February 10th, our day of departure. The forecast looked good. The grip files showed monsoon winds blowing from the east around 15 knots and the 250 miles northeast to Puerto Princessa in Palawan should be covered in 3 days. However, the reality was quite different. The winds were strong, the seas uncomfortable, the moods down. 2 Hours out we changed our mind, did a 180 and spent another night under the city lights.
The following day we set off again, this time on a more southerly course. The west coast of Palawan suddenly looked much more appealing and we headed for the south tip. One advantage was that now we didn’t have to do any over-nighters, but could anchor the evenings in protected bays and corners of little islands that we’d see on our route. Still in Malay waters, but close to the Philippines we made our way north-west.
One evening near Tagipil Isl. we were relaxing in the cockpit after a long hot day of motor-sailing, when an old fishing boat approached us. The family on board didn’t speak any English, nor Malay. Where were they from? They didn’t look like Philippino’s either. Then it downed on us: these were the people who live on boats in the Sulu Sea and spend their entire life wandering around the maze of small islands and extensive coral reefs, only going ashore to trade their dried fish for some basics. They were the real sea gypsies.
They were all smiles and pointed to their mouth and stomachs. Food please. OK, we have lots. Bigger smiles and laughing children and suddenly another boat. And another one, 4 boats with sea gypsies! The next day Alishan headed back to Malaysia to get provisions.
In Kudat we kept a low profile. We had cleared with customs and immigration in Sandakan, and were now very illegal in the country. The small pond near the hard stand where visiting boats hang out seemed a good hiding place. It had 5 other yachts of different nations. We were happy to socialise with them after many weeks of no company and stayed on to celebrate Jaap’s birthday with Claudia (Swiss) and Joaquin (Hawaii) of s/y Lucky Lady, Juancho (Colombia) of s/y Pip and Pepe (Czechia) of s/y Argo
The fish pond in Kudat and Jaap on his 54th birthday
On Feb 20th we REALLY left Malaysia. It seemed a big step now. We had said farewell to our new friends as well as some old ones, Heather and Dave of s/y Miliways and Steve and Gayla of s/y Ariel who we ran into when they came over from KK in a rental. Loaded to the top with Malaysian coffee, oats, milkpowder, biscuits, toothpaste and 100+, our favorite isotonic drink, we continued our day-hopping trip north-east to Palawan.
Over from KK: Dave, Gayla, Steve and Heather
From the last island of Malaysia till the first of the Philippines is not even 30 miles, but to make up for lost time we didn’t stay and venture ashore the first 4 days. Our landfall was at Quezon, a little town in the south of Palawan on Feb 25th. The shallow reefs made us anchor a long way from shore. Using the dinghy for a long and choppy ride in didn’t look very appealing. Bankas, the Philippine’s characteristic double outriggers, were passing us left and right in all sizes. After lunch Jaap hauled one over and the fisherman gave us a ride. Great!
Bankas of Quezon
We stepped ashore as suddenly the fact hit us: we were back in the Philippines! Memories of 18 years before came flowing in us as we walked the narrow streets lined with tiny shops and crowded with colorful tricycles. How different this place is from Borneo. The houses, the streets, the whole infrastructure much less developed, but so much cleaner. The people looked poor but relaxed and many smiled friendly. Some kids approached us saying: “What’s your name” and “Give me money” but they didn’t seem to expect anything and after a while it sounded more like a greeting, or as an attempt at making small talk.
More scenes of Quezon
“Give me, give me, give me”
We bought some awfull bread (remembered too late their generocity with sugar), got sim cards for the telephones and a usb internet stick. Back on board we contacted the family and caught up on mail. More memories of 1992 flooded in on how cruising had changed.
Harbor of Quezon
We heard of some other yachts on the same route, one of them s/y TWEED with Pam and Jon Choate. We contacted them via sailmail and exchanged info on where to go and where not. A couple of days later we caught up with them in Fish Bay.
A Palawan cat in a Palawan house, one that didn’t look all skin and bones for a change.
As this bay happenes to be the closest possible location for yachts from the west coast to Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan, we decided to make the trip there, in order to clear customs and immigration. The bay’s settlement of about 70 families owned one jeepney, the Philippino version of public bus, but there was no regular schedule; it would only ride to town when it was needed to bring fish to the market or to get ice. Together with the crews of s/y Tweed and s/y Yelo (Swiss) we chartered the vehicle, got to PP, cleared in, did some shopping, had lunch and went back. What a bumpy ride that was!
Jaap talking to fellow-yachties on the way to Puerto Princessa
At the market: spiderconch for stew and a whole lot of eggs.
Oops, a flat tire. No surprise on that rocky road.
After Fish Bay it was only a small jump to Sabang, where the under ground river and national park are located, but the poor anchorage made it impossible to stay overnight and when the weather was good to go we sailed right past. With the north-east winds we had to pick our times to move on in that direction. The mornings seemed mostly quiet with little variable winds. In the afternoon, when the land had warmed up the sea-breeze set in and we learned to look out for a place to hide. This worked well, but the Sabang plan didn’t fit in there.
Sorry, no photos of Sabang. Some sun-drying tomatoes instead.
We stopped at Port Barton, a small town 15 miles to the north with a few dive resorts.
We had our first good Philippino meal here, and found some unsweetened bread. Internet acces on board was very limited and we used a local internet cafe. And Marijke took a long walk. Everywhere we went we heard roosters and every front- or back yard had at least 3. They were treated as pets and prepared for big fighting contests. Special shops were selling special food to give them strength and energy. This is Philippino culture.
