Experienced boat owners will spend months researching and touring possible candidates for their next boat. Ultimately, many order a new build for this yacht. It might be a long-legged trawler, like the new Northwest 55, or a classy cruising motoryacht such as those popular Hampton and Endurance yachts, also represented by Seattle Yachts. The company offers these as well as Northern Marine and Seaton-designed yachts that incorporate all that has been learned from the past 25 years of trawler cruising. These builders incorporate the latest technology and design ideas in yachts that are capable, eminently luxurious and comfortable, and showcase yacht design and build quality that once was only associated with the best European yards.
It is a great time to own one of today’s outstanding cruising yachts, designed to help celebrate one’s hard work in life. Those built in Asia are particularly known for incredible joiner work, the choicest hardwood and interior furnishings, and now engine rooms that are second to none.
In most cases, these new yachts are then loaded on ships, in Kaohsiung, Hong Kong, or a port in China to begin the ocean voyage delivery to North America. Arriving at Baltimore, Los Angeles, Tacoma, British Columbia, or South Florida, the new yachts are lowered into the water for the first time, and dealers take the new yacht back to their location to complete the build and commissioning process. It is a tried-and-true scenario that has worked well for decades.
When the owners finally take delivery of their new yacht, they get to enjoy and learn their new boat close to home. Plans are made for future cruising to the islands, the rugged Northwest and Alaska, or perhaps many less-exotic places closer to home.
But if you listen to experienced cruiser and veteran Seattle Yachts - Philippines broker, Brian Calvert, you are missing out on a fabulous opportunity that probably wasn’t even on your radar screen. Brian’s argument is worth a listen, as he has some inside information that could change your perception of this “normal” delivery equation and replace it with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will change you view of cruising forever.
Brian makes a solid case for bypassing normal red tape of yacht delivery and pursuing a different direction that makes the traditional process pale in comparison. When you really think about it, perhaps the old way of doing things has become obsolete in world cruising.
In short, Brian wants you to consider taking delivery of your new trawler yacht while still in Asia and to forgo stateside delivery by ship. For now, or perhaps altogether.
Brian’s intriguing idea offers a treasure map of its own, replacing expensive shipping, taxes, permits, and international bureaucracy with simply taking delivery of one’s new boat, launching it in the South China Sea, and then going cruising. Aboard your new yacht, in some of the choicest cruising grounds on Earth.
Seem too good to be true? Not at all.
It is a fact that a growing number of buyers today want to step outside the box, get off the beaten track, and see what is left in the world that is untouched, pristine, and still gorgeous…while there is still time. To these people, the world is their oyster, and they have more interest in seeing what’s over the horizon than impressing their neighbors on the dock with a shiny new boat.
Let’s look at this new adventure idea, one that is easy, safe, and offers all the excitement and world-class experience one might imagine. It really is irresistible and worth exploring.
(Below: Brian's boat "FURTHUR" which he cruises in the Philippines.)
Consider the idea of ditching the yacht shipment back home. Instead, imagine arranging with a seasoned professional to take delivery of the boat in Asia, where it was built. Then, make the boat minimally operational (we’ll define that in a bit), and then make a short maiden voyage (with experienced crew if you choose) in calm and following seas to the heart of an island paradise of 7,600 islands.
Let’s set our sights on the Philippines, the gateway to much of the South Pacific. A place that is every bit as magical and exotic, yet where life is easy, and exceedingly friendly to Americans and other English-speaking people. The Philippines represent life that is as carefree as one could imagine. Where life is good, inexpensive, and the population is known for its relaxed lifestyle, happy outlook, and everyone smiles.
Brian took off from his home port in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands on his Selene trawler and began a multi-year adventure cruising the Pacific. Over the next several years, he visited many delightful island dreamscapes, each one prettier than the next. The pictures on his blog were full of crystal-clear waters, majestic mountains reaching to the clouds, and islanders enjoying life in the slow lane.
(Below: A beautiful evening sunset in the Philippines.)
Nine years ago, he landed in the Philippines, and never left. He found paradise, love, and all the reasons one needs to put down roots. Today, Brian Calvert is the Seattle Yachts dealer/broker for the Pacific, based in Subic Bay. He keeps his Selene trawler at the Subic Bay Yacht Club, and spends his time helping clients, diving, and enjoying island hopping with his family.
Brian’s long history of managing boat builds in Asia gives him a unique perspective and ability. He uses his experience and knowledge to inspect clients’ new builds at key stages of construction and he meets with the buyers at the appropriate yard for periodic inspection. A full-service professional, Brian also arranges for clients’ travel plans to the Philippines, and he manages commissioning work done once the yacht arrives in Subic Bay.
His successful professional background makes him the perfect liaison to manage and arrange delivery crews, as required, and the necessary visas to travel to/from Hong Kong and China. Taiwan, he says, is somewhat easier for all the above.
Having a professional broker/agent in the Seattle Yachts network takes much of the worry out of the often-stressful activities surrounding yacht deliveries, entrance clearances, berthing, and all the commissioning and other yacht services once the yacht arrives in Subic Bay.
