Friday, November 25, 2016

Renewing Your Passport in Faraway Places

My passport is still good for about 5 more months, and Dave's is good for almost 18 months. However, Indonesia (and many other countries) require that you have at least 6 months validity on your passport before they will issue you a visa. Since we will want to get a Social Visa (2 months extendable to 6 months) for our next visit to Indonesia, I need to get my passport renewed.

We had renewed Dave's passport in Colombia in 2008, and it was a fairly painless process. See our blog post on this here:

US Passport Renewal in Colombia

We looked at doing it in Palau, but they wouldn't promise better than a 4-6 week turnaround time on it. And my trip to India in October came exactly in the middle of our time in Palau--not quite enough time to get it done before the trip to India, and not quite enough time after. I didn't want us stuck in Palau with a typhoon bearing down on us, waiting for my passport to come back. Unlike the renewal in Colombia, apparently they now want you to surrender your existing passport when you apply for renewal.

After researching doing it in the Philippines, it seemed it would be easier there. Especially since we planned to spend at least 3 months "in country".

The only kicker is that there is no US Consulate in Davao. I think there was one some time ago, but with the rebel activity in Mindanao, and kidnappings and bombings (going on since the 1990's), the US shut down all government services in Davao. But the US Embassy in Manila has a very clear writeup on doing your renewal by mail.

It seemed simple... get your picture taken, get a money order, send it off, they send it back. Ha! It turned out not to be that simple.

The first problem is transportation to get from our fairly remote marina into the big city of Davao. It's even harder than you might expect from the marina--it's about an hour trip each way (marina shuttle bus then ferry then taxi or jeepney). It's not expensive...If you take a taxi, the entire cost is only about $2-3 USD. If you take a jeepney, it's only about 15-30 CENTS. So it's not the expense, but the time it takes that's the hassle. The first marina shuttle you can take will get you into town about 9:30, and the last marina shuttle returns at 3:30, meaning you need to leave town about 2:45pm.

Jeepneys in Davao

We got our pictures taken at the "passport photo" place around the corner from Immigration in Davao. It cost $2 while-you-wait for 4 photos each for 2 of us. (After re-reading the writeup about our experience in Colombia, I just hope this photo is "good enough"!)

The next step--not in the US Embassy writeup, but necessary in our case--was to make sure we were good on our Philippine visas before we shipped off our passports. We only get 30 days on entry, with an easy, but costly (at $75 per passport) renewal for another 29 days. We had done that before on our last visit to the PI, so it was no big deal for me to do it. It did take a little explaining as to why we were trying to renew passports with 5 months and 18 months left on them, but they "got it" pretty quickly. We are now good on Philippine visas through 12 January 2017.


The third step was to arrange for payment of the $110 fee for each passport. It's just CRAZY that the US GOVERNMENT of all people, can't figure out how to take a credit card online, in payment for a passport renewal. The only two ways for us to do is to (a) have someone pay in person at the US Embassy in cash or (b) send a "US Dollar Demand Draft" for the $110 cost of the passport renewal. This is essentially just a "cashier's check" or "bank check" as we call them in the US, in US Dollars. Seems simple, especially since the Embassy named the banks that would cooperate. However, this proved MUCH harder than it sounds.

The Embassy names 3 banks that it will accept "Demand Drafts" from. One, BPI, I was very familiar with, because it's the only bank with an ATM I could do ATM withdrawals from for over $200. I had BPI ATM's and bank locations bookmarked all over my Davao map. So I went into the nearest BPI branch, and asked to get a "US Dollar Demand Draft". The head service person told me "we don't have any of them" and to go to another branch. I asked her politely to call around and confirm where I might go to make sure that branch had one. It took 15 minutes, lots of internal discussion, and several phone calls to find a nearby branch that had demand drafts. I confirmed I knew where it was (map on cell phone) and thanked the bank officer. I hopped on a jeepney going the correct way, down to the next BPI branch. I went into the branch and asked for a US Dollar Demand Draft. They immediately asked me if I had an account at BPI, to which I replied "no". And they said "We can only do Demand Drafts for our customers." WHY didn't someone tell me at the last branch??


So I went back to the mall where I had just been shopping (SM Lanang), and stopped in at the BDO Bank there. After a short wait trying to figure out which person to talk to, I got to the right desk, and woo-hoo!! they would do a demand draft for me, even though I wasn't a current customer. So I filled out the paperwork for two demand drafts, and the lady asked me for $220 in US Dollars. Whaaat? They wouldn't take the piles of pesos I had just gotten out of their ATM. Their desk had "Exchange Money" as one of their services... but no, they would only exchange money for travel, and only for customers. They told me to go into central Davao to the money changers there to get dollars. It was also 11:45, they we closing for lunch, and I was frustrated, hot, and tired. We had plenty of USD on the boat--it had never occurred to me that a BANK would not take pesos for the Demand Draft. Since it was a 2 hr round trip to get it, I headed for the 1:30pm marina shuttle, and said "Mañana."

So now on Day 3 of my Quest, I go to the BDO bank at 10:15 (mall doesn't open until 10am). I have my passports, the Embassy writeup, $220 USD, the bank forms I'd filled out the day before, and a smile. I knew exactly where to go and what to do (or so I thought). My first inkling that it might not be a slam-dunk was when the girl that had served me the day before ducked under the table when I entered, and passed me off to her co-worker to handle. Fortunately, it wasn't impossible, just time-consuming. Almost 2 hours later, I FINALLY had two US Dollar Demand Drafts made out to the US Embassy Manila for $110 USD each. It cost $5 USD (and HAD to be USD) plus 8.25 pesos for each one. The girl was very nice, but she was totally inexperienced, and doing these bank check is apparently a big deal, so every step had to be checked and double-checked with a superior.


