Sunday, January 8, 2017

Why We Came Back to Mindanao, Again

A few cruisers (mostly on Facebook) have expressed incredulity that we have returned to the marina where 4 of our fellow cruisers were kidnapped a little over a year ago.  I know a lot more have been thinking the same thoughts without saying it out loud "What on earth are they doing there?".

For us the major accomplishment of 2016 was getting our sweet old Soggy Paws, our CSY 44, fixed up and sold in a matter of months.  Once we settled all the bills with the marina, we couldn't believe how little it cost us to do all that work, and how good the outcome was.  Here is the list of things that we had the marina do for us on the CSY:
  1. Prep and varnish all interior floors
  2. Rebuild V-berth woodwork
  3. Rebuild Aft cabin bunk woodwork
  4. Repair damaged woodwork at Nav Station
  5. Repair woodwork on the port settee
  6. Replace shelving in the engine room
  7. Repaired part of the caprail
  8. Repaired damaged toerail (cyclone damage from 2011)
  9. Removed stern rail and replaced damaged sections of stainless steel
  10. Varnish approx. 50% of interior woodwork
  11. Paint all white spaces on boat, including in the bilge, engine room, walls, ceiling, inside all lockers, etc
  12. Varnish the cockpit teak
  13. Prep and paint toerail
  14. Recover all cushions on the boat (mattresses & salon area)
  15. Fiberglass work to repair/rebuild leaky closed chocks
  16. Prep, tape off, and paint deck (without having to remove all the deck hardware)
  17. Prep and paint sides
  18. Prep and paint bottom
  19. 4 days of a cleaning lady to clean up interior after work completed

Since the yard management was in flux while we were having the work done, and we were in a hurry to get things done, we pretty much had to be on site almost every day overseeing the work being done, and making sure the yard workers had the supplies they needed to keep working.  So there is a lot of our supervisory time that is not included in the billing.  We did MOST of the procurement for paint and supplies, with once a week trips into Davao.  (Some supplies the yard already had, but most we sourced ourselves, including paint, epoxy, tape, paintbrushes, and cloth for the cushions).  We were able to source mostly Philippine-made supplies that were equivalent in every way to the "name" US marine brands, at a lot lower price.

Here is what we spent to get all that work done:

1.  Labor:        $1,965 USD
2.  Materials:  $1,640 USD
3.  Yard Fees (4 months) & Launching: $1,612

This was at the then current exchange rate of 44 pesos to the dollar.  Now the rate is 49 pesos to the dollar, so everything is even 10% cheaper.  The current labor rate at the marina is $10 USD per DAY.  That includes work for skilled carpenters, skilled painters, welders, fiberglassers, etc.

We dropped off an alternator at an alternator shop in Davao, and had it repaired for $12.  And you can find almost any service a yachtsman would need, including liferaft repacking, in Davao. What you can't find in Davao, you can find elsewhere in the Philippines.  With very cheap shipping rates, it's easy to ship stuff in from Manila, or ship something to Manila or elsewhere for repair.  There is a sailmaker in Cebu who can repair sails or make new sails.

There are several mechanics available--at least one cruiser came in to the marina with a dead engine and had the engine removed, taken to Davao, and completely overhauled.  Others are available to do minor repairs or servicing at the marina.

There is at least one whiz marine electronics guy, but he's hard to get scheduled, as he is much in demand for repairs for all the big ships that frequent Davao's harbor.  But we have taken small electronics into Davao and gotten repairs done for very reasonable prices.  I had the USB/charger socket on my Samsung phone replaced, while I waited, at a repair shop in downtown Davao, for $10.  That included the part, which they had in stock.

Davao has numerous modern malls with multi-screen movie theaters (in English), large grocery stores, hardware stores, etc.  And the Davao airport is literally only 10 minutes from the ferry dock, with connections to the world through Singapore and Manila.

This marina has a nice environment, with a concrete slab in the hardstand area, solid docks, and a good electrical system.  When variable power was interrupting work (and pleasure) in the marina, the marina installed two huge generators which are sized to run the entire marina and workyard.  This was invaluable when power to the entire island was out for 3 weeks during our refurb.

The marina clubhouse is open 24x7, with clean hot-water showers and an "honor bar".  The marina furnishes a bar-b-que and charcoal for the Friday night pot luck.  Plus there are two freezers available for cruisers to keep frozen food if they need to shut down their refrigeration.

The marina is theft-free.  We have been in and out of here for 2 1/2 years, and have never heard of an incident of cruiser stuff going missing... in spite of the fact that everyone leaves their "stuff" all over.  I would worry more about leaving tools around underneath our boat at a first world yard.

