Learning to Sail in Langkawi, Malaysia: Part 2

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In March we did a six day RYA Competent Crew sailing course with Langkawi Sailing School in Malaysia while living aboard 42 ft yacht Kay Sira and sailing around Langkawi’s 99 islands. In Part 1 we wrote about the first few days of the course and this post covers the rest of the week, when each day the sailing got better and better.

Day 3: Wednesday

We’d arrived late the night before so when we woke at sunrise we saw our anchorage for the first time—an isolated bay surrounded on all sides by islands that Barry calls The Pirate’s Lair. It was my birthday and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be. The joy of sailing is the freedom to stop anywhere you want, to be able to spend the night in peaceful places like this.

The morning’s sailing was the best yet as we sailed through a quiet part of Langkawi that the tourist boat trips don’t make it to; a stunning scene of green sea, secret coves, deserted beaches, and rocky islets covered with broccoli-like jungle florets.

Erin Sailing, Langkawi Sailing School
Langkawi Sailing School

Things became even more spectacular when we reached the Fjord, tall karst islands towering above the narrow channel. When Marie took over from me at the helm I stood at the bow looking out at the view as we navigated down the passage, feeling completely at peace and utterly hooked on sailing.

Fjord, Langkawi
Sailing through Fjord, Langkawi Sailing school
Langkawi islands
Barry & Lynette, Langkawi Sailing School

It was a shock when we left the Fjord and ran into a highway of speedboats taking tourists to the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. Their roar gave us a new appreciation of sail boats and we’re grateful we were able to experience beautiful Langkawi this way.

After a leisurely morning’s sailing it was time for some work—practicing man overboard procedures. Luckily none of us had to volunteer—it was Bob, the rotund orange buoy, that kept getting thrown overboard. We managed to rescue him every time.

We arrived at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club marina in Kuah at around 2.30pm. I had what Barry calls a “bowline moment”, completely forgetting how to tie the bowline knot needed to moor the boat. It was stressful with everyone watching and I decided knot practice was definitely going to be a priority.

Simon made everyone omelettes for lunch which he said was the hardest thing he did all week—due to the heat in the galley and because he’s not used to cooking for others and felt the pressure to serve everyone perfect specimens.

Simon cooking on Kay Sira

The yacht club is located next to Kuah’s ferry terminal and Simon couldn’t resist visiting Starbucks for a Dark Mocha frappuccino. Entering the shopping centre was a shock after three days at sea, and the return to chaotic civilisation wasn’t particularly welcome.

We spent the afternoon cooling off in the yacht club’s small pool overlooking the marina, and had a sunset drink at the bar while we caught up on email and sorted through the hundreds of photos I’d taken so far. We weren’t very hungry after a late lunch so I treated myself to apple pie and ice cream for my birthday dinner.

Langkawi yacht club sunset

Day 4: Thursday

Simon and Marie hoisting the mainsail, langkawi sailing school
Simon and Marie hoisting the mainsail

We left mid morning for a two hour sail. The challenge was avoiding shallow water areas by following lighthouses which weren’t very big and were difficult to see during the day.

To make it through a series of narrow channels we tacked constantly, following the best course windward, and taking turns steering and letting the headsail in and out. It was a beautiful area with lots of deserted beaches and eagles flying above us.

Simon bringing in the headsail with the winch, Langkawi sailing school
Simon bringing in the headsail with the winch

We stopped by a secluded beach in the Selat Chorong channel on Pulau Timun and ate lunch of salad and cheese wraps and cakes that Lynette treated us to from Starbucks.

She really kept us well fed and there were always morning and afternoon snacks as well as tasty meals. The wind dies down in Langkawi in the afternoon so we took the opportunity for a swim and long rest.

Erin swimming off Kay Sira, Langkawi

In the afternoon we did more man overboard practice, having a competition with each of us at the helm to see who could rescue Bob the buoy the quickest. Marie won but there were only 12 seconds between us all.

We sailed on into the sunset for some of the most memorable sailing of the week. The sun was setting behind tall mountains, rays of light streaming from behind the clouds in the immense awe-inspiring sky, the edges of the clouds glowing pink, and the sea shimmering gold.

The sight was even better because we were experiencing it on a sail boat, heeling over in the wind, its power transporting us along.

This is why people sail.

Simon sailing into the sunset on Kay Sira, Langkawi sailing school
Sailing into the sunset on Kay Sira, Langkawi sailing school
Sailing into the sunset on Kay Sira, Langkawi sailing school

Our anchorage for the night was in Kilim, or the Hole in the Wall, a popular tourist spot on the otherwise deserted northern side of Langkawi. We entered a bay of mangroves, craggy limestone peaks towering above us. It’s a special place and even better at night when the noisy speedboats had gone home.