The next step was to find the courier company that the Embassy says to use. The "FedEx" of the Philippines appears to be a company called LBC. There are LBC offices almost on every street corner, and in every mall. It would have been so simple to use LBC to courier our documents to the Embassy and back. However, the US Embassy is using a contracted courier that barely has a presence in Davao... Air21. The normal process is apparently to call the Manila Air21 office, and they send someone out to your house to pick up the documents. But we are in a marina an hour away from the city. So when I called the Air21 number, I suggested (insisted?) that I drop the documents off at a local branch office vs them trying to find us at the marina. I asked for a branch location in Davao "near G-Mall" (because that's one of the most prominent locations that I was familiar with in Davao, and I knew how to get there.) They gave me the name of Voyager Travel. OK, fine, I google them and see a location I can find downtown.


However, while I was waiting at the bank, I got on Air21's website and found a travel agent MUCH closer than going all the way to G-Mall. While I was wrapping up at the bank, at 11:45, I called them to (a) confirm they existed (b) confirm they were Air21 agents (c) confirm their location (d) confirm if they would be there when I finished at the bank. Unfortunately, they were closing for lunch, and wouldn't be back until "around 2pm". So I said, OK, I'll see you at 2pm.

So I cooled my heels at the mall for awhile, and had lunch at McDonalds, which happened to be right across the street from the travel agency. I showed up on their doorstep at 2:15pm. Door locked, lights out--no note on the door. I had a phone number from the website--the one I'd called earlier, but when I called it, I could hear it ringing inside with no answer. No cell phone number listed. There was an email address, which I emailed from my phone... "I am waiting at your office, when will you be back?" Surprisingly, I got an email back within about 5 minutes "I had an emergency meeting downtown, and my assistant is still at the bank." No answer, however, on when they would be back. If I wanted to make the 3:30 marina shuttle, I couldn't wait around much longer... So I emailed... "When might I expect someone to be in tomorrow?" I never did get answer to that email. Strike one Air21 agent off the list.

The next day was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a holiday in the Philippines, but we had arranged to meet some other cruisers in a restaurant to have a "Thanksgiving Dinner" at lunch. Dave was going to town for parts and things, so I went in with him, sharing a taxi to downtown. We first stopped off at the rubber stamp place to approve and pay for our new "boat stamp". Then I set off on foot to find "Voyager Travel." (I could have taken an air conditioned taxi for a dollar, but I prefer walking, to get a little exercise and to just see the sights.)

Google Maps got me pretty close, but then I ran into the usual Philippine directions problem...after 3 trips up and down the street, and asking two people who didn't have a clue, I finally noticed an alleyway leading into a rabbit warren of shops, and found my travel agency. Whew! Progress! Well.... When I said I wanted to send an Air21 courier package, the clerk, with the TV still blaring, told me that they weren't doing Air21 anymore. Whaaaat?! Apparently the owner of the travel agency was having a dispute with Air21 about rates. Shit!

Back to my smartphone... wasn't there another Air21 agent on San Pedro Street? (never mind that the terrible Air21 locator map had them located 20 miles away). I put the agency name into the Google map and indeed, they were just down the street. Located them with ease, and I was overjoyed to see "Air21" flyers on their desk as I walked in. However, after explaining what I wanted to do, and showing them the US Embassy writeup, they got on the phone to the Air21 office in Davao, to ask about it. Then they told me I had to go out to the fricken airport cargo terminal to the Air21 office there. Whaaat!!?? This is crazy!!! The Air21 office at the Cargo terminal is VERY CLOSE to where the Samal ferry comes in. It doesn't show up on the Air21 map at all. It isn't even listed on their list of branches, and in my call to the Manila office, they didn't even mention it. OK, trying to keep my cool and not strangle someone, I packed up my pile of paperwork and hopped in a taxi headed for the Cargo Terminal.

Unfortunately, I got a youngster as my taxi driver. He was enjoying being in the air conditioned taxi and listening to cool music, and didn't really care how long it took to get to the airport. Older, more experience taxi drivers know the traffic patterns, and know the back ways, and can cut a substiantial amount of time off the trip by avoiding the main streets and terrible traffic problems in Davao. It took me almost 45 minutes to get to the airport. It's 11:45 and our lunch date isn't until 12:30, and it's not far away... I can still make it. I had my taxi driver wait for me, because I wasn't sure where I'd find a taxi at the cargo terminal (this was a good move on my part).

First, I went for the front door of the prominently signposted Air21 office. Uh-oh... door locked, lights out. WTF!!??? A nearby guard told me to go around back "they're in the warehouse". So I pushed through the gate that said "Authorized Personnel Only" in 1-ft high letters, and poked around in the warehouse. Not a soul to be found. Just as I was about to explode, apparently they all came back from break. Whew! So, no problem right? I'm at the source--fill out a little paperwork, pay some money, and our passports will be in Manila tonight, right?? NOT!!

The Air21 girl told me, incredibly, that she couldn't do it for me. I had to pre-book with the central office in Manila. "You mean, call this number here?" I asked, pointing at the Embassy writeup. "Yes, that's it." "You mean, I can't just hand you my envelope and pay you some money to take it, right?" "Right." So I whip out my cell phone, and dial the number. It rings twice and then I hear music. Am I on hold? Hang up, try again. Same thing. Hang up, and look at the girl. The girl says "Maybe they are busy." Try again. It's ringing!! Finally someone answers. I explain the whole scenario (living on a boat in a marina an hour from town, wanting to simply drop my package off to save them trouble and save me the hassle of trying to explain to them where we live.) As soon as we got to the "please spell your name" part, the connection broke. Crap. Dialed again and got the error signal. Whaaat!!?? Oooh nooooo! My phone is out of "minutes". I have 3 top-up cards on the boat, but none in my backpack. Plus the battery is almost dead. NOW my helpful little assistant suggests I could use THEIR phone.