After the kidnapping incident in September 2015, the marina had a security expert come in and do a full security review.  They have substantially increased security.  They added two guard-houses out on the outer seawall, added a lower gate, doubled their security guards at the front and lower gates, and invited the local militia to man one of the breakwater guard houses with 2 guards 24x7.  Plus they offered the Davao Coast Guard free dockage for their off-duty Coast Guard boat.  They replaced all of the security cameras with higher quality cameras, as the cameras that they had in place were a little too grainy to accurately identify the perpetrators after the kidnapping.  They also put pressure on the cell phone companies to increase cell coverage in our area, so we had more reliable communications in case of an emergency.

Finally, we really love the Philippines and the Filipino people.  I am sure there are some nasty fellows around, but so far, thankfully, we haven't met them.  The people we meet on the street are nice and friendly and helpful, and happy that we are visiting their country.

No matter how cheap it is to get work done here, we wouldn't be here if we didn't feel welcome, and fairly safe.  In light of the sad incidents making world news, from as far away as Germany and as close to home as Ft. Lauderdale, we feel as safe here as we would anywhere else in the Philippines, and in the rest of the "civilized" world.

Though we do take advantage of the twice a month marina van, that takes us on provisioning runs, we do most of our shopping in Davao on our own.  Most cruisers use the EXTREMELY cheap public transportation, called "jeepneys".  It costs 12 pesos (25 cents) to go all the way across town, and they run constantly.  Since the jeepneys go a little slower (because they are frequently stopping to pick up passengers) and aren't air conditioned, we often opt to take an air conditioned taxi, which costs us about $4 to go all the way across town.

So, that's why we're here, again.  Getting work done on the new boat, and gearing up for our next adventure.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

One of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more!!  The problem is as always when I'm not blogging regularly, that there's so much to catch up on, I don't know where to start.  I may back post a few things if I don't get "re-prioritized" by Dave today.  But I'm just going to plunge right in and write about today.

Update:  I have back-posted 3 more posts in December, so make sure you scroll down, if you haven't visited in awhile.

Dave Hanging with Some Of Our Marina Workers

We had a pretty low-key New Years. The marina threw a party for the workers on Dec 30, and they invited us to participate.

Pig Finally Arrives


No Filipino party is complete without "Lechon"--the big roasted pig.   Ours came wrapped in cardboard from somewhere else on Samal.  And of course no Filipino party is complete without "selfies" of everyone and everything.

Selfies with the Pig

They let the workers quit early and started partying about 3pm. After a number of drinks, lots of socializing, and some dancing, we staggered home (back to the boat) at about 8pm.

I am fighting a cold, so have not been much in the party mood.  We ended up skipping any socializing last night, New Years Eve. We watching a movie on the computer--something we haven't done in months--and got to bed at a reasonable time.

To follow up on the last post about our passports--I did finally get the call from Air 21, and took a taxi out to drop our passports off at the Cargo Terminal at the Davao Airport.  The fee for "2 day" delivery was only about $5, and I got a tracking number that confirmed that our passports arrived at the Embassy on Dec 1.  Then complete silence.  I had expected to get an email or something with progress reports "received passport renewal application" etc.  But didn't get anything.

Around Christmas, not hearing anything, I was starting to get worried. So on the Monday after Christmas, I started trying to contact the Embassy Consular Services Section.  They only take phone calls 3 days a week for a 2 hr period and they say the line is always busy on those days (I got the recording).  So I emailed them with an inquiry at the suggested email address.  I never got any response to the email, but our passports showed up a few days later, so I guess they were on top of it. Out of the blue, we got a call from Air21 that our package was at the airport and we could come pick it up. It took about 4 weeks without "rush priority".  And now we are good for another 10 years!

I spent half a day scanning the new passport pages for our boat papers file, and updating our crew list with the new passport number and expiration dates.  I also made new "Passport ID cards"--print the main passport page on a piece of cardboard and laminate to carry with us.  Plus I loaded digital copies of the passport page on our cell phones, so we have them always handy.

Now we can start working on our Indonesian visas.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Working on Two Boats Again

When we sold our CSY earlier this year, with a sigh of relief. We said "never again will we own two boats." Well... we don't own two boats again, but it feels like we do.

Our friend Jerry on s/v Challenger passed away unexpectedly in late August. He had left his boat at the Oceanview Marina in someone else's care in 2015, with a big worklist. For whatever reason, the worklist never got done, and the caretaker left the marina to go cruising in early 2016, leaving Jerry's boat unattended.

