Friday, November 14, 2008

Running Away to Sea


Hey everybody, I've run away to sea! I'd tossed around the taking sailboat training for some time, doing 'daydream' web research as far back as 2002-2003. I learned a bit about the certificate programs available through US and UK-based organizations, but only this year researched in earnest locations that I might like to train. Here I am in Langkawi Island, Malaysia learning how to sail from a British instructor who's been sailing for some 30 +/- years. He's amazingly knowledgeable: he often trains sailing instructors and serves as an examiner of examiners. That is to say, if you want to become a master sailing examiner, he's the guy that will either train you or test you (but never both).

I arrived in Langkawi after a grueling flight to Singapore, and two days recovery in Kuala Lumpur. It's amazing to be back in SE Asia, I love it here so much. The easy going lifestyle, the interesting people from all over the world, the warm water and fantastic natural beauty really make me happy.

I arrived on the Island at 9:30 AM and by 3:00 that day was sailing off to Rebak island with the instructor (Barry) and his wife (Lynette), and two other students. Of the two, Jimmy – and Aussie – is far more experienced, having served on superyachts as Engineer. He's about 35 and worked his way up from charter fishing boats and backpacker surfing excursions in the south pacific. Our other crewmate is Mark: Dutch national of Dutch and Philippine parentage, born in Bahrain, raised in Japan and the Hague, now calling Singapore home and he just dropped out after one year of civil engineering at UBC (Vancouver).

Boring people, I've come to learn, don't choose a career on the sea.

My course program is 7 weeks: 1 week aboard for Competent Crew; one week on land in the classroom (9:00-5:00) and two weeks aboard for Day Skipper; then one/two again for Coastal Skipper. Also fitted in are one-day courses in Thailand for VHF radio operation and Diesel mantenance. For the practical sailing components we'll be cruising from Langkawi to Phuket and back, then later from Langkawi to Myanmar and back.

The second program is six weeks of sailing and one week of classroom prep for the Yachtmaster exam. I'm considering taking this course as well. With this certificate, I can skipper a sail vessel up to 80 feet or 200 tons. Damn, that's a big fucking boat.

Subsequent courses include Yachtmaster Ocean, which requires an ocean passage of 2500 miles, and Cruising Instructor, a teaching certification.

Sea Hippies

Barry, my instructor is a hugely entertaining character, in addition to reminding me very much of Wallace, of Wallace and Grommet fame. He's retired from the British Army, where oddly enough, he spent much of his time on loan to the Royal Navy, training sailors. Among the great stories that he and his wife Lynette shared with us, was the time they were living in Kuwait. Yeah, they we're captured by the Iraqis, held captive for some 4 or 5 months at a hydroelectric installation as human shields. When he retired, their children were in their very early twenties. The kids took over the house payments, B and L bought and outfitted a 42 foot cruising yacht, and set off to circumnavigate the globe.

After cruising the Med for a few years, they hit the Caribbean, and liked the area so much they stayed and ran charters for three years. Oh, and they loved the parties, too. Eventually they made their way to Langkawi, and continued their charter business here. In the off season B frequently flew back to the UK to teach, so when demand for instruction grew in SE Asia, B and L started their school. Now they spend the off season at their cottage in Spain. Life's tough for them.

Classwork – Shorebased

An interesting weekend finding suitable digs in Pantai Chenang, the little tourist beach town near the harbor with all the guest houses, little hotels and larger (and often run down) resorts. Mark and I set off together, as Jimmy had secured lodgings earlier. We found a good bargain at one place – double room with fridge, hot shower, and air-con), but then decided it had no soul and was still too expensive, so moved to a cheaper and somewhat run-down guesthouse (no fridge, no air-con, no hot water). I'm paying about $10 a night and Mark about $7 for singles. I pay more for the private bath and porch. The place is popular with backpackers, so there's a social scene going on around. More pleasant.

Today marks the end of day two of class. We've covered tides, tide tables (far more complicated than I had imagined), chart reading, Admiralty Almanac, LAT/LON coordinates, position fixes, course plotting, magnetic/true bearing correction, and standard navigation buoyage.

Day Four of Class is done

Dead reckoning, estimated position, track over water, leeway. Stern line, rum line. My brain is mush, but I've learned an amazing amount.

Friday: Passed my Day Skipper Theory exam. Ship off to Thailand tomorrow for a week of piloting and navigation, and island hopping. Back in two weeks.


TYF said...


Good on ya mate!

What a coincidence, the first, last and only time I went to Malasia was back in 1989 and it was to Langkawi. I stayed at this little resort and ate Bee Hoon Noodles and drank carrot juice.

One day the chef came out all dressed up in kitchen whites because the PM of Singapore was visiting.

Good to see you are following your dreams. Maybe if more people did, we would not have this nightmare of a financial crisis.


Bill E. said...

Fucking awesome, man. Keep the stories coming!

thebetterer said...

Sounds like you have taken on a worthy project my friend. Good on ya...way to live.

Bill said...

"Stern line, rum line"
Sounds like you're studying my people.

Shabbir said...

Living vicariously through you, my friend. Have a fine cigar somewhere away from the diesel engine for me...

Knutzy said...

I'm glad that missing one of my favorite people is at least rewarding ;) Glad to see you doing it D, I hope to follow sui one day soon.


soymlk said...

That sounds awesome.

When you are a Skipper, can I be your Gilligan?

big pete said...

Gota ask...How is the fishing..You pulling any lines behind the boat?

Paul said...

Greetings from South Carolina

What a wonderful place to go learning how to cruise the ocean in a big sailboat. I have never even dreamed of such adventures on my little Sunfish.

Cousin Paul Palmer

alfakitty said...

Your shit-eating grin in those photos says it all - this is by far the best "living to the max" story I've eavesdropped on in some time.

Do B & L have room for a third in their relationship. I'm all over that lifestyle. I'm real good on foredeck.

So jealous I can hardly contain myself!!!

Live it up, Lara