Great idea, but someone else is on a lengthy conversation on their phone. It's now noon. If I don't get going, I'm going to miss Thanksgiving lunch. I am frustrated, hot, and tired, and hungry--just barely able to keep from snapping all their silly little know-nothing Filipino heads off.

I needed a break. If what it took was a phone call, I could do it from my quiet boat, in the aircon. So I left. Manaña is another day, and I CAN do this.

My taxi driver got me to the mall on time. At the mall, I topped up the "minutes" on my phone, bought a nice bottle of red wine, met up with Dave and friends, and had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. (no turkey but lots of other fantastic stuff in the upscale Vikings international smorgasbord restaurant, BYO wine was fine with them).

Rested, revitalized, at "home" in our air conditioned cabin, the next morning, I again called the Air21 office in Manila. When I explained about living an hour out of town on Samal Island, she said "You can just go to our airport office and drop your documents off." Hahahahahaha!

I recounted my previous day's experience, and she even asked for the name of the person I had dealt with (which I had neglected to get). She took my phone number, and promised to check on the situation, and call me right back. And she did... Apparently *someone* (who was not actually clear) needs to "pre-book" this shipment with the Embassy or the Embassy's Air21 liason. So now I am waiting for a call from the Davao office of Air21 to tell me they have the paperwork ready and to come drop my documents off. But, when I asked, "When?" It's not today, maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday. Sigh... (I found out later that there are massive protests scheduled for downtown Manila today, and the Embassy was closing early. Apparently a few people are upset that they sneaked deposed dictator Marcos's body into Manila and buried him in the "Plaza of Heros") That probably means that I won't hear from anybody til Monday. So ends Week 1.

Stand by for Part 2!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Successful Haulout at Oceanview Marina

Since we had a leaky saildrive, Dave pressed the marina to get us hauled out as soon as possible. We were fortunate that the tides were right, and that a catamaran had just launched, making room in the yard for us. (Actually, we'd been conversing with the marina for about a month about wanting to get hauled out, so we were already "on the list". The saildrive issue just added urgency. It was leaking enough that if the automatic bilge pump quit working we would have water inside the boat within a few hours. Made us nervous about even taking a quick trip into town to get cleared in.

Turning the Corner on the Cradle

By the way, this was our 4th time clearing in to the Philippines in Davao, and it was an easy thing, and cheaper than before! (They have done away with the "fast track" fee which always seemed like a boondoggle to us. Perhaps because our friend Rob on Changing Spots made an ugly scene when he check in in April and challenged it). The cost at Immigration to clear in with 2 people was only 720 PHP--only $15 USD at today's exchange rates. We noticed some other changes at Immigration--the huge lines waiting for passport processing (visa renewals, etc) seems to have gone down. Either the foreigners have gone home or someone in Immigration has streamlined the process a little. The waiting room was empty by about 10am when we finished clearing in.

OK, back to the haulout. Tata, the yard foreman and primary welder, had assembled a steel cradle custom set-up for our boat. They put the cradle on a lowboy trolley, and back it down the ramp. At high tide, we bring the boat up to the ramp, over top of the trolley. Something was different this time than the last (probably cradle a little shorter)--as we came in on a 1.2m high tide, and still had 6" clearance over the cradle supports. Last time, at 1.2m, we couldn't get on the cradle, and had to pull into a slip and wait for the next day, a higher tide).

Arriving at the Cradle

So, for those coming to Oceanview to be hauled--you need a high tide, that occurs during the daytime, that is a little more than the draft of your boat. Hauling out, you want the tide in the morning. Putting back in, it is usually late in the day (sometimes, after sunset is OK, as they put you in, and you just float off as the tide comes up, and get yourself into an available slip).

One challenge we had was that Dave did NOT want to use the port engine. We are still not exactly sure WHAT is leaking, and he didn't want to throw salt water all over the engine if he didn't have to. So we dropped our dinghy in the water and had another cruiser ready to strap to the port side, and be the port engine. However, the dinghy motor starter cord broke right then. So (with high tide fast approaching) we had to scramble to get the marina launch standing by for us at the turn into the ramp area. But it turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as Dave managed the turn to starboard easily--got going with enough speed in the "fairway" and then eased back on the stbd engine and used our big rudders to make an easy turn. And Tata's guys were there at the cradle to catch us as we came in.

Dave Oversees Positioning of the Boat on the Cradle

At that point, I loaded my backpack up and took the dinghy to the dock and went up in the clubhouse to work on the computer. Dave stayed to oversee the process.

As the Tide Drops, the Guys Are there to Handle Any Issues



Once the water was down low enough that the boat was fully resting on the cradle, Tata and the guys used heavy lines to tightly strap the boat to the cradle, for the ride up the ramp.

The backhoe backs out of the ramp area, and the cradle is hooked to a large pulley system. The backhoe is positioned at the other end of the pulley system. This puts the backhoe on level ground with good traction, and provides about a 10:1 purchase on the "pull". As the boat creeps up the ramp, two guys are behind the boat with large blocks of wood, making sure that if anything happened, the cradle/trolley wouldn't roll back down the ramp. And 2-3 guys are in front, with levers, helping to move the tongue of the trolley, to steer the trolley part way around the corner. As the trolley approaches the corner turn, the pulleys are re-arranged to pull the trolley the final distance up the slope.

Just After the Turn Around the Corner

Break Time! (and Washdown)

At the top of the slope, everyone pauses for a smile and break. Here if the boat needs a scrub or a pressure wash, the guys do that.

Break Time! (and Washdown)


Then when all is ready, the backhoe hitches directly to the trolley again, and maneuvers the boat into position in the yard. Once in position, hydraulic jacks are used to lift the cradle off the trolley, and pull the trolley out.

Getting Ready to Park Us in Yard

It's a fairly labor-intensive process, but with very cheap labor (~$10-12 USD per day), and the super high cost of a proper "marine travel lift", this is a great (and typical Philippine) solution. The backhoe goes back to work next door at the construction site (building condos next to the marina), and no valuable capital is left lying around (and taking up space). The cradles are VERY strong--no flimsy jackstands here. Though we were skeptical at first, this is a topnotch haulout facility, with a very nice paved working area, a clubhouse with nice bathrooms, an "honor bar", and free wifi. And no typhoons. THAT's why we're back at Oceanview Marina.

At Rest in the Work Yard
(They'll move the trolley and the backhoe today

After 3 months of hard work in the yard earlier this year, people are wondering what else needs doing?? Well, truth be told, we spent a lot more time in January through April getting the old Soggy Paws whipped into shape for sale. We did the barest minimum we could do on the new Soggy Paws, in order to get launched in time to make the start of the Indonesia Rally. After a season of cruising, we have a couple of things that required a haulout, and a long list of small things to get done.

The biggest project is replacing the small and highly inefficient "dorm room" refrigerator with a larger, better-insulated, Frigoboat keel cooler unit. We'll have the guys here build a custom box into the port aft bunk. The space where the tiny refer is will be converted into shelving. Plus we'll add shelving in the port aft bunk, converting that space into a nice pantry next to the galley. One of the first things I said when we flew to look at then-Blue Moon was "Where the heck do they store the food for all the people this boat will sleep?". I can't believe the previous owners--a family of 5--actually cruised on this boat for as long as they did.

We are hoping the saildrive leak is just a leaky seal, and that we can get replacement parts easily here. We've got Jonathan, a local expat who works on boats, and is familiar with Yanmar saildrives, lined up to help Dave look at the problem.

We are still trying to decide whether we want to paint the waterline up about 2 inches. I hate to do it, because it means we've given up on taking some of the "stuff" off the boat. But we're at a point where neither Dave nor I are willing to do without the spares and stores we have aboard. We've made a lot of progress sorting and getting rid of stuff since April, but not enough.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Safe in the Marina

After all the wind overnight, our wind died mid-morning (as forecast). We first put up the Code Zero, and that kept us going for another hour. But we finally had to start the engine if we wanted to get in somewhere before dark. So we motorsailed on through the morning and rounded the SE tip of Mindanao, Cape San Agustin, around noon.

A Big Ship Passes Close By As We Round the Point

We still had 25 miles to go to make our chosen anchorage (one we'd stopped at before, and liked). We thought "no problem", it doesn't get dark until about 6:30, plenty of time." But then we remembered that we were now on Philippines time, and the sun sets here at 5:15pm!!!

And, once we headed north, the almost non-existent wind came up in our face. Not strong, but the wind and chop were enough to knock our speed back another half a knot, so we were now projecting an arrival shortly after dark. Hmmm... stop somewhere else or... We also realized that the wind direction was NNW--in other words, now blowing ONSHORE. That would mean there is no protection on this coast. We did consider stopping at Sigaboy Island, a few miles short of our intended destination, but we'd checked the harbor/area out on a previous visit and we didn't like it. It's a fairly busy harbor (Governor Generoso is the actual town's name) rather than the quiet fishing village we were hoping for.

Just as the sun was setting, we noticed a harbor inshore that nobody we know had ever stopped at. We had a fairly good GoogleEarth picture of it, but if we headed in there, we'd be pretty committed. We could see lots of fishing boats, and weren't sure we'd be able to find a suitable anchorage among them before it got full-on dark. So we carried on to our known anchorage...in the dark.

Fortunately, as soon as the sun set, the menacing clouds totally dissipated, and we could see that we would have a beautiful moon. The Supermoon, we found out later (closes moon pass to the Earth in the next umpteen years). We kept the mainsail up because we were down to one engine, and wanted a backup. But as soon as the sun went down, the wind went to zero, so we put the main down as the last light faded.

With Dave sitting on the foredeck in one of our deck chairs, watching for "FADs" (large styrofoam blocks anchored to the bottom to provide a fish attracter and something for the fishing boats to tie on to...they litter the inshore waters of the Gulf of Davao), as I slowly conned us along our previous track into the anchorage.

All went well and we crept slowly toward our anchor spot, watching the depths. We could see the shore and nearby objects quite clearly in the moonlight. When we reached the depth that I'd recorded on our anchor waypoint, we dropped the anchor. It was a bit tricky maneuvering at slow speed with only one engine, but I managed. By this time the chop had died, and we had a pretty quiet night. No sign of any bad guys. Just hardworking fishermen.

Our Port Engine Problem: When we started the engines in Palau, we got a "Saildrive Leak" alarm on the port engine. We didn't even know that alarm existed! Dave went to investigate and saw a dripping salt water leak coming in next to the saildrive. (The saildrive is an outboard motor-type contraption that extends from the Yanmar engine inside the hull down into the water. Saildrives are common on catamarans.) Dave judged the leak slow enough not to be a big deal. However, eventually the drip increased to a trickle and ended up increasing to the point where our Port bilge needed to be pumped every hour or it would overflow. The float switch on the port bilge pump has been inoperative since we got the boat, but it was never a priority! Since this engine arrangement is new to us, Dave wasn't sure if running the engine would make the leak worse or perhaps let salt water into the engine. So we never used the port engine on this trip.

Oceanview Marina, Home Sweet Home (for now)

The next morning (Monday Nov 14) we got up at the crack of dawn and motored the final 45 miles to the marina. We were a little worried about docking maneuvers with only one engine, so we requested an end-tie on the dock just inside the marina entrance. Dave did a great job of getting us in with no problems.

We are glad to be back--but missing the many cruising friends who have shared this marina with us, but who have moved on in one direction or another.

Our current plans are to stay here until early February, doing maintenance work. And we already have one or two trips planned (by plane and/or by motorcycle) around the Philippines. (A diving trip to Coron Bay / World War II wrecks is planned for early December).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Land Ho Philippines!

