Rough seas force ‘balangay’ flotilla to change course

First Posted 20:49:00 10/30/2010

MANILA, Philippines—Rough seas have forced the Filipino crew sailing around Southeast Asia aboard replicas of pre-colonial “balangay” to change their course home.

In a call to the Inquirer Saturday morning, crew leader Art Valdez said rough seas and bad weather prevented them from venturing to Hanoi, Vietnam, where they had intended to meet with President Aquino during the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Valdez said they had to ditch their earlier plan to sail southeast from Vietnam across the South China Sea to Palawan.

Because of bad weather, the crew decided to sail south from the Gulf of Thailand down to Malaysia where they were hoping to cross the southwest corner of the South China Sea to east Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah.

But strong waves and winds forced them to take refuge in Indonesia’s Tambelan islands between Singapore and the island of Borneo, Valdez said.

“The waves were as tall as 15 to 20 feet. But by the grace of God we were able to find refuge and shelter,” Valdez said.

Despite holding travel documents from Malaysia, Valdez said members of the Indonesian Navy extended assistance to them.

He also said that stormy weather and rough Vietnam coastal waters prevented them from moving farther north to Hanoi to make it to the ASEAN Summit.

“We reached only as far as Cambodia then turned back because of stormy weather,” he said.

After doing repairs on their boats, Valdez said they would sail northeast to Kuching in Sarawak and then to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah before heading north to Palawan.

Valdez joked that they would have wanted to reach Philippine territory by November 10 when Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao fights Mexican Antonio Margarito. “Let’s see if that is possible. But we will be happy to make it in one piece,” he said.

The journey of the flotilla of three balangays started in Manila on September 1. Valdez had said they undertook the journey to show Southeast Asian unity and to revive interest in the Philippine maritime culture and industry.

The core members of the crew include Valdez, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Carina Dayondon, Leo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Noelle Wenceslao, Dr. Ted Esguerra, Fred Jamili and Dr. Voltaire Velasco.

Sarnea, Dayondon, Oracion, Emata, Wenceslao, Esguerra and Jamili were with Valdez’s successful Mount Everest teams that planted the Philippine flag on the world’s highest mountain. In 2006, Oracion and Emata were the first and second Filipinos to conquer Everest, respectively.

A year later, Dayondon, Wenceslao and Sardena were the first Southeast Asian women to scale Everest in dramatic fashion, starting their ascent from the North side and going down the South side for a historic traverse of the mountain.