Life at 8.5 knots in the Philippine Islands…

Cruising the Philippine islands has been easy weatherwise…we hit the weather perfectly as it is the lull period between the seasonal monsoons. The weather is transitioning from winter NE winds to summer SW winds and during this time there is very little wind. Since leaving Subic Bay, we’ve had near lake-like conditions…remarkably calm. However besides the weather, there are some obstacles to be aware of. We encountered in deep water on the west coast of Luzon Island, FAD’s, “fish attraction devices”. The fishermen lash logs, palm fronds, plywood, old boats, Styrofoam, and just about anything else that floats and anchor these collections of debris all along the shoreline. The fish like this stuff and collect below it and are easier to catch this way. Fortunately, in the daylight these were easy to detect and we were constantly dodging them. To hit them is to immediately foul the propeller, shaft, etc. which stops the boat and can cause serious damage. A similar threat is caused by the pearl farms. Passing Busuanga Island and in route to Palawan Island (the most south western island of the Philippines) we encountered thousands of rows of pearl farms… owned by none other than the Japanese. I guess the pearls are considered from the South China Sea?? We came across hundreds of these pearl floats spanning from one island to the next. I was told that beneath each float is a line attached to basket with oysters cultivating the pearls. Can you say ‘Mikimoto’? Divers come periodically and turn the oysters to stir up the foreign object which has been implanted in the oyster. This disturbance causes the oyster to apply layer upon layer of pearl material until a complete round pearl is produced. Clearly this is big business as when our two beeg trawlers come wandering along we were usually met by a charging bankca (a small outrigger boat) with a guy gesticulating wildly. Sometimes in addition to frantically waving us off they kindly guide us through the gauntlet of buoys. Thankfully, the pearl farms are laid out in nice & neat tidy rows of floats… isn’t that just like the Japanese?

Dodging pearl farms

On another note – the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia – almost 90% of the population claims to be Christian. Over 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic. Evidence of this is everywhere… painted Bible verses are noticeable as well as plastic dashboard figurines of Jesus – flaming hearts all in day-glo orange decorate the slew of trikes, jeepneys and buses in town. A gold rimmed Bible big as a large coffee table sat on a stool in an open-air fruit stand where I purchased produce the other day. In fact, while in Puerto Princesa, I purchased medication & mosquito-repellent at the ‘Jesus Heal Me’ pharmacy… what’s not to love about that! Filipino’s may be overwhelmingly Catholic, but I understand they are world-class sinners. Drinking is a popular pastime and adultery and prostitution is rampant. God is busy here in the southern Philippines…there is a lot going on!

As we moved to the south of the Calamian Islands and on the way to Puerto Princesa, Palawan we left behind the proverbial island paradises and pristine underwater diving locations. We encountered more impoverished areas and pollution… well, let’s just say the Filipinos pollute like they smile – copiously. I’m not sure what rules there are against smoke belchers (fires), illegal loggers, dynamite-blasting/cyanide fishing, toxic waste spillers and other menaces to the environment. There clearly aren’t any laws or if they exist they’re certainly not enforced. This is an observation from our travels. Keep in mind we have cruised but just a sliver of the huge archipelago of the 7,000 islands of the Philippines. None the less the condition of the water does not permit our usual swimming off the back of the boat while at anchor.

Typical trikes used to get around town

Carol and Birthday Boy, Steven stuffed in a trike

The Albanico Yacht Club, Puerto Princesa…okay…yacht club may be a stretch, but the San Miguel beer was cold.

Puerto Princesa Underground river…a highlight

Shanty town on Tuba River

Your typical bus load in the Philippines! This bus was full of people but did not leave for over an hour, but if you got off someone else quickly got on and you lost your seat. Next bus? Who knows when?

Sooo…it’s been close to four weeks since we were last tied up to a dock…not anymore! Presently, we are tied up at Sutera Harbor in Kota Kinabalu (also known as “KK”), Sabah, North Borneo, East Malaysia…sounds exotic? Well…it is and very first world. Sabah sits on the north tip of Borneo, the world’s third largest island – next is New Guinea and then Greenland being the largest. Its coastline is washed by the South China Sea on the West and the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea on the East. Lying just north of the equator, Sabah enjoys a sunny tropical climate all year round. Sabah is also known as the ‘Land below the wind’…that’s good news for us cruisers for that means that we are below the typhoon belt.

Entering Sutera Harbour you couldn’t miss the massive mega-yacht, ‘Mayan Queen’ (300 feet of her) owned by a very rich Mexican mining mogul. While on shore there was the Islamic-style dome and striped minarets of the State Mosque…interesting contrasts! KK is a starting point for tourists who come to Sabah for the host of nearby Eco-attractions…there’s world class diving, fancy beach resorts, hiking Mt. Kinabalu (highest mountain in SE Asia), the rainforest and all sorts of wildlife reserves, etc. The Captain and crew are very content with all the amenities (pool, spa, gym, wifi and assorted restaurants) that the Sutera Harbour & Resort offers!

