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Welcome to sailing yacht Alishan

Read more about the adventures and boat-projects on board of Alishan

Subic Bay, Luzon


Sy ALISHAN leaves the Philippines and sails via Taiwan to Japan; a lot of miles (for us) and a lot of time at sea, so the weather plays an important role. At the end of the North-east monsoon the winds play funny tricks; we make an unplanned stop at Lyu Dao. The rainy season is late and our plan to stay behind it works only just. In Japan we feel at home again, but for the boat it’s a different story…

Subic Bay, the Philippines

The trip from Calauit Island, Busuanga to Subic Bay in Luzon was a rough one.

That body of water near Mindanao is notorious for what we call big square waves. Even when there is hardly any wind. Several boats have had problems there and that’s where the Dutch boat Bannister lost their mast a few weeks before.

We entered the marina, where we found an international community of short term visitors and long term residents and our dock harbored quite some characters. There were Joy and Lesley on Banshee, 2 ladies who’d rescued their boat from the coral reefs in PNG, written a book about it and now matronized the whole harbor. There was Bob on Saudade, who was a neighbor in Fukuoka for 2 years, way back in 1989, on the same boat! There were Ko and Carla, Hendrik Jan and Hannie, and 4 or 5 others: the Dutch division. And there was Terry on Walhalla with Rose, known since 1992, celebrating his 74th birthday and still going strong.

Happy birthday Terry and thanks for the party.

In a small marina next to the main harbor we found Dagon in reasonably good shape. Tom and Fran had worked hard for a year to get there after they got hit by a Typhoon in Bolinao that did great damages. So much, anyone else would have written her off. But the love for their wooden 38 year old Camper & Nicholson kept them going and now the boat is more or less ready to sail to Kudat, where the more cosmetic jobs will continue. Fran took time to take us to the market, drive us around and have us over at their temporary house. Us meaning Jon and Pam as well. Tweed, the Australian yacht that we cruised with in Palawan was still in our company and together with them we planned our sail to Japan.

Sy Dagon on the left and Fran working on it on the right.

The marina is part of the Subic Bay Free Zone, a left over from the previous American base. It meant passing through a gate (which was just a farce) in order to get to the town of Olongapo, where markets offered fresh fruit, veges, meat fish, cheap shoes and clothing. We had some Alishan polo shirts and caps made, good for souvenirs, later in Japan. There were lots of little shops, jeepneys and tricycles, but once on base the public transport reduced to a handful of minibuses frequenting residential areas and mainly used by Filipinas working as maids. The base had shopping centers with some big supermarkets that offered imported food products like cheese and cereal and a lot of booze.

View from the marina towards the east.

We managed to have some work done on Alishan. We ‘borrowed’ Dagon’s boatboy who did the waxing and hired a carpenter to replace the screws in the teak deck.

It’s so nice when you don’t have to do all that deck work by yourself

We didn’t travel much from here. Marijke went to Manila for one day, to see just another Asian City, but Jaap hung around the base, jogged in the early mornings and cycled to Olongapo later in the day, hunting for hardware and ice-cream.

Marijke went out to go birding on base a number of times. The Americans had made sure the surrounding forest was kept untouched, so there was some wildlife around. But the cooking pot-fear got into their genes and everything was super shy. I ran into a group of people working with WIN: Wildlife In Need. They worked with confiscated pets mainly and tried to train them so they could either return to the jungle, or lead a more meaningful life with educational purposes. I was allowed to come along when they released some macaques and thus got to go to a restricted area called ‘hill 43’.

Macaque Release Project. Monkeys can often go back to the forest. The macaque on the left, however missing a hand, is ready to be released.

Subic Bay was a nice place to be for a short time. The community was too tight for our liking to ever want to stay more then a month or 2, but isn’t that always the case in Marinas?

Crew relaxing at the end of the day

Via the Bashi Channel to Taiwan

It was Saturday May 1st when we left Subic Bay, heading for northern waters.

The first leg was short. Pulling out of a potential trap as this marina is an effort in itself. We anchored in port Silanguin in 13m of water with sy Tweed some boat lengths over starboard.

The following day we and were treated with a clear sighting of a sperm whale mother and calf. As far as whale sightings are ever clear, the photo doesn’t show much, but the impression these huge mammals make is significant!

We made it to Abagatanen before sunset, anchored again and got ready for a quiet evening, when a banka full of youngsters pulled alongside. Jaap asked them to get us some fruit and fish and sure enough, half an hour later they returned with our orders. We invited them for a drink and a bunch of boys and girls hopped on board. Some more ‘cousins’ followed and everybody had a good time. They left just before dark and we felt their youthful energy rubbing off on us until Jaap noticed his fishing gear was gone... It’s not right; maybe the lure gets used a bit more successfully from now.

On Monday we continued to the north of Luzon, got to Bolinao at the end of the day and anchored in a narrow spot between fish farms and bankas.

Bolinao: fish farms on one side

Bankas on the other. Not a place to ride out a typhoon – like sy Dagon

The next day we all went ashore, hauling a ride with a passing fisherman. A tricycle ride over a dusty road took us to the centre of town where we found a 400 year old church, bread and veges and some other merchandise that took our fancy: lanterns made of recycled cans and jars and irons that could be heated with charcoal. The same as the ones you find in European antique and curiosity stores, for a lot more $$.

Recognize any brands?

A banka at the loading dock; the most important and sometimes the only mean of transportation in the north of Luzon, where roads are few and far between.

We had anticipated a few days in Bolinao, but the weather forecast told us different. One does not want to miss the opportunity of fair winds across the Bashi Channel. This upcoming trip was one to take very seriously. From previous trips we knew the channel didn’t need to be a problem, but the place is ill-known for its rough seas. Again, strong currents and square waves are high on the menu. The grib files that tell us the forecasted wind strength and directions had been telling us wrong for the last week. Every time it showed south-west winds, we got north-easterlies. Right on the nose. Now we didn’t know what to expect, consulted more weather stations and got more unsure. The only thing we could do was take our chances when all sources sounded positive, hoist the anchor and go.

The start wasn’t too bad. Still along the coast of Luzon, the winds were variable and light to nothing and we motor sailed the first 2 days.

sy Tweed, never far ahead nor behind.

Getting closer to Taiwan we experienced a current in our favor and then the winds turned south east. We shut the engine off and sailed. In fact we flew. Doing 10 knots over ground, clocking 12 at times we had to hang on to ourselves but no complains! Secret calculations of how many more hours to Hualien filled our mind. Until suddenly the wind died. Just for a little while and then it returned. Full force from the NE: on the nose again!

Now we had wind and current from opposite directions, no good! The kurosho, a north-running current would be with us and push us in the right direction on the way along Taiwan to Japan, but we were getting the square waves again and there is nothing as bad as that. Well, except for typhoons I guess.

Looking at the charts we realized we were not far from a possible stop: Lyu Dao, also known as Green Island. Even in the dark this was the best option. We gave Yanmar a boost and sped up towards the dark mass in a dark sky that welcomed us with its protection. Despite a lot of poorly lit fishing nets and great depths we found a spot to drop the anchor in 18m, followed by Tweed who did the same and we all went to sleep in peace. How good it feels when all of a sudden you don’t have to get up every 2-3 hours and you don’t have to braise yourself anymore, you can just relax and all your mussels can do this at the same time.

A little stowaway checking our progress.

The next morning we discussed what to do. Tweed was just 25 meters away from us. We had managed to stay in contact by VHF, which is a big accomplishment for our piece of SH.., which doesn’t want to do its job on a 2 mile distance and never without being charged at the same time. Tweed and Alishan always stayed close, and thus we benefited from their AIS service, warnings of passing ships, FADs (Fish Attracting Devices, nasty unlit constructions made of steel drums and scrap), dolphins, whales etc. Thank you Pam and Jon, you made our passages a real pleasure, adding to our safety and our joy!

FADs at sea, don’t want to hit too many of them!

The wind was still from the north-east, so we decided make a move towards the small harbor; see if there would be any room for us to stay another 1 or 2 nights. However, the coral had eaten our anchor and didn’t want to give it back. At that time a boat with scuba divers came by and when Pam called them they stopped. They saved us from what could have been a very nasty experience, untangled the chain, phoned harbor officials and organized us a place in the basin. YAHOO! Thanks this time to Vincent of Air Fish, not only for coming to our rescue, but also for the wifi, the free bicycles, the drinks. Lyu Dao wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Left: Divers coming to the rescue, right: Entering the harbor of Lyu Dao

Dive shop AIR FISH

Green Island is not an official Taiwanese port of entry, but we were welcome thanks to the Yacht’s Safety Program. Coastguard officials came on board and became our second friend there. They were so nice, allowing us to stay a few more days without even stamping our passports!

We had one problem however: Nobody, not even the ATM’s accepted our bankcards. Alishan found a couple of Taiwanese dollars in a locker, left-over from travels in the past, Tweed had nothing. The only place that could officially help us was the foreign exchange service at the post office. They would accept US$ but... it was Saturday and closed for the weekend, not to be open until Monday. Restaurants lining the street were calling out with their menus of sashimi and Taiwanese steamboats. Ouch! We asked some of the hotels, but they could not help us getting cash on our credit cards. Eventually the owner of the gasoline stand offered to change some cash. However, the way it turned out, we didn’t take it. We still had some produce onboard from Bolinao and cooked onboard. Promising ourselves a huge treat the nest week.

Coastline on the north and east side of the island

So we enjoyed the lush greens of Green Island, a welcome change from the arid browns of Luzon. We ended up staying 8 days, walked the cross island jungle trail, cycled and biked all around, getting great shots of birds, lizards and scenery. (See the wildlife section) We can recommend anybody to stop by this little island and enjoy its hospitality, the flowers and the healthy coral. (Except where Alishan hooked in)

Harbor scenes. The little basin on the bottom is very pretty, but not deep enough for keel yachts.

View towards the west. The mainland of Taiwan (not visible here) a mere 20 miles away.

Temples, ruins, dragons, Lyu Dao has it all.

Study in grey

Another one who liked Lyu Dao: Nori had his personal jungle gym to play hide and seek.


Despite the slight headwinds, the overnighter to Hualien was a pleasant 80 miles. We actually sailed till midnight, used our faithful Yanmar in the morning, arrived at 7:30 am

Approaching Hualien

And there was Terry. He had been waiting for several days now and was on the verge of sailing around Taiwan himself. He had prepared some paperwork for Alishan and Tweed and was eager to get us to the right offices where more paperwork was waiting, forms that had to be filled out by him rather than our own captains. Terry also drove us to the laundromat with our mountains of sweaty shirts and sheets. We hadn’t seen one since Subic Bay...

Jaap, Terry and Marijke

We talked about our trips, the winds, the weather and Terry told us they were still waiting for the heavy rains of the season. We noticed the temperatures had gone down with our heading north and we’d had rain showers on and off, but nothing like a real tsuyu. To make our plan of staying south of the rainy belt work, we should not move to vast. And that was fine, since Hualien is one of the better places on earth. Not the harbor. Our designated possie was along a stone wall with no fenders, sometimes downwind and with big ships passing by all the time. Getting on and off was a matter that had to be planned according to the tides. But there was so much to do ashore.

Sy Alishan and sy Tweed along the wall in section 3 of Hualien Port

First we bought bicycles. All 4 of us. Marijke having had to leave her Kuah Oscar behind in Subic brought this on and we all were happy with our new wheels. The city had many eateries, good coffee (at every 7/11 a cafe) and miles and miles of cycling paths.

Our wheels. Note the Dutch stroopwafels, available at the 7/11 cafes on the right!

Another contact dropped by: Cassie Yu, through a friend of a friend at the Philippines Wild Bird Society. Cassie drove Pam and Marijke to the local birding sites and on some Hualien Wild Bird Federation daytrips.

The upper stream of the Meilun River, where fish can swim upstairs on the right. Cassie and Pam inspecting bugs on the left.

One trip to Lyushan we followed up the 4 of us when we rented a car ourselves. This was an adventure by itself, as the rental office people took a liking to us, visited us on board and came with more fruit then we could eat. Imagine a 15 kg. watermelon. And you know what? We finished it! Not only that one, but also the watermelon that Cassie brought AND the one from the Coastguard... they were so tasty! Thanks to the late rain.

How to eat super juicy watermelon when you don’t want to push it all through the blender...

Another day we drove to Taroko Gorge, which was just as spectacular as in our memories.

Eventually the rains came. We looked at the grib files and other weather forecasts and kept postponing our ETD, waiting for the rains to move north ahead of us. It worked out well for me, Marijke, as this way I was able to join the bird club on a daytrip to the high mountains past the gorge of Taroko National Park. This wonderful day I’ll never forget. We were above the clouds all the time, under clear blue skies in a different world. Look at the end of this episode for the special photos of Taroko High Elevation.

This is one example:


View of the east part of Hualien city from Meilunshan park

Chinese temple roof

Shop and vending outlet for... WATER

A favorite: 100-year old eggs

Jaap being eternally cheeky at the eternal springs of Taroko

Return to Japan

On June 9th we left Taiwan at 9:00 in the morning to cross the South China Sea to the southernmost island of Japan: the Ryukyu Islands. The 120 mile was covered in 24 hours, the wind again exactly not in our favor, but the Kurosho current with us. We passed Iriomote and the smaller surrounding islands, recalling visiting these places with friends. We thought about these friends and looked forward to seeing them and then we were there: The harbor of Ishigaki.

Ishigaki, our favorite island in Okinawa prefecture

Jaap had sent faxes and emails and had taken most required steps (not all, we didn’t employ an agent as was recommended by a Mr. Kuba) for entering Japan on a foreign yacht. Sy Alishan is registered in Holland, so though we might feel like coming home, our boat is not. Soon the troops arrived, 7 people of the coastguard, 3 of customs and 3 of the quarantine. They all needed zillions of papers with all the same information, but were all very friendly.

We managed to slip Nori and Wakame through the maze of their thoroughness.

Form to be filled out by Quarantine: Do you have any sickness? Answer: No. Does any of the crew have a sickness? No. Any passengers? No. Do you have any sick pets on board? Answer: NO!

When another officer entered the cabin and exclaimed: “Oh you have cats!” I was all prepared to show him their papers, but before I could say anything he concluded himself: “But they never leave the boat, right? That’s OK. Keep them inside.” Sure.

Children’s paintings brighten the concrete typhoon walls that surround the harbor (left) and Shisa, the dog-lions decorate roofs and entrances all over town (right)

Because of the upcoming dragon boat races all yachts were relocated to a jetty with berths in a corner of the fishing harbor. It made an excellent yacht harbor, despite the absence of water and electricity. But we were told right away that we would not be able to stay here. After the festival all needed to leave and we would have to moore against a wall. Not so nice, certainly not in the upcoming typhoon season.

By now Jaap started making arrangements for a trip to the Netherlands to see Mum and the rest of the family. But he had no luck with online booking. The result was a flight from Okinawa, the main island to Taipei and from there to Amsterdam. In other words: Our stay at this pretty island, our favorite, was very limited. Too bad, but after all it was probably for the best. In Okinawa Alishan could stay in a marina and Marijke, the cats and the boat would be safe. Jaap would not have to worry, have a better trip etc etc. OK.

Alishan and Tweed in a "would be very nice yacht harbor" setting

Mike on Hanalee came to greet us, Kuri and Fusa of Taniwha organized a bbq and we all watched the WK soccer game Japan vs. Holland on June 19th. Ayako, Tomoshiro, Fukami-san, all showed up and we glowed.

Watching WK soccer Japan vs. The Netherlands

The exact day we arrived another Dutch boat pulled in: sy Bannister with Hendrik Jan and Hannie. We had met them once before, in Subic Bay. In fact we knew they were on their way here, after we had directed them to Green Island, where they also made a pit stop, managed to arrive in the weekend, had no money, same story. But they skipped Hualien. No taste for concrete walls I guess.

We did most of the official paperwork together (Immigration, cruising permits) and set out exploring the laundromats, supermarkets and phone shops. We managed to organize a phone and internet through a modem right away, but for the others it wasn’t that easy. Tweed ended up having to wait till Okinawa. And even there it didn’t work out.

Pot-luck on the jetty and a first taste of home-made Japanese food for Bannister and Tweed

The day of the dragon boat races was a fine day. Lucky, because we were still in the tail of the rainy season. It turned out to be a very colorful festival with lots of photo opportunities.

Ayako had offered us the use of her car again and we did use it twice to drive around the island with Jon and Pam. Our bicycles were very useful here, for all the shopping, the dentist, the vet for Wakame’s special food and the trips to Banna Koen and the paddy fields. We all got our exercise. The temperatures weren’t too high yet, though the humidity was close to 100%.

Ayako on the left; Jaap with Pam and Jon in front of the little shrine at Kabira Wan on the right 

Hiromi and Fukami picked us up for a tour to their secret spots. I won’t go into details here. Secrets are secrets, right. I’ll just say thank you! We hope to go there again with you guys. See the orchids and the Sankoucho and the beaches...

We loved it. 

Turtle tracks on the left, Ruddy Kingfisher on the right.

Ishigaki was very special again. We loved the food and the climate. Seeing our friends was great. Everybody objected to our short stay of course, but again we promised to come back. Some day.

More shisa and roof tiles

Another yacht had entered Ishigaki port: Sea Rover from South Africa with single handler Anthony. As a group the 4 of us departed Ishigaki and sailed to Myakojima, where we stayed in the northern port of Ikema – again. This was our third time here as well. Again some old friends stopped by, some new ones too. Mr. Katsuren and his wife Emiko were especially kind to us, taking us on a boat trip through the maze of coral reefs on the north side of the island.

We had a great day snorkeling, fishing, catching gunguru by the dozens, shelling on the reef at low spring tide.

A FAD had made it to Ikema, all the way from Philippine waters. Isn't it ugly!

We again stayed a little longer than planned, the weather was unstable and the winds kept howling. We waited long enough to be sure of a pleasant overnight trip towards Okinawa, without thunder storms or any other surprises. And when we left that’s what we got.Click to Edit This Title

A Red-footed Booby landed on Alishans bow and chose that as its beauty parlor.

The rainy season had officially ended, so our trick of hanging back had worked, but now typhoons could start growing any time.

At the Kerama Retto, the green paradise islands just off Okinawa we all had our last fill of peace, Alishan at Akashima, the others at Zamami.

Akashima, Kerama Retto

The date of Jaaps flight was coming close, we didn’t waste time when the weather deteriorated again. The trip to Okinawa lasted 4 hours and right away the squalls and thunderstorms began.

So now it’s the beginning of July and sy ALISHAN is safely tied up.

Jaap will be in Holland for a while, but when he comes back we will continue our trip north. How far? We don’t know. Don’t want to know.

But we will write about it. And you can read.

Till then: SALUTE.

Sy Alishan in Ginowan Marina, Okinawa

Route we took

From Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands to Green Island, Taiwan.

From Green Island via Hualien to the soutern islands of Japan. Final port for this update is Ginowan Marina in Okinawa.