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Before they can join the Resort Boatmen's Association of Bauang (RBAB) all boatmen must pass a first aid examination jointly set by the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Red Cross. The examination includes a one mile swim in open water. "There's no time limit," Dado says, "But unless you enjoy being tormented, don't come in last." Once licensed the boatmen add the letters RBAB to their hulls, signifying that the boat is available for tourist charter.

These colourful trimarans, called "bancas," often line the beach as far as the eye can see. The double ended hull is plywood; the floats and crossbeams are bamboo. The entire craft is held together with fishing line. Even the throttle is a loop of fishing line wrapped around a crossbeam. Powered by a Briggs and Stratton 16 horse power petrol engine, they can travel at high speed - over 20 knots in smooth water - but lack manoeuvrability; critics say they have the turning circle of a Jumbo Jet. By IOR standards they are flimsy indeed. Even so, fishermen regularly venture up to 60 miles offshore.

Few fishermen will make the 60 mile offshore passage alone; usually five to seven boats go in convoy. They elect a leader before leaving, usually the best navigator. (Dado says a good navigator, steering only by the stars, can find a fish marker 60 miles offshore.) The leader gets the weather forecast, co-ordinates the trip, and is responsible for deciding what to do should a boat breakdown or capsize.

They leave at midnight with few provisions: 10 litres of petrol in the main tank plus a 24 litre reserve, 10 litres of fresh water, and a two litre flask of coffee carefully stowed by the exhaust pipe.

A typical destination is one of several floating markers 60 miles offshore. These floats, set a year ago by a large fishing syndicate, mark nests of 44 gallon drums at the bottom of the South China Sea. Held together with steel cable, the drums form shelters that create thriving fish colonies.
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