Stephanie Dychiu MABUHAY - Sailing in the Philippines

Original title of this article: "Whatever Floats Your Boat"

by Stephanie Dychiu

Whether by hobie, yacht, or banca, the best way to explore the Philippines is through its waters. Luxe or low-budget, seasoned or novice, every traveler is sure to find a voyage that shows why islands were created in the first place—so boats can visit them.

Though not yet as popular as scuba diving, sailing is one of the most invigorating experiences a traveler can have in the Philippines. The waterways are nowhere near as heavily touristed as Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand, and one can spend months frolicking on the flotilla of 7,107 islands. Bulk of the islands are untouched by tourism, so "you'll feel like Ferdinand Magellan with every landing," says Peter Capotosto, son of an American commodore who used to run the Manila Yacht Club. Capotosto has his own sailing school on Taal Lake, less than two hours' drive from Metro Manila.

Each island in the Philippines has a different personality, but what most will have in common—again, this is unusual in Asia—are highly sociable natives who can communicate in English. Bruce Curran, a Scotsman who has sailed on every continent in the world except Antarctica, has found himself permanently moored in the Philippines. He says the image of the country as a pirate's haven is extremely overblown. "I know of some tourists who had trouble with their boat while at sea. When a fleet of twelve bancas approached them, they thought they would be attacked for sure. But the men towed them to safety while singing Frank Sinatra songs." After years of plying Philippine waters with nothing but his wits to guide him, Curran wrote the first comprehensive book on sailing in the Philippines in 2003 (Combing the Coral Carpet, available at major bookstores or through

The Philippine coastline is the fifth longest in the world. The endless choices for cruising would befuddle even Columbus himself. Below are a few unique sailing experiences to try, bearing in mind a couple of practicalities: first, bareboat charters are rare in the Philippines, so enjoy the convenience of a full crew on board at astonishingly low costs; and second, Philippine maritime law has not evolved enough to encompass leisure sailing, so the laws that apply to cargo ships and tankers will more or less be the same for your little tub.

Sail inside a volcano
For many a neophyte Filipino sailor, life begins at the Taal Lake Yacht Club under the tutelage of Peter Capotosto and his cohorts. Taal is perhaps the only place in the world where one can learn how to sail on a lake that is inside a volcano that is inside a bigger lake. This peculiar topography resulted from a prehistoric volcanic eruption. Hobie cats, toppers (small molded plastic dinghies ideal for beginners), board sails (for windsurfing), and kayaks are available for rent. Sailing lessons are conducted by Nestor Soriano, a Southeast Asian Games medalist. Camping used to be the only way to stay overnight on Taal Lake, but in recent years, a friendly German has opened up his air-conditioned lodgings to paying guests. For more information, log on to

Take a banca safari
Since ancient times, different places around the world have developed boats customized for the wind and water conditions of their specific environment. Turkey has its gulet, Egypt has its felucca, Dubai has its dhow, and the Philippines has its banca. Bruce Curran has been particularly fascinated by this native Filipino outrigger canoe. He says it is the perfect design for navigating the best cruising grounds in the country, which tend to have shallow waters and extensive coral reefs that a regular sailboat with a deeper keel would have difficulty traversing. This fixation with the banca inspired Bruce and two expatriate friends to build a super-sized, eighty-foot version which tourists can charter for island-hopping around the Philippines. Food, crew, and nightly accommodation in beach resorts are included in the package rates. Popular routes are Palawan, Cebu, Negros, Zambales, and Mindoro. To reserve your own trip, log on to

Explore the Calamian Islands
For both Peter Capotosto and Bruce Curran, the Calamian Islands offer the ultimate sailing experience in the Philippines. The Calamianes are a collection of 128 islands between Mindoro and Palawan that are popular among sailing enthusiasts because of their many natural harbors and outlandish geographical attractions. Limestone cliffs, superb diving, and isolated world-class resorts are the trademarks of this area, which is a favorite yachting destination of the country's elite. Some of these private yachts are available for charter to tourists, though not too many formal charter companies exist. Best to get in touch with Peter Capotosto (E-mail:, Phone: +63 2 8113183) to get proper referrals. The Calamianes abound with must-do activities for travelers, but two of the most memorable are: dropping anchor on Coron Bay then taking a smaller boat inland to Cayangan, a phantasmagoric freak of nature that is part lake, part hot spring, with water that gets hotter as you dive deeper, then turns from fresh to salt water at a certain depth, at which point a lone five-foot barracuda living in the lake usually makes an appearance; and sailing from Coron to Calauit island, a game preserve where African wildlife like zebra, giraffe, and impala have been successfully transplanted to a tropical environment and run around with bizarre endemic fauna like the bear cat and mouse deer. Check for more information.

Join the Philippine Hobie Challenge
The climax of sailing in the Philippines is taking part in the Philippine Hobie Challenge, which enters its eighth year in 2007. Next year's competition will start in Hermana Major Island on the west coast of Luzon, moving on to Capones Island, Ambil Island, Apo Island (across Verde Passage), Dimapac Island (north of Calauit), and ending at Club Paradise in Busuanga. The race covers 250 nautical miles in about five days. The Hobie Challenge is held in February every year. Non-sailors can follow the action at every stop. For more information, go to

Over the years, the Philippines has borne the brunt of negative press about its polluted cities, ludicrous politics, and sluggish economy. But the true spirit of the Philippines is out there in its seas, in the simplicity and eternal optimism of its small coastal villages. When daily pressures threaten to overpower you, take a boat around these islands of timeless beauty, and soon you'll be reminded that all it takes to cope with the turbulent winds and currents of life is a healthy respect for the immensity of the universe, and a little adjustment on your sails.

(This article originally appeared in MABUHAY magazine of Philippine Airlines, October 2006.)