enter the harbour and the first two main leading lights were not functioning. I blindly followed my electronic mapping software. I saw all the big ships easily enough—they are lit up like small cities at night—but along the shoreline I could see nothing. No lights, no docks, no small vessels at anchor. At midnight the rain got biblical and I blindly (almost) staggered around the harbour, trying not to run aground in the mangrove flats or bash into one of the floating cities. Nothing. I didn’t have enough fuel to leave the harbour again and start looking for another place in the middle of the night. What were all these ships doing here anchored and with no other facilities available? A strange scene on a strange night. Alongside one of the giants I saw a tug tied up and after a couple of passes in the heavy rain (no wind and just as well) I managed to get myself safely snugged up. Whew! At 4 a.m. I hit the rack and at 6 a.m. the tugboat boys woke me up. I managed to talk one into helping me find diesel fuel. In the morning light it became clear.

There are two nickel mines within sight of the harbour—ugly, strip-mine types. These ships (Chinese-flagged) are all anchored here while they take on nickel ore from barges pushed back and forth by the tugs.  And you guessed it, I am the only sailboat in sight.

Taking on nickel ore for the big China machine. Steel, baby and lots of it.

There was a small fishing village tucked away in the palms, though, and I flagged down a passing fisherman who took me ashore. Off I went in a motorcycle taxi into town, 15 minutes away.

I knew I was in SEAsia when I saw the water buffalos, rice paddies and 6 people on a motorcycle. I love it.

I think the term 'spider boat' is pretty self-explanatory

Of course the bank’s ATM would not accept my card but I did have some US cash and after some arm waving I found a money-changer in the upstairs of a grocery store. Got my Philippine pesos at a usurious rate, my 25 gallons of diesel and now I’m ready to enter the main pass into the Philippines proper—Suriago Strait—the same place Magellan entered after his passage from Chile. He had no charts, no fuel and didn’t know what was around every corner. Poor guy was just looking for spices. I have a cupboard full of spices and a better sense of what a real adventurer he must have been. Sailing is like fun, only different. The adventuring is the attraction.




  1. What happened to Savusavu?

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