Busuanga Is to Puerto Princesa

This portion of the journey (pushpins)

Our stay in Busuanga Island was filled with fun and meeting new friends.  It was one of those rare places that we really did not want to leave, but we needed to move on if we were to visit all of the places we needed to before settling in at Singapore for the summer.

We were still trying to avoid night travel on Seabird because of the amount and size of the debris in the water as well as other floating objects in the area, so our first stop was to be a small harbor on Linapacan Island.  It was 64 Nautical miles and was not the one recommended by some of the sailors that we had contacted.  Many times, the prettiest bays are not the best ones for boats like us who are just looking for an anchorage overnight with the ability to leave in the dark for our next destination.  Leaving in the dark from a strange harbor means:  No obstacles easily hit, no rocks in the way and a clear path to follow with our “bread crumbs”.  I should explain.  Both Grey Pearl and Seabird use a navigation system called Nobeltec, which is a PC based system that is interfaced with our autopilots, GPS and AIS systems.  One of the more valuable features is the “bread crumbs” feature, which, when activated, tracks you into the harbor using several  actual GPS coordinates and leaving a clear path labeled on the electronic charts which is easy to follow in the dark, fog or heavy storms.

Getting in the harbor was fairly easy, but we had to go slow as the charts showed shoaling and the binoculars showed even more!  We squeezed through the opening to the secondary harbor and found a nice muddy bottom to set the anchor in.  Mud is great holding for us but pulling the anchor up in the morning is a pain because your chain is caked with the sticky stuff.  On Seabird, we are fortunate to have an anchor chain washer, which is driven by our hydraulic system and pumps 180 gallons per minute of seawater through a large nozzle in the bow of the boat and directly at the chain.  It is actually quite efficient and we generally end up with just a slightly dirty chain.

You really don’t want to be in front of this

The next morning we left for part two of our journey to another small anchorage called Flat Island.  One of the issues in choosing this anchorage was that it was over 100 miles and, even leaving in the dark, it was questionable as to whether we would make it there before dark and the area around Flat Island was riddled with reefs, shallow water and unreliable charts to boot.  There WAS as faster way to get there, cutting 10 miles off of the trip, but it involved going through some narrow passes with lots of shallow areas.  We were assured by friends that it was doable so we elected to take that route.  As it turned out, the passes were not all that bad, but we came across an unexpected obstacle (or obstacles):  Pearl farms.  Pearl farming is a HUGE industry in the Philippines and they are usually run by the Japanese, who guard the farms very closely, as you might imagine.  While traveling to the narrow passages between Dumaran Island and Palawan,

Narrow passage with Pearl Farms

we ran into a giant of a pearl farm, which blocked the entire passage.  From a distance, it looked like there were pearl buoys about every 15 feet with large lines attached to them.

Pearl Farm buoys (black colored)

We were very close to the black balls before we spotted them and had to “slam on the brakes”.  Grey Pearl and Seabird both assessed the situation and could not see a way to continue on.  The problem was that we had wasted valuable time going in this direction and it was too late to go around Dumaran Island and get to Flat Island before dark.  Since there were no other anchorage options available, we decided to press on and see if there was indeed a way through the maze.  When we got to the farms, it turned out that the pattern of black buoys were less random than we first thought. Do not misunderstand that statement.  They were VERY close together,  in lines with about 30 feet between the lines of buoys.  We crawled along very slowly parallel to each row, under the watchful eye of one of the “farm managers” in a small boat.  One of the next problems we encountered was that the “alleyways”  were not exactly parallel to the deep water courses that we had plotted and we ended up in some very skinny water and at times, barely missed going aground.

Grey Pearl had a great idea.  Talk to the “farm manager” and see if he could lead us through.  He did not speak any English, but we are by now accustomed to hand gestures and butchered language (and smiles).  To our amazement, he waved us along and led us through the rest of the maze!

Pearl Farm Manager

After about an hour and a half, we were clear of the buoys, thanks to our new friend.  We waved goodbye as he did and were once again up to cruising speed.  The problem was that we had lost a bit of time.  We decided that if we were going to make it to Flat Island before dark, we needed the current with us.  Lucky us…… we had it with us for the rest of the way and arrived at Flat Island shortly before a beautiful sunset and a peaceful night’s sleep on the hook.