Why Cruise the Philippines
As Brian explained, the Philippines are the most “American” of SE Asia. The people are predominantly Catholic, and everyone speaks English.
The Philippines are considered the gateway to the rest of SE Asia, from Borneo up to Singapore, and over to Thailand, the Land of Smiles. One can continue down to Indonesia, a land that is both remote and mystical, and home to the famed beasts, the Komodo dragons.
In this area of the Pacific, cultures differ from one country to the next. Malaysia, for example, is quite modern, with large and beautiful cities, high-end marinas, yet elsewhere is Indonesia it is like going back in time.
Bali welcomes cruisers and one can’t help but have amazing spiritual experiences within its unique culture. Brian says Thailand is yet another bend in the prism, with temples, massive Buddha statues, and elephants.
You will find friendly, generous, curious, and open people everywhere you go. Crime against cruisers is basically unheard of. What minor thefts that occur can easily be avoided with basic cautions, much like the rest of the world. And the reality is that the cities and towns in the Philippines are considerably safer than many American cities, from Miami to Seattle.
The 7,600 islands that make up the Philippines provide some of the finest cruising grounds anywhere. There are endless white sandy beaches, friendly boutique resorts in remote locations, and one finds yacht-friendly people and places everywhere you go.
The weather is ideal for nine months of the year, and one can enjoy the best diving in the world in 85-degree water.
In Brian’s experience, a buyer can choose to take possession of a new boat in China or Taiwan, and register the boat in any number of places, including the United States, with U.S. Coast Guard documentation.
Taiwan boatyards are only one day away, and Hong Kong is an easy, three-day crossing. By having a boat built in Asia, one enters the Philippines as a regular cruising boat, with no limitations on how long the boat can stay. People require easily extended visas. The savings run up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no duty, sales tax, or shipping costs.
Preparing a new yacht for the short delivery, most boatyards in Asia have matured and can perform basic installations, many up to and including full commissioning of all electronics and systems. So, if one took delivery of their new boat, performed the necessary sea trials in Hong Kong, for example, one would just need some basics for the 600nm trip across to Subic Bay. At a minimum, one needs to install a depth sounder, a radar would be nice, and the rest of the navigation electronics could be performed on a laptop with external AIS and GPS. For his deliveries, Brian carries a full navigation kit in his computer case, along with a portable VHF radio.
He also recommends a life raft and EPIRB, easily sourced in China and Taiwan.
With no duty for boats from China, no sales tax or state registration, Brian says the savings in shipping costs alone can exceed $100,000. Discussing the options with your broker, you can determine the full savings of your new boat, which can indeed be a significant portion of the purchase price.
The Realities of Cruising the Philippines
In Brian’s personal and professional experience, the Philippines can easily be the least expensive place on earth to own a boat. He pays $300 USD a month for a 50-foot slip in a five-star yacht club marina. And the service is outstanding. The marina staff collects garbage once a day right at the boat, they deliver bottled drinking water to your slip, and the marina staff always carries his wife’s groceries and things to the boat.
In addition, he has secure covered parking for his car and motorcycle. The marina has two swimming pools, a nice private gym and a club house. There are two good restaurants on site, and it is within easy walking distance to many more. The security at the yacht club is exceptional, with armed guards, security cameras, and night-time patrols.
SBYC is also near a full-service boatyard and great chandlery with a service department. Skilled labor is $10-15 USD a day. One can hire "boatmen" who are inexpensive yet reliable, and who will capably care for your boat while you are absent. They will also crew with you if you want local knowledge as you begin cruising the area.
(Below: The Subic Bay Yacht Club.)
It is an ideal home base, as the yacht club is in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, on land that was once "the Base." It is quite modern and very American. As one walks down Main Street, one might think they were in San Diego. (U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay was decommissioned in 1992.)
When I inquired about shopping and buying groceries, Brian said there are five major stores within a kilometer of the marina. All stock plenty of western foods, as there is a large expat population in the area.
A Reality Check
One of the things that has always intrigued me is how so many aspiring cruisers believe life beyond our borders is more primitive and lacks products and services we take for granted. I encountered that collective mindset every time we hosted a seminar about cruising foreign waters. The questions and conversation always drifted around vague views clearly lacking in knowledge and actual experience. The “how many guns aboard” conversation came up every time.
It apparently takes a while for many of these cruising newbies to realize that life outside our country isn’t all that different. People still have families, drink water, eat food, use diesel and propane, and go fishing.
So, when I inquired about food and the cost of living, Brian had a lot to say. The cuisine of the Philippines, much like its people, is a melting pot of cultures. Chinese, Moro, Spanish, and American influences are everywhere. Most meals are pork, chicken, or seafood based. Everywhere you go, one will always be close to a public market where fresh produce, fruit, and meat are available. And with a significant expat population, western food can be found in most populated areas. As Brian said, you can always find that “cheeseburger in paradise.”
