Sailing Via The Sole Remaining Cebu-Zamboanga Ferry

Nowadays, there is only one ferry doing the Cebu-Zamboanga route unlike in the past when there were other ships and shipping companies in the route. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. has already dropped the route long ago on the passenger side and Aboitiz Transport System/2GO and Aleson Shipping has long been gone from the route, too, referring to ferry operations. In the long past, many sailed the Cebu-Zamboanga route with their ships on the way to Southern Mindanao ports from Manila. Compania Maritima, Carlos A. Gothong & Co., William Lines, Inc. Philippine Steamship & Navigation Corporation, Sweet Lines Inc. Manila Steamship Co., De la Rama Steamship Co., Dacema Lines Inc. were among those which had Cebu to Zamboanga connections in the past. That does not even include pre-war shipping lines that are long gone now. My, isn’t it too lonely now in the route? Where are now our ships of the past?

Zamboanga Ferry is now the only passenger ship remaining in the route and I wonder how long she will stay here for she is getting elderly already. Passenger load is well down compared to the past and it will be lucky if the ship is one-third full and that is the reason George & Peter Lines has long quit issuing bunk numbers for simply there will be no fights about bunks. It is now just cargo which is sustaining Zamboanga Ferry in the route and normally her car/cargo deck is not even full heading south. Heading north the car/cargo deck will be generally full and sometimes there are even shut-outs (cargo left on the pier because it can’t be accommodated anymore). Zamboanga sends a lot of canned sardines, dried fish and ginamos to Cebu and Dumaguete, that’s why.

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Zamboanga Ferry before Cebu departure

Zamboanga Ferry leaves Cebu for Zamboanga every Monday night and the start of the journey seems a little sad because in her departure time of 10pm, all of the ships leaving Cebu had been gone and only a few people are left in the port and most of the vehicles have left too and the lights are already dimmer. One need not walk in the dark, however, because one has to go only to the George & Peter Lines main ticketing office and an AUV shuttle will take him to the ship. The ship will ask the office at 10pm if there are any more passengers that will embark and if there is none the ramps will then be hauled up and the main engine of Zamboanga Ferry fired. Most passengers won’t wait that deep into the night before boarding, however, and some are already on the ship by early nightfall. Once, me and another lonely passenger were the last one ferried to the ship by the G&P shuttle.

Boarding the ship is a breeze as there are not many passengers and one goes direct to the Chief Purser to get his beddings or more formally linen. Beddings are free in Zamboanga Ferry even in Economy Class unlike in other ferries and that is the reason why the mattresses do not smell of sweat (the airiness of the ship is another factor and so do the lack of passengers). It’s nice to board late because by that time the Chief Purser is ready to give his blessings for free upgrade to Tourist for those who want it (there are only a few who do so). I did not know this practice before but it was actually the office that told me. If one is early, he waits by an Economy bunk first. In Tourist class there are also no bunk assignments. One picks his fancy but some want to be far from the packaged airconditioner. In a ship that has a few passengers the airconditioned accommodations get cold fast approaching midnight and woe to one who has no jacket or sweater as the blanket issued is not enough to ward off the cold.

In the Tourist section, one get awakened at dawn when the ship is already approaching Dumaguete port. First there is the loud call for the crew to man stations. Next will come the inevitable “Tawo sa prowa, tao sa prowa” call.The windlass will whirl and the sound of the chain rolling is simply teeth-chattering as the Tourist section is in the most forward part of the ship and even ahead of the bridge. One can even hear there the thud of the anchor hitting bottom and soon one will hear the sound of the ship tacking. Then one will notice the three-piece ramp being deployed. All the while there will be sounds of feet rustling and people talking. That is one’s dawn introduction to Dumaguete port.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dumaguete

As a ship spotter, I will tour the port and even venture outside. I always get the admonition from the crew never to venture far and watch for the three-piece ramp. They know I am a Zamboanga passenger. I asked before why and the reason is they will leave once business is done in Dumaguete. They have no fixed hour in leaving but usually it will take one-and-a-half to two hours before they finish their business. When I head back and I am a little late I will see the arm-pumping motion to hurry up. Once, they immediately lifted the stern passenger ramp once I already re-boarded. With such a tight time and plenty to spot in the port there is really no time to go to the town or even take a walk in the famous Dumaguete Boulevard. Why, I don’t even have enough time to board the ships docked in Dumaguete port! There is really not much cargo in Dumaguete and even less passengers.

