Posts Tagged ‘yacht’

Across the top with crocodiles. Darwin to Port Douglas, November 03 to 30.

April 18, 2013

1200 miles!

1200 miles!

One of Daryl's shallow anchorages.

One of Daryl’s shallow anchorages.

From Darwin to Port Douglas is 1200 miles, sadly most of it to windward with not a great deal of aesthetically pleasing, scenic attractions along the way. One really does get a feeling for the remoteness of it all going across the top of Arnhem land, especially when the engine is being non-cooperative, the wind is generally blowing from exactly where you want to go, the coastline isn’t really a place one would choose to spend too much time, it’s very hot and there are crocodiles swimming around ones boat when at anchor. In retrospect even though the place is pretty much named after Dutch people and sailing ships, there was never really much likelihood of Australians needing to learn how to speak Dutch.  While the Dutch were the first recorded European explorers to land in (northern) Australia, not surprisingly they were non-too  complimentary about the place. Willem Jansz/Janszoon on the Duyfken was the first to land in 1606.  He encountered hostility from the local indigenous people when he came to anchor on Cape York Peninsula and he lost ten of his crew during visits to the shore. Later Dutch explorers did not think the land worthwhile enough to pursue any claims with descriptions of low lying land, scrubby or swampy near the shore, dry and inhabited mostly by crocodiles.


Sunrise at Melville island.


That careening moment!

On the locals Jan Carstenszoon with the ships ‘Pera’ and the ‘Arnhem’  in 1623 described the aboriginals as, “poor and miserable looking people who had no knowledge of precious metals or spices” although this does reflect one supposes on the priorities of the Dutch at the time.  Englishman William Dampier who landed on the western coast, in 1688 and again in 1699 was also unimpressed by the dry, barren landscape, the lack of water and what he described as the “miserablest people in the world” – the native population. His negative reports led to the delay of (England’s) colonisation of what is now Australia although from the indigenous peoples point of view it might be argued they would have been better off these reports were kept up!

View from Dinah Beach!

View from Dinah Beach!

Ernest and Wen.

Ernest and Wen.

It was only when James Cook charted the east coast of the continent that a favourable report was sent back to England. Cook and his chief botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, made extensive notes about the fauna and flora, and (apparently) both recommended Australia as a good site to establish a penal colony. They said the land was green and fertile, holding great promise. Interesting really what with all the exploration enthusiasm seemingly being based around precious metals, spices (i.e. money)



Black Point, Arnhem Land.

Black Point, Arnhem Land.

and where to lock up poor people, it seems some of our current (Australian) conservative politicians would have fitted in exceptionally well and made excellent explorers! Anyway although we are speaking English the Dutch did leave names for us to remember their efforts, the ‘Gulf of Carpenteria’ was named by Carstenszooon in honour of Pieter de Carpentier at that time the Governor General  of the Dutch East Indies, while Arnhem land is named after one of Carstenszoon’s 1623 ships. On the English side the ‘English Company’s Islands’ north west of Nhulunbuy and Gove seems straightforward while ‘Malay Road’ between The Bromby Islands and the English Companys Islands was named by Mathew Flinders during his 1803 circumnavigation of Australia when he came across a fleet of Malay ‘ Proas’ and fishermen on their annual Trepang (sea-cucumber) expedition.

Gove Harbour.

Gove Harbour.

Eclipse o'clock, Gove.

Eclipse o’clock, Gove.

Well aside from all things historical and without casting aspersions on the merit of eating sea-cucumber (they are deposit feeders after all), we were quite keen to get across to Cape York from Darwin as quickly as possible and the lack of shore attractions meant moving whenever possible was an easy option. Sadly the weather wasn’t going to do anything other than blow hardish out of the east and trying to get direct to the Gugari



Rip through the Wessels was always going to be difficult. So there we went, hiding behind islands wherever we could and beating to windward using whatever combination of sails, motor or both that kept us moving.  This is all well and good with a happy engine of course but from Darwin until North Goulbourn Island (250 miles), a fuel problem meant much grief and potential slashing of wrists until we located the offending part. We had we thought solved the issue in Darwin but intermittent faults are always a dilemma and who would have thought of an unserviceable seal in the priming pump of the engine filter, especially when the thing only misbehaved when it felt like it. There is nothing like beating directly into 25 knots of wind with the engine fuel system in bits, being covered in sweat and diesel fuel trying to grab tools as they slither past on the cabin floor; Ernest and Wen looking a bit concerned and “you can fix it can’t you”.

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

We got away from Darwin on October 06 the day after Daryl decided to do some impromptu careening directly in front of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club; made the news and all. We were taking it in turns here for a while towing each other, Daryl with a stern gland problem he fixed while underway and at night (good effort) then a day later Gadfly with the fuel dilemma. The trip across was a procession of islands, Melville in the ‘Tiwi’ group with the first curious crocodiles, (one assumes the Dutch didn’t do too much swimming), Alaru Island, Black Point, Valentia Island, inside Croker Island to North Goulbourn, Entrance Island off Meningrida,

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Mooronga Island and then under Elcho Island to pass through the Cadell Strait and Narrows. This is the southerly route underneath the Wessells as getting further north to the Gugari Rip really wasn’t an option with the ENE winds we were fighting. The only problem here is Cadell Strait is a bit shallow in places, the current is more than a problem with wind against, and the pilots description of the narrowest and shallowest bits for all it’s worth might just as well have been written by the ‘Trepangers’in 1803! Anyway, after avoiding getting stuck on the putty we slipped across to Alger Island in the dark, beating still to windward then next morning continued our to windward march into Elizabeth Bay just to the west of Cape Wilberforce at the bottom of the Bromby Islands.

Seisa anchorage.

Seisa anchorage.

More diesel, Seisa.

More diesel, Seisa.

Cape Wilberforce and the Cumberland Passage is the last barrier to pass before the Gulf of Carpentaria and one gets to head south into Gove and Nhulunbuy. The drama is however that you need to get there on slack water and then use the Ebb (eastward flowing tide in this case) to move east as the flood is too strong for your average horsepower challenged yacht to push against. Problem here though was the 25 odd knots of ENE wind blowing across the tide on a shoaling bottom and waves of three or four metres standing up just not quite steep enough to break. There really is nothing like having 17 tonnes of

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

boat thrown backwards to the point where one is shipping water over the stern but still getting pushed forward by the current; it’s at this point one ponders the current reliability of a certain engine and wonders if Rudolph Diesel indeed got his design right!

Rudolph Diesel!

Rudolph Diesel!

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Next stop on our eastward bash was Gove and then with some lightening weather a trip across the Gulf to Seisa and then Cape York. After three days at Gove and some solar eclipse watching we headed  to ‘Bremer Island’ then straight across to Seisa just on the western side of the Cape. We were in company initially here with some of the Morotai boats including Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ but lost touch with them on the night of Novemberr 16 as they headed further south for Weipa while Gadfly and Metana shaped up direct for Cape York. On November 19 again in the dark we anchored under Slade Point just SW of the channel leading into the Cape. At first light next morning we slipped through the shallows into Seisa for the night then headed for the Cape and at 1045 on November 21 passed Cape York and turned south onto the Aus east coast, yah; and the wind of course as expected turned SE!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Our expedition now turned into a southerly bash, once again hopping between anchorages sheltered from unseasonal trade winds, beating to windward and when the SE winds lightened off, just keep going. From Seisa to Shelburne Bay, Margaret Bay, Flinders Island (BBQ o’clock), Cape Melville (here it be really windy), Ingram Island, Cape Flattery and then into Cooktown. From Seisa to Cooktown  is around 450 miles and for most of that it’s every bit as isolated as across the top with Cooktown the first bit of ‘apparent’ civilisation. One does need to use this term (civilisation) loosely however and that t-shirt one guy was wearing does have some merit, ‘Cooktown, the worlds largest, open, lunatic asylum’; but it does have three pubs. Shallow in here as well with the boat sitting on the putty at the bottom of the tide each night. Mercifully the wind went light and north for us after leaving Cooktown and after stops at Hope Islands (and another BBQ) and then Low Islands we arrived at Port Douglas at the end of November and tied up to the Piles up stream from the Port Douglas Yacht Club, 3133 miles and some 90 days after leaving the Philippines.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.


Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Flinders Island.

Flinders Island.

Metana near the top.

Metana near the top.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Ernest and friend!

Ernest and friend!


Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Crocodylus porosus…… Salt Water Crocodile!

The world’s largest reptile is the Saltwater Crocodile, or in the vernacular, Salties. This carnivore has sat atop the food chain for 100 million years, and it’s ancestors were about the rivers and coasts as long as 250 million years ago.

Salties can grow up to seven metres and weigh over 1,000 kilogram’s, but the average sized male will be around five metres. They can be found across all of northern Australia, from Broome in Western Australia, right across the Northern Territory’s Top End and clear down Queensland all the way to Rockhampton. The population of Saltwater Crocs in Australia may be as high as 200,000 individuals, with the highest concentration in the Top End around Darwin and the Mary River.

Crocodile Facts

Crocodiles can live for up to 70 years and can grow to between four and five metres. The largest confirmed crocodile from the Northern Territory was trapped in the Mary River in the 1980s and measured a bit more than 6 metres.

Baby crocodiles start out weighing just 60 grams, but the largest adult males can reach close to 1,000 kilogram’s.

The average density of crocodiles across tropical Australian rivers is five crocs per kilometre, but the Mary River in the Northern Territory can average as many as 20 crocs per kilometre.

Crocodiles mate and reproduce during the wet season from November to March. A Female can lay up to 50 eggs in nests along riverbanks, where they incubate for about three months before hatching. The mean temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. When they hatch, the mother croc will carry the hatchlings to the water in her mouth and release them. Less than one per cent of hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Crocodiles have sensory organs at the base of their teeth that allows them to sense minute pressure changes to strike underwater. They


Port Douglas on the piles.


Port Douglas.

Port Douglas.

Malay Proa.

Malay Proa.

cannot swallow prey underwater, however, and must lift their heads above water to swallow their food.

 Crocodiles have 68 teeth in their jaws that replenish constantly if broken off. A large croc can exert more than two tonnes of pressure with its bite.

Crocodiles can swim as fast as 10 kilometres per hour and can run over open ground as fast as 11 kph for short bursts.

Crocodiles are opportunistic predators and will eat just about anything they can catch. While imagescroc 2

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

juveniles tend to stick with small prey, adults will take large mammals if the opportunity presents itself.


Swimming in Mud. Kota Kinabulu to Brunei May 13-30 (2012).

June 15, 2012

Royal Brunei Yacht Club.

At the Royal Brunei Yacht Club at Muara in Brunei (about 20 miles from town), they don’t sell beer. In fact like the rest of Brunei they don’t sell any alcohol at all. Instead intrepid yachties need to bring their own grog with them or put up with an extremely dry argument. You see they are quite Moslem here and the Sultan is none too keen on alcohol so the place is dry (well if you look really hard you might find it somewhere!!).  However, only 20 miles away across the water is Labuan, a duty free port that sells the cheapest alcohol in Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand; we will leave the Philippines out here given the Aus$1.50 bottles of Rhum and Gin available there! The arrangement here is that those boaty types who hang around for a while, every now and again do a mercy dash across the water and bring back enough grog to possibly float their boat. Fortunately for all concerned at the RBYC the locals have an arrangement where those heathen enough to drink and those lacking adequate religious substance (or both) can bring their own beer ashore (best in your own bucket also) and the bar will provide you, free of charge, ice to chill your beer; perfect. It doesn’t really help the Philippinos who are working here (and having to quite unwillingly ‘go on the wagon’) go about getting a drink, but knowing the drinking proclivities of most yachtie types these guys have dramatically improved their English skills with phrases like “got any rum”, “what about gin”, yes “brandy will do”! It was either that, buy a boat or swim.

We are in Brunei chasing the cheap diesel after hanging around in Labuan getting the cheap beer. We slipped away from KK on the fifteenth with Welsh Jeff and Hilary on semi retirement from the UK, Swedish Lasse backpacking as far as he can and Trevor of course trying to keep on top of boat maintenance. First port of call was the old haunt of Police Bay and the obligatory BBQ on the beach. The big item here though was testing out the new ‘Hookah’, or for those non-diving types, the new ‘low-pressure surface supply compressor’. Trevor had been building this for the past week in KK with help from ‘Charlie’, the aluminium welder from Inanam (KK industrial area) who usually specialises in fabricating aluminium bits aimed at making small cars go as fast as possible. Building this had been quite a saga that fortuitously coincided with Gini coming out from Australia and carrying around 20 kilograms of compressor parts; no surprises really that Simon was more than happy for Amanda to go back to Aus for a couple of weeks and do the same! Anyway the new gear is running swimmingly heralding a whole new phase in diving capabilities. Whilst at Police Bay (Pulau Gaya) we were also reacquainted with that brilliant aspect of Sabah tourism, “no you can’t possibly go for a walk in the forest on your own”, “it is far to unsafe” and “for your own safety, we will give you a guide for 200 Ringgit”, (Aus$70). Unfortunately this seems to be becoming the norm here where travellers and tourists are charged large sums for even the mundane and up to six times what the locals are for anything more than mundane. We just might have to sneak past their resort when we go back that way!

Panel 5

From Gaya to Pulua Tiga is about 35 miles with the opportunity at the end of the day to jump in mud. Tiga is a national park with a small resort of sorts, the obligatory diving operation and a ‘mud volcanoe’. You simply walk up the track behind the resort, go about 1.5 km, jump in the mud, float around for a while then walk down the beach to wash it off. Of course there is a sign advising all yachtie types to register at an office somewhere but you then probably run the risk of having to pay to take a guide with you, for your own safety of course, before you jump in the mud. The locals here trumpet the mud as good for your skin, health, complexion and as a remedy for most skin afflictions. It must be a bit of a girl thing these mud baths though as Hilary was more than happy to embrace the concept, porpoising around in the outdoor health spa. For your trusted blogger however the concepts of ear infection, conjunctivitis and parasites come to mind as possibilities; god knows what the locals might do with their mud to take the piss out of the punters. Washing the stuff off took more than a while as well and we all probably still have mud in our ears; we are sure Jeff has gone a bit deafer since.

Amphibious again it would seem!

The next forty miles took as back to Labuan and with the new crew another day of running around checking out the same locations as July last year; they haven’t changed but we did get to marvel once again at the plastic fish in the Marine Museum. It meant also that we could locate the plaque with Jenny’s (the librarian) uncle Jack’s name on it; ‘John Kenneth Cameron’. Jack died on the Sandakan death march and is remembered in the Labuan war cemetery on Panel 5, soldiers with unknown graves. His grave might be unknown but with the number of unidentified soldiers in the Labuan cemetery he is probably there. Adjacent to Labuan over on the mainland and just 10 miles away is the entrance to the Klias River. This is a navigable river with water deep enough to take a keel boat 26km up until a set of power lines blocks any further moves north. There are several rivers like this in Borneo where boats are actually a normal form of transport especially the Rajang back in Sarawak and the Kinabatangan over near Sandakan. When one says transport on the longer rivers though, what you are really doing is considering moving yet more logs downstream from the rapidly disappearing rain-forest! We spent three days up the Klias checking out some of the smaller tributaries, yet more proboscis monkeys and the bird life. Interesting concept it is, trundling along a river with banks at times no more than twenty metres apart and cars passing on a highway half a kilometre away. A lot of fun but as for the Kinabatangan, just past the forest on the banks when there are hills, you can see the palm oil marching off into the distance. After the Klias we also went to the bird sanctuary at the top of Labuan and then went out to try and dive on the war wrecks out the other side of Pulau Kumaran; but without a marker on the wrecks we probably need some better tools to locate them.

Thyme headed north.

Brunei itself is probably one of the more affluent parts of SE Asia (excluding Singapore). Here the locals have the highest pay rates for this part of SE Asia, there is no real poverty, nobody starves, they pay no income tax and most infrastructure is provided by the Government, i.e. the Sultan who would appear to have a very definitive interest in keeping his subjects happy. It is also a bit dull, no bars of course, no theatre, not much of anything really and unbelievably for Asia there is it seems only one Karaoke place (can’t say bar) apparently fully equipped with signs prohibiting touching; wonder if the men sing love songs to each other here? The affluence of Brunei has come from oil of course but with no more oil to export and gas being the big financial provider one does wonder what will happen when the money starts to run out; one doubts that it will worry the Sultan’s family too much.

We are due to get away from here the day after tomorrow after a visit to town and a look at the water village housing around 30,000 people, wonder what they do with their sewage, nasty thought that one. From here it will be some food shopping in Labuan, diving on Tiga, diving and BBQ on Gaya then back to KK for some more boaty work. After that north for Kudat, back to Sandakan then east headed for Indo and the Philippines.

To drown in mud you would have to be held under or wear a very heavy weight belt!

Mud Volcanoes

A mud volcano may be the result of a piercement structure created by a pressurized mud diapir which breaches the Earth’s surface or ocean bottom. Their temperatures may be as low as the freezing point of the ejected materials, particularly when venting is associated with the creation of hydrocarbon, clathrate-hydrate deposits. Mud volcanoes are often associated with petroleum deposits and tectonic subduction zones and orogenic belts; hydrocarbon gases are often erupted. They are also often associated with lava volcanoes; in the case of such close proximity, mud volcanoes emit incombustible gases including helium, whereas lone mud volcanoes are more likely to emit methane.

Approximately 1,100 mud volcanoes have been identified on land and in shallow water. It has been estimated that well over 10,000 may exist on continental slopes and abyssal plains.


In the Turtle Islands, in the province of Tawi-Tawi, the southwestern edge of the Philippines bordering Malaysia, presence of mud volcanoes are evident on three of the islands – Lihiman, Great Bakkungan and Boan Islands. The northeastern part of Lihiman Island is distinguished for having more violent kind of mud extrusions mixed with large pieces of rocks, creating a 20-m (66-ft) wide crater on that hilly part of the island.  Such extrusions are reported to be accompanied by mild earthquakes and evidence of extruded materials can be found high up the surrounding trees. Submarine mud extrusions off the island, have also been observed by local residents.

Other Asian locations

China has a number of mud volcanoes in Xinjiang province.

There are also mud volcanoes at the Arakan Coast in Myanmar (Burma).

There are two active mud volcanoes in South Taiwan, and several inactive ones. The Wushan Mud Volcanoes are located in the Yanchao District of Kaohsiung City.

There are mud volcanoes on the island of Pulau Tiga, off the western coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

A drilling accident offshore of Brunei on Borneo in 1979 caused a mud volcano which took 20 relief wells and nearly 30 years to halt the eruption.

Lusi (Indonesia)

Drillingor an earthquakemay have resulted in the Sidoarjo mud flow on May 29, 2006, in the Porong subdistrict of East Java province, Indonesia. The mud covered about 440 hectares, 1,087 acres (4.40 km2) and inundated four villages, homes, roads, rice fields, and factories, displacing about 24,000 people and killing 14. The gas exploration company involved was operated by PT Lapindo Brantas and the earthquake that may have triggered the Mud Volcano was the Yogyakarta earthquake of May 27, 2006. In 2008, it was termed the world’s largest mud volcano and is beginning to show signs of catastrophic collapse, according to geologists who have been monitoring it and the surrounding area. A catastrophic collapse could sag the vent and surrounding area by up to 150 metres (490 ft) in the next decade. In March 2008, the scientists observed drops of up to 3 metres  in one night. Most of the subsidence in the area around the volcano is more gradual, at around 0.1 centimetres (0.039 in) per day. A study by a group of Indonesian geo-scientists led by Bambang Istadi predicted the area affected by the mudflow over a ten year period.More recent studies carried out in 2011 predict that the mud will flow for another 20 years, or even longer. Now named Lusi – a contraction of Lumpur Sidoarjo, where lumpur is the Indonesian word for “mud” – the mud volcano appears to be a hydrocarbon/hydrothermal hybrid.

Rhum and Coke. Romblon to Port Bombonon (Negros). (29February to 04April).

April 4, 2012

Sally leaving Romblon after potholing on motorbike!!!

It can be a bit difficult to buy beer in the Philippines, that is beer to take on the boat. Cans, the container of choice for most seafaring types (glass and all in a moving boat), can be hard to find and usually expensive. Bottles on the other hand are a lot easier to locate and whilst not in the class of the cheap cartons of beer in Langkawi or Labuan, is relatively inexpensive; relative to Australia especially! The procedure is to initially buy a plastic crate containing the beer and in the process pay a deposit for both the crate and the glass bottles containing whichever variety of beer one is keen to drink. Of course this is much more environmentally sound than the other system of no deposit and an observation any visitor to the Philippines would make (especially after Indonesia and Malaysia) is the noticeable absence of hectares of rubbish floating in the water and washed up on the beaches. However and before one gets too excited about environmental revelations one also needs to consider the state of the reefs here given the tendency for the locals to blow up their reef(s) or use cyanide, both in the interest of effective fishing; but on the beer.

They love their chooks here, well fighting chooks!

Wilson and the butterfly man.

When seeking out more beer one must locate a shop dealing in that particular brew, or a beer truck, or maybe pay somebody on a motorcycle to seek out the beer shop for you. The price usually comes in for the beer transaction, incorporating the change over on the crate and bottles, somewhere around 400-500 Philippino pesos; say $10-$13 Aus dollars. If however one simply buys a beer off the shelf at the supermarket it will cost anywhere up to about 65 Pesos per beer (remember you are here paying for the can or bottle also). Still seems cheap except that whilst buying the beer off the shelf at the supermarket you usually notice that those large bottles (yep, 750 ml) of local rum (Rhum) sell for about the same price as a single can of beer; stunning really!

Port Bombodon.

Wednesday night buffet!


We are happily ensconced in Port Bombonon sharing a very secure, typhoon resistant anchorage with about 20 other boats, some that will probably never move again. Bombonon is on Negros and about 50 km south of Dumaguete, the largest city in these parts. Quiet here with the choice of eating on-board or ashore really any night one likes at the locals places and on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights a buffet can be procured after a short dinghy ride to the little, rickety, bamboo piers favoured hereabouts. The Gadfly has been here for two weeks after a 390 mile island hop from Romblon, passing through Sibuyan, Masbati, Malapascua, Cebu (Port Carmen and bus into Cebu), Bohol, Siquihor and finally Negros. After Romblon the move was direct and in an expeditious manner through to Port Carmen as Sally was trying to make a flight headed to Manila and on to somewhere in Malaysia for a month or two of boat minding. Wilson (apparently named after Woodrow!!) from the US joined at Port Carmen and there was also the matter of the autohelm part being shipped to Cebu (and of course the problem of dealing with Phi customs, as long as you have some money!). Sibuyan and Masbati were really just overnight stops in open roadsteads off the reef followed by an early (0230) departure from Masbati for Malapascua. This passage was around 65 miles so an early start then find an anchorage before dark was the go. The best option appeared to be a little island called Malapascua that we thought would be a rocky outcrop but turned out to be one of the bigger dive, tourist operations in the Philippines! We spent a couple of nights on Malapascua checking out the sights and apparently the attraction here is diving with the ‘Thresher sharks’, followed very closely by the bars although apparently you can also get a close look at the ‘Threshers’ in the market!