I love looking at the shelves in food stores to get a sense of the diversity and cost of daily living. So, I spent some time exploring online shopping on the website of the SM SuperMarket in downtown Olongapo, close to the yacht club. Brian says the prices are even better on “the Base” but what I found was easily below any budget here in Annapolis, much less in most cases. Whether I looked at bananas, lemons, hot dogs, hamburger rolls, bread, eggs, mayonnaise, even chicken thighs and breasts, the prices were much less than what I would pay locally.
And Brian says the cost of eating out is cheap, with a local meal less than five dollars a person. A one-hour massage is between $5-$8. In other words, the cost of living is very reasonable in the Philippines.
English is spoken everywhere, as it is the second national language. Most road signs and store fronts are in English.
It would take too long to describe all the fabulous places in the Philippines ideal for diving of all skill levels. From intense NITROX diving to shallow, snorkel-friendly outings, there are many opportunities to swim with the marine life among the coral reefs, sunken wrecks, and other attractions all over the many islands here.
One of the most popular and easily accessed diving sites is in Busuanga Bay, situated between Busuanga Island and Coron Bay. On September 24, 1944, aircraft from Fast Carrier Task Force 38 off the USS Lexington surprised a dozen anchored ships of the Japanese Navy. The ships arrived the previous day, seeking shelter after repeated attacks in Manila Bay.
Believing they were now safely out of harm's way, they were pounced upon by 96 F6F Hellcat fighters and 24 Helldiver dive bombers of Admiral Mitscher’s forces, traveling 340 miles to find the ships, which was a new distance record at the time for such attack sorties. In one hellish period that morning, the unrelenting scream of diving American aircraft overwhelmed the anti-aircraft gunfire from the Japanese combatants. Eight ships went to the bottom.
Today, these wrecks are popular with divers of all skill levels, with outstanding visibility in warm water and calm seas.
Brian has visited the area numerous times.
“We grab a courtesy mooring provided by Marina del Ray Resort, a small family-owned resort that pioneered the area. A quick call to our old friend Gunther at the local dive shop and we arranged for him to pick us up at the boat for a dive.
“The bay is also home to two of our favorite small boutique resorts, where it is customary to patronize the bar and restaurant of businesses that provide moorings. After a scrumptious lunch at Marina del Ray, we climbed the short, steep path to Alfaro Resort, perched on a cliff facing west. The lofty swimming pool is a favorite place for sunset watching. Imagine frolicking in a swimming pool, enjoying a cocktail with a tiny umbrella watching an epic sunset. Life does not get better than that.
“Within a short dinghy ride from Busuanga Bay one can also find two small islands with brilliant white sandy beaches and picnic areas. The snorkeling there is superb.
“For the next few nights and anchorages, we are usually the lone boat, which is common here in the Philippines. There are so few cruising boats and so many places to see.
“One can cruise and anchor almost endlessly as a solo boat if so desired.”
Brian’s own adventures begin and end at Subic Bay Yacht Club, which he recommends. The off season is July through December, and it is a very safe place to keep the boat.
Like cruising everywhere, it is the people that make such a big difference in the overall experience.
“Wherever one goes there are bright smiling faces of locals greeting you,” said Calvert. “Ask any visitor to the Philippines, they will rant about the beauty, the diving, and the adventures—but all will agree, it is the people that make the Philippines the wonder that it is. Westerners are often jolted by how friendly and generous people who own so little can be so happy. It is a life lesson for sure.”
Thankfully, the storm season is during the rainy season, and usually ends by December. Most typhoons never reach land, although they dump a great deal of rain. Typhoon watching is a national pastime, with a great deal of forecasting available. The cruising season is generally calm, dry, and safe.
The threat of piracy is minimal today, and what dangerous areas once existed are in the far south of the country where it nearly connects with Borneo. Efforts to clean out the bad guys in recent years have been successful.
“Even so, when in remote areas full of curious kids that might come to your boat, we carry candy and toys for such occasions,” Brian said. “I find the ‘leader of the pack’ and pay him the equivalent of 40 cents to watch the boat. That always works.”
Getting Back to the World
Once the cruising is done and it is time to bring the boat home, Brian said most larger boats can easily make the trip up north to Japan, then over the top of the Pacific to Alaska and down the West Coast.
That would be another enormous adventure!
Once in the U.S., one is importing a used boat with lesser value. And, of course, if that seems too much of an adventure, one can always arrange for shipping the boat on the deck of a ship.
I think if I considered building a new boat in Asia with Seattle Yachts, I would contact veteran broker Brian Calvert to explore the Philippines option. The lower costs, outstanding cruising, perfect weather, warm water, and wonderful people have much to recommend it. And having local knowledge in the form of a Seattle Yachts professional certainly adds a level of confidence.
Finding the jewel of a perfect island with its own white sandy beach, and being the only boat for miles around, sounds too good to pass up. As Brian summed it up: Paradise awaits the adventurous.
Other Articles Of Interest:
- Taking Possession Of Your Yacht In The Philippines Can Save Thousands
- Notes About Cruising The South Pacific