Boys and their toys
After 3 days we left Port Barton and sailed to a place known as the Pirate’s Hold. That is we motor-sailed. Except for one day when going to Quezon we hadn’t been able to move under sail only. So disappointing, but we dare not complain. Never upset the weather gods, they might send us a typhoon!
Houses on the shore near the Pirate’s Hold where the islands are close together and the channels between them narrow and either very or very deep.
Aided by the track of m/y Lifeline we made our way safely around the reefs, pearl and seaweed farms. Maxsea was not always accurate and we had to watch out carefully!
On the way to El Nido
The next pleasant place on the west coast where we could anchor safely and go ashore was Corong Corong, just around the corner from El Nido. Other yachts welcomed us and we all set off to see the sights. The steep limestone cliffs make El Nido a picturesque little town with a fair amount of tourism, but not too bad. We took a banka day-tour with the crews of s/y Tweed, Mahili and Renegate and hopped from island to island in no time to see the lagoons and hongs, as they were called in Thailand, very much like Phang Nga Bay, but with clear water and coral reefs to snorkel on.
The way to bring a banka across a reef is hop overboard and walk!
The tour included a bbq lunch on a small beach with lots of other tourists and a sunset view from another beach with the same bunch of other tourists. But yachties generally get their share of golden sunsets and green flashes, so we all opted out and returned home for an early rest. Another yacht came in, s/y Lightfoot, who had contacted us with questions about going to Japan. There certainly are people interested in sailing that way.
Several times we walked to and around town to give our legs some much needed exercise. Too many hours spend in the cockpit or the dinghy and a bit of swimming every now and then doesn’t seem to be enough. The season brought big jellyfish, so even snorkeling was limited. Rock climbing on the steep limestone walls? No thank you!
What have they got on their mind?
What have they got on their mind?
We tore ourselves away from this little jewel and left Palawan proper to sail to Busuanga. Day hopping again as before, working around the windy spells in the afternoon, we stopped at some very pretty islands, Linapacan and Ditaytayan. Specially the last one, privately owned by a nature loving Philippino who ordered the care-takers not to touch any of the big trees that housed many different birds like scrub fowl, pittas, flycathers and lots of woodpeckers. (See Palawan Wildlife)
On anchor at Ditaytayan Island
On March 25th we found Tweed again, on anchor at Coron the main town of Busuanga. Again we explored the place together, had several lunches at Sea Dive, where coffee and drinking water was free and toilets were clean.
We met another yachty, single handler Marie Christine, who took us on her centerboard aluminium s/y Flanneur on a trip to see the fresh water lakes on Coron Isl. And to do some snorkeling (No jellyfish here!) The coral around that area seemed in pretty good shape, better than we expected. A lot of fish looked familiar, some were new. Soft corals and gorgones made a pretty picture at overhangs and drop-offs. It was good to be under water again. For many years this had been our favorite pastime. The days of dynamite fishing that destroys all marine life are as good as history here. Unlike the south of Palawan, where the blasts would startle us on a regular base. The great number of Japanese warships that sunk in 1944 make good wrecks for diving and this seemed to be the most popular activity for the few tourists. We did not go for that, just a bit of leisure sightseeing between the nemo-s and the starlights in the purplish gardens.
Jaap in the dinghy finding his way over the coral reef at the entrance to the fresh-water lake.
The lagoon at the entrance was as pretty as the lake itself. Look how clear the water is!
Left: Jaap at s/y Flanneur. We LOVE going out on other boats. Right one of the fresh-water lakes.
Ftrom left: Marie Christine, Jon, Pam, Jaap and Marijke
Marie Christine’s boat seen from the path to the lakes.
We again were the last to leave Coron, stopped at 2 more places in Busuanga: in Puerto del Sol, where an American runs a resort and welcomes yachties.
River scenes. In Puerto del Sol we took our dinghies up a river. Saw some hunting Kingfishers, Orioles and parrots, all very noisy.
And near Calauit Island where we took a safari to see the... zebras and giraffes! No, we did not cross any oceans but there is a game park, once set up by the illustrious Marcos, that together with it’s founder is now in disgrace. The free roaming animals seemed to be doing all right, but there were also cages with civets, porcupines, macaques and bearded pigs that looked very run down, 4 crocodiles lived in 2 regular bathtubs, poor creatures.
Zebras and giraffes can roam free on the island, but hang around the staff quarters where food is easily available.
Feeding the giraffes
Nobody liked it much, but we went back the next day for the birds. The Philippines have very few places with big trees, but when you find some, like on Calauit, it is a feast!
Time to get going, Tweed and Alishan decided to cross over to Luzon together. There is a nasty bid of sea near Mindoro where waves tend to run out of proportion. We planned the 150mile trip well, and chose a windless, moonlit night. Still we were bashed around quite a bit with 25 knots on the nose, but we made it to Subic Bay in one piece and it’s surprising how soon the bad times are forgotten. Just get a brush and wash off all those layers of salt with unlimited water... so therapeutic.
Bankas at rest, Palawan.
From Sandakan, via Kudat to Palawan, PI. Then from Palawan to Subic Bay.
RARE: a nicely painted fishing boat in Malaysia
Gogogogo Long and very narrow
Returning from the South China Sea