Roaming and Romancing with Mary and Daniel

Sun 2 May 2004 06:45
30th April 2004. Heading up the east coast of Luzon, ready for Japan.

Dear All,

Manila is like any other city. only more so.

It has all the thriving hustle and bustle, the ramshackle sprawl, the
churning chaos and the fiery vibrancy the one might expect from the
Philippine capital. The Spanish colonial remains of the Intramuros sit
opposite the hecticness of Chinatown and the gridlocked thoroughfares lead
to thriving business districts. It is wonderful. It is also absolutely
filthy. A short walk around leaves a tide mark somewhere around knee level
like the scum in a bath. As we sailed in, from twenty miles away we could
hear the hum of the city, by ten miles it was a roar, but only within five
miles could we begin to see it. We loved it!

The Manila Yacht Club was less appealing however. It sits at the mouth of an
open sewer and smells to high heaven, is complemented by an unreasonable
dress code and openly advertises that all prices are three times higher to
non-members. It is however the only place in Manila where we could haul out
and do some work on the boat so we were compelled to spend a week in this
glorified boatyard. We employed a local contractor to help and re-antifouled
the bottom, made a stainless steel fuel tank for the new heater, replaced
the coachroof handrails, re-welded the fridge condenser again (having spent
a week failing to find suitable materials to make a new one from), repaired
the shredded spinnaker (at a cost of £11), serviced the other sails, took on
a host of other tasks and were amazingly in a reasonably ready state to
leave when Katharine's sister Mary and her boyfriend, Daniel, arrived. We
also were very fortunate to meet Albert Sulimanog who is brother-in-law of
Oscar at the RTYC and met us for an entertaining lunch. He was very keen to
help us but rather sadly we are perhaps a little too self-sufficient!

By way of introduction to the Philippines we spent pleasant day exploring
Manila together as I tried to stock up on hardware for the boat, and left
the next morning after shopping for food, alcohol and fuel and trying to
clean the filth off Kokiri. Katharine's comment to Daniel that he 'really
ought to clean the decks before getting on with the next job' quite rightly
went down pretty badly considering that he had spent the last two hours on
his hands and knees scrubbing them. Even now they are far from their
original colour.

We motored and motor-sailed down to Corregidor Island in the mouth of Manila
Bay. This island was the site of the last of the American withdraw from the
Philippines after the Japanese invasion and where Macarthur made his famous
"I will return" promise from (although in fact this was only a soundbite
used for the media and was spoken by him only to journalists in when he was
already in Australia). Unfortunately we did not have time to go ashore to
tour the sights but instead headed across to the island fort of El Fraile on
the southern side of Manila Bay. We had passed close to this on our way up
to Manila were very keen to explore it. It looked like a WWII version of the
Solent Forts, a solid block of concrete jutting out of the sea with no sign
of the rock it was built on, but this one was topped with a pair of gun
turrets that would dwarf those on any battleship. We managed to make it
ashore and wandered through the cavernous ruin, which was gradually
collapsing under its own immense weight of steel and concrete, marvelling at
the obvious signs of the artillery pounding it received in its final days.

We had decided to take Mary and Daniel back to the Calamian Islands which we
had hurried through on our dash north, as they had seemed an extraordinary
and beautiful mixture of all things tropical. We arrived after dark,
typically, after a slow overnight passage and dropped anchor as soon as we
had 15m soundings. The next day revealed a flat calm, very hot, mangrove bay
with too many jellyfish for comfortable swimming so we motored out in search
of clearer water and the white sand beaches of Mary and Daniel's
imagination. On our way we spotted the perfect James Bond baddies' island.
Peter wants it, but as a substitute we stopped just off its east coast for
lunch, a swim and a run ashore. Sadly a banca of Filipinos had the same
idea, making us feel less like evil rulers of the world and more like
tourists! Oh well! The island was spectacular with shear slab cliffs,
dotted with clefts, gullies and precarious trees, giving way to tiny
secluded beaches at their base.

