Episode 3. Man, you can: but should you?

Having nearly ended the Philippines leg of our journey to Thailand via Malaysia as yet another wreck on the charts, Ben (the skipper) and Hugh (first mate) aboard Candeux decide a rest day is in order.

We decide we need a rest day in the middle of the Sulu Sea at Manucan Island in the Cagayan Islands. Some exploring ashore on Manucan will be just the thing. We will get our energies recharged before the 100nm run to Dumaran Island at the northern tip of the Palawan Islands.

But first, breakfast. Fresh fish. We are anchored among several Filipino fishing boats called bangkas (water-spider in the Philippines’ language,Tagalog). This seems like the perfect opportunity. During the night we have seen the boats working the area and three of them are coming in to re-anchor. Ben starts miming our desire to buy some fish for breakfast. Ben has probably not thought this through as well as he might. Hugh at first thinks Ben is doing some kind of impromptu island dance, but it appears that, with undulating arm movements (and a surprising swaying of hips), he is miming water with fish swimming in it, finishing it off by opening his mouth and sticking his hand in it. The fishermen, who have already been up all night and are probably a bit overwrought, are staring rather blankly. I am tempted to liven things up a bit by putting on some accompanying music, but reflect that this may suggest that we want the fishermen to come over and party and think better of it.

After a while Ben gives up. We opt for muesli. Well, at least Ben got some aerobic exercise. Sadly, before we can go exploring, we have to get stuck into redoing the steering, fixing the low pressure in the port water tank line and installing a fan in Hugh’s cabin (imperative). After much huffing and puffing, we rework the steering chain so that the turnbuckle will now not ride over the steering cog, but we don’t have a spare turnbuckle so the bent one has been refitted. Let’s hope the pressure does not cause the now-weakened bend in the turnbuckle to snap. The low pressure in the port water tank can only be fixed by removing the charcoal filter. A new filter is needed; we’ll probably poison ourselves.

But, time-consuming as these tasks are, Hugh’s fan is the most frustrating job. The cabin lining is an attractive grey synthetic which, when you drill into it, melts onto the drill bit and has to be regularly cut off. It’s harder than you’d think, such a hassle, and when we finally get the holes drilled, wires tinned and soldered on, their bulk won’t allow the base plate to connect to the fan. Oh, help. Not only, but the screws are the wrong size and too soft, so they all break. Please kill me.

While we are in the middle of all this (and it takes most of the planned exploring day) there’s an arrival at the transom steps. It’s some of the fishermen in a wooden outrigger from one of the bangkas. Ben’s boogie has had a result. They are offering us a very grubby plastic bag which, if it holds fish, are going to be pretty small. In fact, it is full of good sized squid. A result, but Ben will still need to work on his miming.

We offer the fishermen some money for the squid but they are emphatic that they won’t accept any. Hugh is thinking that maybe it’s not enough. Fair enough, and we offer more. No, they won’t take our money. Ben has now disappeared. I hope he isn’t back in the cockpit miming again. However, he quickly reappears with cigarettes which bring lots of happy smiles and the fishermen go away very content. When you are out on the ocean for days, weeks at a time, money is just paper, but cigarettes are currency. Ben guts the squid on the transom steps and announces that there will be squid curry for dinner. A good man with his hands and in the kitchen.

At last, somewhat late in the afternoon, we go exploring on Manucan Island. It’s not big but it does have a lighthouse in the middle of it. An adventure. We’re off. Dinghying ashore seemed like a good idea, but it is shallowing quite quickly and it’s coral all the way in. We can’t row in. Someone will have to get out and pull the boat. At this moment Ben promptly remembers that he left his $200 beach sandals on Candeux. Hmmm. Hugh ‘volunteers’ to tread through the razor sharp, infectious coral in his $5 Target specials. Target being an unfortunate association as Hugh slides his body into the water with the expectation of standing on a stone fish and dying within seconds; being impaled by a cone shell and having a long, lingering, painful death; having his ankle punctured by a deadly sea snake; and being ripped and twisted asunder by crocodiles. Still, all seems to be going OK so far. But then Oooops. Hugh is toppling. He lunges back to the tender. Suddenly there is an excruciating pain shooting up his right arm. Oh my god! No! Hugh is too young (well…) to die. But it’s not a deadly cone shell, stone fish or sea snake driving stabbing pain up Hugh’s arm, nor the serrations of the coruscating coral as Hugh falls amongst it. No. It’s Ben, attempting to tear Hugh’s arm off in an effort to haul him back into the dinghy. Saved. Whew. Undaunted, another valiant attempt is made by Hugh and we are ashore. This is good for Hugh, and…… not so good for Ben. The white ‘beach’ is all sharp, dead coral and Ben’s feet are quickly suffering. However, remembering how Ben dislocated Hugh’s arm while ‘saving’ him, Hugh spots a washed up sandal and offers it to Ben. Ben, ever the improviser, manages to get it on, and so lopes and hobbles around the island.

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There is not much to see. The island only has a circumference of about 500 metres so we are round it pretty fast (well, at least Hugh is). It is coral, sand and a thin film of soil with some very hardy scrub and small trees. The human structures are all dilapidated. The lighthouse works but looks like it shouldn’t. There are the concrete remnants of earlier structures and a half built thatch hut. Perhaps the fishermen use the hut for land recreation but it looks like they just stay on their boats – sleep during the day and fish at night.

Well, that was Manucan Island – 48 hours of maintenance and 45 minutes of exploring an island in the middle of the Sulu Sea. It’s back to Candeux (watch those killer sea creatures) for squid curry and cold beer. Bliss.

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