As much as possible I will buy my meal and water outside the port as it is dearer in the ship (meals are not free in Zamboanga Ferry) and for sure it will be the canned variety. On the way to Dapitan, I try to catch up on my interrupted sleep and that will also be my rest after that milling in Dumaguete port and outside. There is really not much to observe on that stretch of the sea except if one times a Dapitan-Dumaguete ferry sailing. The usual arrival in Dapitan will be around 10:30am and more passengers will get off and more cargo will be handled. But even then they will indicate that departure will be around 12 noon. Of course, I will get down and roam the port and even that area outside the gate where many eateries are located.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dapitan

I once made the mistake in not buying my meal and water in that area outside the port(by the way, their bottled water there is really cheap). I did not know then that the restaurant of Zamboanga Ferry does not serve lunch while in Dapitan and I had to consume my pasalubong to Zamboanga. After passing the Pulauan headland, Dipolog will be visible but will be too far for shots. Maybe what is needed is a 60x camera. After Dipolog, the land will begin to recede and there will be no more interesting view in that outskirts of Sindangan Bay. Time to get more sleep as arrival in Zamboanga the next day will be early and even earlier than the Dumaguete arrival.

I partake dinner in the restaurant of the ship and just lounge there as there is nothing to view outside except the stars and the wake of the ship. At least in the restaurant, it is a bit lively especially as it host the videoke and sometimes there are good singers. The rest of the ship is dull because there are fewer passengers now. Saddest part of the ship is the stern. Simply no one is there and the only noticeable things there are the thump of the engine and the exhaust coming from the low funnel. In Economy class, the people will crowd near the TV set which are showing canned video. It is more lively if they are showing re-runs of Pacquiao fights. The biopic of Pacquiao drew a crowd including me. It was dubbed in Bisaya so I had some difficulty with the dialogue at times.

The same clanging and sounds will wake passengers when the ship is approaching Zamboanga port but only earlier as the time of arrival is officially is 3am but sometimes the ship arrives earlier than that (we once had a 1:30am arrival). I can no longer sleep although the crew won’t force me down. There is handling of cargo even early and the ship sways as in Zamboanga the ship docks sideways. It is more lively in Zamboanga port as there are more ships and the port is better lit. There are also early arrivals and I roam the port early to take shots. I have time to board the ships docked and boarding a ship in Zamboanga is no big deal as those are also the resting places of the so-many porters of Zamboanga who are true porters – they unload the cargoes of the cruiser ships and even the ROROs. Their true number is actually in the hundreds, I was told.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Zamboanga

In returning my beddings I will ask the Chief Purser that I will stay around awhile with by luggage onboard as I will max my opportunity to ship spot while still inside the port. I use the ship as platform in catching the ship arrivals as well as the early departures from Zamboanga. I will leave the port when the sun is getting fiercer already and I am already hungry. Sometimes I will be too hungry I have difficulty reaching the Jollibee branch across Universidad de Zamboanga. Sometimes I eat at the local joint across. Both are airconditioned and I try to replenish and rest there and watch life unfold in the centermost part of Zamboanga City. City Hall is located in that square too and Plaza Pershing is just nearby and a little ahead is the mall row of Zamboanga City. The jeep and van terminals are also located in that area as well as the big Zamboanga City Public Market (ZCPM – that is how they are named in the printed routes in the jeeps).