As we approached an islet call Pamalican, our anchorage for the night,
Daniel got more and more anxious that we must stop there. It was
picture-postcard tropical; a tiny coral cay with some trees, circled by
white sand and surrounded by very ill charted reef. "We are going there
aren't we?", "do you need me up the mast to guide you?", "we will get in
before evening won't we?". "All right, all right Daniel. We going there,
calm down." We anchored precariously on a 9m ledge jutting up from a 30-40m
bottom and jumped in to cool off and do some snorkelling. As evening came,
Mary and Daniel took the dinghy and set off to walk around the island. They
had some difficulty guiding Twofella through the coral heads, but Daniel, it
seemed, was going to reach that island come hell or high water, apparently
regardless of Mary's irritation. All was however revealed when they came
back to the boat. Daniel had asked Mary to marry him and Mary had said yes,
so all was forgiven and the celebrations began. We mixed up a massive rum
punch, all got very merrily plastered, ate celebratory pasta and tomato
sauce on the foredeck and danced the night away all over the boat. It was
very exciting for us all for them to have got engaged whilst with us, on an
idyllic Philippine island on the edge of the South China Sea.

Gradually then the relaxation began to flow. We bought a couple of octopuses
from a passing fisherman and made a great success of beating and cooking
them, had some great snorkelling and a walk ashore. We spent a couple of
days around Pamalican on the western side of the Calamian Islands, and then
moved through to Coron Bay, picking up a mooring buoy off a very pleasant
resort on the south side of Tangat Island. Andy, the young and hospitable
English character who owns the place, came to the Philippines as a treasure
hunter and did well enough to buy this gorgeous island. While we were there
he hired another stunning Filipina and fired his last remaining Filipino
worker. Although he denies it, one suspects that he has a pretty pleasant
life! We rented a full set of diving equipment from the resort and Daniel,
who is an experienced diver, took Katharine and me for two fantastic dives
from Kokiri on one of the wrecks in Coron Bay that we had dived on before.
It makes a great difference to dive on the same wreck a number of times and
begin to picture what the vessel is really like and to see some of the
minutia that you miss when hurrying around a ship with a guide. We headed
back to the resort for another excellent meal and drunken night at the bar.

After a brief stop in Coron to top up with food and water and have a meal
ashore with friends from an American yacht that we last saw in PNG, we
headed for the spectacular Coron Island. Here we anchored for the night in a
fantastical cauldron of an anchorage near to a fresh water lake, the shear
cliffs of sculptured limestone plunging down to finish with great overhangs
at sea level. We moved to a similar anchorage the following morning where we
found a tiny rock arch just large enough to swim through connecting two
different bays. We explored by dinghy and had a long swim before tidying the
boat and using the light winds to sail around to Port Borac on the east
coast of Busuanga, launching Mary and Daniel in the dinghy on the way to
take some photos of Kokiri under sail. We had an exhilarating beat up inside
the reefs but, coming into Borac with the sun low and ahead we ran hard
aground on the reefs at the edge of the channel. We were helped off by
taking the kedge anchor to the masthead to heal us over and using a tow from
a passing banca and finally anchored in the middle of the bay with no
serious damage except to our nerves.

And so we left the Calamian Islands the following morning. We stopped at
Tara Island for the night and saw a pair of Bryde's whales at close quarters
on the calm passage towards the Apo Reefs where we stopped for an excellent
afternoon snorkel. It was another slow passage with lots of motor-sailing
overnight to Subic Bay, just to the north of Manila, and the site of the old
US naval base. Here there is another expensive yacht club, but also good
provisioning and easy connections to Manila. We finished Mary and Daniel's
stay we an excellent Chinese meal and thoroughly amusing disco in what
transpired to be a Karaoke brothel.

We then returned to refit mode to finish off the last jobs that needed
putting in order before the trip up to Japan and the wild north, including
fixing (I still feel we can only whisper this word at the moment) the
fridge! Finger's crossed.

And now, exactly one year after arriving on Kokiri in New Zealand, we are
back underway and heading up the coast of Luzon, aiming for only a short
stop in San Fernando before for the long haul to Okinawa Shima at the
southern end of the Japan island chain. We shall be sad to leave this
beautiful, happy, cheap country which has been unbelievably hot,
comparatively windless, but utterly wonderful.

Hope you are all well at home and that you all one day get the chance to
come to the Philippines.

Lots of Love to one and all,

Peter & Katharine