After a fast and beautiful moonlit sail, slightly off the wind and with the current with us, we made great time.

An Easy Passage

We normally put one reef in the main at sunset, which pretty much sets us up to handle any normal squally conditions, with whoever is on watch. But last night was so nice, and the wind so light, that we didn't reef the main at sunset. But by 11:30pm, the wind had risen to 15-16 knots, so I woke Dave up. We put a reef in the main, and a reef in the jib, and were still doing over 8 knots! Just before we reefed, we clocked 9.5 knots!! In the early morning hours, the wind died off a little and Dave unfurled the jib. Then as soon as I got up, we shook the reef out of the main.

The only thing that marred the beautiful sail was having to watch for fishing boats and unlit FADs. We saw a number of white lights out there, passing through the fishing grounds, but never got close enough to see exactly what it was. I tried, but could not pick them up on radar, so most were probably the large wooden trimaran-like "mother ships". These carry a stack of smaller single-person fishing boats. They go offshore for a week or two at a time. We have seen FADs up to 200 miles offshore! We did NOT see any unlit FADS overnight, though we did see one yesterday. It was a big rusty cylinder (something like a large industrial sized propane storage tank). A collision with something like that would have been disastrous as we were smoking along at 8-8.5 knots.

Our Code Zero Sail (Light Roller Furler)

We are now (10am local) 20 miles from San Agustin, with an ETA around 1pm Palau time. This is the SE-most point of Mindanao. We've got sunny skies and the wind has dropped off to about 6-7 knots. We put up the Code Zero, our light air roller-furling sail, and are "drifting" along, making about 4.5 knots through the water and 6-7 over the bottom. A newly-discovered feature of our integrated Raymarine instrument package is the ability to have the autopilot track the relative wind, which is much easier to manage keeping our speed up. (Trim the sails for one relative wind and let it fly).

Dave's Home-Made "Prodder"

We plan to round Cape San Agustin and then hustle along the west coast of the peninsula to anchor in a place we have stopped before. We'll get there just before dark and plan to leave at the crack of dawn to go the final 40 miles into the marina, Monday afternoon.

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At 11/12/2016 11:45 PM (utc) our position was 06°30.35'N 126°37.66'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

On Passage Again - Palau to Philippines

We are (so far... knock, knock, knock) having a great passage.

November is "transition season" where the summer monsoon transitions back to the winter northeast trades. It's this seasonal wind shift that makes the triangle we are about to complete--Davao to Raja Ampat to Palau and back to Davao--such an easy run, if you time it right.

November and December is also the time of year where the budding typhoons that normally sweep NW into the northern Philippines and Taiwan and Japan, sometimes get depressed by cold fronts and plow right through Palau, and into the middle Philippines. Instead of being a pretty safe season for hanging in Palau, and passaging westward to the Philippines, this can be a fairly hazardous time of year. We've had a series of developing lows marching west from the western Marshall Islands for the last month.

The November 1 Satellite Picture
(Red=Heavy Rain/Convection)

Our friends on Mystic Rhthms made the dash from Palau to the northern Philippines about 10 days ago, and we agreed to be their "eye in the sky" during their passage. About the only weather you can't get by Sailmail is a good satellite picture. But in the tropics, the satellite picture IS the weather. We had helped them find a weather window that would be able to sail most of the way. I was using the marvelous FastSeas.com website to check on the trip weather for about a week before we saw a likely window coming up. But we were so focused on the wind aspect that we forgot to pay attention to the "unsettled weather" aspect. Mystic Rhythms had wind all right...

Halfway through their 5-6 day passage the satellite picture was so convective that you almost couldn't see the ocean underneath the squally looking clouds. Richard said they had squalls almost the whole trip, with gusts to 40 knots. But they didn't have to motor!!

One of the old hands at the Bottom Time Bar at Sam's Tours in Palau was looking over my shoulder at the satellite picture and said "We're going to have a typhoon soon." And he was right--a day or so later, one of the passing Lows spun up into a full blown typhoon. Even though it passed well north of Palau, it brought some terrible weather for a week or so. The only direction that the protected Sam's Tour's mooring field ISN'T protected is from the southwest. This typhoon dragged a long monsoon trough behind it that brought 30-40 knot squalls from the SW for several days. Fortunately, we'd decided to go out for a last trip into the Rock Islands, so we were in a protected hurricane hole when the worst of it came through.

Anyway, we had decided several months before that we'd start looking for a weather window to head back to Samal around the 1st of November. The historical data (OpenCPN Climatology plugin) showed a good chance of NE winds after about the 10th of November. So we watched and waited, and as soon as the typhoon cleared away to the north of us, we decided to go. But wait... another Low popped up between Mindanao and Palau...hmm... which way was it going and was it going to develop??

Bottom line was, it looked like the Low was going to inch northward, and NOT develop. If we got going, we could scoot south of it and avoid the worst of the squally weather. We delayed our departure a day to let it drift a little north, and to let the big seas kicked up by the passing typhoon subside. And then we left...

With all that said... the unsettled weather season, more Lows building into typhoons behind us, etc etc, we have had a GREAT passage. We left with SW winds (which would be right on our nose), but the FastSeas.com weather routing algorithm routed us NW out of Palau, to go up and over an adverse current stream, and then had us motor through the light air in the wake of the Low, and after that it would be smooth sailing. And that's exactly what happened. The first day we tacked once to avoid a squally looking bunch of clouds, but after that we've had sunny skies and smooth sailing. We motored about 7 hrs in light headwinds, and then right on schedule, the wind switched to the NW and we could sail again. We have had one light sprinkle of rain that lasted just long enough to close down all the hatches, but no squally weather.

We are now smoking along with wind aft of the beam, and a 1-knot following current.

