Waiting game

Lil Sis is enjoying her school camp in mainland China, and between her drop off and pick up, part of the family are on a shopping spree in Hong Kong. It is not the kind of activity that one imagines when thinking of Hong Kong and shopping though; they are running around the city’s alleys buying (yet more) spare parts for the boat! It can be a challenge to find technical tools and items in Hong Kong. There are no large DIY or hardware stores, and instead you find that for each item, there is one (back)street where everyone sells that item but almost nothing else. So when you have 20 items to buy, it requires significant local knowledge to find everything, and even then it can be very time-consuming. Nevertheless, it seems infinitely easier to buy spares and other small items from Hong Kong than from the Philippines.

The boat has been around Subic Bay for almost three weeks, and we are starting to get rather itchy feet. The weather analysis has started again in earnest, and considering our success finding bad weather en route to the Philippines, we are taking it very seriously. However, the challenge with sailing is that waiting for the “perfect” weather window may mean not getting out at all, and even perfect windows are not guarantees of good sailing conditions (as we have just learnt the hard way).

All small repairs on the boat have been made, and we have acquired a sea anchor as a replacement for our trusted series drogue which was unfortunately lost when we tried to retrieve it in rather large seas on the trip to the Philippines. Drogues are notoriously difficult to retrieve, and we probably should have waited for calm seas before even attempting to retrieve ours, but by the time the weather started to show signs of easing, we were so ready to get on our way – not to mention ready to exit the hell that is being tied to a drogue in big seas! – that we just couldn’t resist the urge to get it off.

We are now also starting to go through our departure checklists. What shall we eat during our next passage? How much water do we need to carry on board? We have a water-maker, but it is still in a “pickled” (i.e. long-term storage) state, and we need to get it going once underway (it is not a good idea to un-pickle a water-maker in dirty marina water). We need to get fuel, and the propeller needs to be scrubbed once more to remove any sign of barnacles which grow with amazing speed in these tropical waters. We need to handle administrative tasks in the current marina, and need to inform coming ports of our arrival. Are we comfortable that we have paper charts of the right scale for our next leg and do we need further pilot books for port arrival? Are seacocks in a good state and do our bilge pumps work properly? What about fire and gas alarms, and our emergency devices such as EPIRBs and PLBs? Are all the communications equipment in good working order, likewise our chart plotter and autopilot? Do we have enough gas to cook food on the next leg? The list goes on and on.

Whereas the stress factor is high, the excitement over what lies ahead grows exponentially. We hope the waiting game will soon be over and our bow will once again be pointed towards news horizons.

Ten days in the Philippines

We have now been docked in Subic Bay for ten days. We have spent a lot of that time repaying our sleep debt, and just generally resting, and we are finally starting to feel that we are back to normal. Of course, boat work has been piling up, and although we have slowly been working our way down the list, new action items are as usual being added to it.

We have met some lovely people here, both ones involved in boating, and others who have nothing to do with boats. We have been lucky enough to be invited into two very different homes in the area, giving us a tiny glimpse into the differences in the way locals and expats live. People here are generally very friendly, but as there are really not many foreign tourists around, we do sometimes feel that we stick out like a sore thumb.

We are likely to stay in the Philippines for a couple of weeks still, as we are waiting for the delivery of some spare parts, and also because Lil Sis has another school event that she needs to return to Hong Kong for five days for. We are quite enjoying Subic Bay, and it is a location that doesn’t weigh too heavily on a sailor’s budget either.

Sunset at the marina.
Olongapo street view.
Tasty local food.
Locals have closed off one lane in order to dry rice on the conveniently flat, hot surface.
Pay-by-weight laundry shop, efficient and cheap.



Looking forward

When we were hit by the gale on our way to the Philippines, we made the decision to alert the maritime rescue authorities to our predicament, as drifting without the ability to maneuver a boat in a very busy sea area is inherently dangerous (for us, but also for the other vessels). Would there later have been a need to issue any automatic emergency alerts (which thankfully there was not), those would have gone to the authorities in Finland where our boat is registered, so we chose to include the Finnish authorities in our alert at the outset. We are very pleased to have done so, as we received efficient and empathetic support from them over a communications system that the local authorities were unable to use to get messages through to us. However, the involvement of the Finnish authorities has led to our trip becoming an item of interest for the media in Finland, up to the point that our previous blog post about the Philippines leg of our journey has been quoted by the local press. We have therefore reluctantly had to make the decision not to elaborate further on the events from that leg on this blog. Instead, you can ask us over a cold beer or glass of wine next time we meet!

To that end, this blog post is about radios (again), but I will keep it short this time. We are over the moon as we managed to get our MF/HF (i.e. long-range) radio to finally work together with our pactor modem, and  successfully sent the first email through our radio! It seems like some sort of small miracle to be able to send emails through radio waves. We can now send and receive emails basically for free through private radio stations while we are at sea. These emails cannot be long, and cannot contain images or attachments, but will certainly work as reassurance to family and friends that all is well with us. We are now trying to sort out a way to update this blog (with very concise posts) through our radio while underway.

Ahoy from the Philippines!

Sorry for the long blog silence, but the reason for it is that we have (finally) been at sea.

On 11 March, I wrote about the conditions that we did NOT want to encounter on the first leg of our trip. I explained that our fear of the first leg turning into a nightmare was the reason why we waited and waited for a good weather window. Eventually, we decided that instead of attempting to get to Taiwan directly, we would sail to the Philippines first, since going south would ensure nicer sailing conditions.

Well, suffice it to say that things did not exactly go according to plan, and despite changing our first destination port and sailing direction, we were completely unsuccessful in avoiding the nightmare conditions I so casually outlined in my post a few weeks back.

We left on the first leg of our sailing voyage on Wednesday the 29th, and arrived in Philippines, yesterday. A trip that was meant to take five days took us ten as we were battling Force 8 winds and 6-metre waves for three nights and drifted over one hundred nautical miles away from our destination. Hunkered down below in a cabin where the temperature was 29 degrees and humidity 75%, with helmets on our heads and mattresses against the cabin walls waiting for the waves and wind to knock down the boat, we swore that we would sell the boat as soon as (and if) we got to land.

Fortunately, with a couple of good meals in our bellies and the comfort of a warm shower here in the Philippines, none of us is of that opinion any longer, and we just feel immense gratitude that we survived the situation and have come through it stronger than before. I suppose there is something to be said for having the worst experience at the outset, because once you get through it, you know you can get through it later again.

We are also in awe of having witnessed the camaraderie of seafarers (such as immediate offers of assistance by commercial vessel captains who we were hailing on VHF to inform them that we are drifting), not to mention the efficient and compassionate support given to us over satellite communications by the Finnish and Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres. We are thankful and humbled by these experiences.

I do intend to write a full report about what happened at a later date, but right now we are again working on the boat (nothing major broke, but there are lots of small bits and pieces to fix) and on healing ourselves both physically and mentally.