Sailing in Malaysia

With pristine waters, decent wind all year long and world class regattas, Malaysia is fast becoming a sailor's destination.

by / Published: 1 Oct 2013

Sailing in Malaysia

Langkawi for every sailor
There’s something to be said about cruising in tropical waters—the stunning scenery, ease of sailing and, of course, the magnificent weather. The island of Langkawi and its surroundings off the west coast of Malaysia provide the ideal setting for an unforgettable yachting holiday.

With only two seasons—dry (and humid) or wet (and even more humid)—there is enough sunshine and blue sky to satisfy everyone. The sea is mostly calm with a light to moderate breeze, and with an average water temperature of 30°C, no one will complain if they get pushed in!

Langkawi is a near perfect cruising location. There are reputably 99 islands and they are all within a few kilometres of the main island of Langkawi. They are also grouped close to each other, so that you can lift the anchor at 10am and reanchor at a sleepy new bay 30 minutes later.

The scenery is reminiscent of Thailand's James Bond islands with towering limestone escarpments dressed in a ragged forest that clings to the fissures in the limestone. Limestone means caves, and Langkawi has lots of limestone and caves to explore.

Many of the locations have stories or legends attached to them. The water from the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden is said to hold mystical powers of conception. It’s fun to swim in the lake, but not half as fun as conceiving in the more traditional way!

The cave of legends near the 'hole in the wall' tells us of a Roman prince trying to marry a Chinese princess. Despite a few last-minute wedding hitches, including giant eagles and sea battles, the two found each other in the cave and were eventually married.

Another legend tells of the guardian of Dayang Bunting Island, who wrecked a fleet of ships on her shores after they had failed to pay the appropriate levels of respect to her.

Sailing a yacht is a wonderful way to experience the islands because you have the time to go to all the places that regular tourists don't get to. Most of the speedboat action happens around the Southern Islands. These are the islands close to Awana Porto Malai and Pantai Cenang and the 'island hopping' excursions zoom out to Pregnant Maiden Lake and Beras Besar, a particularly scenic island. All this traffic is finished by 4pm so you can bathe in the lake by yourself, or find remote anchorages during the day to hang out that are off this well trodden path.

Langkawi sailing itineraries
The Kilim Geopark
Langkawi is separated into three island groups: The Southern Islands, the Eastern Islands and the Kilim Geopark area. The Kilim Geopark is simply not to be missed. The river is stunning and a meal at the floating fish farm (or at least a beer) is highly atmospheric. Outside the Kilim River we have the Pirates Lagoon, fabulous by sea kayak, the cave of legends, the freshwater lake on Langun Island (best with a nature guide), which has no other tourists visiting, Dead Chinaman's cave with the stalactite of a dead Chinese man complete with cone padi field hat and the hidden window inside the cave into a lost mangrove forest, the Langun Island sand spit, Dendang Island Cave with the biggest and oldest stalactite in Langkawi, Dedap Cave with its blow hole and Tanjung Rhu Estuary.

The list is endless and the scenery splendiferous. You can easily spend two days in this area alone, especially if you squeeze in the four hour sea kayak from the Kilim River to Tanjung Rhu Beach (for the keep fit enthusiast only).

The Eastern Islands
Watch out for wild pigs on Timun Island and take in the amazing sight of thousands of bats taking flight at sunset. The island-speckled seascape leads you to Bumbon Island, the perfect spot to watch the sun rise. Just a short hop from here is Tuba Island, which has a small local population and a mangrove river worming its way between Tuba and Beras Besar Islands. Tours can be arranged to see Tuba Island by bicycle. The mangrove river has some areas that are mostly deserted and a marine department warden watches over it to prevent people from fishing.

The Southern Islands
At the end of this river lies Pulau Lima, which means '5 islands'. They stand sentry over the entrance into the Southern Islands network with some of the best trolling for fish in Langkawi. There are several islands worth visiting and two fabulous beaches. On one island, there is a fissure in the rock that makes for an adventurous swim through, or sea kayak. Another island offers an anchorage that is just enough for a single boat and the crescent-shaped island curls snuggly round you. A little further and you arrive at the Southern fjords as they are known, and the entrance to the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.

Going south—The Malacca Strait
The Strait of Malacca is a narrow, 805km stretch of water between the Malaysian Peninsular and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Singapore Strait is the area lying between the south coasts of Malaysia and Singapore Island on the north side and the coast of Sumatra on the south side.