Our new Soggy Paws loves to sail in light winds. We've had nothing over 15 knots, and most of it has been in the 10-12 knot range. She's fast and comfortable on just about any point of sail.
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At 11/12/2016 11:45 PM (utc) our position was 06°30.35'N 126°37.66'E

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Yes, Still Alive

Dennis, Bryan, Lee... and the rest of you lurkers... this one's for you...

Whoa, has it really been 3 months since my last blog post??

Well, there's really no excuse for letting it go that long. However, I do have my excuses!

(1) In Palau, the internet is sketchy. Some days it works great and some days I spend 2 precious computer hours just trying to get connected. As a semi-expert in computers, it was a totally frustrating experience. Usually I can figure out the system after awhile. But in Palau I never did. Why on some days, I get an immediate connection, good login, and good internet speed, and the next day, I spend 2 hrs just trying to get logged in. Anyway, I spent a lot of potential "make a new blog post" hours spinning my wheels in Palau. And there's no such thing as free internet in Palau. The best deal is to buy $10 10-hour internet cards in bulk, 20 at a time, and get the $10 cards for $8. I'd go thru a 10 hr card every 2-3 days. Meaning I was spending about $80/mo for crappy internet. The alternative is cellular data from the one cell phone provider. This is new in Palau since we were last there in 2014. They claim 3G, but my phone never reported more than a 2G connection. The sim card would work in my cell data hotspot (but then my phone wouldn't work). But data costs $45 for 1GB. In Mala.ysia, Philippines, and Indonesia, the same 1Gb would cost only $10-15. In the Philippines, you can get 30-day "unlimited" for 30 days 3G/4G for about $25.

(2) My second excuse is that I manage a huge amount of financial stuff online... including 3 rental properties, 3 mortgages, 3-4 bank accounts, 3-4 credit cards, and several investment accounts. Plus I'm responsible for all the insurance (3 houses, boat, car, health, DAN, etc). It's nearly a full time job just keeping up with this kind of stuff. Especially in light of #1.

(3) My 3rd excuse is keeping our website and our Compendiums up to date. We have been dribbling compendia of cruising information behind us since Ecuador. I now have a Compendium for: Ecuador, Marquesas, Tuatmotus, Societies, Cooks & Samoas, Tonga, Fiji, Fiji-to-Marshalls, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Indian Ocean Crossing. These run from 100 to 300 pages long, and are packed full of timely cruising information. For the most part, there are no "guide books" out here. Fortunately, people crossing the Pacific this year have been emailing updates, so I've been updating and republishing the old Compendiums every few months. For areas we have NOT yet been, I've been spending countless hours researching for when we do go there. This is a labor of love, so I'm not complaining. But it IS time consuming. (If you don't know what a Compendium is, see http://svsoggypaws.com/files )

(4) Another big time consumer in the last few months has been doing "boat projects". We are still whipping the new Soggy Paws into shape. Some of that has been various canvas projects. Some has been researching and learning the new systems on Soggy Paws, including finding manuals and troubleshooting guides, ordering spares and new gadgets, as well as making sure we understand how the existing systems work. In Palau, we can ship stuff in using US Priority mail, duty free. So a lot of time has been spent online buying stuff--everything from LED lights to plumbing parts. Again, online stuff that would take me 10 minutes with a good fast computer connection takes several hours on Palau's sketchy internet. (Right in the middle of a purchase... "Whaddya mean, NO INTERNET CONNECTION??!!!" ... did I actually buy it, or not??

(5) Finally, the best excuse is life itself. I've been too busy "doing stuff" to write about it. We spent 3 weeks diving nearly every day. We had a great setup with Palau Dive Adventures (offseason "space available" rates), and we took advantage of that. We made 35 dives in Palau with PDA, plus a few on our own. I also made a 10-day trip to India with my daughter, plus we are planning a dive trip in the Philippines in December and our jaunt through Indonesia, PNG, Solomons and Vanuatu next year.

(6) Then there's the Facebook factor...If you're sitting in your armchair waiting for me to post the next blog post, you should probably sign up for a Facebook account and "friend" me. Because it's so easy to do so, I post a lot of little "what we're doing" tidbits on Facebook. I spend a lot of internet time keeping up with friends and family on Facebook... high school friends, former work friends, racing friends, yacht club friends, cruising friends all over the world. In the last few months, friends have died, got married, had babies, got divorced, got a sex change, lost their boat, graduated, etc etc. All . on . Facebook. Dave rolls his eyes when he sees me on Facebook--he thinks it's a big time waste. But when I say "Oh no, so-and-so are getting a divorce!" and he says "How do you know that?" I say (smugly) "Facebook".

Anyway, those are my excuses...

I love my blog, and I'm glad you're anxious to see the next blog post. So stay tuned. I haven't given up blogging yet.
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At 11/11/2016 5:00 AM (utc) our position was 07°38.43'N 130°58.01'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Arriving Palau Today

We had a good time at Helen Reef. More on that in another post.

After a great 2 days of downwind sailing, we will be arriving in Palau this afternoon. It has been a fairly fast sail, with wind on the quarter or directly behind at 10-20 knots. In these conditions we make 6-7 knots easily. The weather has been very settled...sunny tradewind conditions, with nearly a full moon at night.

Last night we had our first squall of the passage. The winds gusted to about 35 knots. We had 2 reefs in the main and about 1 reef in the jib. In one gust, surfing down a wave, in a wing-on-wing configuration, we hit 15 knots!!! At sustained winds of 20-25, we were regularly doing 9-10 knots. All of a sudden our ETA concerns (trying to time our arrival during normal working hours to avoid overtime fees) went out the window.

It has been nice having additional crew on board. Liko and Claudia have been helpful and cheerful, and have been learning "the ropes" quickly.
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At 8/15/2016 11:51 PM (utc) our position was 06°48.89'N 134°24.04'E

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ghost Town at Ayu Atoll

We had very limited information about Ayu Atoll. Our friends on Brick House had stopped there are few years ago, but had not said much about their experience. They were uncharacteristically unenthusiastic however. They stayed 2 nights and we had waypoints for their anchor spots.