Entering Sutera Harbour, Sabah, North Borneo, East Malaysia…make out the Islamic gold dome of the mosque in the background

Tied up nicely at the dock…

Not all is smooth sailing on the Pearl and we have hit a few speed bumps regarding boat mechanical difficulties. Occasionally systems malfunction, things break, wear out, or at the worst intermittently don’t work properly. Here’s why:

 1. A passage making boat has all the systems that exist in a home – electrical, cold and hot water including sewerage, kitchen and laundry appliances, AV equipment, furniture, roof, windows, doors, etc.

2. Then add electronics, hydraulics, four engines, shafts, propellers, capacity to make water and electricity, hundreds of fittings etc.

3. Put all this in a hostile environment containing salt water and the constant stress of movement (at least 8 ways: rolling, heaving, yawing, and pitching).

Now you can understand why things occasionally don’t work. A couple of recent examples.

The power that is supplied from the dock via the power cord (220volt, 50 amp, 50 hertz) went off in the middle of the night. At dawn the search for the cause began, beginning with the most obvious. Check the breaker on the dock power pedestal, ok. Check the plug on the boat side, ok. Check the boat breaker, ok. Unplug the dock pedestal plug – BINGO! The inside was charred and smelled like an electrical fire. Blackness surrounded the plug’s male prongs. Definitely need to replace the plug, a large yellow Marinco type. Steven on Seabird had a spare plug which was borrowed until we can replace it. Wayne and Braun changed out the plug and power was restored. However, the power cord is 12 years old and the wires all have a greenish corrosion on them indicating that the entire cord needs to be replaced. This will be done as soon as possible.

How many guys does it take to fix a plug??

Moving on from electricity to electronics… the 25kw radar would not boot up a few weeks back and after checking all the usual suspects (fuses, UPS operability, voltage supplied, etc.) a call was placed to Brian McLaughlin who installed the electronics on the Pearl and is an expert. Brian led us through some more diagnostics and it was determined that the power board or part of the antenna was faulty. Time to find a Furuno expert to finish the diagnosis and source the parts. The first port we made where there might be a chance of competent Furuno support was Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Furuno support comes out of Singapore so it appeared we might have to fly in the specialist, at considerable expense. Not very optimistic about our chances of finding a local expert we nonetheless decided to check with the local KK harbor master. Braun was given a name of a local electronics guy that worked on the radars for the fishing fleet.

Mr. Ah Keh turned out to really know Furuno radars and in 15 minutes had the problem traced to a printed circuit board (PCB) in the base of the antenna array. He ordered the part expressed from Singapore and 3 days later it arrived at the Pearl, was installed, which restored the radar to normal operation. Amazing what can be accomplished in relatively remote places – a very nice surprise. And oh, the cost? The part cost the same as anywhere, but the labor was $150, about 1/10 what would have been charged in Lauderdale, Seattle, etc.

Moving on from electrical and electronic faults to a serious plumbing failure, serious enough to sink the boat. A few days ago two of the bilge pumps were running continuously. This is good because they are pumping water overboard but they should not be running continuously. And wait! Where is the water coming from? Quickly taste it – salt or fresh? If it is fresh then not a big deal because we only carry so much fresh water, and if it all gets loose it is not enough to sink the boat. But if it is salty then water is coming into the boat from the outside and that supply of water is infinite – certainly enough to rapidly sink the Pearl. The taste was salty! So quickly find the source of the leak or it’s that dreaded call to the insurance company. Turns out a copper union pipe feeding raw water to the air conditioning units had a weak metallic fault, had corroded through forming a hole. Water was pouring out of the rupture and dumping into the engine room bilge. Quickly shut the associated seacock and this stops the water inflow. Then disassemble the fittings, find a spare union and fit it in. Open the thruhull valve, start the A/C and all is well!

The culprit…faulty union – this small hole can sink a boat.

All and all…it comes with the territory. The upside is we take care of our little fiberglass boat and it takes care of us.

More on Kota Kinabalu soon!

Grey Pearl signing off for now –

Tina, Braun & Wayne

3 thoughts on “Life at 8.5 knots in the Philippine Islands…”

  1. Great post, y’all! Always a pleasure reading about someone living the life! Sail safe and Godspeed.

  2. Have you thought about changing this fitting to a stainless steel fitting? I personally would not trust copper in a marine environment. Thank you for keeping us informed of your travels and what you encounter, both good and bad. You are also a great Nordhavn Dreamer member! It’s great that you share your knowledge and valued opinions with us Dreamers!

Comments are closed.