A volcano blows up as we round the southern end of Luzon. It is a spectacular sight. At first I think it is a fire - a big forest fire - but then we see it blast flame and smoke high into the sky. It's a long way off. Just visible. Ben and Darlene and Freddy and I sit and watch it as we sail on South. Ben and Darlene are on vacation and have come along as crew on our voyage from Subic Bay down to Cebu. They are delightful people with long experience in the Philippines. We are happy to have them aboard.
Our first destination is Port Conception; a little bay in a tiny little island far away from anywhere in the central Philippines. We arrive just before sunset. Our fathometer is winging its way to California to be repaired for the second time so we have no idea how deep the water is. The chart we have is too large a scale to show the details of the harbor very well. It looks deep.
We see a man in a dug-out canoe and pull up alongside.
"Hello," I call. "Can you tell us where there is a good place to anchor? Not too deep?"
"Si! Yes. Follow me. I will show you the best place to anchor. Right over there at my village." He paddles towards the small town on the other side of the bay. We follow slowly behind.
Eventually, we arrive and the man points into the water. "Here. Here. Not deep. You put anchor here."
I drop the anchor. The chain rattles out. I let out a lot. It hangs straight down. I let out some more. No bottom. More. No bottom. Now I have the choice of cranking in about 100 feet of chain with the hand windlass and hunting for another spot where it is less deep or I can let out more chain.
The problem is the weight of the chain. Our windlass is a Simpson Lawrence hand cranked version which we have already decided is a piece of shit; suitable for marina boats only. It is an absolute bear, nearly impossible, to pull a couple of hundred feet of it back in, 4.5 inches at a crank.
"What the hell," I let it roll out. It is at least 150 feet deep. Maybe deeper. But we are anchored for the night and that's that. A dug-out canoe approaches from the village filled with six girls. They range from about 10 to 15 years of age and are all dressed up in pretty dresses. They are cute little things, all waving and smiling and grinning at us. "Hello. Where are you from?" One of them sings in a bell like voice. "Welcome to our village," chimes in another as their canoe comes alongside.
Ben pokes me in the ribs and whispers, "Take a slow look behind us."
I cautiously turn my head just in time to see a teenaged boy surface from a dive near Moira's stern. He is gesturing to three other teenagers in a canoe, his hands accurately indicating the size of our propeller, his face with a big eager grin. While we are being distracted by the girly welcoming committee, the village youth are sizing up the possibilities of liberating us of our propeller.
I pointedly sit and stare at the boys and they laugh and paddle off.
We eat dinner in the cockpit, watching a larger outrigger sailing canoe ease close to us. Ben tells us about a friend of his, a member of the Subic Bay Yacht Club, who was anchored off another village in the Central Philippines. The owner woke up when his boat floated out of the harbor and began to roll. He ran forward to pull up the anchor. Only to discover that the chain extended just to the water. Below that the links had been sawn through.
He ran aft, started his motor, put it in gear and wrrrrrrr, nothing. They had stolen his propeller, too. He went to put up his sails but they had stolen his lines....The story is a bit hard to believe.
"Thievery is an established and acceptable social practice," Ben gets out his pipe. "Robin Hood in the tropics." He taps in some tobacco. "We were on a camping trip along the coast not far from the base. Oh, about a year ago. Around midnight I felt a gentle touch on my arm. Like this." He touches my arm lightly.
"I opened my eyes and looked right into the business end of a rifle. 'Shhhhh,' a voice said." and Ben put on an excellent imitation of a Filipino accent "Please, my friend, do not make any noise. We do not wish to disturb your sleeping friends. I do not wish to wake you but we can not find your money."
"Once they had the money they left quietly." Ben lights up the pipe.
We talk about butter pats in the Olongapo restaurant. Ben tells us Marcos wants all civilian jobs on the base to be filled with Filipinos. He also wants all the guards to be civilian posts - Filipino manned.
"The base would be a skeleton in hours," Darlene predicts and then adds, "Marcos also wants all the German shepherd guard dogs killed or shipped out. He says they represent a danger to men who, after all, are only trying to earn a living."
Ben shakes his head, "Despite the guards, fences and guard dogs some Filipinos quietly slip onto the base every so often to take the spent brass casings from the firing range and bombing range. A couple of months ago, at dawn, a jet pilot was practicing `lobbing' a bomb. The plane flies at the target and, just before it arrives the pilot pulls straight up and releases the bomb. It arcs over and drops onto the bullseye on the field. The bomb is a real one which explodes with a big white puff so the pilot can see how close he has scored as he soars straight up in the air, turning so he can get a look at the bulls-eye.
"The pilot looked down at the target area as he started his climb and just before the bomb exploded he saw a group of people right in the middle of the bulls eye."
"Yeah, we saw the newspaper articles," I say, "The press hammered on about American Brutality and American Murderers."
"Right," Ben puffs on his pipe, "There's sort of a sick joke on the base. The pilots say the Filipinos were probably trying to steal the bomb." Freddy laughs and, after a minute we all do.
Naturally, we are worried about pirates, which are still a big problem in some places, especially in the Sulu Sea south of Mindanao and we are worried about the village youth salvage committee. So we stay up late frightening each other with horror stories and then we each take two hour watches until daybreak.