Sunday, May 23, 2010

22 May 2010 - Singapore to Palao

This posting describes an adventure different than the others in this log, since the passage described was not made on Arcadia I.

While at home awaiting the arrival of the Dockwise carrier that is to ship Arcadia I from La Paz to Nanaimo, I visited our good friends and across the street neighbors, Brian and Dale Bumgardner. They mentioned that their seafaring son, Dustin, was to Captain a crew engaged to deliver a 47' Grand Banks from Singapore to Palao. I said, "Wow! I'd love to make that trip!", of course.  At that point, however, Dustin already had his crew list filled and there didn't seem to be any likelihood that I could go. Then, at the last minute, one of his crewmembers had a family emergency and could not go, and I was invited to participate.

I left LAX just before midnight on May 3rd for the long flight via Hong Kong on my favorite trans-pacific airline, Cathay Pacific. Because we crossed the International Date Line, I arrived in Singapore just after noon on the 5th. Another of the crew, Mark de Castro was aboard the same flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, although I didn't know it until we connected with Dustin at the airport. We went directly to M/Y Mandy at Keppel Marina. The owner, Shallom Etpison, was aboard seeing to final details of preparing the boat for the trip.

We spent the remainder of the 5th and all of the 6th of May completing a minor worklist and provisioning Mandy. The afternoon of the 6th, we moved her over to the Singapore Yacht Club's customs dock after fueling her at the marina fuel dock. As you might expect in Singapore, customs and immigration clearance was accomplished in a few minutes, exactly at the scheduled time the morning of the 7th. Here's a picture of my crewmates for the voyage just before we left. From left to right, Mark de Castro, Jim Persinger, Dustin Bumgardner.

We moved her across the way to fill two 75 liter reserve fuel bladders we'd brought aboard that morning, then got underway with Dustin piloting us  through the extremely busy Singapore straits before noon, setting a course around the North side of the island of Borneo.

South China Sea sunsets, and sunrises, can be spectacular. We took a lot of pictures of them, but they never really capture their grandeur. Here's one with my watch-mate and now good friend, Jim Persinger, in the foreground. Throughout the trip, we piloted Mandy from the flybridge although there is another helm station belowdecks.

The transit through the South China Sea was relatively uneventful. Shipping traffic in this area is quite heavy and piracy/hijacking is always a concern. Accordingly, we kept a sharp lookout with two persons on the flybridge throughout. While we were using the electronic chartplotter for routine navigagtion, we had a full set of up to date paper charts on which we tracked our current position.

Late the evening of the 9th, about 530 nm later, we anchored offshore at Miri in the Malaysian part of Borneo. At daybreak, when we could see well enough, we moved into the very nice Miri Marina adjacent to the "old" river entrance customs house. The first person we saw in the marina was, unexpectedly, an acquaintance of Jim Persinger, who quickly gave us the "lay of the land". It is, indeed, a small world.

While Dustin and Mark attended to the entry formalities, I sallied into town for some shopping. Both were completed by noon and we moved Mandy to the fuel dock upstream of the "new" river entrance. As you can see from the picture below, waterfront aesthetics in Miri are pretty consistent with the rest of SE Asia. (The rest of the town was pretty modern, however. The supermarket I found, in the basement of the Imperial Hotel, was actually nicer and better stocked than those in Singapore).

After fueling, we again got underway mid-aftenoon for our next refueling stop at Puerto Princesa in the Philippines. We anchored next to this live-aboard dive boat.

As further evidence of the diminshing size of our world, Jim knew the skipper and the boat was a sister vessel to the one on which Dustin is normally Captain in Kona. The crew helped Dustin get through the customs and immigration formalities, (a certain amount of "mordida" was needed to get them completed in a single day without onboard inspection). When that was accomplished, we were allowed to tie up to the commercial dock. I went ashore for a few provisions while the rest of the crew refueled from a truck that came to the dock. The dive boat Captain invited us for a lovely dinner aboard before we left there that evening. 