After enjoying Lynette’s delicious vegetable curry for dinner, Simon and I exchanged our hot cabin for the cockpit and slept under the stars, enjoying the breeze and the magical sky.

Day 5: Friday

Kay Sira at our anchorage at Kilim, Langkawi sailing school
Kay Sira at our anchorage at Kilim

In the morning we headed out in the dinghy, eagles flying above us as we entered the mangroves, a dense forest that grows in seawater.

It felt like another world with low branches and tangled tree roots reflected in the emerald water, monkeys scampering in the foliage. We turned off the engine and practiced with oars (a requirement of the course) and all was serene.

Kilim mangroves, Langkawi

We reached a cave that had once been used for tourist visits but was now abandoned. We were poorly equipped for caving, barefoot and with no light, but nevertheless clambered into the cave to see the bats.

Back on Kay Sira we prepared for sea and tacked out of the Hole in the Wall. For the first time we had the mizzen up, the second smaller mainsail at the back of the boat.

Simon bringing in the headsail while tacking out of the Hole in the Wall
Simon bringing in the headsail while tacking out of the Hole in the Wall
Kilim, Langkawi

Lunch was just off the long white beach Tengang Rhu, and then we continued our circumnavigation of Langkawi.

The wind picked up reaching 22 knots (force 6) and Kay Sira was heeling right over towards the water, an active lesson in why everything needs to be stowed away properly.

We clung to the boat as we tacked, which was challenging as the wind whipped at the sheets when we changed direction. We reefed for the first time, reducing the size of the mainsail, and it felt crazy being up on deck clinging to the mast as the wind roared and the sails flapped around us.

It was exciting though, and we thought this was what real sailing is like.

Kay Sira heeling over as we circumnavigate Langkawi
Kay Sira heeling over as we circumnavigate Langkawi

Barry later said that when he watched us tacking and reefing in the 22 knots wind he knew he’d done his job.

The end of our final day’s sailing was a long sail around the rest of Langkawi as the sun set and darkness fell. We kept close to the coast and the green jungly peaks of Langkawi.

I was exhausted and a little seasick by the time we arrived in the dark at Telaga Harbour, the marina we’d set off from five days before. Then we’d known nothing but now we felt like sailors—well, we could follow orders at least. Mooring in the dark was a challenge, but I avoided a “bowline moment” and managed to tie my knots in the dark.

We were in desperate need of a shower but food called first and we had a final crew meal at the Italian restaurant where we’d all eaten at the beginning of the week.

Day 6: Saturday

Our sailing was complete and the final morning was for packing up and cleaning the boat, before meeting in the blissful air conditioning of a nearby cafe for a debriefing. Barry told us that we’d sailed 120 miles and that we’d all passed with flying colours. He shook our hands, and gave us our certificates and log books—we were officially Competent Crew.

The Kay Sira crew: Marie, Barry, Erin & Simon
The Kay Sira crew: Marie, Barry, Erin & Simon

By midday we were in a taxi back to Cenang Beach, sad to leave Kay Sira behind, and suffering from the effects of being back on land. We discovered that landsickness is a real thing and it affected us more than seasickness did that week. For the next few days our legs were wobbly, the ground moved beneath us, and we felt nauseous and exhausted.

The course was still one of the best things we’ve ever done.

We always had the dream of owning a yacht despite our lack of sailing experience. Our week on Kay Sira exceeded our expectations and we’ve fallen in love with the sailing lifestyle—the freedom, being outside in nature, the beauty of the sea, and the exhilaration and tranquillity of moving under the power of the wind.

Meeting the family on Totem who’ve been sailing around the world for nearly six years, and Lynette and Barry who sailed for 12 years on a £400 a month pension, and reading the book Self Sufficient Sailor, have all made us realise that living on a yacht doesn’t have to be expensive.

A home that moves seems like the perfect evolution of our nomadic lifestyle and we’ve set ourselves the goal of buying our yacht when we’re 40 (seven years away). In the meantime we’ll be getting as much sailing experience as we can. So if you need a couple of competent crew, let us know!

See our comprehensive review of Langkawi Sailing School with all the practical details you need to know.

A big thank you to our wonderful skipper Barry at Langkawi Sailing School who gave us a media discount and to Lynette who kept us so well fed.


  1. Thats so awesome. I grew up along the coast and used to meet familes that would live on their boats and sail around. Thats quite the life. I did not know landsickness was a thing. That sounds terrible.

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    • We met a few families in Langkawi who had been sailing for years. It sounded like an amazing life and made us realise that it’s possible to live like that without being super rich.

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  2. This is so great! I loved series one two. What a wonderful place to sail. It’s just making us all the more excited for when we finally get around to doing our sailing lessons :-)

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