Romblon – So much learning & adventure

Monday, September 16, 2013
Romblon Island, Visayas, Philippines
This was the day when we were planned to switch modes from big-city Japanese craziness to Philippine island beach vacation. It didn't work out as planned, at least for us, but that ended up all the better.

The day started with us sitting in our planes on the apron for more than hour waiting for our clearance .  It seemed that, although we wouldn’t be entering Taipei airspace, we still needed a permission from Taipei for the route.  It didn’t make any sense to any of us.  We were all delayed.  Some of the smart turboprops didn’t start their engines until others of us finally departed.  For our part, not wanting to risk draining the battery to use the radios without the motor running, we sat baking in Maggie for more than an hour before finally given a reroute (then really into Taipei airspace) and permission to depart.  Lesson learned: use a handheld radio to receive clearance before even getting in to the plane. 

Predictably enough while en route we all were cleared back to our original flight plan which didn’t put us in to Taipei airspace.  It was a smooth, long, mostly cloud-free flight until the last hour and a half or so.  Then we too were in the cloudy soup asking for permission to stray left or right of course to avoid "build-up".  There wasn’t too much avoiding it, however, so we just dealt with it .  The winds in Clarkfield, Philippines were seemingly all of the place with little storms blowing through.  While the ATIS weather told us one thing and one runway & approach to expect, what we were told to do was the opposite.  We juggled and flew a different ILS approach in.  Fortunately the glideslope didn’t lie and indeed the runway was in front of us when we popped out of the clouds.  I was happy with how things went given the crosswind and the rain that we could see coming at us from the end of the runway.  By the time we taxied the winds had again shifted and Maggie had a fresh rinse.

Customs and refueling went smoothly, largely because Marissa Steif, working with “Pilot & Flugzeug” and married to Arnim (a very experienced world ferry pilot who would be joining the group later) was there to help.  Still, this was our first exposure to ridiculously high costs.  We knew everything was going to be expensive, but oh man it hurt to open the wallet that widely

Clarkfield was really just an immigration and refueling stop.  As we were arriving the turboprops were already getting on their way to Romblon Island.  This was our end flying destination for the day, but not our end stop.  The goal was to make it to Boracay Island, about a 30 minute bus ride and then a 70 minute boat ride from Romblon Airport.  We knew we’d behind and slower than the others, so as soon as the refueling was done (again from barrels) and the immigration paperwork completed, we set off.

The interesting thing about Romblon airport is that it’s VFR only, meaning there’s no approach into it if the weather’s not good.  There’s also no lighting, so it closes as night.  As far as we could tell, the runway also doubled as a market place when no planes were coming in to land.  This sounds well and good, except that it was quite rainy and cloudy en route, the sun was setting, and given Maggie’s recent prop strike while taxiing, we were paranoid about good runway conditions .  We had plenty of fuel though, so if we arrived too late or the conditions didn’t improve all we’d have to do is backtrack to Clarkfield or head to Manilla.

As we descended through 9000’ the clouds parted and we could see Romblon Island.  In the fading light we cancelled our flight plan and made a beeline VFR to our small island.  Under some clouds and over the island we went until we reached what we assumed would be a straight-in approach into the small airstrip.  The Silver Eagle, piloted by the South Africans Dietmar and Veronika, had just 30 minutes prior not been able to see the airport due to rain showers so had been circling above the water east of the island until the storm passed.  We were learning first-hand that the weather here changes on the drop of a hat.  Fortunately for us, already 10 miles out we could make out a darker patch amongst the gloom that had to be our runway.  The winds were okay and there was just enough light in the day so in we went.  Wow .  The first 2000’ of runway in Romblon are in good shape but then it’s bumpy at best.  There was nothing we could do about it though, so I just slowed Maggie down and kept the nose as high as possible.  We back-taxied to the waiting relief of the Cheyenne and Silver Eagle crews and checked to ensure that the prop was still looking smooth ;-).  We felt like now the adventure had really begun!

A healthy portion of the village near the airstrip seemed to be there to greet us.  We jumped in to a converted old school bus that looked like it was straight out of “Road Warrior” to where we hoped a boat would still be waiting for us.  The crews of the other planes had landed successfully beforehand and had already set off.  This wasn’t exactly as hoped, but then we figured a night boat ride would still be possible.  It turns out that in the Philippines things just work differently.  Upon arriving at the boat dock we were informed that no more boats would be going, but that we could enjoy food & drink at their restaurant and sleep at their hotel ;-).  If it was chicanery or not is hard to tell, but once the rain started pelting we didn’t care because at least we were on land and had cold beers in hand. 

As it turns out, all’s well that end’s well.  Of all the various crews on the flight, it seems we were also the most flexible and keen for adventure.  None of us minded the straw-thatched beach bar (who would?!).  We were driven about 30 minutes down dark and bumpy roads to a “resort” where we could sleep for the night.  What a pleasant surprise.  A German who’d left the real world behind to open up an eco-friendly resort built up the place.  There were no doors in the bungalows, just an open space nicely furnished with a small partition to the restroom.  Very romantic for me and Johannes ;-).  We didn’t care as again it was a long and adventurous day and we feel asleep quickly. 

Looking back it was hard to believe we crammed so much in to one day: leaving busy Japan, having clearance difficulties, riding the storm into Clarkfield, landing at last light on a sketchy airstrip, drinking beers on the beach as it rained and then having found a great unplanned set of bungalows in which to sleep.  Unbelievable.

Routings:

From Naha (ROAH) to Clarkfield (RPLC): originally it was CHURAIDEP.DODGE V91 MYC G581 HCN LAO SAN CIA at 12,000’.  Then it was changed to: NHC V91 B462 LAO M646 SAN W4 CIA.  And then while we were in the air we were cleared to the border point of SADEK and told to deal with the Manilla control once reaching that point ;-)  Whatever.  It all went smoothly particularly for us at our sub-20,000’ VFR altitude.

From Clarfleild (RPLC) to Romblon (RPVU): we were cleared to TAPER only via OLIVA MIA LIP B472 at 13,000’.  From Taper onwards it would be VFR, but we were VFR before then anyway so cancelled and made our way straight to Romblon airstrip.  
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