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Friday, February 10, 2006

Febuary 11, 2006-Last Boat from Batangas

Arriving at Nightfall

I sat outside as darkness enveloped Puerto Galera and watched the last boat from Batangas come in from the Verde Island Passage and cross the bay to the pier. The banca’s navigation light was a golden dot moving in the fading light and I watched it slow as it approached the pier. I was sitting there drinking my rum and listening to Cat Power on the speakers and I thought about the passengers on that big native boat, those souls I couldn’t see in the darkness and distance but who must have been feeling thankful that they were in, having just experienced a tense and rough crossing.

More than rough, it had to have been unsettling out there in the gathering darkness with the grey seas and fading light, listening to the engine surge in the swells and hearing the crack of the bamboo outriggers as they smacked into the waves. One of the guys at the yacht club bar said that they lose one or two of these boats each year, and I am sure most of those passengers have heard the stories too.

Inside the banca

I took the trip across the passage to Batangas myself a few times in recent days, since the wind has kicked up, and these bancas, which are just a big plywood canoes with a diesel engine and flimsy outriggers to keep them upright, are a bit scary as they plow through the crossing seas and the leeward outrigger buries itself in a trough and the whole boat shakes and swerves off course Looking aft you can see the captain grimace as he tries to cope with the conditions when a bad one hits, and looking forward you can see the right hand of the bow lookout signaling “down, down, slow down!” as he scans the seas ahead.


You hope it isn’t your time yet: You say, “God, just get me into the harbor just this one more time.”

Then the banca roars through the entrance channel and into calm waters of Puerto Galera, and you are relieved and you relax a little and you don’t think about the next trip you know you will be taking, maybe tomorrow; you are just happy to be in and you are thinking about getting home and what’s going to be cooking for dinner tonight.


I admire the bancas. Yes, they are plywood and bamboo, and they are held together with monofilament fishing line, but they are highly evolved craft, well suited for the conditions. Take the Verde Island Passage for example. When the banca hits the rough water out there the narrow hull cuts cleanly and efficiently through the waves, and those flimsy-looking bamboo outriggers act like independent suspension systems, flexing and working in the heavy seas, as they keep the main hull upright. The one banca I like to ride often carries 100 passengers, has a crew of about eight, twin engines, and they make six crossings a day, starting before daylight each morning. That’s pretty good for a modified dugout canoe. When they arrive in port the horns are blowing and the shore crew mobilizes to tie them and get the passengers off like the workers at any airport.

Disembarking at Sabang Beach


I talked to an Aussie guy named Tony today who had his own close call with the Verde Island Passage. He set out on his 50’ power boat with is wife and one crew member, headed for Apo Reef for some diving, and 40 miles down the Passage his engine quit.

There isn’t much down there but ocean and waves and rocky shores. No towns.

He had cell phone coverage though and when the engine quit he called the Philippine Coast Guard and a few of his friends; then he passed out of range. It took five days for the coast guard to find him and get a cutter along side, and then tow him back to port. He was getting closer to Viet Nam than he was to the Philippines. He just had a broken down engine, but if his boat had been taking on water…well, I guess we can figure out the probable outcome.

As for me, I am just glad to be sitting on Wings tonight drinking my rum. We moved across the bay to the shelter of the hill where it is calm, rather than over on the lee shore at Boquette, where we spent the last few nights in the bucking roadstead listening to the wind howl. When the moorings are full in Puerto Galera most people anchor in Boquette, but when it is windy it is unpleasant there. Here, it is calmer, and very nice. Being here rather than Boquette so improves my attitude that it makes our whole stay in Puerto Galera that much better.

In this little cove we are surrounded by islands with their jungle covered hills, can only see a few villages across they way, and the place has a very natural feeling. Off to the left the mountain of Mindoro, with its’ permanent cap of angry gray clouds, stands guard over the surrounding countryside. It reminds us how small we are…and how small humans are in the overall scheme of things. .

Tomorrow we’ll take the dingy back to Boquette and pick up our laundry, which we left with a guy named Jun, who lives there, and whose wife will wash and dry and fold it for 50 Pesos a kilo. We’ll take the dingy over and we’ll expect to get wet. Since I’ll be wet anyhow, maybe I’ll do some windsurfing while I am there; Boguette’s exposed beach is good for that at least. Then we have to go to the yacht club and check to see if the new propeller for the dingy is in, and check at FedEx for our mail package. And after we put some water on board, we’ll be ready to go to Borocay.



Oh, we’ll go to Bad Ladz restaurant for burritos tomorrow night.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puerto Galera

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