Zamboanga Ferry is one ship that has two dawn arrivals in a voyage. It will leave Cebu Monday night and arrive at Zamboanga Wednesday dawn. She is not really an overnight ship as she functions more like a multiday liner. A Cebu-Manila voyage even takes less time than her voyage to Zamboanga. Since meals are not free and there are hours the restaurant is closed one of the look-outs in Zamboanga Ferry is stuffing a little lest one goes hungry. Otherwise, it is a pleasant ship though obviously old now but it has also a pleasant crew but you have to approach them. They are no longer young, too.

After twelve hours in Zamboanga port, Zamboanga Ferry will head back to Cebu at Wednesday 3pm. It is a good opportunity for a ship spotter especially if one is early. Actually enough time should be allowed so one can tour the docked ships first. Zamboanga Ferry, being taller than most ships in Zamboanga port is also a good platform. Pulling out, it will give a good view of Zamboanga International Port, the western section of Zamboanga port. Next will be good view of Cawa-cawa and next will come Baliwasan where big fishing bancas are anchored. Then the Moro wharves of Zamboanga where the Moro boats are docked will come into view. There will be steel-hulled ships docked there, too. It is actually the home of the vessels to Bongao, Tawi-tawi and also to lesser destinations west of Zamboanga.

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Zamboanga Ferry pre-departure in Zamboanga

Sailing on, the road to Labuan will always be visible and vehicles can even be identified. The two shipyards of Zamboanga City, the Varadero de Cawit and Varadero de Recodo will come into view along with the row of the canneries of Zamboanga which will always have vessels docked and the most with vessels will be Mega Fishing Corporation where Cesar Montano works (according to the ad). Western Mindanao Naval Forces base will also be visible along with the Vista del Mar of Celso Lobregat where US troops are hidden (it is admitted that they are there). Both have ships too. To a ship spotter leaving Zamboanga it is easy to take hundreds of shots of ships as long as one has an ultrazoom camera.

After Labuan and that is after 4:30pm, it becomes dull fast. No more road and the landmass begins to recede. Best to get an early dinner and sleep early because the arrival in Dumaguete the next day could be early as in daybreak (the ship does not pass Dapitan anymore on the way north). It is a better arrival and more ships can be caught by a ship spotter as there are departures to Siquijor already and the others will be preparing. Easy to ask for a ship tour but again the time limit is tight as usually Zamboanga Ferry will leave at 8am approximately after cargo handling is done. There will plenty of bulad or dried fish that will be discharged along with ginamos in tin or plastic cans. But for cargo to be loaded that will be few and passengers are few, too. Nowadays, it seems people prefer the Dumaguete-Cebu Ceres bus already.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dumaguete again

The Dumaguete departure view will be better too than the trip going south. The sun will be good already and pictures tend to be sharp even in long distance as the sun angle is good. Heading to Cebu, the distance of the ship from the shore will be a little great so no ship shots unless there will be an encounter with another ship but that could be a long wait since most ships here don’t use AIS so there is no advance warning. The coast only comes closer nearing Minglanilla and Mactan island and a ship spotter has to be really ready since Mactan Channel and Cebu port will be full of ships. But first in the Talisay anchorage there will good shots of ships as long as one takes note of the angle of the sun. But on the starboard of the ship if there are ships sailing especially those with routes to Bohol, the shots will be sharp as long as it is not raining.

Entering Mactan Channel one needs a camera that cycles quickly. Simply too many shots available and one has to fast. Usually I find my camera overheating here. By the way in the night before one has to make very sure that one’s batteries are fully charged and charge even when in Dumaguete port. With no spares one will find that he will run out of batteries entering Mactan Channel. Inside Mactan Channel, Zamboanga Ferry is a good platform to shoot ships as it is doing docking maneuvers. One need not get off quick once the ship docks as it is still a ship spotting platform. And after getting off the best way if one is a ship spotter is not to head to the nearest gate but to the far gate (just be discreet about it). Why lose the chance to board more ships?

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Zamboanga Ferry in Cebu

Leaving the gate, it’s best to head to the restaurant in Pier 1 to replenish and rest. There are still more ship shots available there – if one still have batteries and the energy.

And that is the Cebu-Zamboanga trip from the point of view of a ship spotter.

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