When we knew we were going back to Oceanview, we contacted Jerry's friend Kennedy and asked him if he could find out what was going on with Jerry's Estate and if we could be of help with regards to his boat. So a few emails and telephone calls later, we are now representing the Estate in trying to sell Jerry's Whitby 42.

Whitby 42 For Sale

Jerry's family is dealing with so much other stuff that they want to sell Challenger quickly, and aren't interested in taking the time or fronting the money to fix her up. So we did some pretty good research on prices for Whitby 42's for sale in various locations and various conditions ($60K-$120K) and have priced Challenger at $49K USD. She is definitely a bargain at that price--a good "classic plastic" boat equipped for a round-the-world cruise--but she needs a little TLC. We figured Challenger needs pretty much the same worklist that we did on Soggy Paws to sell her--mainly paint and varnish and a little woodwork. The rig is in good condition, the sails are good, the engine sounds good, and all the instruments work. She had a good dinghy and two outboards. With solar, a KISS wind generator, a big alternator, a Honda 2000 generator and a large battery bank, she's set for power. And with an autopilot and a wind vane, and new roller furling gear, she's set up for easy single-handing. Anyone out there looking for a good well-equipped cruising boat at a great price?? More details here.

But we've had to put off our own boat work in the last 2 weeks to jump into the "Challenger" project... Lots of cleaning and sorting and figuring things out (without the owner there to tell you how the xyz system works, for example). Plus, of course, taking pictures, making the website, and posting on "For Sale" sites.

So we have both been a busy little beavers. Dave, trying to keep the workers going on the projects already in progress on Soggy Paws, while making progress on Challenger. And me, sourcing material/parts for both boats, handling finances, maintaining websites, and tracking costs.

Here are a few things Dave's been doing or overseeing

1. Yanmar Saildrive Refurb

One of Our Saildrives

Dave and his helper Alex removed the leaking port saildrive and found saltwater in the bell housing, and some corrosion. Plus the exterior of the saildrive leg was pitting due to galvanic action. So Dave decided to take it all apart, clean and grease the mechanical parts, and completely strip, repair, and recoat the leg, before he puts it all back together. After looking at the seal that was leaking, he decided to do the starboard saildrive as well. Both seals seemed to be aged, inflexible, and prone to cracking. I was put on the task of sourcing new seals, and whatever other Yanmar parts Dave found he needed. (Azumi Corporation, Subic Bay, Philippines)
The Top End of the SD20 Removed from Engine

Evidence of Water Ingress

The Seal and the Pitting on the Saildrive

Meanwhile, Alex was given the task of completely stripping both saildrive legs down to bare metal, and then beginning the process of buiding them back up properly. They started with an Aluminum Primer, and then an anti-corrosion primer, then non-sag epoxy filler to fill any holes, then an epoxy primer, and then 2-part polyurethane paint. Now they look like outboard motor legs. But we're not finished... Dave managed to buy some aluminum antifouling from another cruiser (Marlin Velox Plus), so we'll add another coat of primer for that, and then the proper aluminium anti-fouling. (Last time we used copper-based bottom paint, that's why we had the pitting on the leg).

When we took our trip to Subic and Manila in early December, we visited the Yanmar representative for the the Philippines, Azumi Corporation, and bought $1500 worth of seals and motor mounts. The parts needed to be shipped in from Singapore. We just got the parts in our hands a few days ago. So hopefully we will get our engines back together again in the next week or so.

Engine Parts in the Bathtub!

2. Drawers and Shelving

Dave had the carpenters put in two new drawers at the nav station, and 3 new drawers in the galley. This will help with stowing the small stuff that's been hanging about with no place to go.

Carpenters Working on New Drawers at the Nav Station

And a Couple of New Drawers in the Galley Too

He's also putting a shelf along the forward edge of each of the 2 forward bunks...mainly so he has a place to store his books.

3. New Refrigerator

After the huge upright refrigerator we had on the CSY, we were just not happy with the tiny dorm-style refrigerator in the galley. We ended up having to put half our refrigerator stuff in the freezer, with mixed success. This makes the freezer more inefficient, because we are in and out of it all day, and it harder to find anything with all that stuff in there. And the refer has such poor insulation that it runs all the time and barely keeps up in the tropics.

So Dave's solution is to convert the bunk aft of the galley in the port hull into a "pantry". Our cat is not as wide in the hulls as most 44 footers, so we had a limited space to work in. Dave designed the box--an outer box of plywood, sealed with epoxy and painted white, and an inner box of 1/2" Expanded PVC. Expanded PVC, unlike "starboard" is rigid, lightweight, and can be painted and glued. Between the two boxes will be 4" of "blueboard" insulation (for an "R" value of over 20).

The box only goes half the length of the former bunk. In the aft end, after cutting an access door from the head, he had the carpenters build a whole set of shelving for food storage. It will be MUCH MUCH better, and more space-efficient than the tubs I was using before. I can't wait for the whole project to be finished. Most of the carpentry is done, we're waiting on the painter to finish painting all the shelving.

Dave Checking Dimensions on Interior Box

Checking the Fit of the Interior Box and Exterior Box

Interior Box with Shelving and Evap Plate in Place

Crafting the Front Face and Doors

To make it all a little more complicated, the whole thing has be built in the workshed, and then disassembled and re-assembled on board, because it's too big to fit through the doors.

After we had ordered hinges and a heavy locking handle for the single fridge door, we had a design change and decided to make it a 2-door arrangement. So we are waiting on another set of hinges and another handle.

I've been the one sourcing all this stuff--searching on the internet for Philippine sources for stuff you can walk into Home Depot and buy in the U.S. We searched hard in Davao to try to find someone selling expanded PVC. The stuff is used by sign-makers. We found a couple of people selling some, but none in 1/2" thicknesses. We got the name and number of Cady Marketing in Manila from the "Cruiser's Resources" book in the marina lounge. We called them and asked if they could ship a couple of 4x8 sheets to Davao. We made a cash deposit to their bank account, and they cut 2 4x8 sheets in half and shipped the bundle to us via 2Go, the local version of UPS.

Next was trying to find proper insulation material for the refrigerator. Dave said "Find me some blueboard". He had already been around to all the hardware stores in Davao and knew it wasn't available locally. I searched and searched online for sources elsewhere in the Philippines. I finally found a place called Concrete Solutions in Manila that uses a variation of the "blueboard" that we used for refer insulation on the last boat, for building insulation. These come in 2" thick sheets 2' x 4' in dimension, and have a tongue and groove edge on them for butting two sheets together. When we were in Manila, we found Concrete Solutions and verified that their product would work for us. Then we ordered a couple of bundles of these sheets, again making a cash deposit into their bank account and asking them to ship to Davao.

Fridge door hinges, and handles came from in the U.S. And I ordered a bunch of rubber gaskets material for around the doors from eBay. We had them shipped to Dave's son Chris, and he dropped them off at LBX for an air freight shipment. It arrived in about 10 days.

4. Fiberglass repair

We had a small encounter with a rock island in Palau, and we gouged a big piece of fiberglass in two places on the starboard bow rubrail. We've got the marina's best fiberglasser/painter working on fixing that boo-boo.

Iquoy, The Fiberglass Guy, Grinding Out the Damage

One of the Two Patches (Not Finished)

5. Painting up the bottom paint

We have finally decided it would be stupid not to paint another 2 inches up on our bottom paint, while we have the opportunity. So we've had Alex remove the stick-on white bootstripe around the waterline. We still need to prep and paint this area, and put one more coat of bottom paint on.

6. Painting the deck non-skid areas

Dave's preferred deck shoes are a pair of slick-bottomed flip-flops. And he never goes out and sits on deck. So he wants some fairly grippy non-skid. Someone in the marina has found a local product that they claim to be identical to the popular "Kiwi Grip" product. It is a fairly gooey product that you roll on with a special roller that makes the surface lumpy. No need for sand or walnuts and all that stuff. They say the special roller is available locally, but we have borrowed one from a friend who put on Kiwi Grip last year. We have seen one boat's application of the local product and it looks good. The only problem is that the white is too white, and the lightest non-white color is too dark for deck paint (gets too hot in the tropical sun). So we're planning on mixing! We'll let you know how it turns out.

7. Canvas work

We have a long list of canvas projects lined up for me. But I'm having trouble getting started on them, with so much "part sourcing" and other work on the computer. Very soon I need to get off this damned computer and get to work!! Of course, the canvas work can be done anywhere, we don't have to be in a marina. But it makes sense to work on it while Dave is otherwise occupied with his projects.

Tired yet?? We sure are!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Diving the Wrecks of Coron Bay

For my birthday, we booked a one-week stay at a dive resort in Coron Bay. This would be the first time Dave and I have ever gone to a dive resort together. After a little research and agonizing, we picked the Sangat Island Dive Resort as our place to stay. It's a fairly upscale resort that is focused on diving (the #2 choice was El Faro and D-Divers).

Map Showing Davao, Manila, Coron
Map from Wikipedia By Hellerick, annotated by me.

We flew from Manila on a smaller Cebu Pacific plane than they use for the Manila-Davao leg. They had tighter weight restrictions, and since we were bringing our dive gear, we stressed the entire week before about getting our luggage down under the weight limit. We finally decided to repack after the Subic/Manila weekend and leave one bag of stuff we didn't need at the Nichols Airport Hotel. Our return flight had a 3 hour layover in Manila. So we felt pretty sure we could get from Manila's Terminal 4 to the hotel and back to Terminal 3 (this is not a sure thing, because Manila traffic can be horrendous sometimes, and the two terminals are on opposite sided of the airport).

The flight goes into the island of Busuanga, where Coron is the major town on the south coast, and Sangat Island is a smaller island off the SW coast.

Looks Like Mostly Backpackers on this Flight!

We were met at the airport by a Sangat Island driver, and a half hour later were dropped off at a dock, where a Sangat Island boat awaited us. It was a calm day and we had a short ride to Sangat Island.

Dave at the Boat Dock

On Our Way to Sangat Island

The Beachfront
With bungalows nestled in among the palm trees
and the dining area and dive center hidden behind the small island

Sangat Dock Area


A Nice Cool Drink to Celebrate Our Arrival

Though we'd booked one of the more budget rooms, they told us they had a Beachfront Cottage available and upgraded us at no cost. Here's the view from our room.

We strolled around the grounds and took pictures. The place was pretty quiet until everyone came back from their daytime excursions.

View from the Pagoda on the Little Island Off the Beach

The Patio Bar Out on the Little Island

Sunset Over the Beach

Then we started diving... on most days, we did 3 dives a day. The first dive was always a wreck dive, the second a reef dive, and the third another wreck. It was actually a pretty grueling schedule.

It was "Up at 7, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, cleanup, happy hour, dinner, klunk we were asleep". There are approximately 15 Japanese ships that were sunk in the area by US Navy dive bombers and Hellcats. We saw 8 of them. Some of the ships were big enough and deep enough that it easily took 2 or 3 dives to see the whole thing. And on some dives, Dave was so busy taking pictures of "critters" he didn't get pictures of the wreck.

I've picked out some of the best "critter" pix and the best "wreck" pics, and put them here. Dave really likes taking pictures of Nudibranchs, because they move slowly, look very colorful, and even in poor visibility, he can get a good picture.

Nudibranch (aka Sea Slug) Chromodoris leopardis

Nudibranch (aka Sea Slug) Chromodoris reticulata

Nudibranch (aka Sea Slug) Flabellina rubrolineata

Nudibranch (aka Sea Slug) Hypselodoris

Nudibranch (aka Sea Slug) Joruna funebris

Swimming Flatworm

Green Anemone


Yellow Seahorse

Though we dove on 8 wrecks, some of them more than once, we didn't get very many good pictures. Most of the interesting stuff on the wrecks have been looted long ago. Anything that wasn't nailed down (and some that was) has been taken off and sold for scrap or souvenirs. Also, the light wasn't very good. Some days it was too overcast and dark down below, other days the water was too stirred up. Other days, Dave was too busy taking pictures of Nudis.

Sherry Looking for Nudis on the Side of a Wreck

Hydraulic Control Wheel on a Wreck

Following Our Guide Through a Wreck

Part of the Engine Room

The last day before we left, the resort had a Christmas party for all their employees, and they invited us.

Secret Santa Presents

The Kitchen Staff Doing their "Dance Number"

They had set up a pole and put 2 1000 peso notes at the top of the pole. The pole was well-greased. The guys tried several times to get up the pole, but were ultimately unsuccessful.

First Attempt On the Pole

Second Attempt

There are other things to do at Sangat Island besides dive, but we were there to do, and so, dive we did. After 6 days of diving, we were too tired to work up any enthusiasm for anthing else.

We had a good time at Sangat, and it was nice to get away from boat work for a short respite. In my opinion, the wrecks at Sangat are not as good as the ones we saw at Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon.

After two weeks of goofing off, it was time to go back to work. Because the tide was so low the morning we left, we had to take a bigger boat around to Coron Town to be dropped off for our ride to the airport. This was via one of the traditional Philippine bankas.

Heading for Coron

View off the Bow of the Banka on the Way to Coron

Once we got to Coron, they squeezed this big wide trimaran-like boat into a narrow slot, put out the gangplank off the bow, and helped us off.

Walking the Gangplank

Our dosey-doe at the Manila airport to go get our other bag we had left at the hotel went fine. We had plenty of time. Except Cebu Pacific charged us an excess baggage fee to check in the extra bag. They seem to always get us at Manila airport.

Our friend Terry on s/v Valhalla was nice enough to pick us up at the Davao airport, so we didn't have to walk on and off the ferry with all our dive gear and extra luggage.