The passage to Puerto Princesa was just about perfect.  It was about 55 miles of calm, blue water.  About halfway there, Carol thought that she had spotted a whale.  We had seen lots of them in Alaska and knew the look of the spouting water very well.  Something was wrong though.  We noticed that wherever we saw the spouts, there were small Bangka boats nearby.  It took a few minutes, but we then realized what was happening.  It is called dynamite fishing.  The fishermen lower a stick of dynamite into the water with a delayed fuse on it, move aside and wait for the blast.  The underwater explosion kills everything living within; I am assuming, a one hundred foot radius or more.  The dead fish float to the surface and are collected by the fisherman.  Worse than that, they sometimes poison the fish with small amounts of Cyanide in the water.  Yuk….I stuck to Hamburgers while in those islands.  Unfortunately, the dynamiting practice also kills coral and it was evident on several of the dives we did while in the Philippines.

I didn’t take this photo, but you get the picture

Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa, located on the island of Palawan, is the largest city in the southern Philippines.  Like the rest of the Philippines, it has a long history and played a bloody part in World War II where the Japanese,  trying to prevent the rescue of the advancing allied forces, herded 150 prisoners into a covered ditch,  poured gasoline on them and burned them alive.  Visiting here today, you would never know that there was ever a conflict at all.

Our arrival here was fairly simple and well charted.  We were told that upon arrival, we should contact John and Sissy, the owners of the Abanico Yacht Club, located at the far end of the harbor.  We contacted them by phone and radio and they dispatched a small outboard to meet us at the town pier, where they escorted us to the anchorage off of the club.

Puerto Princesa pier and Abanico Yacht Club

Don’t let the looks of the club deceive you.  There was a lot of friendship and happiness there.  John and Sissy (his wife who is a local Filipino) built and started the club may years ago to teach the local children how to sail.  It is now a local watering hole for cruisers who stop (notably us) here and they have a restaurant and bar on premises as well as a wealth of information about the area.

As always, we needed restaurants, grocery stores and touring.  The only mode of transportation for us boaters is the Trike, which I spoke about earlier.  The difference here in Puerto Princesa is that they are the dominant vehicle.  They are everywhere, bumper to bumper (if they had them), loud and pollute like crazy, especially in the cab portion. Carol and I barely squeezed in the little sidecar seat and we are not exactly huge people.  We had as many as four crammed in on one trip.  The good news is that 50 cents gets you a long ride(the bad news is that my chiropractor will cost hundreds). Also on the first ride we took, a local woman sqeezed in with us and the first thing she did was do a short prayer and did the sign of the cross, I am not kidding!!  Carol and I looked at each other and almost jumped out!

We had been reading about the Underground River long before we arrived here.  It is a very hot tourist spot and sounded like a lot of fun. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 kilometers north of the city of Puerto Princesa.  Until 2007, it was considered, at 8.2 miles of navigable river, to be the longest in the world. The river is basically a long, skinny cavern at water level that goes into the side of the mountain .

The trip to get there  was a two hour ride in a cramped minivan, but seemed just cavernous compared to the Trikes we rode in.  We arrived to a pleasant surprise:  A pretty park loaded with tourists and resorts. After several hours of waiting, we boarded an outrigger boat, and arrived a short time later at the beach where the caves were located.

After another long wait, we boarded a small skiff with a guide and entered the caves.

Cave Entrance

The cave was dark and loaded with stalagmites, stalactites, colonies of bats and these amazing small birds that navigate with a sort of sonar in the complete darkness.  They make this odd chirping sound (called Echolocation) as they fly through the caves at a high rate of speed, catching insects as they dart through. You should also remember this bird the next time you order Birds Nest Soup in a Chinese restaurant.  The main ingredient is the nest of this bird, which is made almost entirely of their saliva.

 Thanks also to Braun, aka Lightboy,  for volunteering to sit in the front of the boat to hold the torch as we meandered our way through the cave.

Braun carrying the torch

Talking about looking foolish, I was unfortunate enough to have a birthday while with this group.  I was forced to wear the infamous Birthday Hat while out to dinner and suffered many humiliations with the insults that I received, and one gift which was north of the xxx rating, and cannot be shown here in this family oriented blog!

Well, so much for Puerto Princesa.  We enjoyed it here but after a while, it was time to go.  Our next major stop:  Kota Kinabalu, Borneo.

Other photos of PP:

National Pastime

Our Cave Crew

Homes along the Puerto Princesa shoreline



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