Race to the Philippines!

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Dave and I sailed out of Pelau for the 600 NM crossing to Siargao Island on the same day as Andy and Audra did in Cascadia, a Cape Dory 30, which is very similar to Dolce and also designed by Carl Alberg. We half joked that we were taking part in the inaugural Philippine Sea Alberg 30 race. The ocean was likely to still be a bit rough and disturbed but It was the first good weather window in a while.

We got a head start leaving the harbour but were soon headed into a strong wind. Andy had decided to motor out of Pelau (forfeiting his rights to claim victor of the non-existent race) and he soon passed the fully reefed Dolce beating into 30 knots of wind. The passage out of the barrier reef narrowed and a big ship was soon bearing down on us as we tacked back and forth across the channel. It was a bit stressful as we attempted to stay far out of it’s way which meant we were much closer to the shallow reef edges.

The wind direction soon improved and it took about ten more tacks to leave the barrier reef. There were several ships wrecked at the entrance to remind people how important it is to arrive  to during the daylight hours. Nice waves were breaking on ether side of the passage. Nice for a surfer like me but likely terrifying for a novice in a boat.

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As we left the protection of the reef the ocean swell immediately picked up and Dolce was once again subject to the pulse of the Pacific. We were now officially in the Philippine sea for the first time. The ocean wasn’t very settled and we had a healthy 20-25 knots of wind pushing us towards the Phillipines. Dave got sick after two days at sea. I don’t think it was anything I said.

We discovered we had gained a lot of sea room on our companions/competitiors who got the jump start on us with their motor. I was aware of one clear advantage we had on them.
We used both sails. They didn’t. Andy had taken to sailing Cascadia with only his Jib due to the somewhat unreliable reefing system for his main sail. That’s a tough compromise to make.  

We soon came across fishermen in tiny trimarans that buzzed around us like go carts. For some reason they reminded me of the wheelie characters from Return to Oz. I think Dave thought they were as dangerous as those characters too. The biggest threat they posed was having us pay too much for the fish they wanted to sell us.

As usual we arrived at night. We contemplated entering into the protected anchorage in the dark. I was tempted because my brother Trevor had already been waiting almost a week on shore. The unreliable charts showed a number of hazards and in the end we made the decision to heave to once again. We spent the night bobbing around offshore in the dark, a bit concerned about pirates and rocks. We arrived more than 12 hours ahead of www.sailingwithandy.com.

At first light the next morning we entered the reef as planned and it was very shallow. Luckily I had taken to the SUP to scout out the passage ahead of Dolce. The charts were horribly wrong and I soon dipped my paddle directly onto a reef. We turned around and anchored off of a nearby island about 6km from Siargao island where I was to meet Trevor. It was dumping heavy rain as we sunk the hook into the sand. I geared up and left Dave with Dolce. He didn’t feel good about leaving her all alone.

I SUPed the 6km across the reef to see Trevor waiting on the pier with a big grin. It was awesome to see him and discover that he’d organized a place to keep the SUP and a bike for me to ride. We rolled across the island to a little surf camp where we would stay and immediately lucked out. There was a decent swell coming in at one of the best breaks in Asia.
We paddled out and into some heavy waves that were getting hollow on a shallow reef. I caught a few good ones but was clearly not in good paddling shape. I was soon dragged across the reef…which lucky for me was covered with a soft seaweed of some sort.

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Dave eventually joined us the next day and we all surfed a much easier break nearby. My sister Tamsin arrived the night after that and treated us all to a nice dinner. After a few days Trevor needed to fly home. It was a short but sweet visit. Dave and I had not cleared customs and immigration into the Phillipines yet so we left shortly after towards an official port of entry. My sister decided to take a ferry. It was a good idea as we ended up taking longer than hoped.

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To start the short trip off Dave and Dolce lightly kissed a reef while I was paddling not far away in deeper water. I ended up paddling 12 km before Dave turned off the motor and we started sailing again. We had lost enough time that we needed to spend another night in the Philippine waters dodging the hundreds of speedy little fishing boats. It was a party at night out there. Lights and engines everywhere!

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The next morning we made a run through a narrow passage between two of the larger Philippine islands. We timed it perfect with a 6-7 knot current and some strong winds that saw us topping out at 13 knots (24km/hr), a Dolce record. We arrived at Surigao City harbour in record time to meet Tamsin. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and Immigration was closed for the weekend. On Monday Dave and I walked across the city to a small office and paid a few dollars to officially arrive in the Philippines. We passed a large protest parade about some mining injustices taking place. Dave left to fly to Taiwan and the sailing journey with my sister began! Would she mysteriously go missing in the Philippine waters or would we strangle each other to death? Find out in the next blog…