Through the Samar, Subiyan and Sulu Seas

Tue 16 Mar 2004 17:17
15th March 2004. From the north eastern Palawan in the Sulu Sea

Dear All,

Our arrival in the Philippines was easier than we ever anticipated. We
anchored off Tacloban on Leyte Island just before dusk and were not
disturbed until late the next morning. The coastguard's banca (these are the
local canoes, built from plywood and with bamboo outriggers and inboard
engines, and the look of a fast, delicate and possibly quite dangerous
spider) arrived as we getting ready to go ashore, and the cry of 'Captain!
Give me your papers!' preceded one of the friendliest rounds of customs and
immigration clearance that we have been through. Instead of being asked for
bribes ('persuasive communication', as the pilot book terms it) we were
offered coffee!

Tacloban was a busy city and certainly the largest we have been to since
leaving London. The bustle of the brilliantly decorated jeepneys, motor
tricycles and ever-smiling Filipinos make a wonderful change from the
passive Pacific Islands. The busy junctions (none with traffic lights) of
the crowded downtown streets looked like fairgrounds where hundreds of dodg'
em cars had got out of their arena. Absolute chaos! We spent a week there;
shopping in the stores as the pound is so strong against the Dollar/Peso at
the moment, burning the wires of the internet arranging to meet Francis
Hawkings and Digby Morrison in Boracay Island and once again tackling the
refrigeration problems briefly (we welded up the condenser again and were
fortunate to find it in the airport lost property office when I'd left it at
the jeepney stop overnight). We even went to join the twelve year olds at
the disco, eat a meal ashore and make the most of the ridiculously cheap

And so, after such a city extravaganza, we left Tacloban and motored north
through the San Juanico Strait. We now had only four days to make it to
Boracay to meet Francis and so moved quickly through the calms up the Samar
Sea. The mountainous islands, teaming with waterfalls, ramshackle villages a
nd verdant forest were stunning and made the sailing quite different from
the open Pacific. We stopped overnight at Parasan Harbour; off the north end
of Deagan Island in an uncharted anchorage; and finally made it round the
top of Masbate for a beautiful afternoon sail with the flanker to San
Fernando on Sibuyan Island. We crossed the Sibuyan Sea the following day
under flanker and then spinnaker and charged through the channel south of
Boracay at full pelt, in good time to meet Francis off his flight from Los
Angeles the following morning.

Boracay has been developed as a tourist island and it nearly took Katharine
and me off our feet. A 'strip' runs for nearly a mile down the beach and
offers bars, restaurants, watersports and tourist shopping to the Filipino
and ex-pat holiday makers. Digby swam out to the boat to meet us and show
photographs of our arrival under spinnaker. Even Boracay hadn't seen a
cruising yacht recently.

Francis hailed us from a ferry banca charging past early the next morning.
We talked incessantly about all the places we've been of the past few months
and unpacked the various goodies Francis had tracked down for us in the
States; like fresh water pumps and rowlocks and a digital camera. We went to
examine Digby's kite-surfers and I hired a windsurfer to enjoy the
twenty-five knots on the windward side of the island, although the wind was
apparently too gusty for the kite-surfers. We even went for a sail on one of
the sailing bancas, which have stunning performance delivered from a
primitive bamboo and plywood trimaran. It was great to have Francis on
board, if only for a short time.

Francis left on Monday morning but we continued to chafe at our anchor rode
until leaving with Digby on Wednesday. We enjoyed eating ashore and drinking
with Europeans for the first time since New Zealand but were all the keener
to leave because of it. We tried kite-surfing and look forward to having
another go, but for the two days we attempted the tide was either too high
or too low and the wind was either too strong or too weak. or to gusty.
Cruising yachts seem to be better designed for sailing than kite-boards!

We had a choppy sail across to Caluya Island where mysterious native
drumming entertained us though a sunset drink, and then on to the Panagatan
Cays to following day. The chart showed a tiny set of wooded islands so we
were surprised to find that the now barren reefs actually supported a huge
population. We were even more surprised to hear loud dance music on the
wind but couldn't make it ashore through the miles of fish traps and nets to
investigate the source.

The Cuyo Islands are a group of islands in the north Sulu Sea but with no
good anchorages in the northern part of the group made a long hop down to
Tagauayan Island, blowing out the spinnaker on the way. The island was
sparsely populated but just before sunset we joined a motley gaggle of small
open fishing bancas from the surrounding islands anchored in the bay. We
climbed to the top of this lovely brush island, snorkelled and talked to the
fishermen, who were largely anchored within spitting distance. Katharine's
charm provide us with a big tuna for supper and the following day we
entertained one of the island's families on board. The Filipinos and
Filipinas smile incessantly, are at least as polite as the Pacific islanders
and are a joy to talk too. They are possibly the jolliest islands we have
ever come across. Another lovely sail brought us to Cuyo Island where Digby
caught a ship to get to Manila and we were all entertained for the night by
the local congressman's private ship which hit the reef in the harbour
entrance and dried out.

We have today crossed the remainder of the Sulu Sea and are now anchored off
Dumaran Island on the north east side of Palawan. The temperature is
comfortable but the sun still shines fiercely and there is plenty shipping
around. This will be almost as far west as this voyage takes us and the
lands all around look almost like the edge of the world; remote, mysterious
and strangely fascinating, but we will have to save them for another time.
We are very excited that Mary and Daniel will be flying out to meet us in
Manila in a few weeks and so will cruise gradually north through the
Calamian Islands over the next few days before hoping up to Manila to meet

Life is superb on board and we hope that the fresh life of the rising spring
will bring warmth to all your winter-frozen bones. And if anyone happens to
be driving through Burridge, we'd absolutely love to know if our trees are
in blossom!

Lots of Love to you all and take good care of yourselves,

Peter & Katharine