Two weeks crewing on a sailboat

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I was in Palawan, Philippines in July 2010 and met a Filipino named Gener at the backpacker hostel I was staying. He was a sailor and a boat builder. He was also a very very cool, relaxed guy. I have always loved travelling by dhoni (the Maldivian wooden boat) since I was a kid. There were times when it took 3 days to travel from Laamu Atoll to Male, through rough seas (heard of Hadhdhoo Channel? what I can remember is swell as high as a building). All the women would be lying down feeling too sick, refusing to eat anything (why eat anything if you are going to throw up anyway?). I never got sea sick and I ate a lot. I would be the only one sitting up, staring at the distance, looking for dolphins (which I don’t remember seeing much of…hmm), or flying fish.

I absolutely love boats and travelling by boat.  Could it be because my dad’s a boat builder too?

So Gener was telling me about him sailing around the Philippines. The thought of it called out to me so much. I couldn’t stop thinking about going sailing.

I looked up the good old Google to see if I could sail from the Philippines to somewhere, anywhere! Couldn’t find anything. I got back to Kuala Lumpur, also went to Bali, came back to Kuala Lumpur. And went back home to the Maldives. Met another friend who took me on a one week diving safari boat trip to Hanifaru Bay. Went to work in Colombo, Sri Lanka on a documentary making project, made a bit of money and thought ‘I will go sailing!’.

After a lot of indecisions, I finally went!

How did I go there? I Googled for crew wanted in South East Asia for November 2011. There were a lot of websites and forums for this. I found one skipper (that’s the equivalent of captain) looking for crew from Malaysia to Thailand. The costs were to be shared for food, which was USD20 per day (but Trevor was too kind a soul and let me pay USD10 per day as I said I couldn’t really afford it).

I joined the crew from Malacca, Malaysia and sailed with them up to Langkawi which took 2 weeks. From there I got off the boat and caught the ferry to Thailand for another adventure.

Here are some photos from the trip.

Everyone had to take turns at the wheel

Trevor at the wheel. Everyone had to take turns.

Manu doing the dishes. First wash with salt water, then rinse with fresh water.

Manu doing the dishes. First wash with salt water, then rinse with fresh water.

SV Thyme - our 'neighbour' who sailed with us through out the two weeks. I got to spend a day sailing on Thyme, which I really enjoyed as I could have a proper shower and Amanda was such a great cook and wonderful company. Thanks Si and Amanda!

SV Thyme – our ‘neighbour’ who sailed with us through out the two weeks. I got to spend a day being a guest on Thyme, which I really enjoyed as I could have a proper shower and Amanda was such a great cook and wonderful company. Thanks Si and Amanda!

Sloop, our neighbours' cat. He so used to living on a boat, and would go 'borrowing' things from other boats.

Sloop, our neighbours’ cat. He was so used to living on a boat, and would go ‘borrowing’ things from other boats.

So many beautiful sunrises

Fishing boats out early in the morning. Look at those huge nets.

Fishing boats out early in the morning. Look at those huge nets.

Near Pangkor. Such a big island

Near Pangkor. Such a big island

We were walking around Pangkor and got randomly invited to a Malay wedding.

We were walking around Pangkor and got randomly invited to a Malay wedding reception.

Everyone eating together. The green kettles are for washing the hands after eating.

Of course, even all the women drove their own motorbikes. So convenient!

A Pangkor sunset

The boatman at Chew Jetty, Georgetown, Penang. There is so much competition that he comes early and waits for us before anyone else could. RM 5 for each person per trip.

The boatman at Chew Jetty, Georgetown, Penang. There is so much competition that he comes early and waits for us before anyone else could. RM 5 for each person per trip.

Sign at Chew Jetty

Sign at Chew Jetty

Mosques in Georgetown. The city is full of old buildings and is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Mosques in Georgetown. The city is full of old buildings and is a UNESCO World Heritage site

ketch

The Gadfly ketch anchored near Pulau Dayang Banting, one of the islands in the Langkawi archipelago

The lake inside Pulau Dayang Banting national park. Old folklore says you will get pregnant if you swim in this lake. The guys didn't seem to mind.

The lake inside Pulau Dayang Banting national park. Old folklore says you will get pregnant if you swim in this lake. The guys didn’t seem to mind.

Exploring the Langkawi islands

Exploring the Langkawi islands

Of all the places to find a TV!

Of all the places to find a TV!

A wistful moment

A wistful moment

Things I learnt from this sailing trip

  • I don’t particularly like smooth sailing. It was too slow and well, too smooth! I missed the rough sailing I was used to back in the Maldives.
  • I should not eat all the leftovers even though I did the cooking most of the time (just means I need to cook less!). It wasn’t easy to get much exercise on such a small space, therefore, I gained a few unwanted kilos. But next time, I will know better!
  • There isn’t much to do on a small boat during flat wind, unless the winds pickup you can take out the sails and put them back when the wind dies down. It did get more exciting when we were dodging cargo liners and trying to avoid fishing buoys (too many of them for comfort).
  • You have to save fresh water when you are out in the sea. That means, going without a fresh water shower for a few days until you come to the next marina (they have showers at the marina, in case you wondered). When we do shower at marinas, we spend about two hours scrubbing all the dirt and grime accumulated during the last 4 days.
  • So I learnt to appreciate the small things in life like a proper shower
  • I can cook well enough not to poison anyone! My chicken curry was particular a hit. I just put whatever was available and it turned out alright, thankfully!

Other little things I enjoyed

  • Seeing all the stars at night, lying on the deck, a pollution free sky, watching shooting stars
  • Sleeping on the deck since it’s too hot inside
  • Waking up to the sunrise in front of me
  • It suddenly starting to rain, while I am sleeping out on the deck
  • When it’s raining at night, there is bioluminescence twinkling to each drop
  • Making BBQs on different beaches
  • Shooting water guns at random people on the highway, while riding at the back of a motorbike

How to go sailing on a boat for free or at very low cost:

  • Search for crew wanted on Google. See what you get. There are lots of forums giving out information and emails to contact. You might even have to make a profile.
  • You can crew for free or you might have to share some of the food and fuel costs.
  • You do not need prior sailing experience but very importantly, you need to be open minded, get along well with people, and willing to deal with anything (for me it was having to deal with the rest of the crew not getting on well together and having to play mediator and peacemaker).

I plan to go sailing again some time in a couple of years. This time on a longer journey. One of my biggest dreams is to sail across the Maldives on my own boat, so I need all the experience I can get!

Any one of you have sailing dreams or have gone crewing on a sail boat? Please share in the comments below or ask me any questions regarding my trip. Thanks!