Ayu is a long daysail from the N coast of Waigeo. The strong winds of a few days before had died down, and we anticipated light southerly winds, and maybe a little following current. So we got going early, just after daybreak, so we would arrive at Ayu in good light. Conditions as we left the anchorage were not promising. The squally conditions we had experienced for the previous week had dissipated somewhat, but it was still 100% overcast.

As we approached the southern end of Ayu's reef around noon, we hooked a good-sized mahi mahi. (woo-hoo, fresh fish tonight!!) Also, a boat was approaching us from the other island just SE of Ayu. This boat looked like the typical "excursion" boat from Raja Ampat. At first we thought they must be divers, but on closer inspection, they were all neatly dressed men, locals. They came by and we waved, but we didn't stop. We were in the open ocean and Dave didn't even want to attempt to have anyone come alongside. They waved back, but didn't speak or make any motions to us. As always, it's tough to communicate at all with no Indonesian on our side and no English on their side. They trailed us for about 5 minutes as we fought the mahi, and then eventually peeled off and headed for Waisai. We are guessing that they were some kind of official delegation (they looked like tourism officials).

Once we got close enough to Ayu's reef to see that we could see, we decided to proceed into the reef. We did have a pretty good Google Earth chart of the atoll, and the overcast was thinning. The conditions were light, and we could see well enough to confirm that what we were seeing on Google Earth. We even felt confident enough that we took a shortcut channel down to the island that Brick House had first anchored at.

We were surprised on entering the main channel, to see another low sandy island ahead to the east that looked chock-a-block with small houses. Brick House had never mentioned other inhabited islands. The island they had anchored behind was much higher than the rest. As we sailed by on the outside of the reef, we could see a few houses, but not so many as this one low island. It was too late in the day to spend time exploring, so we proceeded as originally planned to the "main" island in the middle of the atoll.

Coming in the alternate channel from the obvious main channel (it cuts off toward the main island earlier), we had least depths of about 4 meters, avoiding the obvious shallow coral heads, but it was usually around 10 meters. The main channel was even deeper. There are anchorable spots if you arrived at the atoll late in the day and didn't want to proceed further in poor light.

We found the village the Brick House anchored off of, with a very big concrete pier, a church, and many small houses. But it was curious that only one person came out on the pier as we nosed around. Normally we would expect 10-15 kids jumping up and down on the pier waving and yelling "Hello Meester! Hello Meester!" We anchored a little ways from the village in about 10 meters mixed sand and coral. We were relieved not to see any boats launching from the village to come say hello. We had saved our mahi carcass, and when an old guy in a fishing canoe came by on his way back from the reef, we gave it to him. He smiled and waved and thanked us, but again, the language barrier.

We could see a big house up on the ridge--it looked sort of like a resort from afar. But on closer examination--maybe not. So in the morning, we took the dinghy in to say hello and look around.

Again, no one greeted us on the pier, and the village with 20-30 houses looked completely deserted. It was eerie. We finally found a man on the other side of the village, getting ready to launch his big panga. We said hello, but again the language problem. I fortunately remembered the Indonesian word for "walking around" (jalan jalan), and we got a big smile and a wave at the path leading inland.

We had the weirdest walk. We found a concrete road leading inland, and it looked like someone had platted out the land adjacent to the road. There were lot numbers spray painted on the concrete. Piles of rubble and some flat places indicated they had been preparing to build more houses. But every house was locked up and deserted. The large building up on the ridge turned out to be a school, locked, decaying, with one room packed with student desks. We found further on, an administration building, locked and decaying (obviously unused for at least a couple of years). Alongside the road someone had planted (and someone was still tending) various food-bearing plants...coconuts, bananas, melons, taro and several other kinds of root vegetables. We found a full-up Telkomsel (the local phone company) remote installation, with a tower, satellite dish, solar panels, etc. It was dated 2012, but looked abandoned. We had previously checked for Telkomsel signal on our cell phones and got nothing.

There was a second very small village (group of houses) on the other side of the island from where we anchored. There we found a 3-room schoolhouse, unlocked, and it looked like it had been used recently (a date on the chalkboard was May 2016). But we didn't see anyone as we poked a bit around the group of houses.

As we went back through the village where our dinghy was, two pre-teen kids had a few coconuts on road, obviously harvested for us (but no machete in their hands to open the coconuts for us). I hadn't thought to gab any gifts other than a small sack of candy, so I gave that to the boys. We could see 3 other adults sitting in the shade by one of the houses, and they waved and thanked them. Again as we walked through the village, which looked like 50-100 people should live there, we only saw a handful. There was a really nice solar array by the church--20 or so good-sized solar panels and 2 big metal boxes, one marked "batteries" and the other marked "inverter". It didn't look like the inverter was functioning.

There were 3 men on the pier working on making fish cages (4-6 poles upright in the water, surrounded by netting... sort of the local version of a refrigerator for their catch).

I am not sure what was going on on that island--a huge migration to jobs in Waigeo? A foreign church-building project that had petered out and the foreigners gone home? A government aid project that fizzled out? Some kind of plague that wiped out the village? Or people temporarily visiting another island for seasonal fishing reasons?? Maybe a huge wedding or funeral on another nearby island? I would love to have had a chat with someone who spoke english about what was going on. I'm definitely going to Google a little about Ayu when we get internet. Apparently the island or village is named Abidon, as that was on several signs, on the church and the school.
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At 8/09/2016 10:34 PM (utc) our position was 00°30.20'N 131°07.89'E

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Heading for Palau

We checkout out of Sorong, Indonesia on Wednsday, and left Sorong on Thursday morning. We spent Friday doing some boat maintenance on a shallow beach on the north coast of Batanta.

Early yesterday (Saturday) morning, we left that pretty anchorage to head north and east toward Palau.