Port Carmen is around 40km north of Cebu and you have the choice of riding the ‘Ceres’ liner buses into town or getting in the local Jeepneys to watch the touts trying to lure potential bus riders into their clearly superior transportation. The crew changeover went swimmingly, Sally was off to other adventures, Wilson arrived fully equipped with her Banjo, while customs extracted ‘duty’ from Trevor of greater dollar value than the autohelm part actually sent from Australia; we had been warned. After  Carmen it was a south-east day hop with wind and current assist to inside the ‘Danajon Bank’ and a very dubious anchorage just inside the NE corner of Lapinin Island off the NE corner of Bohol. There is a definitive shortage of good anchorages on the east and south of Bohol so next day was a longish run around to a little bay on the south at Loay where we arrived actually after the sun had gone down but with just enough light to not run over the fishing nets strung in multiples across the entrance. That night one of the fishermen came over to say hello and tell us how not to run aground to the west when leaving, rather nice of him and all. He had his two school age children with him and after we gave them some food treats and him a beer he offered (we declined) to give us some of his evening catch, that is one of the two small fish he had to show for an evening fishing; they really do it hard here!!!

Tagbilaran is the capital of Bohol and we arrived just in time to celebrate Amanda’s birthday as Thyme was about with their two Swedes (Robin and Pontis) doing some snorkelling and sightseeing before the Swedes headed for Cebu then Japan; interesting night out with Robin doing Tagalog songs and impersonating (trying anyway) Tom Jones at ‘Sexbomb’. Bohol is also the place to visit the local ‘Tarsier’ population, Tarsiers being the smallest of the primates, they  are haplorrhine primates of the family Tarsiidae, which is itself the lone extant family within the infraorder Tarsiiformes. Although the group was once more widespread, all the species living today are found in the islands of Southeast Asia.

Stuff about Tarsiers! (From Wiki).

Tarsiers are small animals with enormous eyes; each eyeball is approximately 16 mm in diameter and is as large as its entire brain. Tarsiers also have very long hind limbs. In fact, their feet have extremely elongated tarsus bones, from which the animals get their name. The head and body range from 10 to 15 cm in length, but the hind limbs are about twice this long (including the feet), and they also have a slender tail from 20 to 25 cm long. Their fingers are also elongated, with the third finger being about the same length as the upper arm. Most of the digits have nails, but the second and third toes of the hind feet bear claws instead, which are used for grooming. Tarsiers have very soft, velvety fur, which is generally buff, beige, or ochre in color. Unlike many nocturnal vertebrates, tarsiers lack a light-reflecting area (tapetum lucidum) of the eye and have a fovea.

The tarsier’s brain is different from other primates in terms of the arrangement of the connections between the two eyes and the lateral geniculate nucleus, which is the main region of the thalamus that receives visual information. The sequence of cellular layers receiving information from the ipsilateral (same side of the head) and contralateral (opposite side of the head) eyes in the lateral geniculate nucleus distinguishes tarsiers from lemurs, lorises, and monkeys, which are all similar in this respect. Some neuroscientists suggested that “this apparent difference distinguishes tarsiers from all other primates, reinforcing the view that they arose in an early, independent line of primate evolution.” Tarsiers are the only extant entirely carnivorous primates: they are primarily insectivorous, and catch insects by jumping at them. They are also known to prey on birds, snakes, lizards, and bats. As they jump from tree to tree, tarsiers can even catch birds in motion.

All tarsier species are nocturnal in their habits, but like many nocturnal organisms, some individuals may show more or less activity during the daytime. Gestation takes about six months, and tarsiers give birth to single offspring. Young tarsiers are born furred, and with open eyes, and are able to climb within a day of birth. They reach sexual maturity by the end of their second year. Sociality and mating system varies, with tarsiers from Sulawesi living in small family groups, while Philippine and western tarsiers are reported to sleep and forage alone.

Tarsiers tend to be extremely shy animals and have never formed successful breeding colonies in captivity. This may be partly due to their special feeding requirements. However, a sanctuary near the town of Corella, on the Philippine island of Bohol, is having some success restoring tarsier populations. The Philippines Tarsier Foundation (PTFI) has developed a large, semiwild enclosure known as the Tarsier Research and Development Center. Carlito Pizarras, also known as the “Tarsier man” founded this sanctuary where visitors can watch tarsiers up close in the wild (naturally without touching them). The trees in the sanctuary are populated with nocturnal insects that make up the tarsier’s diet.

The 2008-described Siau Island tarsier is regarded as Critically Endangered and was listed among The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates by Conservation International and the IUCN/SCC Primate Specialist Group in 2008. The Malaysian government protects tarsiers by listing them in the Totally Protected Animals of Sarawak, the Malaysian state in Borneo where they are commonly found. As the Tarsiers are nocturnal they are pretty much asleep or nearly so when you visit. The attendants at the sanctuary spend all day making sure that tourists don’t poke the animals, use flash photography, shake their tree or try to handle them. The attendants are also not sure how secure the population of Tarsiers is on Bohol and indicated that nobody knows how many there are in the wild!

After our Tarsier trip and visit to the ‘Chocolate hills another excursion on Bohol is to spend the day checking some of the local caves followed by an 8 km walk up a river gorge (actually mostly in the river) to a waterfall. With the Thymers we sallied forth on Jeepney and after our spelunking exercise (and avoiding the annoyed bats) we clumped upriver and did the bombing thing off the rocks.

Chocolate Hills. Apparently they go brown in the dry season.

River pictures from the Thyme.

Thyme, hull down.

From Tagbilaran to the south of Siquijor and San Juan is 45 miles and an open anchorage, off the reef sheltered by the island from the prevailing north-easterlies. We anchored here with Thyme almost on top (well about 400 metres away) of a steel shipwreck in about 5 metres of water. Some of the locals here have a dive barge and are happily attempting to remove said wreck in pieces, raising sections of about a tonne at a time and selling it for scrap. They were more than happy to have us watch and let us use their hookah (surface supply air) which was really just a compressor (no filters) with little, long, plastic tubes you stick in your mouth, positive pressure here so sort of breathe with your mouth open letting the air keep water out! The barge is equipped with lifting tackle and ‘Broco’ (cutting-burning gear), so after burning off a wreck piece they lift it up under their barge then float/drag it ashore and haul it to the scrap man; 17 pesos/kilo! Siquijor is also renowned for its ‘healers’ so we went to visit the local faith healers to see if one of them could help us out (probably not enough faith here really). Afterwards we were dragged by one the locals into his developing butterfly sanctuary, ah well spread the love around and all, he was very happy to have some visitors and it didn’t cost much.

That wreck getting smaller. Thyme pictures.

The Gadfly, full rig.

