Eight years into a cruise without an end game, one man is happier than he's ever been.
We first checked in with Brian Calvert a little more than five years ago, a couple of years after he had untied the lines in Seattle and embarked on his destinationless and timeline-free cruise aboard his Selene trawler, Further. Since then we’ve checked in every couple of years for an update, as he’s cruised the waters of Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This year we find out that he’s getting married to a Filipina woman named Donna (right about when this story comes out), he’s chartering his boat during the summer and that even eight years into the journey he still doesn’t have a long-term plan. Keep up with Calvert and Furthur, or catch up on past years, at FurthurAdventures.com.
Sea: You spent a lot of time in Indonesia and have been many other places during your time covering almost half of the world. Now you seem to be making the Philippines your base. What makes the Philippines so special?
Calvert: First, Indonesia is mystically wonderful, like no other place, a step back in time. I consider it to be like going to Brigadoon, but like the mythical town that appears every 100 years, it is limited. So it’s a great place to visit but I would not live there. On the other hand, in the Philippines, with just a few short hops I can go from rural backwoods villages to serene isolated anchorages to modern cities. And with 7,000 islands, the Philippines is a cruisers’ paradise, even though it is somewhat undiscovered by cruisers. We often anchor alone, and it is never crowded. The weather is near perfect. I cannot recall having to put a shirt on because I was cold. The natural beauty is astounding. Many islands were formed by dramatic volcanic action and jut out of the sea, while others are barely above sea level and have long, sloping, pristine, white sandy beaches.
We’ve learned from previous stories that you’re a big diver. What are the diving opportunities like?
My favorite place is Coron, the site of a massive World War II air/naval battle during which seven Japanese ships were sunk in one area. They all rest at easy diving depths. This is a wreck-diving mecca. After that is Apo Reef, which is the second-largest coral reef in the world. We have also dived with thresher sharks in Malapasqua, whale sharks and an array of smaller creatures. Water temperatures are usually in the mid-80s, so I rarely use a wet suit.
What would you say your ratio is between spending time in an anchorage vs. a marina? What has been your experience with both?
Currently our plan is about 60 percent cruising and 40 percent marina. We wait out the rainy/typhoon season at Subic Bay Yacht Club. Members get very cheap berthing and have access to a fine facility. The best boat techs and workers are here, and it has an excellent boatyard. We make sure our marina time is also our project time. Labor here is amazingly cheap and well qualified. From Christmas until July we are cruising. We go months on the hook or on moorings. Each year we return to favorite spots where we now have many wonderful friends. We also hit new spots each year and find new favorites and make new friends — 7,000 islands ensure there is plenty to see.
What are some of the land-based adventures you’ve had that your yacht has made possible?
I have a small motorcycle, which we use for a lot of our exploring. We visit Donna’s village every year, which is 500 miles from the boat. We have also been north to a mountain area and found a wonderful hot spring there. Our current rides have taken us on history lessons. We have followed the Bataan Death March route and visited the United Nations refugee facility that transitioned thousands of Vietnamese refugees. We also flew to Vietnam and enjoyed a weeklong ride on vintage Soviet-made motorcycles.
What are the weather concerns in that area of the world, and how have you dealt with them?
The trick in any tropical area is to run or hide during typhoon season. Before, we always ran. A great motto we followed goes like this: “Don’t double your docklines, double your latitude.” Now, we hide. Subic Bay is well protected and enclosed by mountains, and the marina is completely enclosed and far inland. The strongest registered wind there for the last 12 years is 60 knots. Typhoon watching is a national pastime. Any time those pesky little circles form at sea, we all tune in. The tracks are predicted well and the storms move slow and are small in area, so dodging them is not difficult.
PEOPLE & PLACES
Modes of transportation in the Philippines vary widely depending on the terrain, as Calvert found out (above). Diving near Coron is among the best in the Philippines, thanks to natural beauty and sunken warships (below, right). Calvert found love in the Philippines. He and Donna (below) will be married by the time you read this.
What are the dangers of cruising in that part of the world and what have you done to prepare for them?
Since the Spanish took control and forced the Catholic faith on the Philippines, the minority Muslim population in the far south has been at conflict, recently to a new degree. Today amid the chaos in the south, there is a group that does not follow Islam but hides under its tent. These are gangsters who conduct kidnappings for profit. The current president, wild as he is, has launched a full-scale war on them and we now feel safer. We simply do not go south of the city of Cebu. If I have to pass that area — say, to get to Indonesia — I alert the military and go nonstop. We have a security plan too. Other than that area, it is safe in most of the country. We have never heard of a boat being robbed, nor of anyone being harmed in the areas we cruise.
What has impressed and/or surprised you about the people of the Philippines?
Ask any long-term visitor why he loves the Philippines, and the answer is almost always the people! The Pinoy are the warmest, most generous and friendly people on earth. They have found the true balance and happiness even in situations that would be depressing to most. I like to use this example: The last typhoon smashed hundreds of houses, cut power for a month, cut supply lines and eliminated income from visitors. Many Filipinos lost everything they own. The next day they were all out cleaning up and helping their neighbors. That night they all had a party, singing and laughing the night away. And they love to eat and share; a visitor will never go hungry here.
Have you picked up any new habits or favorite foods/beverages during your time in the Philippines?
I used to dress nice, own a nice car and such. I took inventory of my attire today: $3 Crocs knockoffs, North Face shorts I bought from a street vendor near the factory, a $1 second-run outlet store Adidas sleeveless shirt, a fake $4 Gspot watch, and $3 Ray Ban sunglasses. I just bought the first pair of long pants in eight years — my wedding pants! I take a nice nap after lunch each day, which is a Filipino must. Right now I am in the boatyard at noon and see six guys sleeping under the boats. I always give to the few beggars I see, usually orphans or handicapped, which is a habit I learned from my Buddhist friends in Thailand. Karma! Seems to be working. I say “good morning, Po” to everyone I see on my morning runs, and they say it too, only “good morning, sir” or the ever-friendly “Joe.” Although I do not make two meals a day of it, I do eat a lot of rice.
How easy or difficult has it been to secure parts and equipment for your Selene?
Every cruiser needs a mailbox service back home. Mine, Ballard Mailbox, has taken great care of me since I left. All of the parts are sent to them and they forward them to me in large shipments. As there is a big duty, sometimes we seem to lose the original invoices and must be creative. There is a chandlery here in Subic that stocks many parts and is getting much better. I just went through the boat and replaced many functioning parts that are now 12 years old and unreliable. We often have the old part rebuilt as a spare. Once we leave Subic Bay, securing parts takes on a more challenging dynamic, so we stock up. Same goes for “American” food; it’s easy to get in Subic, so I stock up on pickles and such.
What cultural experiences have either changed your perception or brought something into focus for you?
My time each year in Donna’s village is always life changing. There is not a house in the neighborhood that would be legally habitable in the U.S. The “richest” family in the Barangae live off picking apples in Canada each year. Yet, these are the happiest, proudest and most generous folks you will ever meet. Their kids go to school in sparkling clean uniforms, perform in the bands and are cherished. Donna’s papa and mama have put four of six daughters through college — one more is in college and one is in high school. Papa works part time for $8 a day. With all this you will never hear a complaint; all you hear is laughing and the constant friendly chatter. I have never felt more loved.
One cannot talk about the Philippines without telling of the world’s most beautiful women. They are the national treasure for sure, and coveted. Beauty pageants are hugely popular; each village has one. Donna brags that her province has produced the most Miss Universe finalists. The town we live in has a huge arch over the entrance, and it contains this greeting for visitors: “Olongapo, Home of the World’s Most Beautiful Women.” Let’s just say I am not the only lonely bachelor cruiser to find heaven in the Philippines.
Did you have any preconceived notions that have been dispelled by the people or the waters or the land?
The list is endless. I always say everyone needs to toss out any preconceived notions upon arrival in Southeast Asia. From the start, people here will shock you with their blatant openness and generosity, so get used to it. Americans can develop a simplistic view of nationalism and pride. The first lesson, which should be repeated often, is this: “Other cultures are not a failed attempt to be us.” Donna is bewildered by what is seemingly important in the U.S. The whole “who pees where” issue puzzled her. Here, transgender people are as common as rain — not a big deal. Recently we followed the NFL’s kneel/stand issue. Here, everyone bolts to attention and sings the Filipino national anthem every time it is played. I recently saw an entire shopping mall come to a halt as the song was played.
The list goes on. My entire concept of Christmas has changed. The season begins on Sept. 1 in the Philippines, as stores decorate and people sing carols and start buying gifts. They start early not because retailers ramp up the pressure like they do in the West, but because they love Christmas. The more, the merrier. Gift-giving is a long, drawn-out ritual. We give small items to many, many people. No one gets anything huge; gifts are more a symbol of love than wealth. Last year we found a deal on knockoff Kardashian lipstick — a dollar a stick — and bought one for every ladyboy in her village. We have already started our “Christmas box” to send to Donna’s village. They always love it, and I get more joy in that giving than I ever imagined.
You’ve recently started offering charter experiences aboard Furthur. What has that been like?
We want to share our favorite area and experiences with some people, so we are offering charters in Coron from January through March, which is our summer. We provide easy diving, snorkeling, hiking, fairy tale resorts and dining. Furthur has two staterooms, so we are catering to couples or four people who are connected (furthuradventures.com/charter). This way we can offer a completely custom experience. So far it has been a wonderful experience. Nothing makes me appreciate a place more than sharing it.
What’s next for Brian Calvert, his new bride and Furthur?
The adventure continues, especially since my bride loves to travel. She gets antsy sitting in the marina for sure. We will do our charter season in Coron and Palawan, then move to the central area of the country. I hope to get to Tubataha Reef next year — the only world-class dive site near here I have yet to experience. Longrange plans are yet to be drawn up, but most likely we will make a trip to Palau and back to Raja Amput in Indonesia. We will always return to the Philippines.
When I set out on this adventure eight years ago, I had no goal, no end game in mind. The only record I wanted to set was having the most fun. I have found an area I love, the best boating and an incredible life partner with whom to share it. I am halfway around the world — as far from home as I can get. Any more travel takes me closer to going back, something I have no desire to do, at least not long term.