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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Heaven and Hell of the Philippines - Cruising World

The Heaven and Hell of the Philippines

The decision to try a new destination en route to Southeast Asia yields rude awakenings and newfound friends. A feature from our September 2010 issue

Oct 27, 2010

By Cap'n Fatty Goodlander (More articles by this author) Cruising in the Philippines isn't easy. Example: Only February is considered to be (almost) hurricane-free. The Philippines is an adventurous, death-defying destination. But a wrathful Mother Nature is only part of the problem. Government corruption is rampant. Social justice either doesn't exist or is sold to the highest bidder. Crime is everywhere: Pickpockets bump into each other while attempting to rip you off. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems in the Philippines. It's easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time—and just as easy, as well, to discover earthly delights. We did both. Almost immediately.

I like to sail—where to isn't terribly important to me. Thus my wife, Carolyn, and I have worked out a nice division of labor over the last four decades of cruising together: If I can say "Let's go!" whenever I want to, she can pick our next destination.

This works perfectly for us because I'm a sailor who likes to travel and Carolyn is a traveler who likes to sail. Or, to put it another way, the voyage is my destination, while the landfall is her main focus.

And we'd just spent a year cruising in the waters surrounding tiny, pristine, and nearly deserted Pacific islands. So Carolyn felt that we needed a cultural change of pace. "Let's return to Southeast Asia," she said, "where we can afford both the rice and the water!"

"Fine," I said, "but let's not retrace our steps through Indonesia. Let's go through Micronesia and the Philippines. 

"Agreed," she said.

So that was our basic float plan. But then, in Yap, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, we happened to bump into an old friend, David Willard, of the British yacht Celtic Caper. We'd previously met David in the Maldives, Chagos, and Mayotte during our Indian Ocean days. We had a lot in common, namely, that we were repeat offenders: He was on his third circumnavigation, and we were on our second. But David had spent a lot of quality time in the Philippines, and he immediately dissuaded us from visiting the northern Manila area. He suggested that we instead visit the island of Leyte because, he said, it was "the closest thing to paradise on Earth."

"But isn't that in the Mindanao group?" I asked. "Where in 2001 the Moro pirates kidnapped an entire resort and beheaded an American?"

"No," he said. "Leyte is north of Mindanao. No problem!"

One of the secrets of successful cruising is to be flexible. Sure, it's fine to make plans—if you don't follow them. We've learned to go with the flow. If the wind—actual or political—veers, so do we.

"OK!" I said. "Leyte it is!"

It only took a week to cover the 1,000 miles of ocean between Yap and the Philippines. We could've done it faster, but I declined to crank up the engine—even when our boat speed dropped below three knots. At the outset, we had light winds, but they gradually built and veered northward as we approached the 7,000 islands that make up the country.

I had a good, sensible plan: Sail into the huge mouth of Surigao Strait and heave to for the night. Unfortunately, by this point we had reinforced trades of 28 knots with squalls gusting into the high 30s. The current was, to put it mildly, fair: We were hitting 10.2 knots during long, squiggly surfs as we approached Suluan Island. That was nice, sure, but I shuddered to think about what would occur when the tide changed.

As I said, I'd intended to sail up to the mouth of Surigao Strait and heave to until dawn. But heaving to in such massive seas—especially after the tidal current turned and humped them up even more—wasn't ideal, so I decided to duck into the 15-mile-wide pass and search for a lee before the tide turned and we were unable to make any progress toward Maasin, Leyte. Thus we found ourselves unexpectedly screaming down the rollers of Surigao Strait in the middle of a pitch-black night while trying to find some shelter after a hard week at sea.

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This is the Best story I have read in a long time!:) I wish they had Video Cameras along with them on that Trip...


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