Subic Bay to San Fernando, Philippines

At 9am on Thursday 5th April we slipped our mooring at Puerto Galera. The wind behind the main and head sails was soon propelling us along, but for the first time Paul had to use the spinnaker pole to stabilise the headsail: often a precarious and finicky job, especially in rough weather when the boat is rolling. It was great to be free from the noise of the engine but in the busy shipping lane we had to cross, the VHF radio was continually relaying interaction between vessels and the port authorities in Batangas.  Interference makes the stations crackle loudly, and when impatient captains repeat the same requests over and over, it can be an assault on the ears, but it petered out as we drew away from the Batangas area. During the afternoon the wind dropped and slowed our progress considerably, but for once it was a positive thing because due to a slight miscalculation, we would have been arriving at our destination in the early hours of the morning at the speed we’d been making. A few hours delay would hopefully have us there at the more convenient hour of sunrise instead.

Securing the spinnaker pole
Just leaving Puerto Galera

The shipping lane near Manila had us negotiating our way around huge cargo and container vessels, but the AIS provided reassurance about collision likelihood. The other benefit of going slowly under sail was the huge saving on the amount of fuel we used, but best of all, no engine means no danger of fishing nets getting caught in the propeller. As darkness fell, more fishing boats appeared and we had to manoeuvre around them. One of the crew on a boat on our starboard side got quite agitated. He shone his torch at our boat in a sweeping motion, then pointed it on the surface of the water.  He probably couldn’t tell we had no engine on, but we could only guess he was worried about his nets. It was unnerving not to be sure he wasn’t alerting us about some unseen peril we were heading for, but that’s probably more to do with my overactive imagination 😉  After a dinner of veggie burgers and fried onions in buns (great al fresco fare), we began the night watch. I took the 8 until midnight one and for the first time, felt chilly enough to put a coat on. By the time Paul took over a few hours later, we were almost there. I had intended to stay awake to help with anchoring but I woke to the sound of the anchor being dropped at 3am. Paul had decided we could wait in Benanga Bay and catch up on some sleep so that we could find the marina in daylight.

Anchorage at Benanga Bay

It was a glorious morning to set off in a few hours later. There were the usual things to look out for, such as fishing markers, nets and boats and it was pleasant to stand on the side deck to watch for them with a cup of hot coffee in the warm, gentle breeze. We passed some picturesque views, all of which were interspersed with industrial sites of shipbuilding yards, dry docks, and construction sites.

Entering Subic Bay
Military ships, Subic Bay
Dry docks

Both the marinas Paul called were full but one said we could anchor outside the yacht club. It soon became clear why they were full when a succession of yachts came motoring out of the marina with banners and flags displaying the name of another regatta. As Paul commented, we saw more yachts in an hour that morning than we’d seen in the whole of the Philippines. The spot outside the yacht club didn’t appeal to us and was too far away from where we wanted to be. We returned to the beach area that we’d noted as a possible place to stop and were delighted to be confronted with lots of little optimist boats with youngsters from a local sailing school having a whale of a time. They used our boat as a marker to go around, which made steering a bit tricky as there were quite a few of them. We were hoping to tie to one of the mooring buoys. A guy on a nearby boat, who Paul asked whether they were for public use wasn’t sure and suggested we just use one, then check with a man at the large bar/restaurant establishment on the shore. This time, I steered us towards the buoy, the sailing school gang still sticking perilously close to us. Paul hooked it and once secured to it, dinghied over to check if it was ok to stay there. He returned with the news that not only was it was fine for us to stay, it was free too.

Researching Subic Bay online, one  site referred to the wide range of American food on sale, apparently as a result of a US base situated there after the Second World War. The only hint of this we saw, however was a profusion of fast food joints. These diners were located behind the glitzy waterfront buildings and were part of a series of square, austere concrete complexes advertising ‘fries and steak’, ‘BBQ ribs’, ‘breakfast pancakes’ as well as the usual hot dogs, burgers and pizzas. This then, seemed to be the American fare mentioned online because we found little in the supermarkets that differed from standard products we’d become familiar with.

Behind the waterfront, Subic Bay

We were in the duty free area of Subic Bay so several outlets were advertising chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol as we strolled along in air heavy with humidity. Google maps showed us the way to the next town, Olongapo which was only a short distance away, but required us to cross what looked like a border patrol and I wondered if we should have brought our passports but no one stopped us. Olongapo was a busy, traffic-choked little town  but we enjoyed ambling around it, and managed to find everything we needed to buy there.


Olongapo centre

The book I’d been reading about prisoners of war on Palawan had revealed how much the Filipino people had respected and helped the Americans during World War 2, often risking or losing their own lives to do so. The plaque in the picture is just one of several memorials to them I came across in the Philippines. The Oryoku Maru was one of the so called ‘hell ships’ used to transport prisoners and conditions on board were unbearably hard for the men crammed into the holds. It’s hard to read the inscription on the picture but this Wikipedia extract provides an adequate explanation of what happened.

The Oryoku Maru left Manila on December 13, 1944, with 1,620 prisoners of war (including 1,556 American, 50 British and Dutch, 7 Czech, 4 Norwegians and several other nationalities) packed in the holds, and 1,900 Japanese civilians and military personnel in the cabins. As she neared the naval base at Olongapo in Subic Bay, US Navy planes from the USS Hornet attacked the unmarked ship, causing it to sink on December 15. About 270 died aboard ship. Some died from suffocation or dehydration. Others were killed in the attack, drowned or were shot while escaping the ship as it sunk in Subic Bay where the ‘Hell Ship Memorial’ is located. A colonel, in his official report, wrote:

Many men lost their minds and crawled about in the absolute darkness armed with knives, attempting to kill people in order to drink their blood or armed with canteens filled with urine and swinging them in the dark. The hold was so crowded and everyone so interlocked with one another that the only movement possible was over the heads and bodies of others.

In the evening, back in Subic Bay and stocked up with soft drinks, wine and chocolate, we went out to find somewhere to eat. The bars and restaurants that lined the waterfront vied for custom with the usual food and entertainment enticements advertised outside, but the one that appealed (to me at least) had a live band on a stage. The singers and musicians were performing western pop songs Filipino style, and the dancers were great. We sat outside on what was a very humid night and watched while eating tofu (for me) and fish (for Paul) meals before heading back to plan the next passage.

Paul had worked long and hard on the schedule we’d be keeping to for the journey to Japan and had planned it so that we wouldn’t have too many night passages. The next part began this morning (7th April) with a 6 30 departure for an anchorage at Palanginan, north Philippines. The trip took 10 hours but we were able to do most of it under sail and anchored at 5pm in a bay that proved to be a lot busier than Paul expected. No less than three bancas came up to us before we’d even got the anchor set. The first one dropped their anchor very close to us and I couldn’t stop myself asking ‘do you think they could be pirates?’ This isn’t a foreign tourist destination so they were just curious to see us and the crew on most of the boats we saw gave us welcoming smiles and waves.

Leaving Subic Bay
The guys on this beautiful wooden cat waved as we left Subic
One of several bancas who came to say Hi

As darkness fell, fires were lit on the beach opposite and music began to boom out. We were beginning to get the idea that Filipino holidaymakers love to party. The music and the celebrating went on all through the night. When the flaky wifi connection let us look things up again we discovered we were opposite a place called ‘Lindamar By The Sea Resort’ on Iba Beach, a popular place for beach entertainment.  At 6am the partying was as rowdy and lively as if it was midnight. At that early hour on a Sunday morning, besides the karaoke, music and dancing going on, we spotted swimmers, people playing beach volleyball, kayakers and motor boats departing for trips across the bay. It was as if all the benefits of the resort’s activities could be enjoyed at any time during a 24 hour period. We sat in the cockpit enjoying our morning coffee and a breakfast of delicious Filipino mangoes watching it all before we left for another night passage.

