Monday, 29 April 2013

Back in our right element

Sophia was put back into the water this morning, so all up we had only three days on the hard. Three long hard days. We fully admit we don't get a much exercise these days besides from walking everywhere, and we don't really do much physical work either, just enough to make Sophia sail. 30-35 degrees heat and hard physical labour was therefore a tiring combo for us. Our private bathroom and lots of ice creams were our rewards. And the fact that Sophia now again is in top condition and looking great.
Phil sorted our the new dripless shaft seal and it's all good now. Well, almost, there is a now a rattling  noise when we're motoring, something to do with the bearing I mentioned in the last post, Phil can't really explain it to me, but the stuffing from the box would have previously muffled the rattling. Phil is now googling the issues and emailing the manufacturer of the new seal, but overall he isn't too concerned about it, so I suppose I shouldn't be either, and with time we'll hopefully get used to the new noise.
It's almost time to do the monthly cruising cost again, but all up the haul out cost us 2100 Malaysian ringgit, approx NZ$ 815. The antifoul was pretty pricey, the 10 litres of antifoul (we have to litres leftover) accounted for 860 ringgit of that total.
We now just one more day in the free marina getting ready to leave Kudat tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Haul out in Kudat

We have been a week in Kudat now and have spent most of the time just bumming around and humming and ahh'ing whether to haul out now or not. Today we hauled out Sophia. It's only a year since we had a quick haul out in Christchurch, so she's not overdue and could have gone a few more months easily. But, it's an OK yard here in Kudat and we like the town. It's a bit cheaper than Rebak in Lankawi, and there's a good workshop/engineering shop on site here, handy because we're going to put in a dripless shaft while out and who knows what problems that can bring.
Tiny Sophia in a huge 150 ton travel lift. She only weighs 5-6 tons. 
Today we have wet-sanded the anti-foul, it only took the two of us about 2 - 2 1/2 hours to do it, so not too bad. But phew, hard work. We were in t-shits and shorts and both got soaking wet and very red-ish from the red antifoul. Different from in Christchurch winter where we wore full water-proofs for the same job. Each has its good points. It was crazy the water in the hose was so warm, it almost warmed us up more than cooling down! Our only hick-up was that Phil had the wallet in his pocket and it too got soaking wet, hence the drying bills.
Phil got the old stern gland off but then found out that the stern gland has a bearing in it and not in the stern tube itself, which is unexpected, so he's trying to figure that one out. I didn't have enough finger prints left to start polishing the hull, so instead I polished the stainless steel, an overdue job that I might as well do now that I'm in work mode and while Phil is fiddling with the shaft stuff. It was perfect weather this afternoon with overcast sky, a breeze and the occasional drizzle = not too hot to work.
The most exciting thing about this haul out is we have our own private bathroom!!! It's quite new and very nice, good pressure on the water, there's even hot water, although I'd much rather have ice cold water, but it's only sort of luke cold.

Not boat yard related, we went to the weekly market Tuesday afternoon/evening (and it continues Wednesday morning) here in Kudat. It was quite nice, and the otherwise quiet town was suddenly really busy. All sorts of things were on sale, second-hand clothing, bags, cheap jewelry, shoes and lots of things like that. It's not a tourist market, as there literally are no tourists here, only a few yachties. Lots of food stalls, they were the interesting ones, although a lot of the food was unknown and strange to us.
We expect to only be on the hard a few more days, hopefully the dripless shaft operation will go smoothly, but you never know.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Goodbye to Philippines

Yesterday we arrived in Kudat, Malaysia. We chose to do the last passage overnight so that we could arrive Friday lunch time, in time to clear into the country before the weekend. I don't thing that actually mattered, this seems to be the easiest and most relaxed country to check into we have experienced so far. And even better, it was free. However, it does seems you have to clear in and out of each (major) port, so we might change our mind later on.

Back to Philippines though. Overall we have had a pleasant trip down the west coast of Palawan. It's been pretty placid and light, sure with some roll, it really never goes away, but overall not bad at all. Pretty much each afternoon squally clouds would develop over the land and move out over the sea, but it was only in patches, and most importantly didn't bring much wind, but neither much rain.Our last passage to Malaysia was extra pleasant, just a light wind closed hauled and a pretty flat sea. If only all passages was like that :-)
Land travel without Sophia is the blue line
Above is a map of our route through the Philippines. We spent 2 1/2 months in Philippines, the longest we have been in any country so far. This is mostly because it's also the biggest country which is also evident from the fact that the majority of the time we only spent one night at each anchorage, and were day passaging a lot. I think overall we probably even spent less time at each anchorage on average in Philippines than anywhere else.
We have had a great time and have really enjoyed seeing so much of the country and experience a totally new culture (compared to the other countries we have visited). Total cliche, but the people really are super friendly and very casual and chilled. It's a very nice cruising destination yet there really aren't many cruisers there. Sure, there are a bunch of yacht based in Philippines, but they are mostly only in a couple of 'hot-spots' not moving anywhere and it's mostly older men with young Philipina wifes. Most seems to pass through like we did from Palau and that really isn't many either. Wild guess, but it's maybe only 20 each season, maximum. Why is this? We think it's a bunch of reasons, again mostly just guessing, but probably the typhoon and the security issues (piracy in Sulu archipelago and civil unrest in Mindanao. Another big reason is that Philippines simply isn't on the regular milk run around the world (it goes through Bali/Indonesia instead).
Philipinos LOVE dried fish, they eat it for breakfast and all the time! So, no Philipino summary without a little dried fish collage!
The typhoon risk of course isn't nice, but December to June are considered safer months, and thankfully we haven't experienced any either. Even if you are caught out and a typhoon is approaching the country, there are quite a few typhoon holes spread around the country. Regarding the security issues, nobody is cruising the Sulu archipelago (a shame though, because it looks like beautiful cruising ground) and because of this, there simply haven't been any incidents in many years now. It's also easy enough to find our which places on Mindanao (mostly the south) to avoid.

But, now we're in Malaysia and that's very exciting too. The feeling of arriving in a new country is quite special, there are many things to learn and explore and where do you find bread, will people smile back at your (usually always) and what's the currency. There's a half year old marina here in Kudat with no owners, so it's free! Who knows how long it will stay like that, apparently it was build by some Malaysian government people, but it's all pretty unclear. Yesterday we went into town to checked in and got some food, super delicious roti for me (yeah, have been really looking forward to that) and KFC for Phil, much less exciting, in my opinion, but that was his choice. We're going to stay here a few days before moving on.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Visiting the navy and express trip to Puerto Princessa

Oyster Bay (inside Ulugan Bay) is one of the safest places to leave the boat while traveling to Puerto, so that was what were were going to do. That is Oyster Bay's only plus side. The down sides are that it's 4 miles from the anchorage to where the jeepney leaves (in dinghy) and that there's only one jeepney that does the trip a day. The anchorage itself is very sheltered, basically typhoon safe. But, it's literally in the middle of nowhere. Except for the small navy station.

For some reason we though the village was actually in the bay where we were anchored, but a quick dinghy trip around revealed no village, so we decided to go ask the navy guys. There's this long pier and we could see a few buildings also, but weren't really sure what to expect, the guide book said they are unpredictable and vary from friendly and helpful to firing warning shoots! We waiting in the dinghy until somebody came to greet us before we jumped up. But, it turned out we were more than welcome. It's only six guys manning the station and they were thrilled to have visitors. So thrilled that in the couple of hours we were there, a bottle of tequila and half a bottle of brandy were comsumed :-) We don't think that was just because of us though, there were a lot of bottles around. They were super friendly though and spoke OK English.
They told us it was only half an hour's dinghy ride to the village from where there was transport to Puerto. It sounded like the first one was at 6am, maybe a van or something, and then a jeepney at 7am, so it was suggested we leave at 5.30, one of them was keen on a ride with us and could also guide us there. We asked several times if half an hour was enough, because our dinghy is very small and only has 2.5 hp, but they assured us it was fine.

Phil and I got up just after 5am next morning and went to pick up the navy guy and started our trip. Phew, an hour and fifteen minutes later we finally got there. The good thing was we didn't have to wait too long for the jeepney to leave, it was already pretty full too. Then it drove around and picked up fish in big containers, even full of water, it all went up the roof, but not without spilling a bit into the jeepney. All part of the Philipino jeepney experience.

Two hours later we arrived in Puerto but were told we had to be back at the terminal already at 12pm again, as it was the last (and only) jeepney. That only gave us three hours to a bunch of errands. Most important was getting our exit stamp in the passport. This went pretty smoothly, except when they asked where our boat was. We should just have said in the harbour or by the yacht club (in Puerto) but silly honest us, said it was in Oyster Bay on the west coast. We were then told that wasn't very good, and it would cost us some money (500 pesos, NZ$15) because if they had had to come see us, it would have been very expensive. Again it helped that we counter-argued (as nicely as we could) and said it made no sense, because we had actually come to them, and she quickly gave up and said, don't worry.

After this we didn't feel like going around to see more bureaucrats, so we decided to skip customs. We actually have a paper that says Foreign Port Clearance from Surigao City and all the old time cruisers here in Philippines told us it doesn't matter anyway and Malaysia will clear anyone in from the Philippines, whatever the papers.

We then went straight to the big mall, looked unsuccessfully for a Malaysia lonely planet and did a big shopping excursion at the supermarket and Phil had his beloved Jolliebee (fastfood like KFC). After this there wasn't much more time left before we had to be back at the bus terminal. We had hoped we could go see Janeth (from Diapila Bay who got a ride on Sophia to El Nido).

