I was on a writing and photography assignment in Calayan Island in the Babuyanes and in between, I got to enjoy this piece of paradise this part of the Philippines. It was just three kilometers from our destination and the coast of Claveria was already in sight: hills, the coastline dotted with colorful structures and the mouth of the Kabicungan River, where we will finally enter, but the waves were already huge and traveling for the past few hours was enough to put our nerves to the test.
Four hours and thirty minutes earlier, four of us were saying our goodbyes to friends at the beach of Calayan Island while boarding the small lampitaw (motorized pump boat). The morning was sunny and the sea was calmer than expected but not as calm as when we traveled to this island a few days before. But it rained the previous night and the sunset was quite red. According to our weatherman from PAGASA, change is on the onset.
It was already an hour from the beachline when the waves started to become bigger than what we experienced before. With the news of a low pressure area in the lower part of the country, we were expecting a rough ride to Claveria. Approaching Dalupiri and then later, Fuga Island, the waves were much bigger that we’ve been soaked wet from the sprays but something that’s still manageable.
It was only past Fuga, where it is already open sea that the waters in the Babuyan Channel got more turbulent with waves bigger than the previous hours. Looking ahead of us, it gets scary at times as one can really sea the formation of waves that then hits the lampitaw. Many times, we have to ride the crest of the waves as we have to charge head on as these were going against us.
When we were already around three kilometers from Claveria, suddenly, one of the three nylon ties of the rightÂ katig, outrigger, snapped. At first we didn’t bother with it much, and I just looked at it from time to time but due to the turbulent seas and rough movement of the lampitaw, the middle tie snapped. This time, we were alarmed. While the vessel continued to go against the big waves, the thought of losing the outrigger fully and capsize the boat was just too scary that we shouted at the pilot to tie it.
He stopped his engine while we were still beset with waves. He was unusually calm while directing us to stay at the left side. He then commanded his companion to get the rope and tie the two points together. One of my companions was already holding a styro box while frantically calling someone through his mobile and telling what happened to us. Because, unfortunately, and I don’t know why it never dawned on us, there were no life jackets available. That made it more nerve wracking.
I was silent. I was intently looking at the ties, at the waves and at my companions. And I was also thinking:
I’ve been through this before, on a smaller boat in Homonhon where the waves from the Pacific Ocean were much bigger. I should not be afraid.
After a few minutes, the right outrigger was tied to the three points again and we were quite relieved. The boat’s motor roared and off we charged through the waves until we arrived safe and sound a hundred meters from the mouth of the Kabicungan River.
Later, I learned why the boat’s pilot was calm. He had a more deadly experience: his boat capsized and was floating for five days with two other fishermen in the Babuyan Channel only to be fished off in the waters in Taiwan.