Iba Beach, 24-hour fun and frolics

By the end of the morning, however the wind was pushing us along at such a speed, Paul thought we’d arrive at midnight! We alternated between port and starboard tacks all afternoon with no engine, so that the ‘zigzag’ route slowed us down sufficiently. Very few vessels at sea until the fishermen came out at twilight, and the usual ‘eagle-eye’ lookouts went into operation. This is a lot easier with the comforting light of a full moon but it was a half-moon that evening. Fishing boats don’t tend to use AIS and a few times, Paul had to shine a torch across the water separating us to alert them to the fact we were nearby, as had been done to us previously. Apart from that the night passage and on into the following day went well. The swell and the rolling prevented us from doing much activity. In my case, it creates a kind of lethargy where it’s too much effort staying upright to move from one end of the boat to the other. I did manage to cook a tofu stir fry in those conditions however, using my legs and back to pinion my body against the wooden galley corner as I cooked.

Another lovely sunset at sea

Late in the morning of Monday 9th April we were approaching San Fernando in heat and humidity that soaks you with sweat within minutes. A banca approached with a guy sporting some strange headgear (see pic below) who offered to sell us some fish. Paul declined but asked if he could take his picture, which he was happy to pose for. He also offered to guide us to San Fernando but Paul told him we could probably find it.

Another banca appeared shortly after we had anchored, with three guys on it this time. A family,consisting of dad and his two sons, they ended up being our personal assistants for the whole of our stay and the father was a huge help. After talking with Paul, he shot off in their boat, Zamorna, on a mission to get diesel and water for us and returned very quickly with it all.

First view of San Fernando

Once again, there was the ‘how much?’, ‘well, however much you think it was worth’ interaction so Paul gave generously. This might have been why they took it upon themselves to look after us so well because when we dinghied ashore later to check in, the same crew of three were there waiting to help us pull the dinghy onto the beach. No sooner had we secured it than dad ordered the boys to guard it while he led us up from the beach through the town’s fascinating backstreets. Here, we saw very basic living: rundown shacks, poor drainage, mud tracks instead of pavements, and goats, chickens, dogs and puppies mingling with the children outside the huts. Lots of people were around and though they stared at us unashamedly, they invariably smiled as our guide hustled us on through the narrow dusty lanes. Quite a few held their hands out for money, but even if we’d had a mind to give any, we wouldn’t have had time to. I would have loved to take a few surreptitious pictures but was afraid of being left behind. After a few minutes we were invited to wash our feet at the communal tap and we emerged from the village onto a patch of waste ground. This appeared to be the place for villagers to gather and socialise. It reminded me a little of areas at music festival venues. People were cooking on open fires while games of football and basketball were being played. Others were sat around chatting. It was lively, vibrant, rudimentary and brilliant.

The fishing village’s gathering place, San Fernando

Main street, San Fernando

The heat had increased by now and I felt overcome by it after rushing through the village. I hoped the immigration place wasn’t too far away. Once we were on the main road, our man pointed us in the right direction and left us to it. Not far away there was a kiosk with an official looking man in it with whom Paul double-checked we were on the right road for immigration. We were, but today it was closed for a public holiday, he informed us apologetically. Rather than return to the boat we elected to walk on into town, but via the shady back streets out of the glaring sun. Google maps showed us the way and we had another fascinating walk away from the mainstream. You kind of get used to people staring. We do look conspicuous in our sun hats, and with phones out taking lots of pictures, not to mention Paul’s height. It’s very hard to convey the combination of all we saw, heard and smelled. There were cockerels crowing, trikes and motor bikes roaring along with horns honking, the smells of fried chicken and other unidentifiable aromas –some good, some not so good. We saw turkeys, dogs, cats, cockerels and goats in the run down roads and streets, and more dilapidated houses, and tiny shops with wire frontages.  It wasn’t quite subsistence living but not far off it.



Back streets of San Fernando

We stopped for a drink on the outskirts of town and sat at a table on a dusty roadside before walking on into the centre of San Fernando.

On the way to the centre
Happy to be photographed 🙂

In a huge, old wooden building the market was located.  We went there to top up our supply of bananas and mangoes. As we walked round, traders urged us to come to their stall by calling out such things as ‘yes sir’, ‘yes madam’, ‘have a look’, ‘you try’.

San Fernando’s busy centre


I was captivated by it all, despite feeling exhausted from a long walk in the heat. Arriving back on a trike I was amazed to see the two boys from Zamorna waiting for us on the waste ground outside the fishing village, where people were now settling in for the evening pastimes.

The fishing village

They were there to guide us back through the higgledy-piggledy lanes to our dinghy. Nice as this was of them, I’d been hoping for a more leisurely walk to have a closer look at the ramshackle houses but once again we were rushed through and almost bundled into the dinghy. Paul ordered some wood from the dad once they’d escorted us back to our boat.

The sounds of Cockerels crowing, and the barking and howling of dogs greeted me when I woke early the next morning. I went above to watch the beach come to life as the sun rose. It was already hot by 7 30. Paul gathered the papers and forms ready to take to the immigration building. We decided he’d go alone and I would wait for the delivery of the wood and more drinking water from our Zamorna guys. The wood was for fender boards which would be needed for when we’d be tying up against harbour walls in Japan. While Paul was away I labelled and stowed some canned food for our Pacific crossing. Any paper labels have to be removed because they could block up bilge pumps if the boat were to flood with water for any reason. Then they have to be sealed in plastic bags to prevent rusting. We were ready to leave by 5pm after grateful farewells to Zamorna. I steered us out into the path made by the sun’s afternoon rays on the water while Paul put the main and headsails up. We were bound for Japan in earnest now and there would be night passages and overnight anchorages for the next few days. We hoped to arrive in Ishigaki, our first port of call in Japan at the weekend.

San Fernando viewed from our boat
Leaving San Fernando


The Setouchi Rally

We arrived in Yuge for the Setouchi the day before the rally began and had a warm welcome from the organiser, “KC” and some other rally participants who were already there. Above you can see the bridge we passed under as seen from our berth on a small pontoon in the town centre. Yuge Town, is a small affair, you can walk all around it in about 20 minutes, it’s very sleepy and although it has a population of 6000, I only ever saw about five people out at any one point.  Below you can see the other rally boats on the pontoon.We have an Australian couple, Ken and Belinda, on the big cat who are just wrapping up and heading home after spending 5 years touring the Pacific islands. We have Rob, a Canadian who has left the rally early to get up to Kushiro ready to sail over to his home town of Vancouver. We have scrapped plans to leave from there and instead will leave from a lower latitude of 35deg North where we hope to ride the bottom of the depressions heading east. It will be interesting to see who gets there first, however Rob plans to visit Alaska on the way and may well stop off at the Aleutians if he is close and fancies a rest. The other boats are all Japanese crewed, and mostly a lively bunch who enjoy their sake. The big motor boat is owned by a successful businessman who is also a sponsor of the rally. He has invited 6 Australians onboard as well, so they are enjoying a level of luxury we can’t quite match on Sister Midnight, I’m not sure our deck wash spraying into the cockpit well would be as good as their Jacuzzi on the top deck. However at least we don’t have to worry about staff here.

Across the island is a lovely bay with a small harbour at the end, mostly used by fishing boats, but there are a few sailboats there too.

The highlight of our stay here was the collaboration between the local technical college, which is a residential school specialising in Marine tech and the rally folk. We all met at a reception and each of us had to introduce ourselves and explain a bit about our past, our boat and our plans. We were supposed to do the is Japanese as well as English, Kathy had prepared a crib sheet for us both and we did a reasonable job of introducing ourselves in Japanese, but I did the bulk of our story in English.
Later we were paired off with students from the college who would look after us during our stay, We had Mai, Yuri and Suzuki. These were all lovely 19 year old ladies from the college who took a great interest in us and our boat. The next day we all headed off for a sail around the bay, I showed them the workings of the boat and each of them had a go at helming for 15 minutes of so. One of their teachers took pictures from the bridge above.

Later that day the students put on a wonderful barbecue for us near the beach and plied us with alcohol and food for several hours.

The next day rained so the bike ride around the island which the students had planned was cancelled and instead everyone went off for an Onsen, which is like a Turkish bath affair, however the Japanese have taken this to a high art form, the bath can only be taken once you are spotlessly clean, you cannot enter the bath if you have tattoos, as this implies you are in some way gang related, and there’s a stack of etiquette just around how you manage your hand towel. As you can imagine we didn’t follow much of this. Still it was a very pleasant relaxing experience.

Yuge has a few shrines and temples and this is typical of those we have seen here.

These are typical fenders used around here, huge polystyrene affairs, often wrapped in cloth, often not, and shredding waste into the sea, most un-Japanese.

The next day most of the rally boats left to explore the area, but we booked into the pontoon for another five days just to chill and do some boat jobs.

On one of our days we cycled around the island and on another we left the island on our bikes via the huge bridge to the next island, then another bridge to another island then across a short pass by boat to the destination island, which had a hardware store (Home Depot/B&Q) and a big supermarket.

So far everyone we have met has been wonderful and keen to help whenever possible.
More boats arrived over the next few days and our neighbour got chatting to us in quite good English, I do admire how hard they try to speak to us in English, especially when we are so rubbish at Japanese, and he proceeded to present us with a gift of a bottle of sake, this has been a common occurrence where we are presented with gifts, and feel awful as we don’t have anything to reciprocate with, other than a lot of bows and Aragatos. This same neighbour was keen to know our plans, and when I explained I had to find a marina near Osaka that wouldn’t break the bank, he whipped out his mobile and started calling around for me. Within minutes he had secured me a place in a yacht club in Kobe, which is quite close to Osaka and I was speaking to the president a few minutes later who explained that they had 3 berths for visitors and that one would become free for me, He would help me find an engineer for my injector problem, they would provide free electricity and water, showers, laundry as well and that it would cost me $2 a day. They also had a couple of bicycles for us to use if we wanted. Apparently this level of generosity is not at all uncommon here. As our Australian neighbour said “you can’t out-gift the Japanese”.
So after a fairly lazy week we slipped our berth and headed south to join the rally again at the small port of Nio on the southern island of Shikoku, the smaller of the four main Japanese Islands. There are nearly 7000 Islands in all here. It was a short 4 hour passage and the main hazard was crossing the shipping lane that ran east west, so we took a long route which took in a few islands and allowed us to cross at right angles. However we had to deal with a couple of big ships also joining the shipping lanes just were we planned to cross. With Kathy manning the AIS and calling out CPAs to me we got across just fine. The wind then picked up and by the time we closed in on Nio we were flying along, close hauled (Sails pulled in tight) at about 6 knots in a 16 knot wind. Once in the marina the wind dropped, and the sun shone brightly, an easy mooring and Kathy was soon sipping her wine while I enjoyed a Asahi Dry Zero beer, I must say the Japanese have got a lot of things right, and there alcohol free beer is the best I have ever tasted.

That evening we were entertained by the Nio Yacht club and the local rotary organisation, we were given free food and drink and then asked to go on stage boat by boat and talk a little in Japanese to the audience and also to sing a song. Oh they do like a good sing song here, of course Kathy has gone white now and I’m checking she is still breathing! In the end I go on stage and make a pathetic apology that we brits don’t do sing song, but I do a bit of bowing and thanking our hosts and just about get away with it.
Our hosts organised some dancing entertainment for us which was Hawaiian themed, a little confusing but very good.

One thing Nio is famous for is sunsets, and the view from the yacht club was stunning, We’ve seen a few now, but this was good.

The next day, (today, Sunday) the yacht club organised a coach trip for us all to the top of a local mountain where we had a fantastic view across the inland sea. Neo sits at the end of a peninsula facing north so we had a great view all the way from the west around to the east. I hope the video below gives a little feel of it, the colours are quite striking. On the mountain we were presented with lunch boxes, something else they love here, and we sat in this lovely spot munching away on all sorts of things I had no idea of, but not for the light hearted, and definitely not for the veggie.

Tomorrow we leave here and we have a few days to kill, I’m hoping that the very recent changes in the regulations here means I will get my ‘go anywhere permit free’ pass tomorrow, so we will wander around the islands before we rejoin the rally in ‘Bella Vista’. Our first stop is to a place referred to as Cat Island!
All the time I am studying the weather systems in the North Pacific and also reading up on weather forecasting. we may be departing these shores for the big ocean in about 3 weeks time, so there’s lots to do.

Now for the boring technical stuff, We lost another battery yesterday, So our house bank of four is now three and our engine starter battery is only just up to the job if the engine starts easily. Given that we have lost two from a batch of 5 the odds aren’t good for the other three lasting long. This is a major problem, I don’t think I can afford to replace them here, the first look on the net for replacements have them coming in at around £800 each and I need 4 to do the job properly. I’m going to get more details after the rally when we get to Kobe, but I’m thinking that we may just have to go easy on the batteries on the big passage and I can get a decent price when we reach America.
Water leak on port tank, Not a lot, but too much for our passage, I have to investigate.
Accumulator Tank, I think this may be failing, it’s been subject to a leak before and is quite corroded, I have been expecting it to fail at some point, its job is to make the water run out the taps more smoothly and also to reduce the cycling on the pressure pump, but I can bypass it if needed, what I don’t want is for it to fail and fill the bilges with our drinking water on the trip.
Rudder clunk. I have just noticed a small clunky noise coming from the rudder / autopilot area when hand steering, it’s only quiet but I need to feel 100% sure about this before we leave.
Gas issues. We have been unable to fill our spare & empty gas cylinder, the other one is about 50% full, or 50% empty, depending on your disposition to such matters, I think we can get across the pacific on this, but not if Kathy wants to bake bread frequently. They use the same type of cylinders here, but for ‘Health and Safety’ reasons, no one will touch our cylinder. I’m still hopeful I can find a back street supplier, but we may end up having to buy a portable camping stove and a few dozen bottles of camping gas.

On a more positive note, the boat has been performing well, all the systems seem to work well, I’m getting better at sailing it, I have messed with the spinaker pole a bit and feel I can handle that now, have even jibed the headsail with it ok. I fitted the new gasket to the eberspacher heater and fixed a hole in the exhaust and now we have been able to heat the main cabin up until it was quite toasty, without gassing ourselves. A few days ago Kathy and I spent a day cleaning the outside, the tropics take a toll on the brightwork, but now she is gleaming again, the boat that is, I managed to slap some varnish on, and also removed the slapped on varnish from the gelcoat from the previous varnishing. I also re-bedded the port chainplates, having done the starboard ones a few weeks back. it took me 6 hours to do that, and it should be good for 5 years or more I hope.

So all in all the boats doing quite well and we are having a great time in Japan, the climate is lovely, cool at nights and quite pleasant during the day.

Pul Collister




Easter in Puerto Galera

Sunday April 1st

As planned, we were away by 6am just as the sun rose over the hills, for the long trip to Puerto Galera. Paul warned me that anchoring might prove tricky there. An Easter regatta was taking place in the area, so all the mooring buoys would be taken up by participants. Furthermore it could be crowded in the anchorage area, which might have coral on the sea bed (neither of which possibilities filled me with joy). No chocolate eggs for us that Easter Day; in fact there was nothing to indicate that it was Easter at all apart from notes on the calendar. Our Easter Sunday was spent mostly at sea; a sea with increasingly high waves that created a bucking and rolling motion and was very generous with its spray! Paul got the Iridium phone working to enable us to send and receive messages and calls during our Pacific voyage later this year, while I stayed below reading, writing and typing. We didn’t have a guide book for the Philippines, but an internet search informed me that Puerto Galera means ‘the port of Galleons’ in Spanish, dating from the Spanish settlement during the 16th century, and the town proudly boasts an entry in the ‘Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World’. It also has a lively nightlife and is a popular resort for divers and snorkelers. One of the more interesting facts that caught my eye is that remote parts of its mountainsides are home to indigenous tribes which have virtually no contact with the outside world.

An early morning departure
Puerto Galera,  rightly proud of its status

Anchoring proved to be thankfully easy when we arrived. On our second attempt we were secure in 13 metres of water in a coral-free spot with no other boats around, in the lee of abundant forested hills dotted with  holiday dwellings. I was fascinated to see a small low-flying aircraft coming in to land over the water at the nearby airport just after we’d anchored. We watched it land and take off several times during our time there.

Approaching Puerto Galera
The depth sounder, which tells us if coral is on the sea bed (and if fish are around)
Sea plane coming in to land at Puerto Galera’s airport

View from anchorage number one

Keen to see the yacht club we had heard about from other yacht owners before it got too dark, we lowered the dinghy to go ashore. It was quite some distance away and the water was murky so we didn’t see the rocks near the surface as we neared the jetty where other dinghies were tied up. Our dinghy bounced on them with a harsh grinding noise, forcing us to switch to rowing pretty smartish. This was all witnessed by a small group of resort staff waiting in one of the shuttle boats who must have foreseen the end result of the route we were taking. They helpfully directed us away from the rocks, pointed out the correct way to go for the return journey, took our tender and directed us to the yacht club on the hill. On the steps leading up to it, we met a group of rather inebriated yachties from the regatta, one of whom informed us that they were on their way to The Rock and Roll Bar on the other side of the shore. ‘See you there’, he grinned as if it was the accepted thing to do after visiting the yacht club. The club had everything we wanted – drinks, wifi, a book swap facility and local information from the helpful staff.

Long distance to the yacht club from our boat
Entrance to the yacht club
Paul at the bar
Outside Puerto Galera Yacht Club at dusk

By the time we came to cross the channel to Puerto Galera’s shore it was dark and we were careful to follow the correct route to avoid the rocks (it was clearly marked by coloured wooden poles as it turned out). The Rock and Roll Bar was easy to spot from its prominent position opposite the dinghy park along with the hubbub of noise emanating from it. The regatta guys were too busy discussing the day’s successes and enjoying more refreshments to notice us strolling past. It was too dark to see the town properly but the narrow, lively main street looked intriguing, and was different again from any other place we’d visited. We ate in an Italian restaurant of all places. Sitting at a table in the busy street, we ate pizza and pasta and I had a huge glass of red wine while watching the shopkeepers clean and close up their stores, and the antics of kids and dogs playing in the street. There was certainly no shortage of things to look at.  Returning to the dinghy, we discovered that our earlier encounter with rocks must have caused the pin to split in the propeller again so it was a long tiring row back to the boat for Paul, but great exercise  😉

Italian dining, Philippines

Easter Monday

Our excursion to Batangus to check in, began at 10am on a beautiful sunny morning – and at 25 degrees, notably cooler than those we’d become used to in Malaysia. We parked the dinghy near the ferry terminal ready to board the 10 45 ferry. We had 30 minutes to wait, along with several other people who like us, had been guided to the ticket kiosk by a staff member from the ‘Father and Son’ line to catch the first ferry due. It was a great place to sit and people-watch. I am becoming more enamoured with the Philippines the more I see of it. There is a ‘no nonsense’ but friendly attitude inherent in the people generally that makes it pleasant to interact with them even with a language barrier; I think it has a lot to do with facial expressions.

There would be no water under our dinghy when we returned later
The father, or son of the company  in shot 🙂
Waiting for the ferry

The ferry arrived 20 minutes late and boarding was more of a chaotic free for all compared to the orderly process we comply with for health and safety regulations in the UK. We were amused to see a couple of staff members with ‘elderly assistance’ on their tee shirts. In order to get further along the boat you had to clamber over waist high, plastic partitions so anyone infirm would struggle for sure. Once we were all seated and underway, vendors selling little packets of salted peanuts and bottles of water picked their way through the passengers and we bought some nuts to share on the way. The seats weren’t uncomfortable exactly but were hard and there was considerable engine vibration that sent some people to sleep. Staff moved along the windows securing waterproof screens to protect us from the spray as the boat gathered speed and for the next hour or so most of us settled down to staring at our personal screens, as passengers on public transport are wont to these days.  At around 12 30 the engine slowed and people began gathering their belongings ready to disembark.

More food and drink vendors, along with taxi drivers and trikes were clamouring for custom once we were on shore. We could see the customs building across the way from us but we had to keep to a designated, coloured pedestrian walkway to get to it. Inside the air-conditioned building we were informed by a genial guy that officers were all currently occupied inspecting vessels but we were welcome to wait until one of them returned. This we were happy to do, as a welcome respite from the heat. It wasn’t long before an officer appeared and invited us over to his desk. Apart from the fact that we discovered we’d have to return there to check out, all went smoothly with paper and forms being passed back and forth, studied, copied and stamped in the way we’ve become used to. Immigration was next and it was some distance away. We were told that taxis or trikes could be hired just outside the building to take us there. Bearing in mind we’d been inundated with offers when we got off the ferry, not a single one of either was around outside the building, despite a nearby security guard assuring us that one would ‘be along soon’. After 20 minutes in the heat, I was thirsty and becoming impatient so we walked back to the port area and hailed a trike there. There followed a heart-in-the-mouth fast ride along a busy, bumpy main road where cars and lorries whizzed past alarmingly close to us, but the driver was unfazed and soon we drew up outside a small building where a limping dog was scavenging in some rubbish and a boy of about ten approached us with his hand out for money. The driver said he’d wait for us and after another quick and trouble-free process, we were on our way to a supermarket recommended by the lady who had dealt with us in immigration.

Follow the yellow-striped road 🙂

What we’d seen of Batangus hadn’t inspired us to linger and explore it further. Puerto Galera had much more to offer, so another trike was hailed for a ride back to the ferry terminal. A chaotic series of events to obtain tickets ensued when we got there. Keen to get the 3 30 ferry, Paul asked a man where the ticket office was. He immediately (and kindly) took Paul under his wing and proceeded to lead him at quite a pace, through the throngs of people, along pavements and around corners while explaining what he needed to ask for. I struggled to keep up and keep them in sight. To be fair, I think he thought Paul was on his own, but with his help we made the ferry on time instead of having to wait another hour. Fewer people were on board this time and with a different company on a faster boat, the journey was shorter. It was low tide when we reached the dinghy, which was well and truly beached on the mud. With the help of a French guy, who happened to be tying up his dinghy, Paul managed to get it back in the water, watched by a little girl who looked a bit doubtful about the success of the mission (see pic below)

Returning to Puerto Galera on ‘The Golden Hawk’

We moved to a new location the following day as the regatta had ended. It was much closer to the shore and meant we could take advantage of the free service boat provided by the yacht club. It wasn’t easy grabbing the mooring buoy, which had no rope on the top of it to catch with the boat hook. The force of holding it almost pulled me over the rail and it took both of us to hold on to it while Paul threaded the line through the metal hoop. Our first task after taking advantage of the handy shuttle service, was to find a laundry. Quite a heavy load had built up over the weeks so I was amazed to be told that our huge service wash would cost less than £2.

On the shuttle boat

While ambling around the town for a proper look at it in daylight I spotted roosters in cages, with signs attached advertising them as good fighters, or with details of the next fight that would take place. Cock fighting is a popular sport here, not one that we were keen to see, obviously. I also noticed several stray dogs with ‘street’ wounds such as torn ears and patchy coats and the females looked like they had had litter after litter of pups. When you come across clearly unneutered animals it makes you realise what a rare sight they are on the streets at home. Before returning to the boat we walked down to the beach where it was quieter so that I could make a phone call. A couple of boys nearby were having great fun using stones and empty bottles playing at being barmen and were thrilled when Paul took their picture.

Paul made an early morning ferry journey back to Batangus to check us out on April 4th. I was glad I wasn’t needed, having plenty to catch up on on board. He returned at 1 30 with a tale of the usual confusion he’d encountered involving authority and hierarchy issues. Apparently, when he presented himself at the place we’d checked in at, he was told that to check out he’d have to go to the customs guy downstairs. Once there, the officer was outraged that the other people had checked us in in the first place because only he had the authority to do that, and if he had, then he would have checked us out at the same time and we wouldn’t have had to come back. It seems they may need to communicate with each other about consistency in their procedures 😉

We had laundry to collect so called the service boat for a pick up (could easily get used to that handy service). On shore, we returned to the fresh market we’d walked around the day before and bought some of the gorgeous mangoes we’ve taken a fancy to here. The town was very busy and noisy with the roar and thrum of various motor engines. I’m getting used to the nifty trikes now, though which are so much cheaper and more available than taxis.

Main street, Puerto Galera

Our third call to the service boat took us to the yacht club later that evening. Wednesdays are curry night there and judging by the amount of people, it’s very popular. It was all laid out in self-serve heated containers at the end of the bar and after paying, you simply helped yourself from a choice of seafood, beef or vegetable curry, plain rice, papadums with all the traditional Indian accompaniments. Both of us went back for seconds, it was so tasty. We were joined at our table by two elderly Swedish sailors and their young Filipino companions. They gave us useful advice regarding our imminent trip to Subic Bay, and were entertaining dinner companions, both having plenty to relate from their sailing experiences. Time to move on in the morning, although we agreed it would have been lovely to see and explore more of Puerto Galera. The images below show only part of its charm.




final satphone test

Apologies for the blank notifications you might have received if you are subscribed to the blog updates. I have been testing various ways to update the blog via email so we can post via our satphone when offshore. I finally settled on ‘postie’ as the solution and installed it with great expectations. However it failed to install, and when I looked it was due to the fact I had already installed it sometime in the past, 2years ago I expect. On closer inspection I had set it up, with a unique email address and it was already working. At this point I thought it was time for me to ring the buzzer and have nurse take me back to my bed to rest a bit. What happened to my memory!! So hopefully this post with attached image will make it from my iPad via the iridium go satphone to the blog. Everything else is good and we are having a very chilled time now, I’m doing some boat chores and Kathy is catching up with her blogging

Finally, The Inland Sea

Sunday 5th May 6:00 AM

Up early for a 7am departure. It’s Sunday, very quiet and very calm. The skies are clear and we have no trouble springing out of our tight mooring between two big motor boats, all alongside on one long pontoon. We motor out to sea and once we have cleared all the fishing marks/nets, I get the mainsail up, with one reef, as I’m expecting the weather to get quite windy later, and both headsails. We spotted this Hydrofoil ferry shoot past,they go so fast and make no wake, but leave a foaming thin spread of white water behind them, like contrails.

The wind is on the beam and building and soon we are doing a fast 7-8 knots, on calm seas with a sunny sky, what could possibly go wrong. Well more of the same, the wind built and built, the sea soon followed with big waves and then it started to rain. Later we would add fog to the mix.

We were on our way to the entrance to the inland sea, this enclosed mass of water is similar to the Med in that it has narrow connections to the outside ocean, three in fact and although much better connected than the Med, with its single opening between Spain and Morocco, it still has a large mass of water to move in and out on each tide. Consequently the currents that race through the entrance can be quite fast. I wasn’t aware of this when I chose the narrowest entrance to the inland sea, and having arrived in Fukuoka, the nearest main open port to the entrance, I did some research and realised that we couldn’t go fast enough to cope with the worst of the current and would have to time our passage to be just after slack water, when there was little current, and race through with the increasing current. The strait we were passing through is called the Kanman Strait, and is about a mile wide and does a big u turn, it has a big city on each side and is almost as busy as Singapore for commercial shipping. I checked on a web site provided by the authorities here and found that 8am would be our best bet for a passage through, that meant arriving the night before and waiting at anchor.

Our passage there was getting rougher and rougher, and with the wind often hitting 28knots, I now had a double reef in the main, and just the staysail up, and we were still flying along and heeling a lot. I decided to get as close to the shore as possible, the wind was blowing offshore and was a little weaker near the shore, also the sea was a lot flatter there. However there were shallows, rocks, and a lot of concrete constructions to navigate around.  The area was becoming more and more industrialised, and looked like a giant version of Ellesmere port/Stanlow oil refinery where I come from. The air was full of sulphurous smoke from the power station on the shore front. I sailed between wind turbines, and while trying to understand what this huge pylon was that I was sailing towards, about 0.2 nm from shoreI noticed the chart had printed on it OVERHEAD POWER CABLES, crikey I thought, we’re about to be frizzled, or at best, get the electric toaster working for free. The thing was the pylon didn’t seem to have any wires on it, just a mass of aerials, and looking closer to the shore I could see the aforesaid cables going out to some big round structure off to starboard. so false alarm.

It was quite an exhilarating ride, and when we entered the Kanmon Strait at the western end, the sea was quite rough, we turned immediately to starboard into a river / tributary of the strait, which was seriously industrialised, and headed along to a spot I had marked to anchor and wait until the next morning. It seemed too rough there to stay, the wind was making the sea quite choppy, but I noticed a coastal cargo ship and a tug attached to a barge both at anchor where I had my waypoint. I went beyond them, turned into the wind, slowed the boat and decided it wasn’t that rough at all, we sleep through much worse on night watches, and the forecast was for an improvement anyway, so down went the hook in 10 metres of water. Kathy came to help with the anchoring, she couldn’t believe me that I was going to anchor in such a rough sea, but once the anchor was set, and we went below, shut the hatches and removed our soaking wet-weather gear, everything was just fine. We both slept very well, the new duvet we bought in Fukuoka, along with the three blankets works well, how very different from just a month ago.

I was up early, around 6AM and checking on the VHF to see if the harbour master (Kanmon Martis) was issuing any warnings about the strait, looking outside, it was a lot calmer, but I couldn’t see much due to the dense fog. I expected the strait to be closed, but looking on the AIS I could see a stack of ships passing into and out of this end of the channel. By 7AM the fog had cleared and I could see the giant video display a mile away showing the current in the channel, it was flashing 3, then E, then Up arrow, meaning three knots eastward and increasing. I had worked out slack tide to be at about 8AM and 3 knots to be at 9AM, so I was out by an hour or more. I quickly explained to Kathy we had to get a move on. The previous evening I had heard Kanmon Martis announce at full flood that the tide was now running at 10 knots and ships that could not make 14 knots must not enter the strait! Up came the anchor and off we went, we hugged the outside of the marked channel, I hand steered while Kathy spent most of the time at the chart table shouting out AIS Collision warnings to me, several of the ships in the strait we’re entering or leaving the many docks and channels along the passage and we would need to avoid them if they crossed our path. I was very pleased to make it to the bridge, the most dangerous part, in just under an hour, and with 3 knots pushing us along, we shot through, then 15 minutes later we were in the inland sea proper. A place I had wanted to see for many years. Unfortunately during our passage along the strait, the fog and rain returned, this is normal in Japan at this time of year, and so I wasn’t seeing much at all, Kathy maintained AIS watch, and I looked out for small boats from the helm. What disappointed me was the huge amount of fishing buoys/flags we encountered, I presume they have nets strung between them. They are everywhere, and although they don’t present much of a problem to us, due to the underwater shape of our hull with an enclosed propeller, it’s still a fear we might snag one, or have to deal with a fisherman who insists we go around them.  Our charts show lots of Fish Havens, which back home usually is a place where fishing is strictly banned, I presume to allow stocks to recover. Here it seems to be a place where you can fish and string out loads of nets. Interestingly our charts also shows Fish Heavens

I wondered if this was heaven for fish, but Kathy pointed out that with the amount of nets in the ‘heaven’ that it’s more likely where they start their journey to heaven!

From the exit of the Kanman straight we headed over to Nakatsu Harbour, about 2 hours away, arriving early afternoon, sadly I  had forgotten that wasn’t our destination. I had worked out a much better place to stop the previous night, but forgot all about it in the morning. Nakatsu has a small ‘sea station’ which is meant to be a yacht friendly small marina, often just a pontoon and maybe a water supply, but nicer to yachts than a harbour wall. Unfortunately we didn’t have any co-ordinates for it, just a fax number. We headed for the harbour in town, but realised it was way to shallow to enter, so we backed off and headed to a harbour that was shown as being under construction in the chart, several years ago. This was a big industrial harbour, and when we entered it, kathy spotted some yachts at the end, we motored along to them, but they were moored med style to concrete walls, no pontoons. then we saw a pontoon, full of commercial boats, so we turned round, found a quiet spot in the corner of the harbour, behind a breakwater and dropped the hook. very calm and peaceful.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, at least at the time of writing, when we next get internet is another matter altogether, and we have just two more day sails then we will arrive at Yugi Shima, the start port for the rally, we then have two weeks of laid back sailing, and social events, I expect we may have to drink some tea, and I’m not so sure about the naked bathing bit! Then we will start to prepare in earnest for the pacific crossing. I have been reading up on that, and my initial plan to travel 700 odd miles further north may be flawed and that we can leave from Osaka or Yokahoma and get more favourable winds, which also gives us a few weeks extra to relax and prepare the boat and ourselves.


Thursday 10th May Update
We have now arrived at Yugi port on the Island of Yugi-shima, the rally organiser was here to take our lines in a lovely quiet and pretty town. We are on a pontoon with water and electricity, unfortunately its 110v USA style, so not a lot of use to me. The journey here was fairly uneventful, except for one strait we had to pass through, underneath a huge bridge, I planned to sneak through the bridge using a route that was quite direct, unfortunately we had a tanker bearing down on us that thwarted that plan, then I had to port controller telling me off on the radio, first for not contacting him, then for not knowing the prescribed route, and finally for not being able to make 4 knots over ground, despite doing 8 knots over water. There was quite a strong current flowing. We have sailed for most of the passages in Japan, but for the last two days it has mostly been under engine, but at least that goes hand in hand with calm clear weather.


I have put some charts below showing our cruising area


Lots of ships pass through the inland sea, we had constant warnings on the AIS telling us of possible collision risks, where the CPA (Closet point of approach) was less than 0.1 NM

Paul Collister


March 2018 (4) Exploring Coastal Philippines

It was going to be somewhat of a race to get through the Philippines, and then journey on to Japan in time make the 11th May start of the Setouchi Rally. At one point, Paul was considering cancelling our places on it and cutting our losses. I did feel for him because along with route planning, he had to take typhoons, wind direction and sea states into consideration as he mulled over the options, as well as to decide on back up plans. His illness in KK had seriously disrupted the schedule. Pushing those thoughts to one side for the time being however, we weighed anchor just after 9am on March 26th and left Ulugan Bay for El Nido, a journey which included an overnight stop at the delightfully named Jib Boom Bay on the way. We arrived there at lunchtime, having made better speed than we had anticipated and anchored in 9 metres of water. The pictures show what a peaceful spot it is.

I was so taken by its beauty in fact that later, when we took the dinghy ashore, I was too busy gazing at the beach, trying to determine whether I was looking at a house or a shed, I didn’t pay attention to watching the depth and checking for coral on the sea bed. An awful grinding noise as we drew close to the beach soon reminded me. The propeller had hit a rock causing its pin to split. I wasn’t sure how serious that was but felt terribly guilty, and relieved when Paul managed to fix it. This lovely, remote picture postcard location, we soon discovered, was home to a family who had set up home on the beach. Three people had watched us arrive and they looked with interest as we dragged the dinghy up the sand to secure it. A young couple were sitting outside a small dwelling made of bamboo. The woman was cradling a tiny baby, and an older woman, presumably a grandmother of the baby, stood just behind her – all of them smiled as we walked nearer to them. Three barking dogs, who looked a bit too keen to investigate us, backed off at a command from the man. Thinking of the many ‘No Trespassing’ signs we’d seen, Paul asked them if it was ok to walk along the beach. The man nodded and despite the language barrier, a conversation of sorts took place about where we were from and where we were going. We learned that they did indeed live on the island. The man was a fisherman and looked pleased when we indicated how beautiful their home was. He was amused when Paul told of his own efforts to catch fish. I couldn’t help wondering how they all fitted in such a tiny house which afforded little protection from the elements – or privacy for that matter. On the way back as we passed the bamboo house, I spotted a much bigger, sturdier structure set behind some trees, complete with a satellite dish! Not so primitive after all then. I didn’t take my phone with me unfortunately so the only picture I have of the beach is the one below, taken from the anchorage.

The family live on the far left of the beach

We would probably have stayed another night if we hadn’t been in such a hurry to get further north. An early start was necessary for the long leg to El Nido so at 6am on a stunningly gorgeous morning with the sun glowing behind a mountain before it revealed itself in all its glory, we motored off on a flat calm sea.

Paul checking for fishing nets as we leave our anchorage
Jib Boom Bay at sunrise

Paul was busy working below on the water maker later that morning while I kept watch in the cockpit. A fishing boat I’d been keeping an eye on suddenly drew alarmingly close and I could see the three men on board gesticulating wildly and – to my mind – angrily. Their fishing net marker buoy ahead was clearly visible but it was still some distance off. Paul came up and said they were warning us to keep our distance. Their gestures (one of which looked decidedly rude to me) seemed to be directing us where to go so we duly followed. One of them held up a fishing net and shook it in our direction in case we hadn’t got the message. I was feeling a bit indignant at their presumption that we wouldn’t have been cautious around the net without their intervention and had to resist the temptation to ‘gesticulate’ in return, especially when Paul said we were never any threat to their net anyway. The detour took about thirty minutes but they seemed satisfied once we had passed their final buoy. We parted with waves and smiles (at least I think they were waving ;)).

Telling us where to go!
Approaching Corong Corong

We arrived at Corong Corong around 5 30 and instead of being the only boat in the bay we joined several others. Paul was pleased to spot a boat he knew, belonging to Phil and Eva, a couple he had befriended in Malaysia while I was away in February. We motored around a bit before choosing a spot. Corong Corong is a noisy, busy resort with lots of activity taking place. There were scuba diving boats, fishing boats and jet skis among the yachts and catamarans at anchor as well as kayaks and snorkellers all around us. On the beach, a quiz got underway early in the evening. We joined in for a while as we could hear the questions clearly. The enthusiastic DJ and booming music that followed almost tempted us to go over and join in the dancing, too but we fell asleep instead unfortunately 😉

At anchor in Corong Corong

On the way to check out the town late the next morning, we stopped at Phil and Eva’s boat to see if they knew where we could buy fuel and to get any handy info on the place. They told us the best place to park the dinghy, the short cut from the beach to the town, and recommended places to eat. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of bars and cafes on the beach itself, and there’s no shortage of alcohol here. The heat from the sun in a cloudless sky beat down relentlessly as we made our way along the narrow lane leading upwards from the beach. It took us straight onto a noisy, dusty and chaotic town road.

Corong Corong’s beach

Main road, Corong Corong
Roadside dwellings at Corong Corong

There were no pavements, and the dust was increased by the amount of building taking place along the roadsides. From what I could tell, more cafes, hostels and two-storey hotels were being constructed. Without the breeze from the sea it felt hotter than ever and we had opted to go on foot to El Nido, only a 20 minute walk but felt much longer in temperatures of over 30 degrees. The traffic consisted mainly of trikes but a fair few lorries and cars contributed to the noise and the stifling atmosphere. Despite all this, the environs were a feast for the eyes. An assortment of quaint houses and shops lined the road, along with souvenir shacks, food stalls and outdoor markets. Life is lived largely outside in this climate so a gathering of children, dogs and chickens among lines of colourful clothes hanging from string attached to porches indicated living quarters.

The ‘back yards’ of both homes and businesses inclined steeply down towards the beach and had been used variously for growing crops, animal pasture and pens, storage sheds, or levelled for construction to expand existing premises. The area is popular with backpackers. We passed several westerners and noticed signs advertising burgers, pizza and beer, which can be enjoyed while watching live sporting events in some of the bars.

On the way to El Nido

The first place we headed for on reaching El Nido was a beach café for a much needed drink and sit down. After that, we had a short amble around to find a bakery and an ATM before hailing a trike to take us back to the village. Interestingly, the trike drivers, when asked how much the journey will cost, always ask you how much you think you should pay. Paul made a ‘no idea’ gesture the first time this happened and the driver shrugged in return, until Paul made an offer, the driver upped it a bit and we got the hang of the system. Some pics taken at El Nido below

The next day (Thursday March 29th) was a bit of a rest day before resuming our journey to Puerto Galera which would be a two or three day passage. Paul went for a snorkel to look at the underwater life near a little beach opposite our anchorage and late in the afternoon we went out to find Corong Corong’s public market. It was a typical outdoor Asian one with buckets of dried fish, and a separate wet area for the pungent fresh fish and meat (and associated flies). The fruit and veg stalls dominated, however, and were as attractive and colourful as ever. We bought potatoes, pineapple, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, peppers and apples, all from different stalls because the sellers are great to interact with and it would be a shame to limit yourself to just one. At other stalls we bought some ‘genuine’ Rayban reading glasses and some organic insect repellent. With everything so cheap, it would have been easy to give in to a spending spree judging by all the designer bags and perfumes on display 😉 Anyway, the insect repellent would be of much more value to us if it prevented any more of the itchy bites we’d been suffering from.

Public Market, Corong Corong

We had dinner in a restaurant close to the beach. It looked as if it might be expensive because it is part of a leisure resort and appeared plush. However, there was a reggae band playing, the menu looked good (and wasn’t too pricey after all) so we had good food, drinks and entertainment all for just over a tenner.

On Good Friday morning, when everyone back home would be tucking into hot cross buns, we weighed anchor and negotiated a tricky gap between two headlands to save going around the whole island. It was bit of an anxious time in case there were shallows and coral but it turned out fine and saved us a bit of time. The Filipino navy called us on VHF just as we had got all the sails out; they just wanted to know our last and next port of call. The sails stayed up all afternoon and we hurtled along at 6-7 knots for most of the day with no engine. After a dinner of pasta and pesto in the cockpit, I took the 8 until midnight watch under the comforting glow of an almost full moon. There was a bit of a tense time when I had to keep my wits about me among a host of fishing vessels. We were surrounded by them and your sense of perspective gets distorted by staring at so many bright and luminous lights. I thought I’d tweaked the course sufficiently but grew so alarmed by the proximity of two very brightly lit squid boats that I called for Paul to come up. I was worried about nets getting caught in the propeller, not to mention incurring the wrath of the fishermen – although it would have been too late by then anyway. Paul tactfully said he wouldn’t have got quite as close as that (I think he said we could have shaken the Captain’s hand across the decks) but thankfully all was fine.

The AIS warning me of an imminent collision during my watch. The noise that accompanies it is a bell ringing at four second intervals – I call it the clanging chimes of doom.
Just before sunrise on passage

We spent the last day of March at sea. For a while I actually believed we were heading for a place called ‘Dead Man’s Bay’. It wasn’t until Paul later referred to it as ‘Decapitation Bay’ that I realised he was jesting! A new course had been set so that we could have a night at anchor and Paul told me that there had been pirate incidents in the vicinity, but they happened such a long time ago there was nothing to worry about (!). By late morning we were tacking to reach the anchorage on a sea heavy with a swell that rocked us gently from side to side. This motion is easier to move around in than bucking up and down and is less likely to cause sea-sickness (for me anyway). By now, we had advanced north of Palawan, close to the island of Mindoro in the South China Sea. At 1 30 we were in a bay looking for a spot to set the anchor but there was a lot of rock on the sea bed so our first attempt failed. We moved further along and set in 13 metres among several fishing boats. One of them came up to have a look at us and the family on board waved and smiled. Hopefully they are pleased to see yachts visiting the area after pirate activity put many off going near the Philippines.

It was nice to have a break from the watches, but the tiredness that builds up from the alternate four hours on four hours off regime soon caught up with us. Both of us crashed out on the cabin bunks and were in a deep sleep by 9 30. The Spanish-sounding name of Puerto Galera would be our next port of call as the race to get to Japan in time for the Setouchi Rally begins in earnest.

Japan, it got a lot better

It’s been a while since my last blog, mostly because we have been racing through the islands trying to get to the start of the rally on time. Normally I don’t like rushing, and taking on bad weather because of a deadline is something you shouldnt really do on a boat. However, our 2 week rally was meant to be the exploring bit of our visit here, so I don’t mind the rush, also I’m very much testing the boat before our pacific crossing. If the mast breaks, or the rudder falls off, we have a god chance of being rescued and getting to a port safely, not so in the North pacific, where rescue options are quite limited, out of range from helicopters, you have to rely on a satellite picking up your distress call and a merchant ship in the area diverting to help you. Usually you have to scuttle your boat when your saviour arrives. So I’m happy to push the boat and ourselves on this trip. We will have a few weeks before we depart for the USA to rest and make any lasting alterations we need. So far I have managed to check quite a lot of systems out in real conditions, we have had some very rough weather over the last few weeks.

Before we left Ishigaki we had a bike ride along the coast, It’s very pretty, and also very shallow with reefs extending tens of miles offshore.

I managed to get the boat status changed with customs, from a ‘special’ ship to a ‘coastal’ ship. This means that for the duration of our stay customs don’t give a hoot what we do or where we go. They wouldn’t give me this status because as a special ship, I had to give them my plan for our route, and that included a port that we hadn’t yet received permission to visit. When I wanted to leave they wouldn’t let me because this port on our route hadn’t been cleared. It was quite farcical, as I resolved it by saying I was going to one port, approved, then leaving Japan. they kept asking me if that was true, and I kept saying yes, so they changed my status to coastal ship, I said I might change my mind now and not go to that port and might go elsewhere, they just looked at me and said, we don’t care what you do, you are a coastal ship now. Since then they have ignored me at each port, despite the marina manager or harbour master calling them. Also the coastguard don’t seem interested. It’s gone from the most bureaucratic system ever to the most lax ever!

