December 28, 2005-Passage to The Philippines
We are back in The Philippines, to the bright colors of the banca fishing boats and the heavily forested hillsides, to the chrome plated jeepney busses and tricycle taxi cabs, and the endless sound of boats with lawn mower engines. The putt putt putt of these un-muffled engines can be heard anywhere there is water, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some people would complain about the sound of so many lawn mowers, but to us, it means "The Philippines"
Our crossing from Hong Kong, just 490 miles, was a bit rough. Actually, our heading was a close reach and it was wet and bumpy for two days, but no problem, then for the next 20 hours it was the roughest ocean we've ever sailed in. This is not an exaggeration; the roughest ever! We had 45 knots of wind and mountainous waves. It was all unexpected; the weather forecasts when we left Hong Kong, and the ones we picked up underway, were all predicting mild conditions and they provided no clue that we were in for a bashing.
But Judy figured it out. On Sunday afternoon (Christmas Day) we were actually having some good sailing. The winds were down from the 25 we had been having to 18; the waves were not too bad, things were good. We ate some stew, I had a beer.
But Judy was looking at the sky. She said, "I don't think we're through with the wind."
Boy was she right; by sundown we had triple reefed the main and struck the jib. It was blowing 30+. By eight o'clock: 45! The waves were huge. Big breakers hit the boat like buses, heavy water crashed into the deck, dodger, and cockpit. Dropping off the waves sounded like landing on concrete. We stopped sailing and hove too. A Korean Ship passed closely by and talked to us on the radio, "Are you OK out here tonight in these conditions in such a small boat?"
I answered, "Well my friend, going to sea is never safe, but we're OK".
We chatted for a few moments, and then they sailed on.
I wasn't so sure about what I'd told him. Were we OK?
For one thing, we busted the wind vane. All the bashing and slamming, even while we were hove too, was just too much and the leg just shattered. Hanging by the safety ropes it began to slam into the stern of our boat. I went back aft, hanging over the stern on the end of my safety tether, swept continuously by waves, and brought the pieces on board. It was definitely not fixable and that was devastating news. We still had a long way to sail and WINGS is not easy to steer for long distances with its racing tiller, the electric autopilot definitely wasn't going to handle these conditions either. We lashed down the tiller and considered what next.
Next was a job on the foredeck. Our jib lashings broke and I had to go forward and re-secure it. This actually happened three times until I had it tied down with so many ropes I didn't know if I'd ever get it untied again. Judy wondered why we didn't just take it below. Good question. But we didn't.
With the weather like this, and not knowing how long it would last, we decided that we'd give up on Vigan, our planned port of call, and divert to Bolinao. It was too rough to continue a close reach. Going to Bolinao the sailing angle would be better and we would have a better chance of fixing the windvane there. It was 115 miles away and Vigan was only 79, but never mind.
At dawn we turned downwind and, steering by hand, headed for Bolinao. Sorry we don't have any photos, but neither Judy nor I were willing to risk our cameras in that whiteout; there was saltwater everywhere. Under triple reef main alone we were doing sevens and above. Steering was hard work, but doable. Could I hold out for 115 miles? Could Judy steer? Maybe.
Well, to we didn't have too. By noon the wind had dropped as suddenly as it came up and we were back to 25's and 30. It seemed like a blessing. After a while I put on the autopilot, which handled it OK, and we sailed into Bolinao, no problem.
Tonight we are in a mill pond anchorage, sipping champagne and listening to the sound of putt putt fishing boats. We made it through another eventful crossing, and our wonderful WINGS got us in safe and sound.
Such is cruising.
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Hong Kong
This news letter was posted by sailmail via the HF Radio. Sorry no photos at this time, Check the blog later.
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