The Strait of Malacca and Singapore Strait form the main seaway connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea. The straits offer the shortest route for tankers between the Persian Gulf and Japan. The strait is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asian economies such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. Over 50,000 vessels pass through the strait per year carrying about one-quarter of the world's traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.

Along the north coast of Sumatra, the Southwest Monsoon prevails from about April to November and the Northeast Monsoon from about November to April.

During the Southwest Monsoon, the wind frequently holds both day and night near Ujung Raya, while further East it is not so permanent.

In the strength of the Northeast Monsoon, the wind blows from east to northeast, strengthening near the close. It then begins to drop and is usually calm about sundown; there is a land breeze during the night. In April, South West and West Winds begin; the Southwest Monsoon is established in May. Waterspouts are seen off the coast at times.

At the north and northeast portion of Sumatra, during the Northeast Monsoon, there is generally a swell on the coast, which gives rise to a considerable sea in the afternoon, if accompanied by a stiff sea breeze. Both subside quickly, so that the water is generally smooth at night and in the forenoon.

At times, the monsoon blows strongly for some days, at which times communication with the shore is reported impracticable.

December and January are usually the worst months. The Southwest Monsoon is the best for landing on this portion of Sumatera.

Although the Strait of Malacca is within the limits of the Northeast and Southwest Monsoon of the Indian Ocean, on account of the high land on either of the strait, the winds are variable.

However, land and sea breezes are regular on both coasts.

The depths in the Strait of Malacca are generally irregular and a considerable portion of the bottom is of sand wave formation. Depths in the main shipping channels vary from 14.9m to over 100m.

Dangerous sand banks that can restrict navigation are located in both traffic separation scheme lanes of One Fathom Bank (2°53'N, 100°59'E) and Fair Channel Bank (1°28'N, 103°08'E).

Areas northwest of One Fathom Bank and southwest of Tanjung Tuan (Cape Rachado) (2°24'N, 101°51'E) are subject to sand wave formation. Deep-draft vessels should, therefore, take particular note of the latest depths over shoals lying in or near the fairway.

Take caution. Navigational aids are often unreliable, especially in Indonesian waters. Risk of collision is appreciable due to heavy traffic through routes, frequent crossing traffic, and local fishing craft with nets.

Going back north—the Malaysian East Coast
Round world cruising sailors just love Thailand, and they love the journey via Indonesia and Malaysia up the Straits of Malacca to get there. But there’s a new allure to the other side of the Malaysian Peninsular—the more remote, less trampled east coast. It has always been a wonderful, if neglected, coast; so what is the new allure?

Well, as respected Asian yachting journalist Captain Marty Rijkuris comments, "The Malaysian Government is certainly serious about yachting. They embarked on a marina building programme a few years back and now we have marinas all the way up the west coast of the Malacca Strait. However, now they are branching out onto the east coast and this is the first one, in Terengganu."

The difference this makes is enormous. While cruising sailors are pretty adventurous, it’s always nice to know that there’s a marina you can call into, for any number of reasons—repairs and maintenance, water and fuel, and some of the luxuries that are not available in an anchorage, just to name a few.

So what is Terengganu is all about?

300km northeast of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, on the East Coast of the Malay Peninsula, is the traditional Muslim state of Terengganu. In tourism terms this is ‘an uncut jewel’ and the highly respected Conde Nast has rated the diving and cruising area off the state capital Kuala Terengganu, as one of the best in the world.

There are many breath-taking islands complete with resorts, situated in the beautiful South China Sea. Redang Island, Lang Tengah Island and Kapas Island are accessible from Marang Jetty, while Perhentian Island is accessible from Kuala Besut Jetty. There are many delightful anchorages and this area can obviously support large numbers of bareboat charter, diving and other marine tourism operations. However, in terms of international tourism development, the biggest problem to date is the lack of a major base for use by dive operators, yachts and cruising boats.

Kuala Terengganu, a bustling seaside city, with a population approaching one million people, is well served by air and road. Even though it is the centre of this significant marine area, it previously had no marina facilities. Visiting yachts have previously had to negotiate an often-shifting bar and anchor in the river, hardly an enticing proposition for transiting cruising yachts.

In Kuala Terengganu, on a sandy island called Pulau Duyong, in the middle of the river that flows through the city, Malaysian property developer Datuk Patrick Lim is developing a luxury high-end resort that will eventually include a 500 berth marina with full support facilities including travelling crane.

Not only that, there are marinas at Tioman Island, Mersing and Johor,; eventually the east coast will become as well served as the west coast. But it’s worth remembering that not only cruising and leisure sailors will benefit from the Malaysian Government backed deve