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Published: January 30th 2011
Ride the Joe
Poster for the Joe as seen in Coron-Coron
It wasn’t until the engine blew with a bang that my myriad of concerns crystallized into a single controlled panic. A cloud of dense, oily blue smoke erupted from the fantail and obscured the boat’s wake. One of the three crewmen who had been cloistered in the phone booth-sized bridge hustled back along the narrow starboard deck, stepping over oblivious passengers who were dozing on top of their neon orange life jackets. After shutting down the number two engine and a brief conference in the phone booth, the American man, who was ostensibly in charge of the boat, ducked his head into the small passenger cabin with a plastic smile plastered on his face and announced that we would be two hours later getting into El Nido from Coron City than originally planned. I did the math and quickly realized that we would be running an overloaded boat, in the dark, through narrow passages, without radar, radio nor sonar. I told Karen to gather every Ziploc bag we possessed while I mentally ran through every bit of my 40 year-old, military, open water survival training.
Just ten days before our cruise a similar craft loaded with Dutch passengers and running
Interior of the Cabin
At this point the storms had not started and the majority of folks were out on the deck.
the same route capsized when one of its outrigger braces broke. Fortunately one of the passengers had a working cell phone and was able to call for assistance. They were in the water for three hours before a flotilla of Philippino fishermen came to their rescue. These boats are your only choice of conveyance when traveling between Coron City and El Nido by sea. The only other way to skin the transport cat is to fly Philippine Express Air for 3,000 Pesos from Coron City to Puerto Princess and then bus or van north to El Nido for 6-8 hours. Since the plane only runs two days a week, most people take the boat.
Boat tickets are sold by every hotel and tour operator. The price is conveniently price-fixed (for the financial good of the ticket sellers and boat operators) at 2,200 Pesos. Of this amount, 200 Pesos is the seller’s commission. There are four boats making the run. The one you end up with is determined by the luck of the draw. Most of the boats are designed for a maximum of 20 passengers but due to a quirk in Philippino law, a boat operator can stuff ten
The boat makes it way through a series of small uninhabited islands like this way on the way south to El Nido.
more passengers onboard if he raises his insurance liability.
We bought our ticket from a conniving little squirrel of a woman named Dolores who runs Busuanga Travel Adventures out of a tiny slit-trench office at the intersection of National Highway and Duarte. Be forewarned. Dolores is the Godmother of all travel operators in Coron City. Always get a receipt from her or suffer a double charge. If she tells you that snorkel equipment is included with her island hopping tours then you have just been given notice that you need to bring snorkel gear. If she tells you drinks are included, then you need to go shopping for drinks. She has a blackboard mounted on a chair in front of her office advertising her tour amenities. By the time you get back to ask her what happened to the drinks, the gear etc., those amenities will have magically disappeared in a cloud of chalk dust. Dolores wields a mighty eraser. While dining at the Sea Dive restaurant one day, we happened to mention our Dolores issues and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by fellow travelers adding their Dolores problems to the mix. “Hey, she did that to me too!” You are well advised to avoid her altogether.
The boat we ended up on was called ‘Joe’. An attractive full color poster for ‘Joe’ on Dolores’s office wall promised the following:
Two reliable Mitsubishi engines. Come again?
Plenty of legroom. Only if you’re a double-amputee Hobbit.
A clean and fresh ‘comfort room’. There is a toilet without a seat that you cannot flush in a dirty cubby and make sure you bring your own toilet paper.
New life jackets for every passenger and crew. The life jackets might have been new in 2005. There were a total of 30 jackets for 36 passengers and 6 crewmen.
GPS navigational equipment. This consisted of a first generation GPS monochrome 3 inch display that the ‘Captain’ turned on once every five minutes to check his bearings.
Before pushing off an hour late, the boat was subjected to an inspection by the Philippino Coast Guard. Three uniformed men with clipboards and very shiny combat boots spent 45 minutes hanging around the bridge before declaring the craft fit to sail. Huh? During the inspection the American operator implored the passengers to sit in the seats provided as required by regulation. There are a total of eight small benches suitable for perhaps 24 normal-sized adults. Many of the passengers ended up perched on the arm rests during the inspection. After getting underway we encountered two squalls that sent the passengers on deck back into the crowded cabin.
The game was on. Having secured our passports, cash and food in water-tight bags, Karen and I quietly grabbed two, sound, life jackets and tied them on. The only other couple our age on the boat quietly did the same. What’s the saying? Live long and learn well. Now running in total darkness, one of the crewmen fired up a gas powered 10-Amp generator which provided power to a single light bulb in the cabin and a running light located at the top of the mast. Note to Pammy: We made sure that Jack and Paul both had jackets with them. No sense in shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. We ran along, literally on the edge of our seats, for three and a half hours before finally putting into El Nido at 10:30 PM. Our 6 to 8 hour cruise came in at just over 13 hours. Next time we’ll take the plane. The last time we saw Captain America he was stumbling around the BalayTubay bar in El Nido. His little sea legs had gone all wobbly beneath him. He didn’t recognize us. Hell. I don’t think he would have recognized his own mother.
Tot: 1.286s; Tpl: 0.061s; cc: 24; qc: 64; dbt: 0.0669s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb