Balangay sea voyage full of adventure and danger

December 16, 2010 1:27 am 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Dec. 15 — The 14-month Balangay sea voyage by 39 intrepid Filipino seafarers that brought them around Southeast Asia was full of adventure that aside from being at the mercy of nature, they were sometimes mistaken as pirates, according to Art Valdez, the fearless Balangay expedition leader.

“At one point, while we were entering Indonesian waters, we were mistaken as pirates because of the configuration of our boats that the Indonesian Navy called for our identification,” Valdez said in an exclusive interview with the Philippines News Agency.

“But we proved to the Indonesian Navy that we were not pirates but on a peaceful expedition to trace the routes of our Filipino ancestors using a replica of the all-wooden Balangay boat,” Valdez said.

The Balangay seacraft, measuring 66 feet long, 11 feet wide and five feet high, proved its worth in the high seas even during stormy weather, he said.

“When our boats were filled with sea water due to big waves, we have to use pails to put back the water to the sea,” Valdez said.

"We have to depend on the stars to know where we were headed to, the same technique used by ancient civilization,” he stressed.

There were three Balangay boats used by the Filipino seafarers during the 525 days of voyage in six Southeast Asian nations.

The Balangay has no engine but used only the ancient form of sail and the wind to power it.

Sailing in formation in the high seas, “we had some ‘encounters’ with real pirates but they shunned away, apparently thinking we were also pirates on the prowl,” Valdez said.

“Maybe the pirates thought we were heavily armed,” he added.

The Balangay voyage started on Sept. 1, 2009 with a mission to go around Southeast Asia using only a boat powered by the wind.

“Our voyage has proved that with courage, determination and unity in action, the Filipino can do it,” Valdez said. “Traversing international water was no major problem as the weather was friendly to us.”

“But it was during our voyage within Philippine territorial waters that the sea was treacherous. It was really a terrible experienced being at the mercy of nature,” Valdez said.

“Once we got out from harm’s way, after a while, another turbulence was coming,” he added.

Valdez, who was also the expedition leader that put the first Filipino mountaineer to climb the 29,029-foot Mt. Everest in the person of Leo Oracion in 2007, said that “the sea voyage was more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest.”

“In the Everest climb, one can rest at any given time but during the sea voyage, once you are in the middle of the sea and caught in bad weather there was no room to hide but to pray and work as a team to survive. That’s the only way,” he said.

During the entire voyage, they continued to pray and God answered their prayers.

“Thank God, we survived and accomplished our mission without sustaining any casualty as all of us are home this Christmas,” Valdez said. (PNA Features)

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