Kathy will give details of the passages better than me, they all seem to blur into one big battle with the wind. We had some sunny days, but mostly wet and cold. What we did have was wind, and plenty of it, and with the wind we usually got big waves, up to 3 metres often. At one point it was very bad, but everything worked, and we sailed most of the time, hardly using the engine once we left port.

Our first stop after Ishigaki was Yonabaru / Naha on the island of Okinawa, we arrived into a newly built marina on the east coast, lovely people and the manager came out to greet us, for the first time in months we had running water and electricity. Although we hardly need it these days with the solar panels and the watermaker, it was good to go crazy with the shower and leave it running hot water for minutes on end!

Japan has a lot of these guys protecting everything, I think they are called Shiso.

Yonabaru doesnt have a lot to offer, but a few miles over on the west of the island is the big city of Naha, we went looking for a bus to visit and see the castle and markets, I asked a man walking down the main street if he new where the bus stop was, and he insisted that he give us a lift in his car, he took us right to the castle which was really kind of him.

The castle is well old, 15th C I think,

This is a mockup of the layout.

Some nice architecture, disguising the fact that most buildings here on the islands are made of chunky concrete, and tend to be very boxy, designed for earthquakes and tsunamis

The market (above) was great, but everything in Japan is quite pricey, at least compared to what we have been used to, in actual fact it’s not that different to the UK.  Below you can see they have some unusual offerings.

Crime is very low here, people rarely lock up there bicycles, and like below, these cylinders were left on the dock where anyone could nick them, they were there for all our time in town.

From Okinawa we headed up to Miyanoura, a nice port on the island of Yaku-shima, This is a gorgeous island full of wonderful mountains, forests, hot springs, wildlife etc etc. We were running a day late because the previous marina here couldn’t accept us when we planned, due to being closed on Tuesdays! When we arrived we tied up to the only wall we could find, but it was very rough and high, and had a lip that the boat would slip under at low water, so I tied up, took another hit on the cap rail, fortunately on the section I need to replace, but I also lost the bow light (port) when a wave threw us onto the wall. I headed off to explore the port for a better berth and was directed to an inner harbour I hadn’t even seen when we entered by a local fisherman. You can see us on the wall below. We need 6 feet of water to stay afloat, the local fisherman looked worried when I said 2 m water, he shrugged and indicated ‘maybe’. The tide was going to drop by another metre so I took out the lead-line and measured around the boat, on the quay side we had 1.5 metres, on the offshore side we had 3.5 metres, so I figured we might just make it. In the end we didnt touch bottom, but must have been close.

The wall we were now on was much kinder, and you can see below how we rig up the fender boards to protect the boat and fenders

Later on we had a walk around the island, I had planned to hire a car for the day, but we had to leave the next day for Fukuoka, so we didn’t get to see the 3000 year old cedar trees. However we did get to feel the very peaceful mood of the island. Later we found a small funky bar/cafe that did nice food.
One thing I have loved about Japan is the food, standards are very high here, everything tastes amazing, the fruit and veg is the tastiest I have ever had. The fish is so fresh and also very good value, I bought a loin of tuna the size of a small loaf, for about £6.

The trip from Miyanoura to Fukuoka  took three days and nights and was quite rough, the wind was in the high 20 knots, Near gale force and the waves grew to be quite seriously threatening at times.  by now I had the boat prepared, I have been tuning the reefing systems, gybe preventers, jackstays etc, so sudden increases in wind don’t catch me out. 

You can see above at times we recorded 14.1 knots on the GPS, this must be when we got thrown off waves. We had the wind behind us most of the time, this has the effect of making things seem a lot calmer than they are. At one point as I was heading up the companionway to the cockpit when a big wave hit us hard and swung the boat around by about 45 degrees, this caused a crash gybe, this is where the boom flies across the boat from one side to another. This is really dangerous and has been the cause of many casualties on yachts, fortunately my preventers (ropes tied to the boom)  took the sting out of the gybe, but not as well as I had hoped, so there’s work to do there.

On this last leg we saw several shark like fins in the water, and finally for the first time in Aisa, we were joined by some dolphins.

I had put a waypoint in to miss some rocks on the chart, the height of rocks isnt normally shown, so it’s always a surprise to see them towering out of the sea.

Sometimes a fishing buoy will appear out of nowhere, at one point I was pondering how deserted most of the sea was, and keeping a constant watch wasn’t really needed so far offshore when a bloody submarine surfaced about 0.5nm from me. quite a sight.

We passed many islands, often uninhabited, but this one stank of sulphur, so I presume it’s still an active volcano.

The sea was very rough and the wind growing to 30 knots when we arrived at Fukuoka in the middle of the night 2AM, I had hoped to find my way into the marina with the help of the full moon, however the cloud cover took most of that advantage out. We were being tossed around the bay trying to identify the entrance to the marina, you basically have to come off a rough sea and into the marina, I was worried if the wind was as bad in the marina as outside I wouldnt be able to control the boat, never mind finding somewhere to tie up. I had a rough plan of the marina, but it wasnt matching up with what I could see. In the end we nudged the boat in and found it to be quite calm in there, I found an empty pontoon, and at 3AM we tied up and crashed out. I expected to be woken about 8am and told to move, but no, they left us alone, when we woke up around 9:30, I went to the office, they assigned me a new berth, and told me they didn’t need any ships papers, and as the authorities were on holiday due to ‘Golden Week’ we wouldn’t be bothered. Bliss.

The marina above is next to a big wheel, which is part of a huge outlet mall.

Later we went for a walk and found the locals all down on the river at low tide, cockling I think.

Below is the view from our berth, this morning a gang (not sure of the correct collective noun)  of jet skiers appeared Kathy ponders the instructions for the fender covers we make from a kit of tubing and cable ties.

I managed to fix most of the problems we had earlier, the LEDs were rebuilt for the compass, I have bought a new starter battery, and the boom cover has been restitched.
I have the AIS over wifi working reliably now, part of this meant trashing the wifi routers, and I couldn’t get wifi to the outside world working, but now it is, we have good wifi on the boat via the marina.  Moving the aerial on the wind sensor module seems to have solved that problem.

Yet new things break at a pace, the sump pump switch for the shower has failed, both of our toothbrush charges packed in, why?

I tried to get the blog to update with emails from the sat phone, but so far it only publishes the title, not the body of the email, so I will have to post empty blogs with very long interesting titles if I want to update from offshore.

Tomorrow morning (Sunday) at 7AM we leave to head for the inland sea, its about 200nm to the start point of the rally, and we have 5 days to get there, so it should be a breeze. We will be passing through the Kanmon strait, a very busy shipping route, but also one with very fast currents, On Monday when we enter the currents will reach up to 7knots, they also have the effect of pushing you into the path of oncoming ships at one narrow place.  I’m not too worried, I think I have the timing such that the tide will push us through very quickly and the whole passage through the strait will be less than 2 hours, also having sailed up and down the Mersey, I have some good experience with strong tides.

Plans are evolving as we progress, currently I think we will leave the boat in Seattle for several months and return to the UK earlier, I have lots of things I want to do with the boat once we get to the USA, including bringing the mast down for a service. we may return in the new year, do some work, then head up to Alaska or Vancouver for the spring/summer, leaving Mexico till the following year. If we do this, then we have more time for the pacific crossing, and may be able to break up the trip with a stop at the Aleutian Islands, somewhere I have been curious about since I first saw them on a map.

Once again, we won’t have much in the way of Internet access now, Kathy has a SIM with 500mb left, so we need to wait until we find public wifi again. At least now I have the Airmax working well again, I might be able to get connections from the boat.

Paul Collister