Our first leg was planned to be 45 miles to an anchorage on the southeast end of Waigeo. We had originally envisioned this leg to be the typical Indonesian drift (motorsail). However, a strong monsoon trough moved in a couple of days ago, and we had big winds from the SSW. This made our planned anchorage untenable, but also gave us a speed boost, so we ended up going about 62 miles, going on around the east end of Waigeo, and found a nice anchorage on the north coast.

We had 20-25 knots most of the day, and with the main down to the 3rd reef, 2 reefs in the jib, and the wind aft of the beam, we were easily reaching 7-8 knots. It was good experience for us all--it had been so long since we actually sailed that we needed a refresher. And the new crew are soaking up the terminology and the sail handling.

None of our friends have been in this part of Waigeo, so for the first time, we had no waypoints or tracks to follow! But thanks to GoogleEarth and SASPlanet, we had some usable satellite photos. Good thing, because the chart is vague and way off in this area.

I have been learning how to make satellite charts from SASPlanet--it's not hard but something I haven't done before. Doug on Rigel gave me his SASPlanet program with about 4GB of cached sat photos, which have much better photos of this part of Indonesia (Nokia DGSat). I had made a few maps a week or so ago, so when I blithely tried to make a few maps of the east and north coast of Waigeo, I was surpised to find some problem between GE2KAP and SASPlanet. With Paul (the GE2KAP creator) and Terry on Valhalla's help, I tried a few things, but haven't solved it yet. It may be a Windows issue.

Fortunately we already have good cartography of the stops we plan for the trip to Palau. Our plan is make the jump to Ayu Islands (about 60 miles north of here) tomorrow. This is an Indonesian group of atoll-like islands. I think there is one village. I am sure we will be welcomed for a day or two stop there. The next stop after that is a single overnight NNE to Helen Reef, a tiny atoll at about 3N 132E. This atoll is owned by Palau, and is staffed by 3-4 rangers who live there and protect the reef from poachers (usually Filipino and Indonesian fishermen). If we have good enough weather, we hope to spend a few days there, diving and snorkeling. The final leg is a double overnight NNE to Palau. So we think we won't be in Palau until around 18-20 August.

It looks like the monsoon winds are dying down today, so we are hoping for only 5-10 knots behind us for our first leg tomorrow. We'll be leaving at the crack of dawn to give us an early afternoon arrival, as we've got about 5 miles of reef-strewn passage to get from outside the reef to the anchorage inside the reef.
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At 8/7/2016 7:55 AM (utc) our position was 00°08.52'S 131°14.39'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Beaching Soggy Paws

Yesterday we did something that we never could have done with the old Soggy Paws... we beached the cat on a nice sloping beach and did some maintenance on the underwater side.

High and Dry Doing Underwater Maintenance

It's new moon time, and the tidal range is bigger than normal, with higher highs and lower lows than other times of the month. High tide was supposed to be at 8am, so we got up early and started watching the tide mark we had set at high tide the previous evening. As soon as we saw the tide definitely going down, we started getting ready to go up on the beach. At 0810, we started engines to pull our anchor and head for the beach.

Snuggled Up to the Mangroves


We had measured depths of the water in the sand spot we had picked out, and knew we would have to nose right up to the bushes on the beach, to be in shallow enough water. We tied a rope onto a strong bush on shore and brought it out into the water, secured with a dive weight and a small buoy, to be ready to tie a bow line to.

As we slowly headed in to the beach, we dropped a Fortress anchor from the stern. This whole maneuver would have been difficult with just two of us, but we have 2 crew for the trip to Palau, and they made it easy. With Sherry driving, Liko on the stern with the stern anchor, Dave on the bow with the bow line, and Claudia in the water with a mask and snorkel, we carefully positioned Soggy Paws a few inches above the sand in as level a spot as we could find. We had to nudge the bow over a little to level things out, and tied a 3rd line off to the side to maintain our position.

Claudia Updates Dave on How We Are Positioned

So we touched the bow to the sand, and then just waited for the tide to go down. Claudia started positioning boards under our keels, to keep us from sinking in the sand too much.

Claudia Positions the First Set of Boards


Liko and Dave with the Last Board

We had tried to buy a sheet of 1/2" plywood in Sorong for this purpose, but none was available. So we ended up with a 1x8" plank, cut in 2 ft segments. We used 4 boards crosswise along the bottom of the keel.

And we picked up a little more wood from the beach to brace up underneath the rudders, which ended up sitting about 1 ft over the sand. By 0915 we had all 8 boards in place and the front end of the keel was firmly grounded. An hour later and the boat was nearly completely out of the water, and we started on the maintenance tasks.

Boards Buried in the Sand Under the Keel

Supports Under the Rudder

While we were out, we did the following:

- Changed the zincs in the saildrives
- Repaired a few nicks in the saildrives with epoxy
- Painted the new prop blade with antifoul
- Checked and adjusted the angles on all the prop blades
- Scrubbed the waterline
- Changed the oil in the port engine

One Of the SailDrive Zincs, New and Old

Claudia and Liko got a chance to break away while Dave was working on the saildrives, to go snorkel in the reef nearby, which we had previously seen.

We had an early dinner, and just waited for the tide to come up. At 7:30pm, the first board floated free, and by 8pm we had pulled ourselves backward via the stern anchor and were fully off the beach.

It was pitch black out--no moon, no stars, and a low overcast. But we had the anchor waypoint marked, so maneuvering "on instruments", I was able to get positioned over the anchor spot. It took 2 tries to get it right--the first time we ended up a little too close to the reef on one side. Too far out, and we're in 80-100 feet, and too far in, we'd swing over the shallow reef. By 8:30pm we were safely anchored. Long day, but worth it to get the zincs changed.

At 8/5/2016 12:40 AM (utc) our position was 00°46.78'S 130°44.82'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm