Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Escape from Davao!

Davao to Port Carmen, Cebu Island, Philippines
May 11 - June 8, 2021

We finally completed our battery upgrade project in early May 2021. See results here. Things around the Philippines were starting to loosen up a little. A couple of our friends had already escaped the marina and were doing OK cruising.

The Philippines were gearing up for the first rounds of Covid vaccinations. They had already completed most of the front line worker vaxes, and were getting organized for a big push with the rest of the population. The first step was to count how many doses they needed in each locale. We got registered with the folks on Samal Island. We were thankful that the Philippines weren't distinguishing between "visitors" and citizens. We were slated to be in the 3rd tier behind the front line workers and the "poor" old people. But we had no firm schedule for when vaccinations would actually come to Samal.

Moving Out of the Condo
Where are we going to put it all?

After being confined to the marina for over a year, we were itching to get going.

We debated staying until we got vaccinated, but who knows when that would really happen. A couple of our friends had already escaped the marina and were doing OK cruising.

The twice-a-month marina shuttle van to Davao hadn't been running in over a year, so we got together with another boat and hired a tourist van from Samal to take us to S and R and G-Mall for a big provisioning trip. Plus I took the local marina shuttle into Babak nearly every day to buy as much as we could carry. So we stocked up for 6 months of cruising, and checked out of our cushy condo on May 7. That was our cats' first night aboard.

It took us a few more days to get organized to leave. We finally left the marina on May 11, 2021. Oh, what a relief it was! This had been the longest time ever, since my ex and I bought our first sailboat in the mid 80's, that I hadn't been out on a boat on the water. (Living aboard in an enclosed marina doesn't count!)

Sailing Again!!

We didn't have any real concrete plans, other than to go up into the central Philippines and cruise parts of the Philippines we hadn't spent much time in. The central Philippines has a mostly enclosed area of islands known as the Visayas, which is a great cruising ground. There's no real open ocean sailing once we get up the Mindanao coast--we only had to keep an eye out for Typhoons.

Our Helm Station

We had already been up and down the east coast of Mindanao in 2018, so we motorsailed up the coast as fast as reasonably possible. As before, between morning calms, currents, and widely spaced anchorages (ie long day hops), there wasn't much sailing on this leg. As before, we day-hopped the entire way, due to the risks of nighttime unlit fishing boats, nets, and FADs.

Happy Hour on the Foredeck at Sunset in Bucas Grande

On May 23, we motored through the Hinatuan Passage at 9 knots! (with 3-4 knots of current behind us). You really have to time this small 5 mile stretch for a favorable tide. We were lucky that the tides were right as soon as we wanted to go through.

At the end of this passage, just north of the town of Surigao, was a new anchorage that our friends had weathered an almost-typhoon in. We wanted to check it out, and so spent the night in the enclosed area in Nonoc Island (09°49.73'N / 125° 35.61'E, 35 ft mud).

It definitely helps to have a satellite image to get into the anchorage. It would be a good choice for a mild Typhoon, but I don't think I'd stay here by choice if a strong Typhoon were coming. The reefs would knock the seas down, but there's a huge sector of the bay open to the wind. With enough notice, I'd sail south to several hidey holes along the top of western Mindanao.

The next night, we made it all the way up to the SW tip of Leyte Island. We had stopped here and dived with Southern Leyte Divers in 2018. But this time, we merely stopped overnight and pushed on to Port Carmen, 2 more days travel NW. Dave had booked a spot on Zeke's (Pinoy Boatyard in Port Carmen) catamaran ramp, and we needed to be there before the high tide.

We finally pulled into Port Carmen on May 25, 2021. Two days later, we went up on the ramp for a few days. Dave wanted to change zincs and outer saildrive seals. You can only do bottom work at low tide while on this ramp, so we worked odd hours when the tide was low.

Boats Med-Moored at Zeke's Docks

Boats are Stacked Two Deep in the Marina Due to Pandemic

Port Carmen is one of the places where the "budget" cruisers hang out. Zeke's Marina and Boatyard (aka Pinoy Boat Services) is chock-a-block with boats right now--a few occupied, but most stored and left by owners who flew out when the pandemic began. Zeke has them rafted 2 deep in some places. The Philippines is STILL not letting non-Filipino citizens in except in special circumstances, and "But my $100K boat is there, rotting!" isn't considered a special circumstance.

We heard around the bar at Zeke's that they were vaccinating older people in Danao, the nearby city. "Just show up in the morning with your passport and tell them you are living at Zeke's on your boat." That worked!

The Vaccination Registration Desk at Danao Health Center

The Briefing Before We Were Vaccinated

We got our first vaccinations on May 28. The only problem was, because I told them I was taking baby aspirin, they would not vaccinate me with Astra Zenica (what Dave got). They would only give me Sinovac. They told me I could stop taking aspirin and come back in a month, or get the Sinovac today. Something is better than nothing, so I accepted the Sinovac reluctantly. I did not have much faith in the Chinese vaccine.

I didn't feel any after-effects from my Sinovac jab, but Dave was feeling pretty poor for 24 hours after his Astra Zenica. Right during our haulout, too! He slept for about 24 hours and then felt good enough to go back to work.

Soggy Paws on the New "Cat Ramp" at Zekes

Dave Working on the Saildrives

In the Mud/Sand at Low Tide

Zeke CAN haul you completely out of the water and block you high and dry, but that's a fairly time-consuming and expensive proposition. And there was currently a boat out doing an extensive Copper Coat bottom job. I'm not sure there's room for two out of the water.

We finished our work on the ramp and launched on the high tide on May 31, and went out to a mooring in the "pond" outside Zeke's.

The Carmen South Mooring Field--In the Rain

We couldn't leave Carmen yet though--we needed to renew our visas and do some re-stocking. A couple of days later we hopped a bus heading for Cebu out in front of the shipyard. Our friend Evan on Java had given us precise instructions for the best/easiest/cheapest way to get to the best/easiest Immigration office--one that will give you a 6 month extension without begging (vs the 2 months that is the norm these days in the Philippines).

There were COVID checkpoints on the road into Cebu, but most were either not manned these days, or just waved the bus on through. We wore our super-masks (KN95) on this trip as we knew not many Filipinos were vaxxed yet. We had all our paperwork ready to submit, so getting the visa extensions was quick and painless--it only takes money (about $30 pp per month). Afterward we checked out a couple of malls near the Immigration office. The grocery stores were open, but a lot of stores were still closed. We took a taxi to the bus station near another mall, and found the right bus to get back to the shipyard.

Another thing we did this first week in Carmen was organize a vet to come out to Zekes to handle all the pet needs for all the cruisers. Our little Charlie was ready for her 2nd round of shots. We ended up with 6-8 cats and dogs waiting around the picnic table at Zekes. The vet arrived late and was pretty disorganized, but the only other way to get to a vet was to get on a trike or a jeepney or bus with the cat. The other vet in Danao is hard to reach and hard to schedule. We later had a really bad experience with this vet when it came time to get Charlie spayed. So I wouldn't let her near your pet with a knife. I don't think she has any formal veterinary training.

Up Next: Cruising the Camotes Islands