Balangay seafarers nearly swallowed by deadly whirlpools (Feature)

December 17, 2010 1:59 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Dec. 17 – The historic voyage of the Balangay expedition with 39 intrepid Filipino seafarers on board nearly ended in disaster had they failed to maneuver from harm’s way posed by four deadly whirlpools between the sea border of Malaysia and Singapore.

“Thank God we spotted the menacing whirlpools just in time, or we would be swallowed under the sea,” according to Carina Dayonon, one of the three females aboard the three wooden Balangay boats that made history when they traveled around Southeast Asia for 14 months to trace the routes of ancient Filipino seafarers.

“It was really a death-defying experience as I prayed a litany of prayers, including the rosary, to spare us from falling into four whirlpools some 50 meters up front,” said Dayonon, the first Filipino woman to climb Mt. Everest in 2007.

Each of the three Balangay boats has the statue of La Naval of the Holy Rosary, the patron saint for seafarers.

For the 32-year-old Ms. Dayonon, she never doubted the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother every time they faced danger during their entire 525-day sea voyage. She said that while climbing Mt. Everest was really a back-breaking experience, being caught in a whirlpool was really hair-raising.

Aside from praying the rosary everyday, Dayonon credited Art Valdez, the expedition leader, for his fatherly advice, guts and well-planned moves for the voyage to succeed.

The three Balangay boats flotilla were named Diwata, Masawa and Samo. Like their ancient predecessors, the modern-day Balangay seafarers depended on the wind to power their wooden seacrafts during their travel to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia.

Aside from an encounter with whirlpools, the Balangay seafarers were hounded by strong waves, heavy rains, thunder storms and strong lightning that seemed to shatter their boats.

“In the middle of the ocean, we were just like floating toys at the mercy of nature,” Dayonon recalled.

Despite being a veteran Mt. Everest climber, Dayonon said fear struck her “each time their boats were pummeled by giant waves, especially at night when we do not know what would happen.”

She said one of the most horrible encounters they had was when they were navigating the Antique-Mindoro Sea where they were caught by nature’s wrath.

“It was really terrible,” Dayonon said.

Another instance was when they reached Sabah, Malaysia in the sea waters of Sandakan, Labuan and Kota Kinabalu where their Balangay boats were bumped by giant floating logs.

“We had to navigate slowly to avoid a head-on collision with the logs or our boats would be crushed, and worse it was nighttime,” Dayonon said.

But again, she said, “it was prayers that saved us.” (PNA) scs/RBC/ebp

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