Every now and then there is a person who flits into your life and leaves an indelible impression, even though often the timing is trivial and inconsequential. At other moments the timing seems immaculate and almost ordained, as it slips into place amid a set of circumstances beyond your control. Somehow, in a flash, life is like a butterfly alighting for a moment in the sun and the limelight, only to get caught in a sudden breeze and whisked away along the path from there to here in anonymity. A short encounter, a memorable meeting, a chance crossing of paths, a casual conversation with a person you have known for some time. Often it is the outpouring of a life journey, a potted vision of a person’s view of themselves unraveled in a story with no beginning and no end. Indeed life is a veritable cocktail of colour and chaos, pomp and circumstance, a mishmash of encounters and incidents.
Every now and then there is a person who flits into your life and leaves an indelible impression.
On occasion an encounter is a defining moment that will literally change your vision of your world. The meeting with Juanio Tayag was one of these.
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Sailing off Busuanga Island in Palawan
“Turn now, the reef is dead ahead!” the squawking voice relayed. I turned to starboard, and headed up towards the wind.
“You’ll have to go higher than that!” the devilish voice insisted.
“Impossible” I informed him.
I edged up into the wind as best I could, but the colouration of the reef below the surface loomed ominously like a magnet. The path of the boat headed straight for the shallow waters. There was no room to manoeuvre, and the bow of the boat headed into the inevitable.
“We are going to hit the reef” came the whining reminder.
The engineless 43 foot sailboat drifted slowly but surely onto the last few feet of the reef.
We were near the edge of the reef, and maintained the sail to try and push us across the last few feet. We bounced along slowly, but could not clear the danger. The wind was rising, and I now had an ominous vision. With another falling tide, a boisterous sea, and an increasing wind the boat would topple on its side and fill with water. The boat was doomed to sinking. It was time to abandon ship.
I then noticed that the boatman was clearly an experienced sea-goer, and a true seafarer.
John, my Dutch boat partner, was more positive and remained on deck. I went below and started to pack things to take off the boat. But was at a loss about where to begin and what to take? I began to pack absurd things and thought of leaving it all in desperation. I was resigning myself to the fate of a gracious sailboat that had previously carried me so far for so long. I felt sad at its demise, but my glum numbness did not prevent me packing automatically and mechanically.
A large banca boat appeared and the boatman started to direct rescue operations. He attached lines, and placed another banca at the other end of the boat. The task was futile. The wind was still building, and the boat started to keel over on its side like an injured elephant, rolling in the hissing sea, as the waves caressed its sides, and splashed water on the wetted timber decks. So this was how a beached whale felt, succumbing to the motions of the waters around it, yet helpless to dictate any action on its own.
The man on the large banca shouted some instructions, and its motor revved up noisily. I then noticed that the boatman was clearly an experienced sea-goer, and a true seafarer. His boat carried an enormous engine, and the power was evident in the deep growl as he powered it up, and struck out for the open water.
Our yacht ‘Cape North’ miraculously edged forward and started to drag towards the open sea. She slipped gracefully forward, and suddenly was free and floating upright. I stood mouth agape, and looked deep into the eyes of the banca man. His amazing determination, astute seamanship and powerful boat had done its task. A tear came to my eye, and a quivering smile. I yelped with delight and danced the dance of rescue on the open deck.
Juanio Tayag is his name, and his boat carries a 175 horsepower Mitsubishi engine. He towed us to a safe anchorage and stood by while we laid out the anchor. Twice we dragged anchor, and twice he re-towed us to suitable space. When the anchor was well dug in, he took us ashore and looked after us, and ferried us to and fro for the three days we stayed in Coron town.
Steeped in my crass urban westernized ways, I offered him cash for his assistance, to which he simply looked me in the face and said “You would help me if I were in trouble at sea, wouldn’t you?” He knew I would, and I nodded in agreement.
I owed him a debt of gratitude, and wondered what I could do in return. He had judged me amiably but I finally managed to get him to accept some high quality rope, originally from Hong Kong, for use with his banca. The only local rope is nasty blue polypropylene, which is horrible to handle. At least I felt good, knowing he had the best line in town, which would add to his seafaring skills. It is always great at any level to use top grade materials for your occupation. Here in the Philippines most people don’t have the means to obtain top grade materials, but instead become adept at using the materials available, which is of course the way it is in most places of the tropical world.
I owed him a debt of gratitude, and wondered what I could do in return.
Juanio & Baby Tayag, live in Coron town, are brilliant seafarers and operate their large banca as a boat for visitors and tourists, decked out appropriately. Bench seats and a sun canopy offer comfort for fast passages with the massive 175HP Mitsubishi engine strapped in the guts of the boat. A couple of weeks would be an ideal outing to circle the whole of Palawan, occasionally sleeping on beaches, and the rest of the time homing in on beach resorts that are scattered throughout the islands. They have already done trips of 5 to 6 days, and are knowledgeable adventurous folk with a passion for boating. Juanio had shown me his seafaring skills when he rescued our sailing boat and us, off the coral reef near Coron town. He had refused to take paper offerings for his efforts, and he remains forever locked in my heart.
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