Day Tripping & One Night Stands

Our trip down the western side of Palawan was amazing. We had wind and we had well-spaced anchorages, which means we did a lot of day hops. 15, 25, 40 nautical miles under sail, an anchorage waiting for us to arrive, with plenty of light to see the shoals, reefs, and obstructions that littered the charts.

In theory, day sailing is a great idea. Sail during the good daylight hours, throw the pick in a (hopefully) protected anchorage by mid-afternoon, have plenty of time to cook dinner, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and wake up refreshed to do it all again. But in reality, it is a little different.

We travelled during the end of the NE monsoon, making the W/SW sailing comfortable, although trying at times – the winds either enhanced by a cold trough pushing down from Japan, which made from some big swell, or light enough that at times we had troubles holding the headsail with the winds aft of beam. However, that we only had to motor one 20 nautical mile day in three weeks surprised us both.

Although the sailing has been good, the navigating has been tricky, which means we are both on deck, eyes honed on the horizon all day long. Our charts were not exactly accurate in some places – we sailed over land on a few occasions – and the hazards numerous- marked and unmarked.

Palawan is famous for its pearls, which meant dodging pearl farms. Otherwise known as weaving through a mile long maze of head-sized black buoys, strung in lines and nearly impossible to see, tethered to the bottom in 20-40M with 2” line, usually in the middle of a channel or opposite a reef. Sometimes the locals were kind enough to put a plastic 44-gallon drum at the end of the string so at least it was a little more visible. On one occasion a local boat came out to guide us through the maze. There were more than a couple of tense moments.

Then, after the pearl farms petered out, the sticks began to appear. Bamboo poles bleached grey and never thicker than your wrist. Arranged in elaborate groupings, standing alone in the middle of the ocean. Some obviously stuck into the bottom, others somehow anchored but indeed moving in the current or the swell. They protruded up to two meters but just as often only broke the surface by 30 cm and appeared in water as deep as 40 meters.

Weirs? Fish traps? A hard to see marker for a secret fishing hole? We never did find out and only twice were surprised by a stick barely breaking the surface a little too close for comfort.

We sailed down the windward side of the island, so finding anchorages was the trick. Steve scoured charts, and online resources, and the rare DIY cruising guide to find us a spot every evening. Tucked behind sand spits, hidden behind HUGE rocks, concealed beyond a narrow channel, protected by a small island or a reef. He did an amazing job. Most of our anchorages were comfortable. Several were absolutely stunning.

But I don’t sleep that well on the first night in an unfamiliar anchorage. I worry about the holding, and the wind shifting. I wake to every splash and sound of a boat in the distance…or often close by. My ears prick up to voices, which carry well over water and in the dark of a calm night could be a mile away onshore, but I get up and sneak into the cockpit just to make certain. And it is always just local fisherman, motoring home or to their next fishing hole, chatting to someone in the boat or in the next boat, a lone paddler off in the distance singing quietly to themselves, someone walking the reef at low tide in the moonlight, gather shells or hunting lobsters.

There were, of course, a few rolly nights. Kate caught in the current at high tide and held beam onto the swell that wrapped around the island, or simply that the only bay for 40 miles was open to the weather. As always, the worse of the conditions appear 0300 when it’s much too dark to safely do anything but hold on and wait for dawn, reminding yourself that a few hours of discomfort isn’t much of a price to pay to live the life we do. (NO guarantee this mantra will eliminate the morning crankies, but one must try to keep things in perspective!)

There is so much of our time in the Philippines that I want to forget, so much struggle and heart ache, but not our time in Palawan. Palawan was a surprise. A beautiful playground, a reminder of what the sailing life can be. Should be.

Ready to pull up anchor for the last time in the Philippines

I am glad that we got a sweet farewell from the Philippines after all the bitter tears. And, I am happy to be able look back fondly, but I am more excited to be moving forward.

Borneo here we come!

Love, H&S

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