Through the islands to Manila

Fri 26 Mar 2004 12:39
26th March 2004. From the South China Sea!

Dear All

As I write this we are motoring over a glassy South China Sea on our way to
Manila. It is night-time and the sea is giving off almost perfect
reflections of the constellations so that I can just make out the flick of
Scorpio's tail and the saucepan shape of the Plough. The water here is
nutrient rich and the dark sea is constantly disturbed with tiny flashes of
phosphorescence in our wake, and when we stir the creatures in our path they
dart away from the boat leaving a bright line in their escape. It is
beautiful, but there is quite a lot of shipping around (I am writing this
sentence by sentence between checking on deck) and navigation lights can be
unconventional to say the least. An all-round flashing light of red, blue
or green is favoured by the snazziest bancas, but just one all-round white
is more common. Other ships are very conservative with their nav lights,
showing just a white light but clearly aiming for us, and then throwing on
all lights possible at the last minute and seemingly swerving to avoid us!
Other ships just seem to steam up close to us quite fast and then sit there
menacingly close. There seems to be no rhyme or reason.

The Philippines are absolutely beautiful. Certainly the best cruising
ground we have found since Scotland (and, for us, Scotland it very hard to
beat so it is really saying something). There are literally tens of
thousands islands, all shapes and sizes; from the small sandy atolls with
just a couple of palms, to the larger wooded islets surrounded with white
sand beaches and shallow turquoise reefs, to vast dark volcanoes rearing up
from the sea, and on up to the huge sheer limestone islands that were part
of the ancient land-bridge connecting Asia to Australia. They shoot
vertically out of the water, some as high as 2000 feet, with grey slabs of
rock slowly sliding off the cliff edge, giving the impression of heavy cloth
and making the whole island look like a host of hooded druids with small
clusters of desperate trees clinging precariously to their robes.

The people are also a change for us. While being friendly and happy, they
are less curious than some we have met and so, in the most part, tend to
leave us alone and barely even look up to wave. When they do come out to the
boat though, they come to stay. Usually, speaking no English at all, they
just arrive and climb on board and sit in the cockpit looking around. It
seemed easier to keep a pushy Solomon Island carver off the boat than a
smiling and laughing gaggle of Filipinas.

We have been moving fairly quickly through the islands as we have to get to
Manila in order to do some work on the boat before Mary and Daniel arrive,
but it has been just fantastic. After dropping Digby in the Cuyo Islands we
headed for the islands off the northeast coast of Palawan and have been
working our way north from their through the Calimian Islands. Every day
there has been a perfect wind for beating up through the archipelago and so
we have been leaving in the morning, having a glorious and beautiful sail
during the day and then anchoring in yet another idyllic anchorage just
before dusk. The few times we have been ashore it has been to picturesque
villages with bancas of all sizes and colours hauled up on the white
beaches. The populations of these small islands have been surprisingly
large. From seaward they look like a few bamboo huts, but behind the palm
trees we discover a thriving community of a thousand or more.

We did take the time to stop for a few days in Coron, the capital of the
Calimian Group, and spent a day diving on some more Japanese naval ships
from WWII. It was as fascinating and exciting as before. We could swim
right through these ships, in behind the boilers, and into some surprisingly
small spaces (it still amazes me that I am even willing to swim into these
decaying skeletons, let alone find I actually enjoy it!) But it was really
the corals growing on the wreck itself that I found truly magnificent. The
fact that these rusting remains are a home to so much wildlife is always
surprising. We saw lion fish, scorpion fish and shoal after shoal of
different species, being rounded up and attacked by groups of aggressive
predators like thugs in a school play ground. Interesting predator / prey
relationships all around.

In Manila we have a list of things to do to the boat which is far longer
than is remotely possible to achieve in the time available before Mary and
Daniel arrive, but this is always the way with us so we shall see how it

I hope that you are all well and that winter is beginning to shake itself
into spring back home. I must now love and leave you and see how many
Filipino ships are bearing down on us this time.

All our love

Katharine and Peter