This Place Called Palawan, Apo Reef, and El Nido – By Brian

One of the most amazing things about cruising is how plans can suddenly be washed away.  They are truly written in the sand at low tide.  Way back in January of this year we planned to sail to Palawan in the Western Philippines, then work our way north towards Mindoro and Puerto Galera.  At this time the Philippines were hit with a number of fast moving low-pressure systems that wreaked havoc with the weather.  It was blowing 35 knots sustained for weeks on end out there.  Needless to say this wouldn’t be very pleasant cruising so we spent some more time hunkered down exploring Siquijor and the area around Negros (central Visayas).

Then one day there was a tropical depression warning issued and we came up with a plan.  After watching these systems roll by there was a definite pattern.  Any depression that had rotation would roll through uprooting trees and pouring down rain, then after it passed it would literally destroy the breeze.  Strong NE winds would lessen, then disappear, then even reverse themselves for a few days and remain calm.  Our plan was to ride the tail end of one of these systems to get Delos about 300 Miles north.  We waited for our moment in the safety and security of Bonbonon then went for it!  Some might think it’s crazy to sail in the direction of a tropical storm but really they’re pretty predictable here.

And guess what, it worked!  We were able to move north to Boracay in 2 days.  Beating into the normal breeze would have really sucked but we had very light winds and even breeze behind us at some points.  Weather models are cool ?

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Our friendly tropical depression that sucked Delos north to Boracay!  Note the light and reversed winds to the East of the rotation.

Boracay was lazy days at the beach, amazing sunsets, and new friends sailing on Delos.  We ended up spending about a week at this famous holiday hotspot and loved every minute of it, except for the screaming tourists that woke us up every morning at 8:00AM as they zoomed by on their Banana Boat rides.

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February and March found us in the amazing spot of Puerto Galera where we met so many incredible people.  Before we knew it April rolled around and we needed to make a decision.  Would we sail North to Taiwan and Japan or back South towards the equator to escape the Typhoon season.  It was a tough call but we decided to head South.  We said “Until We See You Again” to our amazing friends in Manila and set sail South.  It was now April and three months later than  planned but time is pretty irrelevant out here so it didn’t really matter.

Our first stop was Apo Reef.  I absolutely love anchoring at reefs like this.  No land in sight, just a shallow spot in an otherwise deep ocean.  The weather was perfectly calm and the sky so clear and blue it simply melted into the ocean.  It was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the ocean began.  Absolutely my favorite type of anchorage.  You just feel so isolated and alone, yet perfectly protected by a fringing reef.  It was like anchoring in a pond but in the middle of the ocean.

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Delos anchored at Apo Reef.

We took Maggie out on a few missions to explore pockets of coral that dotted the brilliant white sandy bottom.  Simply amazing.  The days melted together with dawn becoming blazing noon then sliding into painted sunsets.  Sitting on the back deck of Delos I worked my way through some heavy Eckhart Tolle taking lot’s of breaks to just gaze out at the perfectly still lagoon.  Absolutely breathtaking!

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Exploring Apo Reef in Maggie.

Sailing further south we found ourselves in an area known as Coron.  Coron is the top wreck diving destination of the Philippines, apparently known to everyone but us.  In true Delos style we really weren’t aware of this until a local pointed out the wreck of a 100 meter Japanese freighter lying just a few hundred meters from our anchorage. Too cool!  In 1943 a complete Japanese fleet was sunk here by an American air raid.

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Holllllleeeeeeyyyyyyyy!  Look at all those wrecks!

We were amazed by the number of wrecks and the accessibility of each.  There were moorings sunk at the bow and stern of most so it was super easy to locate and dive from our dinghy.  In true Filipino style the local dive guides welcomed us to tie up to their boats, gave us their favorite routes through the wrecks, and even offered us the use of their hang tanks for deco if we needed them.  Where else in the world would that happen?   Absolutely no competition here, just the pure joy of diving and exploring.

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But most of the time we were completely alone.  Just two curious divers with lot’s of time and a compressor on their hands.  It just doesn’t get much better than this.  We ended up drifting about here day after day just diving the wrecks. Wreck diving is by far my favorite type of dive.  I just love to wander through a ghostly ship at the bottom and wonder what she looked like on the surface, and more importantly what disaster befell her and her crew on that fateful day 70 years ago.
Before we knew it a month had flown by.  How do you know when you’re really, really, enjoying your life?  If a month fly’s by in what seems like the blink of an eye it’s a pretty good indication.

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Nudi-branch and much, much more!

As we continued south the limestone cliffs grew tall and the beaches endless white sand.  There were hundreds of stunning, completely deserted islands just begging to be explored.  A true cruisers dream.  Not a soul in site for weeks on end, yet amazingly we still had 3G service from Globe.  The Philippines is crazy like that.

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Delos at Sangat Island, Coron.

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Dinghy exploring in Maggie!

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Wicked sunsets……  No photoshop here, just real nature!

We managed to dive in Baracudda Lake, by far one of the strangest spots I’ve ever dove.  It’s a lake in the middle of Coron Island.  Access is hike in only so you put your gear on and walk over some fairly intense limestone cliffs.  The crazy thing about this site is the temperature.  There’s massive thermocline layer as  you get deeper and the temperature increases rapidly.  It was like diving in a Jacuzzi, almost uncomfortably hot.

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Hiking into Barracuda Lake with full gear on.  Crazy!

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Check out that temp!  95F at nearly 100Ft down.  Wild!

We meandered further south to El Nido.  The season had changed and we were now between the two Monsoons. It was completely still and flat with sunny blue skies. Not a lick of breeze meant motor sailing for Delos.

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This entire area is dotted with more islands than you can count.  Everywhere you look there’s a deserted island with inviting, sandy shores and cool blue water.  One of the few places you can have as many islands to yourself as you want.

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Life is so good here ?

Ever further we sailed south finally arriving at El Nido town.  This entire area is so amazing with it’s dramatic limestone cliffs and hidden lagoons to explore.  Some friends happened to be in the area staying at a resort so we had a chance to catch up and spend some time with them.

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Days stretched into weeks and we baked in the incredibly hot sun.  Not a cloud in the sky, just endless blue and the unforgiving heat.  Delos baked and so did we with daily temperatures breaking 105F(41C) on a regular basis.  The only escape was to be in the water so that’s what we did.  Dive, sweat, snorkel, sweat, rinse, swim, shower, repeat.  Over and over our lives revolved around being in the water or seeking protection from the sun.  It’s really not such a terrible problem to have…..

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Our original 3 week Palawan plan had melted under the summer sun to 3 months.  It was pure awesomeness to see this region of the Philippines and be able to spend so much time here.  The thing that blew us away was the utter beauty and lack of development.   Just a short distance away from the villages and small towns we were basically all alone, and able to spend a week or more at amazing island beach’s without a single soul in site.  It just doesn’t get better than this!