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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

April 21, 2004-Beating to Galera



Oh how I love a day at sea when the wind blows strong and the sea turns midnight blue and is flecked by whitecaps as far as you can see, and you sheet the sails in hard and carve a course against the wind, straight into the teeth of it, and then you feel the power a great boat driving to windward.

On Sunday we sailed up Verde Island Channel to Puerto Galera, forty four miles to windward, on a single, long, windy, rough, and intensely sunny, but glorious day of sailing. We arrived at Puerto Galera just at sunset, salt encrusted and sun burnt, tired and a trifle sore, but happy, satisfied that we had been tested by the sea and we had met the measure.

It was a great sail. I love it when a cape you worked hard to get around in the morning is left far behind in the afternoon, and then fades into gray haze, followed by three others after it.

I love it all. And no boat can do it like WINGS, she is just superb in these conditions, 25 knots of wind in the open sea, and she flies upwind, throwing aside the waves, making miles disappear astern. If only there was another boat out here with us so we could astonish them with our performance.

But there wasn't, it was only our boat and us, the blue sky the sea, the spray, and the cloud capped mountains on the islands we passed.

This kind of a day doesn't come exactly easy. The wind was strong and we had to reef, and there was a lot of tacking and some of the waves we knocked aside blew back onto us and we got drenched. Just moving about on the boat was difficult; we put on safety harnesses.

Since we needed to go fast, we worked the boat hard too, and that wasn't easy either. Without the full power of the main it was hard to keep the speed up in the lulls, and we had a worse time getting the speed back after the tacks. It took ten minutes after each tack to get the boat dialed in.

To make our forty-four miles we'd had to get up early, and we'd have to sail all day long. Almost too long. It was a tough beat, tough as they come, with winds in the high twenties and a big chop, and we did it dawn 'til dusk, endless tacks, endless grinding in of the jib, setting the runners, adjusting the windvane. We worked hard, tacking on every shift, watching every shade of the sea to find the best wind, the smallest waves, the right course to the mark. Then there were the lulls. At times the wind dropped to 15 or less, and the leftover waves just about stopped us. We tracked our speed towards the mark, (VMG) and calculated when we would arrive. Five o'clock was looking iffy; we shook out the reef, and it got better. The boat powered up quicker, pointed higher. The VMG improved.

Then in the afternoon the wind got back up to near thirty, (thirty six over the deck) and we had to put the reef back in. The waves got bigger than ever and Judy's back was starting to hurt; we got depressed. Judy cried in frustration that maybe we couldn't do this any more, maybe we wouldn't make it to Galera by dark. Then what? Go in after dark? We didn't relish the thought. Judy took a pain pill, and we both just sucked it up and got back to work.

The wind saved us, it shifted NE at just the right time giving us a big lift, right up the track. The VMG climbed into the sixes, and we sailed just parallel to the shore for once, instead of getting knocked as we closed to it and having to tack out again. We got better at dialing in the boat after the tacks, found the right settings for the jib, the traveler, the wind vane. The boat sailed higher, faster, and carried the speed through the lulls.

At four o'clock in the afternoon we reached the shelter of Minolo Point, and while the wind stayed in the high twenties the sea went completely flat. We tacked one last time and caught another big lift up the shore. More our speed climbed; still we pointed higher. We took over steering from the windvane and gloried in the conditions, hitting seven knots and pointing like bandits, coasting up in the puffs, carving even higher.

We reached Puerto Galera just before sunset, and made the channel in daylight. A friendly voice on the radio, Russ, from KARIS, talked us past the reef. Just before darkness fell completely, we picked up a yacht club mooring and rested.

A great day, all in all, wouldn't have missed it.

After an hour's rest and a shower, we went in to the yacht club and had a great steak dinner, some wine, and plenty of good Philippine rum. Sleeping was easy that night.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puerto Galera

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Friday, April 16, 2004

April 16, 2004-Apo Reef

April 16, 2004

Cruising the Philippines has variety.

Tonight we are anchored at Apo Reef. Apo Reef is one of those places where it seems like you just anchor in the middle of the ocean with nothing at all around you, just ocean in all directions, a flat horizon, but the water is shallow because it is a coral reef, totally submerged, and you can't see it, but it is there. It is a strange sensation to stop in the middle of an ocean (in this case, the Sulu Sea) and drop the anchor in 60 ft of water. The reef around us breaks the swell, so it is calm, still, it makes us nervous to be anchored with no visible protection, no harbor, but Apo Reef is known for great diving, lots of colorful coral, and fantastic fish life. That is one reason why we are here. Tomorrow we'll try some snorkeling and see for ourselves.

We last left you when we were in Port Bonbonon. Bonbonon, with its fine harbor and interesting expat community, was great, and we loved every minute of our stay there, from the walk among the rice paddies, Water Buffaloes, and clacking and creaking stands of bamboo swaying in the wind to our ride to town of Dumagete on the Habbel Habbel. These Habbel Habbel's are standard 175cc motor bikes with a home-made seat extension, extra rear springs, and a platform on which passengers put their feet (to keep them out of the rear spokes, I guess). You have to ride a Habbel Habbel because no other form of taxi will pick you up or drop you off out at remote Port Bonbonon, with its rough and twisting dirt road. They can carry just about anything on a Habbel Habbel, including all your shopping bags, and even 4x8 sheets of plywood.

Dumagete is also a nice little city by the sea, with a pleasant Malecon, good shopping, and fine restaurants. We ate lunch in a Mexican place there called Coco Amigas and drank tequila shooters at noon. But we needed to leave Bonbonon, we wanted to move towards Manila, where we will meet Carol in May, plus, there was a typhoon prowling about, Sudal, and we didn't want it to catch us in Bonbonon and keep us tied down for another week, so in Dumagete we shopped for needed provisions, and then we readied the boat for a passage across the Sulu Sea, and a week ago Tuesday, we left Port Bonbonon bound for Coron, on Busuanga Island, sailing off the anchor and gibing out the "S" shaped channel under mainsail at 8:00 AM. By 10 AM that morning we were heading west across the Sulu Sea with classical music on the stereo, and the morning was filled with the joy of going to sea on a nice day.

For two days and two nights we sailed to the northwest, bypassing every stop along the way, going directly from Bonbonon to Busuanga, to make sure we got there ahead of Sudal.

Both nights the wind blew sweetly, and we reached under a moonlit sky across the flat inland seas. During the days we had to motor, but still, it was a nice passage.

When we reached Busuanga Island we anchored off Coron Town in a wide bay surrounded by tall mountains, and we watched the weather maps to see if the typhoon would come our way, in which case we would have moved to nearby Port Uson, for better protection, but it didn't; Sudal turned north and bypassed the Philippines.

The Philippines seems filled with nice little towns, and Coron is yet another. It is nestled along the water below tall hills, and much of it is built on stilts over the water. There is a market, back-packer hotels, shops, and internet cafes. A family from Seattle has a very nice resort there, called Sea-Dive, also built over the water, and we ate meals there, drank Philippine beer and rum there, and watched CNN on satellite TV. Some British friends, Peter and Katherine, on the yacht Kokiri, showed up, surprising us with a radio call one morning, "Wings, Wings, this is Kokiri!", and we had a nice reunion with them.

Now we have left Coron and arrived at Apo Reef, and after a day or two of snorkeling, we'll move some more, still on the way to Manila.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, The Philippines
12 deg 41 min N, 120 deg 26 min E

We had a photo, but there is nowhere here where we can send it.

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