For five hours after his companion disappeared in rough seas at the rocky reefs off Rapu-Rapu island in Albay, fisherman Norman Lim swam, his thoughts focused on survival, until he reached an inhabited area.
“Habang galangoy ako, ang pigaisip ko makaligtas, kinusugan ko so boot ko,” the 34-year old resident of San Roque, Virac told the Tribune in an interview last week, two days after he returned to his family.
He said the ordeal he underwent, the deep trauma, freezing cold and hunger he and his companion experienced for two days, made him think twice about going out to sea for a while.
He said he and Arnel Araojo, 47, who owned the small motorized banca powered by one diesel-fed engine, set out to sea at 1 AM of Dec. 22, 2022 to catch “turingan” (mackerel tuna) and yellow-fin tuna and any fish caught by their lines.
(A check by the Tribune showed that PAGASA’s previous Gale Warning issued at 5 PM of Dec. 21, 2022 did not include Catanduanes or any part of it.)
From Palnab, they traveled for three hours towards an area of the Pacific Ocean east of Baras town, arriving at the fishing ground.
“Nag-abot kami duman sa dangop mga 5AM na, halos naghapon pa kami duman sa dangop, nagbanggi pa hanggang nagkaturog pa kami duman,” Lim stated.
(A “dangop” is a fishing ground where previous visits yielded a bountiful catch so fishermen often come back to it, says occasional fisherman Engr. Dennis Tadoy. They use their eyesight to sight or triangulate (dangop) the fishing ground’s location using landmarks or coordinates on GPS devices.)
They awoke the next day, Dec. 23, unaware that the night before, the weather had started to worsen.
By that morning, he narrated, the sea was so rough that their things got scattered and lost, spilling their precious diesel fuel.
“Dai kami ning krudo, diit na sana ang tada mi duman sa tangke kaya naglayag na sana kami para makaabot kami sa gilid,” he said.
But as they neared Nagngangang Buaya Point in Bato where the sea is roughest, they decided to use the engine and whatever fuel it had so they could reach the shore and avoid being carried away by the current.
“Ang problema ta naubos yung krudo mi, dai man sympre kami nakasampot pero uya na kami sa laog ning Virac,” Lim stated. “Dai na dai mi man kayang sagwanan ta pigaparid talaga kami.”
Their banca, however, was not sunk, weighed down by water or even damaged, he said, they just rode the boat until they reached the sea off an uninhabited part of Nagcalsot at about seven in the evening of Dec. 23 where waves finally cracked the hull against rocks.
“Baging ano siya, talangtang na hararum, talagang ipusak ka duman,” he recalled.
At the time, the banca was already half-sunk and each of them had a piece of styropor container (Lim had the cover) to help them float.
Lim jumped first from the boat which he was certain would be slammed against the reef.
“Pigaagda ko siya,” he said, referring to Arnel. “Habo man maghari, siguro natakot na itong grabe.”
He waited for a long time for his companion to join him in the sea until a huge wave carried the banca and Araojo towards the rocks.
“Poon kaito dai ko na nadangog-dangog ang boses niya,” Lim said. “Basta ang last kung nadangog, sabi niya “Mannnn…”
After that, he left the area and swam offshore to save himself from a similar fate.
He decided to swim towards a populated part of the island, reaching it at dawn five hours after his companion was lost.
As soon as he reached the shore, he walked for a while until he reached the first house and knocked on the door.
“Ta karaturog sinda, kada harong pigatuktukan ko daing gabukas ta baad ang huna mga tugang ta sa bulod,” Lim recalled, “hanggang nakaabot ako sa sarong harong nagtuktok ako, nagtaram ako mahagad ning tabang ta natabaw kami saka nagbukas.”
The residents immediately helped him and asked where his companion was.
The following morning, the barangay officials tried to look for Araojo but could not find him.
It was only when he was already in Tabaco on his way home when he learned that Arnel’s body was found and that the banca could no longer be located.
In the interview at his house, Lim looked back at the night of Dec. 23: “Kang bangging ito, dai kami gahilingan. Adumana gabos so uran, so hangin, kusog ning dagat. Ako gutom na, duwang banggi kaming daing kaon. Nagkasarabod so mga gamit mi sa sobrang kusog. Suerte na sana ang nagbuhay kaito samuya, dai man kami naano sa tahaw kan kadagatan. Nadiscuedo kami sa gilid na kaya masakit isip-isipon na nangyari ito ta kung nakalaog lang kami sa igwang Bote, ligtas kami.”
“Pero kung naglampaw man siya, buhay siya,” Normal said, adding that he had a small plastic bottle of water tied to his wrist from where they would drink small portions whenever they got thirsty.
“Bago ako maglukso, dai kaming huron-huron. Ang asa isip mi, makaligtas. Pigkumbinse ko siyang maglukso, sabi ko bayaan niya na ang sakayan ta nakua sana an, ang buhay masakit ibuwelta.”