So after a short, day hop from Siquijor the boat is residing in Bombonon with Trevor catching up on a multitude of boat repairs before Gini arrives for a month away from her studies on Tasmanian Devils and Quolls, in funnily enough, Tasmania. Thyme is here planning to leave early tomorrow (04April) headed west, while Daryl on Metana, here also, has headed to Aus for three weeks before he also departs for more wasterly longitudes. We should be away on the weekend but it’s holy week here (Easter) and buying food or beer might slow us down a day or two. Maybe we should buy Rhum? At the beach bar on Malapascua after getting clarification on prices we definitely decided Rhum was the go. It did require confirmation but a beer was 75P, a single Rhum and Coke was 60P, a double was 50P and a triple was 40P; Coca Cola is more expensive than the rum you see!

Rhum and Coke. You have to love the pricing.

How to make a dive industry? Coron to Romblon (February14 to Febuary 29).

April 2, 2012

From the number of people traveling about in Asia seeking the latest in dive sites you would have to assume that diving has become one of ‘the’ traveling attractions in this part of the world. It also seems that the very best way to lure multitudes of deep pocketed, narcosis seeking punters is to sink lots of ships, preferably as violently as possible! It worked at Truk in Micronesia where the American Navy during world war 2 sank a fleet of Japanese supply ships (operation Hailstone).  The Germans at the end of world war 1 provided a plethora of wreck dives at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) when they scuttled their fleet, but warm water is probably preferred if you want to attract the crowds! In Malaysia the Japanese did their best to support a future diving industry when they got stuck into the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales just off Malaysia in the South China Sea; but they could have picked shallower water and arranged for the Prince of Wales to sink upright rather than upside down. At Bikini Atoll after the war the Americans were clearly planning ahead when they set about sinking or trying to sink half a fleet of captured warships and lots of unloved American ships no longer required after the cessation of hostilities. At Bikini however it was probably a bit of overkill using nuclear weapons to do it as a Geiger counter is not generally considered normal diving equipment (although there is every chance it will be included in the next possible PADI, specialty course, ‘Diving around radiological hazards’!!).

At Coron the Japanese seem to have had the best interests of future residents in mind when they moved their supply ships from Manila to Coron to avoid the depredations of American carrier aircraft. It seems they had got sick of losing ships in Manila and probably in a spirit of magnanimity decided to spread their future diving attractions around the Philippines where the ever obliging American Navy was more than happy to drop bombs on them. This happened on September 24, 1944 when dive bombers from carriers in Task Force 38.2 flew 350 miles across the Philippines from east of Leyte and sank 10 of the Japanese ships, the day after they arrived.  On this occasion they got everything pretty much right, water depth 20 to 40 metres, sheltered waters so nobody gets seasick, warm and tropical conditions, close to shore so nobody need travel far, wrecks close together and most of them big. To make things even better for intrepid yachties, the locals nowadays put a bouy on each end of the wreck and all one needs to do is tie up to one and jump in. If the locals are there with their boats (Banka(s)), you just tie up to their boat, if you are there first they just tie up to you and have maybe three or four boats hanging off the bouy.

We were in Coron for around ten days alternating between Coron and the wrecks and managed to dive on most of them whilst there. Great fun swimming around on bloody great artificial reefs covered in the usual tropical growth and fish. Big, open cargo holds, towering masts and derricks, cargos of war material all set for the Japanese army to build yet more fortifications (concrete, wire, tractors etc etc) with the biggest wreck the ‘Irako’, a 10,000 odd ton refrigerated, supply ship, upright and pretty much intact from the weather deck down; also the deepest at 40 metres to the bottom. The two smaller wrecks (probably submarine chasers/gunboats) are inshore near the surface and one can snorkel  around the pointy end of them, but the favourite for the  Gadfly crew would be the ‘Akitsushima’, a 5000 tonne, naval, seaplane tender laying on its side in 36 metres of water with bits blown apart and bullet holes in evidence.

Some of these ships had been salvaged after the war with engines and deck gear removed and a whole load of gear has presumably been taken away by enterprising, hardware seeking divers. Apparently up until two years ago it was a free for all on finding hardware to take home but the dive shops now frown upon people looking for the usual souvenirs that any self respecting wreck diver generally keeps an eye open for. Not that there is much chance in the charter, PADI world of diving for anything more adventurous than sightseeing, what with the dive-masters and instructors herding people around their usual circuit carefully holding hands. Of course diving on ones own gives much greater potential for looking ‘around’ but diving with a pinch-bar does make one stand out from the crowd; pinch-bars, hammers, cold chisels and lift bags not as a rule being included in the PADI world of wreck-diving courses. To avoid drawing the crabs the best course of action is probably to just dive when the masses have gone home but then the charter-boat, dive masters were very quick to assure us that the wrecks have been pretty well stripped and there is nothing to find anyway (there is of course plenty in the dive shops and associated bars). If one did find something like, maybe a porthole what you might do is use a cold chisel and hammer to turn the nuts off the bolts, or maybe break up the steel plate around the porthole and then break the ‘rivets’ holding the thing to the steel plate. To lift it you could use a lift bag (PVC watertight bag with webbing straps) or you might use ropes to lift the thing to the surface; if of course there was anything there to get given that the wrecks have been stripped!

After our shipwreck adventures we once again embarked on our push to windward with a 30 mile day hop pretty much north to Tara Island and a BBQ on the beach with Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ out of Tasmania and five years into their SE Asia travels. We had seen Ruby way back in the Andaman Islands and had also spent some time with them in Sabah. Whilst at Coron we also acquired more crew with Danish Maja after working in China joining us for the trip to Romblon. The trip across to Mindoro from Tara is only about forty miles, close hauled and hard work but at least relatively light. We stopped here at the bottom of Mindoro off Ambulong Island in a little bay next to the incomplete ‘Grace’ resort fully equipped with their own zoo, man-made waterfall and floating rooms; one wonders where the water will come from and a waterfall with desalinated doesn’t really seem terribly viable. From Ambulong we had a better angle for a day passage to Caluya Island in heavier conditions and a shore run to visit the local University campus. Next day it was off to the bright lights of Borocay, the tourist epicentre of the Philippines and the obligatory visit to immigration for a visa extension. We picked up a mooring for our four days inside the reef at Borocay, and after sculling about the cafes, bars, etc moved north on Feb22 still in company with Tim and Barb headed up the western side of Tablas Island across the top and easterly over to Romblon.

New hats for the lads!

Romblon is the place in the Philippines to buy marble statues, tables, stools, tiles etc etc and Simon and Amanda when here bought a flash marble basin for their boat; bummer we had no room for that spa! Ollie and Maja headed off here, braving the perils of the notorious Philippino ferry service, Maja to head for Malaysia and Ollie off to Russia to procure a sled and warm clothes to man-haul himself and sled across the ice of Lake Baikal!!!  After waving goodbye Sally and Trevor decided a trip around the island on motor-bikes to check out the marble statuary production was in order but we ended up at the local hospital instead after Sally and her motorcycle were both swallowed by a rather large hole conveniently located almost on the road where she was turning her motorbike around. Next day in the interests of good health we went by tricycle (motorbike – sidecar/shed combination), not as much fun but clearly, infinitely safer.

Kite boarding on the east of Borocay.

The local marble manufacturing on Romblon is something to behold, nothing like a three metre wide circular saw slicing through marble blocks being pushed effectively by hand past the blade; safety first! Here there be mountains of marble, literally with all manner of passed over statues and statue pieces being piled up behind the factories (well open air sheds). The carvers use lathes, grinders and saws to shape the statues then hand tools and hand labour to polish them. The older women down the road sit all day breaking large pieces of marble into smaller pieces to fill holes on the road (lots of them); here they do it tough.

Safety first!!!

On 29Feb we picked up our anchor and headed south-east for Sibuyan and then on to Port Carmen and Cebu. Top of the list of things to do at Cebu is to pick up a part for the autohelm, the solenoid-clutch having given up back in Borocay. On the bright side the non-functioning autohelm gave Trevor the motivation to wire up the still brand-new tiller pilot and strap it to the wind-vane. On the weather, the wind is still east, definitely the way of things here.

Task Group 38.2 and how to provide future diving attractions!

The losses of the IJN at Coron Bay between 24 Sep and 9 Oct 1944 were caused by AG (Air Group) 18, AG 19 and AG 31. AG 18 departed from Pearl Harbor on 15 Aug 1944 aboard U.S.S. Intrepid CV-11, AG 31 on U.S.S. Cabot CVL-28. In company with U.S.S. Enterprise CV-6,  U.S.S. Bunker Hill CVL-25 and various escorts they were to form Task Group TG 38.2

On 23 Sep reports from Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions revealed unusual enemy activities in the Calamian Island Group, south-west of Mindoro. AG 18 and AG 19 each received orders to equip 12 Curtiss SB2C-3 “Helldiver” bombers with wing tanks and to send them out on a fighter-bomber attack on Japanese shipping in and around Coron Bay. The planes from AG 18 were to carry two 500-pound bombs each. The planes of AG 19 carried a single 1,000 pound / 454 kg bomb. These “Helldivers” were the latest models already fitted with the APG-4 automatic low-level bombing system. In the dive bombing role these planes dove at their target until they had the ship centered in their Mark VIII gunsight and released their bomb(s) at 2,000 feet (600 m.) altitude. Hellcat fighters were also ordered for this attack, some to provide fighter escort and some were armed with bombs to attack the shipping. As a “fighter bomber” the F6F Hellcats would also dive on their target and center it in their gunsight before releasing their bomb. AG 31 was one of the units ordered to provide fighter escort.

Mark Zalick led AG 18`s bomber group VB-18. Taking off at dawn, they surprised 15 Japanese ships in the Bay, the Coron Passage and just west of Coron Island. Ships ranged in size from small freighters to 15,000 ton tankers.

Commander R. McGowan led AG 19’s bombing squadron VB 19 on this raid. Twelve SB2Cs took off but two had to return to the ship. One bomber had engine trouble and another had a fuel system malfunction and couldn’t draw fuel from its’ external wing tanks. Only 10 of the squadron’s planes made the 332 mile flight to Busuanga Island.

It was only after the first American strikes on Palau in early September 1944 that Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Combined Fleet, realized that a fleet of almost 40 supply vessels had been anchored in Manila Bay or moored in Manila harbor. When TF 38.2 started their strikes against enemy shipping around Luzon in the second week of September, Japanese shipping in Manila harbor suffered severe damage, and numerous Japanese ships were sunk. Toyoda advised Field Marshall Terauchi, commander of the Japanese Southern Army to transfer all supply ships to Coron Bay which had served as a secure assembly place in the past. Terauchi was reluctant to make this decision. When he finally gave orders on 21/22 September 1944 to relocate the vessels he had already sacrificed 15 ships which were bombed and sunk in Manila Bay by repeated air strikes from TF 38.2.

Kogyo Maru (Auxilliary Supply Ship, IJN/Navy)

After she had survived TF 38`s air attacks on Japanese shipping in Manila Bay and Harbor on 21 Sep 1944 she received sailing order to transfer to Coron Bay and weighed anchor at 1730 the same day. She arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1540 and the night was spent in trying to camouflage bridge and main deck. In the morning of 24 Sep at 0900 she was attacked by U.S. dive-bombers. After she had received several bomb hits the vessel sank with 39 men.

Okikawa Maru (Civilian oiler)

Okikawa Maru arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1800 and dropped anchor near the town of Concepcion and was attacked at 0855 on 24 September. The first two or more groups just strafed Okikawa Maru and continued to head for the seaplane tender Akitsushima anchored a few cables to the West. At 0910 the dive-bombers scored numerous hits and the vessel began to sink. Three gunners and 5 or 6 sailors were dead. The rest of the crew abandoned the ship.

Olympia Maru (Army cargo ship)

On 24 Sep around 0900 the Olympia Maru had weighed anchor and while trying to evade the attacking planes direct hits to the engine room caused an explosion of the oil tank on the port side. Fire spread after another bomb went through the engine room and with the engine stopped, another series of bombs hit the galley and cargo holds. At 1330 fire spread all over the ship bending the mid-ship section. At 1426 the ship sank by the stern taking 14 crewmen, 3 gunners and 2 passengers.

IJNS Irako: (Navy Provision Store Ship/Reefer)

The Irako arrived in Coron Bay around 22 Sep 1944 and tried to hide her presence between Tangat and Lusong Island. On the morning of 24 Sep a number of fighter bombers of Airgroup 31 expended their bombs on the vessel. Their first strike scored direct hits into the midship section. Set ablaze on the bridge superstructure Irako began to sink by the bow.

IJNS Akitsushima: (Navy Seaplane Tender)

The vessel had suffered minor damage inflicted by U.S. air attacks near Buka Island on 1 Sep 1942 and received two direct bomb hits during “Operation Hailstorm” in Truk Lagoon on 17 Feb 1944. After being repaired in Japan she was back in service by July/August 1944. Akitsushima arrived in Coron Bay almost at same time as Irako and anchored in the narrow sound separating Lajo Island and Manglet Island. Strafed by Lt. (J.G.) Tuaspern and his wing she was first mistaken to be a destroyer escort (DE). VB-18 later scored one direct hit into the aft part of the vessel causing a tremendous explosion most likely of the AVGAS (aviation gasoline) fuel tanks for the flying boat.

She capsized within a few minutes and sank in position 11deg; 59` 20″N / 119deg; 58` 15″E.

The Amihan and winter in the Philippines. Tour B! Puerto Princessa to Coron. January 08 to February 03

February 20, 2012

In the Philippines the southwest monsoon of May to October is known as “Habagat” and is characterized by hot and humid weather, frequent heavy rainfall, and a prevailing wind from the west. In winter the dry winds of the northeast monsoon, November through April, are known as the “Amihan” and bring strong easterly weather and little rain. The term ‘monsoon’ itself is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in rain, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in wind and rain associated with changes in season from summer to winter. The term ‘monsoon’ was first used in English in British India and neighbouring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. As a general rule, the Philippines’ Amihan weather pattern begins sometime in September or October and ends sometime in May or June; this does however vary year to year.

According to the meteorologists, monsoons can be called large-scale sea breezes brought about by differential heating of land masses compared to oceanic water bodies.  Water is much more effective at ‘absorbing’ heat than the land meaning that the surface of land-masses heat up quicker than oceans. Hot air over the land tends to rise, creating an area of low pressure and this creates a steady wind blowing toward the land; bringing the moist near-surface air over the oceans with it (the air over the oceans being full of water vapour). This means that during summer when the land is being heated in a big way, moist air flows off the oceans and when hitting elevated  land masses, rises and cools (orographic lifting), forming clouds and rain (just ask the Indians about the Himalayas and rain during their summer monsoon). In winter when the land stops getting heated quite so effectively, the oceans are still hot from summer meaning that wind direction reverses flowing off the land masses; hence seasonal changes in wind direction. In effect for this part of the world, the land mass of Eurasia gets hot enough in summer for convection to overcome the more routine ‘trade wind’ direction of air flow. Monsoons are therefore similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring to the localized, daily cycle of wind changes near coastlines, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and seasonal.

Of course things are a bit more complex than this with ‘coriolis’ deflection turning moving air masses in a ‘circular’ manner and in discrete masses known as ‘Hadlee’ convection cells; coriolis deflection resulting from us living on the surface of a rotating globe and being the process leading to water turning as it goes down the plug-hole. In the northern hemisphere the deflection is to the right resulting in ‘sub-tropical high pressure’ systems moving west to east in middle latitudes with air rotating cyclonically or in a clockwise direction. These high pressure systems pass above the Philippines and sailors in this part of the world see the descending arm of these as stiff ENE or NE winds lasting for several days followed by, if one is lucky, a few days of light conditions. Also and sadly for those trying to move north-east and especially east, these easterlies produce an awful, close and very steep sea that makes sailing to windward an exercise of near futility during the Amihan. Unfortunately moving north and north-east with the summer Habagat and south-westerlies means running the risk of encountering one of the ubiquitous ‘typhoons’ (for those hailing from more antipodean waters read that as cyclone) that race across the Philippines every summer.

From Puerto Princessa to the top of Palawan is around 150 miles and pretty well all NE. From the top of Palawan on the western side there is a 20 mile SW hop down to El Nido but of course this needs to be made up when headed once again north. From Puerto all the way to Borocay some 350 miles away to the east trying to work against the prevailing was to be the way of things and the further north you go, the stronger the winds seem to get; but such is life in the tropics and there are of course other dilemmas.

Dumaran Island is 90 miles from Puerto with an overnight stop in the pass between Dumaran and the much larger Palawan to the west. We were running all the way up the Palawan east coast inside the reefs with indicated channels that are not unreasonably, completely blocked by pearl farms. From the water these farms present as miles of bouys and ropes connected in an impenetrable maze that seems to defy passage and inside Dumaran everything appeared to be completely blocked. Of course there usually is a way through but these ‘clear’ channels are not as indicated on the charts and they are marked with bouys one really needs a telescope to find. The approach seems to be local knowledge and somewhere in the hectares of little black bouys there is usually a couple of security guards on a small ‘Banka’ (narrow pointy boat with a bamboo outrigger on each side) that will point in the appropriate direction. The other option is keep going until you find the gap between the bouys and land and watch your depth sounder carefully. We had already come across some of these navigation ‘aids’ back south near Bugsuk but the further north we travelled the more breathtaking they became.

After three nights and one good sail near the top of Palawan the weather of course went very light for our southward sojourn twenty miles to El Nido and anchor at Coron Coron. We were back into Karst country here, reminiscent of Phang Nga bay in Thailand but without the tourists. Great place El Nido, with the usual stunning Karst islands fully equipped with ‘Hongs’ in the middle. Here though the hongs have more western names such as, ‘Big Lagoon’, ‘Small Lagoon’, (not so) ‘Secret Beach’ and ‘Cathedral Cave’. The locals here run fairly laid back, daily, island hopping ‘tours’ to see the sights but without the teeming masses we were familiar with out in the Andaman Sea; you pretty much get the places to oneself. In chatting to the locals we found a place in the little squatters village nearby where they would do our laundry. Funny that they managed to use all of our laundry detergent on ten pieces of clothing but when we left all of the villagers clothes seemed to have a lovely lemon scent!

We had a couple of trips out to the islands taking in the sights and a few more days chilling out around El Nido and seeing the more local attractions. Ollie here introduced us to the joy of following Arsenal in the English Premier League with very late nights watching soccer matches. Being the artistic type Jamie produced our long thought over t-shirt design and we had the locals at the ‘Art café’ print boat t-shirts; Sally insisted on a girly design and questioned some aspects of the artwork. Finally and after ten days at El Nido we slipped away on the 31st to start once again our sojourn against the Amihan headed towards Coron and some shipwreck diving.

Coron is only about 85 miles away from El Nido but with the north-easterlies the 85 miles can be a pain so it was pray for light weather and move as quick as the prevailing winds allow. First night was 40 odd miles into a bay at the NE tip of Linpacan Island arriving at dusk after working around the edge of yet more pearl farms. Next day was a lunch stop at an island with the most unlikely name of Binalabag Island and then a short hop into an anchorage at the top of Dicabaito anchorage at the base of Culion Island. The islands all through this area are quite stunning and without the rampant development we had previously seen through Thailand and some of Malaysia; makes one wonder if this was what Thailand was like before tourist development got out of hand? Next morning was a 20 mile northerly run up the west coast of Culion and into the Coron Channel for another 20 miles into Coron, the largest town in the Calamian group. There are about a dozen wrecks in the Calamians courtesy of the Americans giving the Japanese an exercise in aerial diplomacy during world war 2. These are easy to find (marked) and had Trevor somewhat interested requiring we have a look at two of the smaller wrecks on the way in. Next day we went to anchor on Feb03 in the middle of the dive tour ‘bankas’, outside the reef off the Seadive resort and in for a meal with the shipwreck diving multitudes.

Interesting observation since leaving Puerto is the number of Asian tourists in the Philippines. Interesting too is their apparent take on travelling. Sylvia and Ms Chan were two Chinese taking four days in El Nido while on holidays away from China during the Chinese New Year. So what are you up to while in El Nido? Tour B! What’s that? Tour B, tour C today, tour B tomorrow. Oh yea, where does it go? From the beach, 9 o’clock, tour B. Okay sounds good!

Hadlee Convection Cells; named after George Hadlee.

The Fish Frighteners; Kudat to Puerto Princessa, more coral blasting and into the Philippines. November 28 to January 08 (2012).

January 26, 2012

When boats arrive at Puerto Princessa on Palawan in the Philippines, the local fisherman have their own ways to use them to catch fish. The procedure is to lay a net around one end of the at-anchor boat, say 50 metres across in an arc, then move around the boat at the other end in your boat and frighten the fish into the net. The best way to do this is take a long pole with a large ‘drain or bath  plunger’, (the same piece of high tech equipment the Daleks in Doctor Who used to carry about) and use said hi-tech equipment to make loud banging noises while striking the water.  It does seem to be very effective although the fish they catch are quite small and probably easily frightened.  However and all the same, size presumably doesn’t matter that much when something to eat is better than not much else.

Puerto Princessa is half way up the eastern side of the island of Palawan, one of the most southern islands in the Philippines. This is the preferred island to travel along while headed north from Malaysia. The island is long and skinny so you can go up either the east or western side of Palawan and give Mindanao a very wide berth. In Mindanao (SE about 280 miles) abduction and ransom is still very much a growth industry and while some of those unfortunate enough to run across the modern incarnation of the Moro Pirates may have friends affluent enough to bail them out of trouble, it’s extremely doubtful these yachties could raise the funds to get themselves out of such shite.

The passage up from Kudat involved 220 miles travelling in either very light conditions or motor-sailing, close hauled into the north-east monsoon; with of course the occasional squall and the usual thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Off ‘Brookes Point’ the rain was so heavy we were obliged to run something of a race track a mile offshore while waiting for visibility to get better than 100 metres. We stopped at Banggi down in Malaysia, Balabac town (on Balabac Island of course), skirted east around Bugsuk Island to spend a night under Iglesia Point near Rio Tuba, Brookes Point on November 01, a night off the mangroves at Rassa Island and a longish hop direct into Puerto Princessa just in time for the Sunday Buffet at the ‘Abanico Yacht Club’. After all of the doomsayers on weather and conditions the trip up was straightforward if to windward and hot! So hot that on one day of sweltering along the fishermen in their little boats hiding under a towel a couple of miles offshore looked so parched we decided they were in need of a beer. These guys sit in the blazing sun, no shade, a few miles offshore, in the smallest of boats jigging for a few fish; the beers appeared to go down well. Around Bugsuc Island we marvelled at the inshore fishermen engaged in far more high tech fishing pursuits happily blowing what’s left of the reef here to pieces. You could actually watch the columns of water leaping into the air after they tossed their home made hand grenades away from their boat and into the water. They didn’t appear to be particularly perturbed by our presence and enforcement would appear to exist only as a fantasy. It shouldn’t however be to hard to catch them, apparently you can pick the explosives fishermen by counting the number of fingers. We did manage to catch one fish (a tuna) ourselves coming up but also managed to lose our last good lure on something very big; probably a really large model of those smelly Barracuda.

