[140820, 2229 UTC, Holiday Oceanview Marina, Samal Island, Philippines 07°11.9'N / 125°42.6'E]
On Monday August 11 at about 8:30 am local time, we entered the gates of Oceanview Marina on Samal Island in the Davao Gulf of Mindanao Island, Philippines. Our crossing from Palau was not without its trials, though we did sail 99.97% of the way from Palau to Mindanao, a blessing we didn't expect to enjoy. Now for the challenges...
We departed Palau on July 30th, along with two other boats going our way. Another boat would join the following day. Weather windows for a westward passage are rare and, as such, dictate frenzied preparations for departure for crews who have waited months for such an opportunity. We were ready to go - weather checked, dinghy stowed, halyards on sails, route launched in GPS, engine purring - that is until the engine coughed and died. Working efficiently, we stripped out and replaced a fuel filter, drained a wee bit of water out of the water separator, re-routed the hose around a small inline auxiliary fuel pump, checked the tank for water and had the engine going again in less than an hour. Good to go? Nope, the alternator wasn't putting anything into the batteries. Another quick assessment found a circuit breaker in the lazarette tripped off after being bumped by stowed gear. Now we were good to go. Jittery but eager, we dropped our mooring and motored out into the lagoon. Riding the strong outgoing tidal current at sometimes over 7 knots, we were soon at sea and beyond vicious reef hazards with sails flying and a quiet calm replaced our anxiety. Even Jake let out a sigh of relief as he lay sprawled on the saloon sole.
Weather predictions couldn't have been better though we would be beating westward to windward. SSW to S winds about ten knots and small, one to one and a half meter seas all for the foreseeable future and no looming lows. The monsoon trough and troublesome storms had all gone north. Or so we thought. Winds continued light but we sailed steadily west, racking up 85 nm per day despite light winds, adverse current and lumpy seas. It was lovely, relaxing sailing in the beginning. By August 1, though, the weather center in Guam began to change their tune about a tropical storm named Halong, which had been "progged" (to use meteorological lingo) to travel north and away. By the evening, they admitted it had gone "left" instead of "right" of a high pressure ridge and would therefore move west rather than north. In short order, it changed its course, intensified into a typhoon and then a SUPER typhoon and came speeding west. By August 2, it was a category 5 super typhoon with winds gusting to 170 knots (196 mph) only 567 nm NE of Carina's position.
You might imagine that our subdued sailing quickly disappeared during the course of these events. We hove-to twice over the next few days, one time for 16 hours overnight so we could rest from intense sailing at incredible angles of heel. Carina fought a 1-2 knot adverse current in seas to 4 meters with winds gusting to 35 knots. We had some moments of crankiness for sure, had a few leaking fittings (yet to be found), green water down the chain hawse that seeped into the chain locker and then into the bilge, and our stowed anchors on the bow wiggled loose a couple of times and required relashing. During the action, Philip may have invented a few new expletives, but all in all, everything went well. Carina's pedigree showed as she expertly handled the wind and seas with barely a groan. We were never in danger that the typhoon would dip south to our latitude but its proximity and strength did give us a few moments of doubt. We assembled a video that we were successful in uploading to our website, so if you want to see some blue water sailing footage, go to www.sv-carina.org under "What's New?" and follow the link.
By 0015 UTC August 4, we wore ship from our hove-to position and were underway once again, heading south by west towards the coast of Mindanao, dodging difficult-to-see FADs and still beating hard to weather. The Philippine Sea is literally awash in FADs that sit in deep water and create small biosystems that attract fish. Twenty four hours later, bruised and bedraggled, we were at anchor in calm, pristine, mountain-protected Caraga Bay on Mindanao Island beside La Gitana, a German flagged Amel ketch that had left Palau with our radio net group. We were still 150 nm from our destination, but we could clean-up and rest before pushing down the coast and around Cape San Augustin and into the Davao Gulf.
A bit more info about FADs: these are "fish accumulation devices" or floats of different sizes and configurations that are tethered to the sea floor many thousands of meters below the sea surface. Most FADs are not lit and do not return a radar signal. Some are large rafts of bamboo, lashed together, while others are large round metal tubes low in the water, and still others are blocks of styrofoam and motorcycle tires or steel towers. We know of no one who's hit one at sea but we ourselves came within inches of one and within feet of a few more, just on this passage. Their presence creates enough stress to keep you awake on watch, especially at night.
During our trip and while still 145 nm from the Philippine coast, we came upon a bangka, or large fishing trimaran with a distinctly-Asian sheerline, parked on a FAD with 8-10 tiny trimaran bangkitas (our name) buzzing around, all manned with enthusiastic-to-see-us fishermen. These ARE brave men.
While at Caraga Bay we were visited by locals in these same small outrigger motorized bangkitas, selling fish or just coming to visit and take our picture (and we theirs). It was a fabulous introduction to the Philippines and the friendly Filipino people. After a difficult windward motor-sail down to anchor off a fish camp at Pujada Island at the mouth of Pujada Bay, we were finally within reach of the Cape. By 1330 local time on August 10, we were inside the Davao Gulf and sailing north, downwind, while answering a hail from the Philippine Coast Guard coast-watch station who inexplicitly hailed us as "motor yacht, motor yacht" and who interviewed us and then wished us fair winds.
Our winds disappeared very very early the next morning and we once again fired up the little diesel rather than worrying about whether or not we could make a daylight landfall or if we could safely dodge a line of deep-draft vessels steaming at 15 knots on a reciprocal course. This night we were blessed with smooth seas, a brilliant full moon good for FAD watching, and at least one intense Perseid meteor shower that lit up the cockpit like a bonfire on a dark night.
By breakfast time of Leslie's 55th birthday we were welcomed ashore by friends who had made landfall ahead of us and who helped us secure our lines and regain our land legs. The interim week has flown past in a flurry of ferry, trike and jeepney rides; social events; a cultural festival; and boat projects. So, life is good here as we prepare to join the "Sangihe" Rally to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, leaving in a scant two weeks. Let's just say, we are not bored.
Again, check out our website photos at: Our Pictures, Philippines-Mindanao.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake