Bankas, Guards, and Guns


We traveled through to dusk and entered Romblon Island and town in the dark. Not a good idea, although not to be avoided in this instance, and an activity we will not try again. In any event, after a bit of a harrowing approach, we managed to anchor in a small bay, right in the middle of Romblon Town. A ring of lights surrounded our small bay, and we could easily make out the bankas on the docks, trikes driving by, small houses with lights, and locals standing on the docks. Incredibly relieved that we were concluding our first 36 hour passage, we broke out the bbq, opened some beer, and congratulated ourselves on our nautical wherewithal. That’s about when the banka boat arrived. Ten o’clock at night, on a Sunday, we hear the boat approach in the dark. As it appears out of the gloom, we see two fishermen manning either end, no big deal, we see them all the time. However, standing in the middle of the banka are three men in camouflage outfits each holding a rifle; they motor up to the rear of Laysan. Brian, manning the bbq, is the initial greeter. John and I join Brian in the cockpit to decipher their intentions. They say they are coast guard, and in fact their uniform patch is labeled “Coast Guard”. They say we can’t anchor here. They say they need our ship’s papers. Then they say we must come with them to their office. Despite the fact that they are uniformed men with guns, the reality is they are not very intimidating. Each of the guards is about 20 years old, they are balancing on a banka, which is a canoe with outriggers, and every time we ask them a question, it throws the group into confusion and they madly begin a group consultation. While John goes to call the port authority on the VHF radio, Brian and I watch the men, and Brian enquires whether the banka is a Coast Guard vessel. They acknowledge that it is not their “official” boat. I ask if I can take their picture and they say yes and one poses with his automatic weapon. After speaking with the port authority, John agrees to go ashore with the ship’s papers and crew passports.

The dinghy is lowered and John and Brian follow the banka boat with its guards and guns to shore. After being paraded with an armed camouflaged escort along the length of the one road through town, John was taken into a cement block building with Coast Guard insignia and religious epithets painted on the walls. Negotiations that ensued included the town mayor, the Coast Guard, the Romblon Port Authority, a local entrepreneur trying to establish a marina (we were his first customer), and miscellaneous other locals. In the end, John was given the edict that Laysan could stay at anchor but must depart at 8:59 in the morning. These folks definitely need to work on their tourism manners.

Early the next morning, Brian, Jenny, and I ventured into this “welcoming” town and found that it had certain charms including marble markets, a Spanish fortress from the 1600’s, and an internet café (with incredibly archaic computers and agonizingly slow internet). After our walkabout, we pulled up the anchor and departed at 9:05 am heading out to the Sibuyan Sea and another overnighter through Ticao Pass to the town of San Jacinto. All in all a curious adventure.


Romblon Town 12 35.97 N 122 15.68 E
Philippine Time 6:30 pm
UTC Time 10:30 am

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7 Responses to Bankas, Guards, and Guns

  1. Laureen Blane says:

    Your adventure experience is not unlike what I have read from the report of other friends sailing around the world right now. Seems to be a common situation…..guns, bribary etc. So pleased to hear that you are safe!

  2. Charlie and Julie Noyes says:

    Had they ever heard of “tourist” and did the guy who wanted a marina speak up in your defense?

  3. Wendy Atherden says:

    Hi Everyone,

  4. Steve Noufer says:

    A booming tourism business may be a ways off for that town. Can’t wait to see you guys at some point in next year and hear all of the details of this adventure.

  5. penny says:

    i’m seeing the blockbuster movie of all this in my mind….and will definitely be at your bestseller book signing. can’t wait to see the pictures of these pirates…i mean officers. great descriptions, ling. stay safe you, four. love, penny

  6. dnoufer says:

    You guys are so adventurous! My pants would not have remained pristine during this run-in!

  7. Mike says:

    Wow…sounds like Barney Fife is still alive and well in the Philippines.

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