The Abanico Yacht Club at Puerto is run by (Big Nose) John and Cissy and is such a chilled and laid back place to spend time that in Amanda’s words, it seems to be something of a ‘black hole’ for passing yachties; many of whom takes months or years to leave. Sissy is the driving force here with John acting as social organiser in the open lounge each day; good place to visit and hard to leave, would you like another glass of wine? John also has some moorings out in the harbour so this was a good place to leave the boat and head back to Australia for Christmas and New Year. Of course the best laid plans and all almost came to grief as two days before flying out the cyclone season gave it’s last hoorah. There we all were, two in the morning, extra anchors ready, sails off and everything conceivable lashed down while waiting the passage of tropical cyclone ‘Washi’ which in the end was supposed to pass directly over Puerto. An eventful night with all the boaty types waiting, waiting, waiting, but by the time it passed 60 miles or so north the winds up there were only about 40-50. The storm did however manage to kill around 1000 people in Mindanao with flash flooding along rivers washed through the shanty areas where so many of the poor people live.

The island of Palawan is becoming apparently one of ‘the’ places to visit while at the moment not suffering from the excesses of tourism that abound in parts of Malaysia and most of Thailand. Top of the list of things to do here is visit the ‘Underground River’ on the islands west coast at Sabang. The river is in a large national park and was in 2011 declared one of the seven, natural wonders of the world. The only way to visit the river is to utilise the local (parks) boatmen who take you in their little ‘paddle-boats’ about two and half km upriver. The (underground) river system actually extends some tens of km underground with tributaries and smaller offshoots all over the place having carved an extensive network of tunnels through the limestone bed-rock.  We are back in Karst country here similar to Phang Nga Bay back in Thailand, except without the same scale of crass, over-development (at least not yet). The tunnel trip was interesting although the boatmans observations about the landscape were pretty much restricted to, ‘the rock to your left looks like an onion’, ‘this rock to your right looks like a mushroom’; many vegetables involved here. There were also the obligatory religious observations, ‘the face on this rock looks like Jesus’, ‘that rock looks like the Virgin Mary’, ‘this rock looks like the last supper’, of course they all looked just like rocks. Ollie did make the observation that one rock might look a bit like a Priest doing interesting things to an alter boy, this did draw a few strange looks from others in our boat party! There are also the vestiges of past visitors (described as vandals) who left their names or boat names painted on the walls of the tunnel. Interesting thing that some of the writing is barely legible, while some of the more notable graffiti (English and Japanese soldiers for example) all seems fresh and new and appears to be have been touched up with the same white paint; now who would have thought?

On January 08 we dragged ourselves away from Puerto headed north for El Nido, about 16 miles south from the top of Palawan on the west coast. On board now were new crew, Ollie and Sally from the UK and Jamie from Canada. Ollie is headed generally back toward home after 18 months of travel in India and Asia and after sailing in the Philippines is looking toward a train ride across China and Russia with a skiing sojourn thrown in on Lake Baikal!!!  Sally is fresh from Thailand and Malaysia after completing the 2011 Sail Indonesia rally, while Jamie is taking a couple of weeks of boaty travel before braving the travails of a five star holiday around Papua New Guinea. Jamie is also quite the creative type and artist so before he leaves we will finally get our special ‘Gadfly’ T-shirt design. The weather of course is still NE, sometimes ENE and we are departing amidst tales of doom about what the NE monsoon is going to do to us if we dare move north. Must go though before being swallowed up by the Abanico black hole.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

PPUR (National Park) is located about 50 kilometres (30 mi) north of the city centre of  Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines. The river also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the

east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. It is also known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang.


The park has a limestone karst mountain landscape with an 8.2 kilometer navigable underground river. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it winds through a cave before flowing directly into the West Philippine Sea. It includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers. The lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. Until the 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the Puerto Princessa Subterranean River was reputed to be the world’s longest underground river.

The area also represents a habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia. It was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 4, 1999.


The Park has a range of forest formations representing eight of the thirteen forest types found in tropical Asia, namely forest over ultramafic soils, forest over limestone soils, montane forest, freshwater swamp forest, lowland evergreen tropical rainforest, riverine forest, beach forest, and mangrove forest. Researchers have identified more than 800 plant species from 300 genera and 100 families. These include at least 295 trees dominated by the dipterocarp type of species. In the lowland forest, large trees such as the Dao (Dracontomelon dao), Ipil (Intsia bijuga), Dita (Alstonia scholaris), Amugis (Koordersiodendrum pinnatum), and Apitong (Dipterocarpus gracilis) are common. Beach forest species include Bitaog (Calophyllum inophyllum), Pongamia pinnata, and Erynthia orientalis. Other notable plant species include Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), Kamagong (Diospyros pulganensis) Pandan (Pandanus sp.) Anibong, and Rattan (‘Calamus sp.)


Birds comprise the largest group of vertebrates found in the park. Of the 252 bird species known to occur in Palawan, a total of 165 species of birds were recorded in the park. This represents 67% of the total birds and all of the 15 endemic bird species of Palawan. Notable species seen in the park are the blue-naped parrot (Tanygnathus lucionensis), Tabon scrub fowl (Megapodius cumunigii), hill myna (Gracula religiosa), Palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei), white breasted sea eagle (Halitutus leucogates ).

There are also some 30 mammal species that have been recorded (Madulid, 1998). Most often observed in the forest canopy and along the shoreline feeding during low tide is the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), the only primate found in the area. Other mammal species in the park are the bearded pig (Sus barbatus), bearcat (Arctictis binturong), Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei) and the Palawan porcupine (Hystrix pumilus)

19 species of reptiles have been identified, eight of which are endemic (Madulid, 1998). Common species in the area include large predators like the common reticulated python (Phython reticulatus), the monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) and the green crested lizard (Bronchocoela cristatella). Amphibian fauna include ten species. The Philippine woodland frog (Rana acanthi) is the most dominant and frequently encountered. One species, Barbourula busuangensis, endemic to Palawan was also observed in the area.

Notable are the nine species of bats, two species of swiftlets and whip spider (Stygophrynus sp.) found in the cave, and the sea cow (Dugong dugon) and the hawksbill sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) that feed in the coastal area of the park.

International notability

Puerto Princesa Underground River was entered as the Philippine entry – and topped the first round of voting – in the New7Wonders of Nature competition, and on July 28, 2011, after the second round of voting, it was declared 1 of 28 finalists. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn extended his gratitude to all those who supported and voted for the PPUR.On November 11, 2011 it was provisionally chosen as one of the “New7Wonders of Nature”, together with the Amazonia, Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Jeju Island, Komodo Island, and Table Mountain.

The voting was criticized, especially the Philippine voting. Nothing in the New7Wonders voting procedure prohibited repetitive voting, making the results subject to government and tourism industry campaigns to vote often for local sites with the financial incentive of increased tourism. Philippine president Benigno Simeon Aquino III, in his speech during the official proclamation launch of the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the 28 finalists, urged the country’s 80 million cellphone subscribers to vote PPUR via text: “We send two billion text messages a day, all we need is one billion text votes for the Puerto Princesa Underground River so (we can accomplish) that in half a day,” the President said. “I urge everyone to vote to the maximum for the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature” he reiterated.

Now who would have thought????

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