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Sailing In Paradise: Busuanga

South Cay Busuanga

In March 2019 we undertook a sailing adventure to the southwest corner of Busuanga Island to explore the developing yachting destination known as Busuanga Bay – an experiment in tourism development pioneered by the former Puerto del Sol Resort   Discovery Dive Center . . . now Marina del Sol Resort.

The “sailing adventure” was embodied in the Punta Fuego To Busuanga Race, organized by the Punta Fuego Yacht Club during the month of March each year. Not so much a “race” as a rally, in so much as yachts are permitted to use their engines in order to reach the finish line, off South Cay, before the awards party – for purist racing sailors the use of an engine is anathema. But, as in each preceding year, engines were considered a necessity by almost all of the participants, due to little or no wind along stretches of the 140 nautical mile course. This year organizers enthusiastically announced 17 registered race entries, but only 11 completed the prescribed course.

Destination: a bay in Busuanga. Some time in the latter part of last century, an enterprising developer wondered what could be achieved if he could motivate the owners of land surrounding the entirety of a picturesque bay to allow only international-standard resorts and facilities to be offered. The still-developing project, known as “Busuanga Bay”, has certainly exceeded its aim, in terms of quality, when compared to the haphazard and frequently ugly tourism development in the adjacent municipality of Coron (or indeed, the much acclaimed Boracay) – Coron’s development has drawn ire and, in some cases, retribution from the national government for its apparent disrespect of building codes and environmental laws.

The municipality of Busuanga encompasses the western half of Busuanga Island (the largest island in the Kalamian (sometimes: Calamian) Group of 124 islands and islets); the municipality of Coron occupies the eastern half of the island. The waters of Busuanga and Coron together host a selection of thirteen ships; mostly of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sunk by U.S. aircraft on 24th September, 1944, an event that would later catapult the area to become a World-renowned destination for wreck divers. The wrecks are collectively known as the “Coron Wrecks”.

However, scuba diving is just one of a number of attractions for visitors to Busuanga Island. Other attractions include: snorkeling, over some exceptional coral reefs; visiting hundreds of soft, white-sand beaches; exploring the ancient tidal lakes of Coron Island (part of Coron municipality but administered by the indigenous Tagbanua (sometimes: Tagbanwa) people of northern Palawan); kayaking, through mangrove forests or from beach-to-beach; visiting one of the few wildlife parks outside of Africa, featuring free-roaming African animals; slipping into hot springs, and tidal pools with hot spring vents below; and, of course, sailing.

Busuanga Bay

Today, Busuanga Bay offers four resorts, featuring a choice of experiences and matching a range of budgets from mid- to high-price; accommodations and facilities match their room rates. Also for visiting yachts there are a choice of anchorages, moorings or pontoon marinas. However, it seems to matter not your budget, everyone is welcome to enjoy the beauty of the bay without question.

For visiting yachts there is access to fresh water and fuel from at least two sources within the expanse of the Bay. Plus, an almost complete (as at March 2019) catamaran haul-out facility, if work below the waterline is required. Provisioning for food is best accomplished in Coron town, where there are deli outlets and wet-markets supplying both imported and local products. N.B. Busuanga has a number of organic-produce farms to satisfy most vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian devotees.

Within Busuanga Bay itself are a number of coves and inlets such that in the event of a typhoon passing close, safe anchorage or mooring for a yacht is available – size of yacht is no impediment.

Within a couple of miles of the Bay are two of the most popular of the Coron Wrecks (the Okikawa Maru and the Akitsushima). Scuba diving on the wrecks can be arranged from Marina del Sol Resort or from a seemingly, ever-increasing number of dive shops located in Coron town. To the South and West of the Bay are myriad large & small islands and sandbars, most with sandy areas for safe and responsible anchorage, ideal for snorkeling and discovering some fascinating macro marine life. To the northwest is the visually impressive Black Island (also: Malajon Island) with its own wrecks and two, easily accessible, walk-in caves, the largest of which features a small lake complete with a mysterious underwater passage to nowhere(?).

For decades at least, the Kalamian island group has attracted cruising yachts from around the world. The stunningly clear waters and abundant corals present an unspoiled destination, where you can spend a week or, a month or, more, discovering aspects of marine environment and culture that have survived with little change for thousands of years. The island life here has evolved only slowly; embracing only the aspects of the Anthropocene that have been deemed essential to life and livelihood.

On my first voyage here, during the 1990s, I spent a week dropping anchor at visibly remote sand bars and inlets, enjoying the warm waters for snorkeling. Later, in the early 2000s, I spent two weeks cruising with friends, discovering secluded anchorages, some of the history of the islands and meeting members of the Tagbanua. And again, in the 2010s I was privileged to be guided by Gunter Bernert, one of the original explorers and promoters of the varied underwater worlds available here, who introduced my partner and I to some of the most spectacular reefs and mysterious places that expose aspects of Tagbanua culture so distant in time that only imagination can divine their meaning or purpose.

There is only one word of caution for those who voyage here by yacht: it is recommended that you navigate the islands along the southern fringe of Busuanga Island only in daylight. No, there is no kraken here, but there are two notable navigational hazards: first, both paper charts and electronic navigation data have been proven to be incomplete and or inaccurate on too many occasions, with many yachts discovering, to their cost, uncharted reefs and sand bars with depths of barely a meter at low tide; and, second, there is a definite risk of running into one of the many pearl farms whose tentacles stretch from the shores of numerous islands – cultivating pearls in Busuanga has been a significant industry since the 1990s and the long, buoyed lines, hosting pearl-bearing oysters, stretch a hundred metres or more out from the shorelines and require careful navigation to avoid entanglement. Best advice: position someone on the bow to keep watch and be prepared to change course quickly.

How To Get To Busuanga

There are many different ways to escape from Manila, to Busuanga: sail, fly or take a ferry . . . you can even take a bus & ferry combination from Metro Manila.

To sail to Busuanga you can rent or charter a yacht from Subic Bay or Puerto Galera. The voyage takes up to 36 hours, depending on the wind.

You can fly (daily) direct to Coron airport from Manila with Cebu Pacific, SkyJet Airlines and Philippines Airlines or, you can opt to use the seaplane services offered by either, Air Juan or, Air Trav.

To get to Busuanga by ferry you have the choice of sailings from 2Go Travel (Fridays) or Atienza Interisland Ferries (Saturdays), both to Coron town. The voyage will take between 11 and 16 hours. If comfort is your highest priority then choose 2Go Travel; if budget price is your highest priority then choose Atienza Interisland Ferries – takes a little longer but noticeably less expensive.

The bus and ferry route can be accomplished by combining a bus to San Jose, Occ. Mindoro, then the Bunso ferry (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) to Coron town. The buses may be RORO Bus or Ceres Bus (daily). The travel time is variable but you can expect to be traveling for at least 24 hours – 12 hours by bus and 12 hours by ferry.

Once you arrive in Coron town or Coron airport then Busuanga Bay is about 45 minutes away by air-conditioned passenger van.

All travel information is accurate as of March 2019. Check with service suppliers for the latest information when planning your own Busuanga adventure.

Finally: if you ever get bored with enjoying the many experiences that Busuanga has to offer then you can voyage South from Busuanga to El Nido, and start another chapter in your escape from Manila.

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