Life looking after the fleet in The Philippines

12 May 2020

Punta del Este Skipper, Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, and Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam First Mate, Hugo Picard, have been looking after the Clipper Race fleet at Subic Bay Yacht Club since the event was postponed in March. The eleven Clipper 70s need regular checks and maintenance to make sure they are ready for when the race restarts in February 2021 and Jeronimo has written to tell us what they've been up to.

Dear Clipper Race family,

The lockdown in Subic Bay due to the coronavirus has been in place since the suspension of the race back in March. Wearing a mask and temperature checks have been compulsory everywhere here since the beginning, which may have helped to keep coronavirus infections to a minimum.

We are only allowed to move during the day inside the Subic Bay Free Zone for food, shopping and to go to work on the boats at the marina. Most businesses remain closed. There is a curfew from 2000 to 0500 every day where everyone must remain indoors. The President of the Philippines has made very clear that the curfew must be obeyed or else! The lift of the lockdown is set for the 15 May and we are already starting to see more movement of people on the streets, but we will have to wait for further announcements.

Sailors know that a boat that doesn’t sail gets more damaged than one that crosses oceans on a regular basis because the latter is continually checked and maintained. And that’s the reason why we (Hugo and Jeronimo) remained behind in Subic Bay. To keep the Clipper 70s in top shape before the continuation of the Clipper Race next year.

Every day, we complete a daily checklist. We go through the eleven boats, opening hatches, checking bilges for water leaks, mooring lines for chafe, that batteries are charging properly, alarms triggered, or anything else that would look suspicious. After this, we carry out minor maintenance work. There is always something that needs adjusting, a leak that appears here or there, a part to be replaced, some epoxy to be made… etc.

Once a week, we take care of the donkeys - the diesel ones! Firing all main engines and generators, making sure they don’t forget how to work. An engine that doesn’t run regularly tends to have its seals and piping drying, more prone to break on the next start. We put on some RPMs, clearing any fouling from the propellers at the same time, and finally making sure the levels are correct and there are no leaks, smoke or alarms triggered in the process.

In the Philippines, temperatures at this time of year reach 35°/94F. The beating sun, together with 75% humidity, transforms the inside of the boats into saunas from 0900 onwards. The heat of the engine just enhances the sailor’s spa experience and in between working on each boat, we have to take breaks to drink as much water as we can, to replace the copious amounts we sweat while working on the fleet.

We are not the only ones working on the pontoon. There are 20 motor boats next to us and each of them have one or two crew staying on board. The lockdown seems to have bonded this small community of Filipinos even more. Calling each other loudly from one boat to another, taking turns on who will play some cheesy music at full volume and organizing card tournaments until late at night. They have their routine as we have ours.

Every month, we carry out monthly checks, going through the extensive safety checklist on every boat. We also do a rig check, starting early in the morning to avoid the blasting heat of the day. And as we pull ourselves up each rig, one climbing, the other one sweating the halyards, the Filipino crew have a great time enjoying the show as they have breakfast on their boats. We’ve been invited to join a few times for breakfast but it’s rice and fried chicken or marinated fish on the menu, probably not the best idea to have a full belly before climbing to the top of a mast.

Once the day is over and the sun starts to calm down, back at the hotel we also do our routine exercises to stay fit in body and mind to be ready for when the race starts again.

We are now approaching the wet season, and within a few weeks, the fair weather we had until now will change drastically with the arrival of the summer monsoons and typhoons. We can expect heavy rainfalls and strong winds hitting Subic Bay. We must remain vigilant to avoid any potential damages to the Clipper Race fleet and keep the yachts ready for the return of the Clipper Race early next year.

Best wishes

Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez