Balabac Island | The Last Outpost

July, 2022

Memories of the Philippines, tides of change, preparing and repairing while on the move

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For the past 12 years, the Philippines had been the ocean that cradled some of the most memorable times in our family. Our love of exploration and adventure inspired us to share our passion by running island boat expeditions, organizing and guiding mountain expeditions, and doing public speaking. We learned so much about cultures, traditions and met wonderful people, most of them we kept good ties and remained good friends until this day. We learned so much about life. When we lost our daughter Amihan, only then did we understand the true meaning of love and life. As much as it was painful and devastating, we did not give up and decided to push beyond the challenges before us. Our 12 years in the Philippines were a mixture of everything- abundance, loss, joy, loneliness, pain, and blessing. Our family had a remarkable time. And now we feel the wind, the tide, and currents changing directions. It’s time to go and explore new horizons in the oceans beyond.


Balabac Island, Palawan is the last outpost on our way to Malaysia. Despite the developing tourism on the island, Balabac still exudes a certain exotic touch. We are anchored in a quiet sheltered bay next to the main port of the island. The bay has a very narrow entrance with reef formation on both sides. It’s a tricky entry. The bay has 4 nipa houses on the shore, each family is related to the other. One man we met and his name is Rahem. The afternoon we arrived and tied to a mooring in the bay, he came in zooming in aboard his dinghy and approached our boat. We thought we would encounter another ‘you-cant-tie-on-my-mooring ‘ confrontation but instead, we were greeted by a happy ‘hello’ from him. He told us that he is a Malaysian, where he lives pointing to one of the nipa houses on the shore and pointed to his Malaysian boat anchored near the shore. He would be our contact person for the next week of our stay in Balabac.

We went to shore the next day and met Rahem’s family, his wife, and his 2 children. He showed us the well where to get fresh water back in the woods, a minute walk through a dirt trail under coconut trees and weeds. Todd (a.k.a Skip) and H scooped water out of it using a made dipper with a long rope, careful not to drop the rope and lose the whole dipper, and filled up each container, after which they have to carry each back to the shore. I brought our laundry pile for the last 5 days but before I can even start, one lady approached me and made it clear that I must not wash my clothes near the well as the whole village get their drinking water from it. I made sure I was ways away from the well when I washed the laundry.

The next days were dedicated to repairing and preparing the boat. Repairs in the field are pretty common for us. We are always on the move and most of the time in some very remote areas. This is a time when battery-operated tools rule and being prepared is a must.


prop repair

Battery-operated tools rule


A few days ago we noticed our prop of our dinghy had spun when our engine would speed up but the dink wouldn’t accelerate. Since we are full-time cruisers, not having a dinghy engine is a major problem.

Here is the brief: the propeller housing w/blades is attached to a splined barrel by flexible rubber that is not replaceable on smaller props. The entire unit then slides over the splined propeller shaft. The rubber will absorb shocks from grounding or hitting something but as it ages, it will deteriorate to the point of separating the barrel from the outer propeller housing.

H and Skip were able to pull the prop off as the rubber was all deteriorated. The prop hadn’t been pulled off in years and we are in salt water. Skip pushed the barrel back in the propeller, drilled 3 holes around the base of the prop casing, and pinned the casing and rubber to the barrel with machine screws. It’s a short-term fix until we find a new prop. At least we can get to shore. H got another good lesson in field repair. He is turning out to become quite a sailor.

Himalaya engineering a solution


Next, we changed our engine oil after her first 500 hrs. We secured all solar panels, went through the wirings, and made some repairs.

We went ashore and did some fiberglass repair on our in-the-field -made, plywood-fiber-dinghy.

H and Skip repairing the dinghy at Balabac Island


Our Homemade-Plywood-Fiber- Dinghy


We also re-attached the upper stay between the main and the mizzen. We re-arranged gears inside the boat and cleaned the boat keeping ourselves busy, always preparing and repairing for the long miles ahead.


Monitoring the weather, our departure for Malaysia is soon. As we near our target day, we designated a day to go to town proper and buy some last-minute provisions. Amihan and I did the task and rode along with Rahem on his dinghy. The ride going there was like a rodeo, bumpy but fun! The squall from the far Sulu sea brought swells to the open area outside the bay, right before you curve back to the next bay where the town was. In town, we were greeted by stilt houses and Rahem navigated through the narrow spaces between structures going to his house. There, we dropped off water containers which will be filled up by his crew.  Once filled, he instructed his crew to deliver the containers to our boat using the local ‘pump boat’ which is more for carrying cargoes and goods. The water will be poured into our water tank in the boat and be used as our water reserve during our crossing. Rahem then brought us to the local market. It is much smaller than the usual market I know. There was one stall where fish were sold, the vegetable stalls were located a little bit outside the perimeter and dried goods groceries were more abundant in the area. I see familiar Malaysian products predominantly sold in almost all stores. It’s a reminder that Malaysia is close. Some goods are cheaper to some extent. Fuel is way cheaper.  My guess is that it comes across the channel, which is a big bonus for the locals here.
Back onboard we enjoyed a sumptuous meal of freshly grilled fish courtesy of Rahem’s crew who caught the fish earlier that day. We gathered old coconuts and grated the meat so coconut milk can be squeezed from it, and harvested fresh coconuts as part of our food supply onboard. Rahem’s family also helped us with some timbers we will be using as railing aboard Meermaid. All of these we exchanged for a few tools and wires, and a batt-operated fan- Barter is still alive in this area.  The beauty of traveling and exploration.
Keep Exploring
Janet Belarmino Forney
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Todd, Janet, Himalaya, and Amihan Star

Quick Video

Dolphins are graceful, sleek swimmers that can reach speeds of more than 18 miles an hour. They are also playful and often frolic in a boat’s wake, leaping out of the water—possibly for fun or to communicate.  Dolphins never cease to amaze us!

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