The next leg of the trip, between Puerto Princesa and Surigao was the shortest of the voyage. We arrived early in the daylight hours of the 16th and were permitted to tie up to the commercial dock for the day. Formalities were quick and straightforward, but it took several hours to organize fueling from a flatbed truck with two "totes" containing the required 1400 liters of diesel. This gave me some time ashore in this typical Philippine waterfront town.

After stocking up on "mystery meat" on a stick and some other provisions we were off, while there was still light enough for the transit through the straits into the Philippine Sea and beyond for our last and longest leg of the voyage.

Three and a half days later, on the 20th of May, we passed through the West Pass across the Palau reef. This picture shows the remains of a boat that missed the pass.

 What a gorgeous place! The pictures fail to capture the splendid luminescence of the water over the reef in contrast to the dark clear blue of the deeper water.

Jim was in his home waters, so he piloted us through the reef.

At about 1pm, we brought Mandy to her new and permanent home at Neco Marine's dock in Koror, Palau on the 20th of May. We were met by the owners, Shallum and Mandy Etpison, as well as several of their crew at Neco Marine, only one of their extensive business interests on the island. Even though we'd only had Mandy for a couple of weeks, we turned her over feeling as if we were parting with an old friend.

The Etpisons proved to be extraordinarily gracious hosts for the day and a half of leisure that we had available before our flights home. They put us up in a delightful apartment above the Neco offices adjacent to the marina, with all our meals and drinks provided by the Drop Off Bar & Grill next door. We were all too tired to do much that afternoon, but the next day Shallum made arrangements for a private tour of the Rock Islands on one of his boats. I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed seeing this beautiful place. It was already on my planned itinerary for next year. Now I can't wait to get there and show it to my friends and family. To my cruising friends, I recommend Palau heartily as a beautiful destination. You will find Neco Marine has friendly and helpful people, a very nice marina and a fuel dock. (680)-488-1294/2206.

There are, literally, hundreds of islands in the archipelago that makes up Palau. Not only is it a beautiful place, but it has an extraordinarily rich history. One of the great battles of WWII was fought on one of the islands, Pelelliu. My poor photography doesn't begin to do justice to what we saw while we were there. Fortunately, owing to the extraordinary talents and efforts of Mandy Etpison, I have three wonderful books, all authored and autographed by her, that richly document the history of the islands and its natural beauty in a manner that I couldn't even imagine, much less attempt. I will always treasure the books, the extraordinary commitment of time and effort they represent. They are a most gracious gift, indeed!

After a wonderful crew dinner at the beautiful Palau Pacific Resort hosted by Shallum Etpison and his two sons, we reluctantly left this beautiful place in the very wee hours of the 22nd of May. Our flight home made stops in Guam and Honolulu. While we spent almost 24 hours in transit, the International Date Line played its normal tricks. We got to Honolulu before we left Guam and I arrived at LAX only 3 hours after I left Palau.

The entire transit of approximately 1,600 nm through the South China into the Sulu sea and then into the Philppine sea and the open Pacific to Palau was marked only by a few thundershowers and occasional periods of 15-20 kt winds and 2-3 ft seas. In all, weather and sea conditions were as near perfect throughout the voyage as we could have asked for.

This Grand Banks is a lovely and gracious boat for coastal cruising. There was never a time during the voyage that we had any reason to question its seaworthiness. Mandy's twin engines are capable of pushing her along at more than 20 kts, however to achieve the necessary 500 nm plus range we needed for this voyage, we had to run at less than 1000 rpm with through the water speeds of approximately 6.5 kts for nearly all of the voyage.

However, Grand Banks are clearly not designed with comfort in mind during long transits in the open ocean. Even these light winds and seas often caused us to hang on tight to keep from being thrown about when the seas were abeam, (most of the trip). The master stateroom, to which I was assigned, is forward, and during much of the trip it was untenable due to pitching and loud noises as the seas pounded the hull. I did, indeed, miss my stout little Nordhavn with it's large fuel tanks, paravane roll stabilizers and its heavier-built and much quieter hull. I can't wait to take her to Palau next year!