The jeepney was already over half full, but there was some disagreement as to when it's actually leave, some suggested more like 2pm! Janeth was a champ and made it to the bus terminal to see us off, it was good to see her again and a shame we didn't have more time. The jeepney did finally leave at maybe 1.15, after having huge amounts loaded on top of it (empty fish crates among other things) and more people than it's possible to imagine. When you think, now it's really full and it's no possible to squeeze another person in, yet another person does find room. This happened several times, and in the end our butts were squeezed so tight in it was barely possible to move (seating is two benches along each side of the jeepney). There was even a person sitting on the outside of the driver, so the driver was on a bit of an angle to the wheel and pedals!

Hours later were were back at Macaracas village and faced with another long dinghy ride back to Sophia. It was much less fun than in the morning (when it was dead calm flat water) as there was now a bit of a chop and our bodies were already stiff from the jeepney ride, but we made it back just before 6pm and quickly crashed.

Next morning I baked muffins and we went to say good bye to the navy guys. Two of them came back out with us in their landing craft to take photos of Sophia. They were extremely photo happy and probably ended up with 50 photos of Sophia, most of them with me and one of the guys posing together, it was definitely more fun to have me pose with them rather than Phil :-)

We are now a couple of stops further down the coast, by Quezon and Shawn (Ohlala) has caught up with us. He's going to Puerto from here. The anchorages here in south Palawan are not great (= rolly), the charts are not very good plus there are lots of reef and shoals. We're considering hopping straight to Kudat, however, there is mostly only wind during the day, not night, and we're not keen on that much motoring. Furthermore there is some smuggling going on between the two countries so it's best to do the passage in the day time. We'll probably end up continuing day hopping and should be in Kudat, Malaysia in 3-4 days' time.

We got up this morning at 5.30 in order to catch some better internet, but it's still hopeless, so still no photos.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Bacuit Archipelago and how we almost got two kids

The last blog post ended with us giving Janeth a ride to El Nido. Here we hung out a couple of days, mostly with Shawn from Ohlala (met in PNG and again Palau). El Nido is an big tourist mekka, and the town is probably one of the most touristy places we have visited so far. The main attraction is the Bacuit Archipelago at its footstep. Like Coron Island and Palau's rock islands, there's a lot of cool lime stone around, including some really steep cliffs, very impressive landscape. Add a heap of islands, pretty beaches and that's the archipelago. Boat trips is the thing to do. We did our own touring around in Sophia, much nicer, cheaper and more private.
Ohlala motoring along one of the steep limestone cliffs near El Nido
We saw the cathedral cave, a cavern with soaring limestone columns and yeah, cathedral like. We also checked out both big and small lagoon on Miniloc Island. It wasn't possible to anchor Sophia at any of these places, so we just took turns taking the dinghy to have a look, while the other stayed in deeper water with Sophia, it worked out just fine. Sophia must have been one of the most photographed things in the archipelago those days though, everyone that came past in tourist boats took photos of us.
The last cool thing we did in the archipelago was to snorkel in the Tapiutan Strait between two of the most outlying islands. It's no real anchorage, but we manged to anchor Sophia on the reef wall and could therefore both jump in. The water was super super clear, really nice. And there were huge schools of little fish and we were treated to an amazing show watching small (15 cm) tuna chase the little fish around, a mere few meters away from us! We always see these little fish jump out of the water in big school, being chased by something bigger, and sometimes we do see the bigger fish jump out too, but this was the first time we saw the chasing while actually in the water. Pretty neat. Of course the chain AND anchor had snagged on rock and coral, but luckily my new free diving skills meant it was no problem diving down to 22-23 meters to free both.
The only downside to the paradise that the archipelago is, are jelly fish! Especially deeper into the bays there were lots, even some really big (and nasty-looking) ones. The worst is there are sometimes box jelly fish, mostly known from Australia, sometimes they actually kill people. It can't be that big a problem though, because there is a huge amount of people around and about and many swim and snorkel, and if it was that dangerous, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be.
The last couple of days we have been on the move again down the west coast of Palawan, although so far the anchorages are close enough that we don't need to do dawn to dusk day sails, but more comfortable 4-6 hour sails. The most interesting stop was at Buayan Island. We had seen there were a few small bankas about the bay fishing, but it wasn't until maybe an hour after we dropped the anchor, that they came near us. It was women with kids out fishing for dinner. Their English wasn't very good, but we chatted a bit and I watched them successfully jigging small fish. They kept hanging around and it was clear they were super curious so we invited them onboard Sophia. Soon more people from the small settlement (only seven families live in the bay) came out and we had a full ship. The most interesting thing was our photo board, always the biggest draw for visitors (except other yachties, interestingly enough), they just love seeing photos of our family and friends.
The kids we almost adopted are on the far right, both in red/pink t-shits
Two of the kids were especially keen to stay, they told their mum they could just stay and sleep in the cockpit and quickly illustrated how comfortably they'd sleep on our cockpit squabs. Everyone slowly trickled back ashore, but the two kids, brother and sister, maybe 6-8 years old, just stayed and showed no distress whatsoever when their mum had left. In the end we actually had to help them into their banka to get them to leave, haha, and they were the first visitors back next morning 7am! More visitors quickly arrived, and soon we had four women and maybe 12 kids onboard. A big hit was also rowing around in our dinghy, much more exciting than their trimaran bankas, naturally. We asked if we could come ahore to visit their settlement and soon we were all on land. They are very poor, and the women are married very early, and have lots of kids, unfortunately, not helping Philippine's growing population and  poverty problem.
Giant me next to small Philipino women. None of the kids wore diapers, and the woman on the right has wet pants because her kids peed on her. I'm just wet from sweat!
We're now in Puerto Princessa (via jeepney from the west coast) to clear out of the country, unfortunatley we haven't had internet the last week or so and here it's pretty poor too plus we have no time, so although we have lot of nice pics to accompany the stories, there will be no photos now, I'll try and add them later. We have had fun visiting a small navy station Uluong Bay, more about that in the next post.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

March cruising costs in Philippines

NZ$ 1263 is what we spent in March and that even includes my freediving course and associated travel, so all up a pretty good month.

Again we spent more on eating out than buying food :-) Philippines isn't exactly known for its delicious cousine, but at least it's quite cheap. They LOVE meat, and especially bbq, and if you're happy with meat of various (often dubious) cuts and sources, you can live on next to nothing. Being semi-vegetarian makes it a bit harder for me to find food, even the veggie dishes often have meat pieces in them. We're really looking forward to Malaysia and especially Thailand later this year.

Otherwise there aren't really anything to explain or comment on for this month's budget, it's pretty self-explanatory.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Playing bible telephone on a pretty beach

After Coron we visited two other anchorages in Busuanga Group, one in Puerto Del Sol, which is one of those places that claim to be a yacht club, but really is just a resort that also caters to yachts. We were surprised to see 5-6 yachts moored in the bay, although it was quickly obviously they are stored there, only two actually had people on them. We had heard there was a mooring with good water hooked up to it and that why we went there. It hasn't rained more than a sprinkel in almost a month now, so we're getting pretty low on water.

Since Solomon Islands (November) we have relied 100% on catching rain water, and lots of it even. It has also made us quite picky, as there really isn't anything better than sweet clean rain water. So, we went to check out the water on the mooring, but quickly gave up on that idea, as the water did not taste good at all. As luck would it it, it actually rained a little bit that afternoon and with the help of our big rain catcher, we got maybe 60 or so litres, enough to keep us going another little while.
Our next anchorage was in Coral Bay in the southern end of Busuanga Group. There was a resort in the bay and totally randomly it turned out it was owned by a Danish couple! Even more funny was that one of the Danish boats we met in Palau (brothers with one boat each) uses their bay more or less as a base, so they knew Kim very well :-) They keep their house reef protected and it we had a really good snorkel trip on it, really good coral and fish life, we even saw several lobsters. A new-to-us fish was jaw fish, they live in deep rock lined holes in the sand and only just poke their head out to stare at us, they looked so angry and grumpy, really funny fish! This reef along with Kayagan Lake and a shallow WWII gun boat wreck we snorkelled, makes Busuanga group come in as the best snorkel spot in Philippines (so far anyway).

We left Coral Bay and headed towards Palawan. We had two possible stops on the way, but the wind was so good (strong) that we went all the way to north Palawan in one day. We anchored in Diapila Bay. It is a big quite open bay lined with several beautiful beaches. When we went ashore to check out the beach and village, we met a church group that were having a Easter Sunday picnic and fun & games on the beach. They kindly invited us to join them in games such as bibles telephone (whisper a bible quote along in a line, first team to get it right wins). They also gave us some yummy food. 
To reciprocate, we invited some of them to come visit Sophia later in the day and I make muffins, always a hit with visitor. It was even the first time they had been on a yacht, despite the fact that yachts fairly often visit the bay. Unfortunately one of girls became sick literally 90 seconds after being inside Sophia (to have a look around) and she spent the rest of the time puking on the back of the banka they arrived in. It's not the first time that has happened for visitors, but it's quite amazing how little it takes, it was a pretty OK flat anchorage in our opinion. One of the girls works in Puerto Galera and had been back visiting her family for the easter break and was going back go El Nido to catch the bus and as we were going at the same time, offered her a ride which she gratefully accepted. We hope to catch up with Janeth again in Puerto Princessa.