Round Singapore Paddle 27-30 August 2021

151km later (or 145km if you were a more experienced / efficient paddler and didn’t zig-zag like we did), we did it: a circumnavigation of Singapore and 28 of her islands, to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. As of this moment (donations close end September), we’ve raised north of $30k, including pledges from our sponsors!

We are deeply grateful to have been included in this expedition. Conceived by our friend Shirley only just a short couple of months ago, it’s astonishing how she and a core group supported by Sea Ops, managed to push through all the naysayers and endless regulatory red tape to put together an event that was professionally run: We had the coast guards and maritime port authority vessels helping manage traffic at crucial junctures of our journey; we had fellow kayaking enthusiasts volunteering their time to help with logistics on land and photography; teammates helping patch the 35-year old kayaks Sea Ops had given a second life; companies stepping in to sponsor or match our donations; and a generous donor at the end who sponsored our delicious seafood dinner at our end point at SAF Yacht Club. Really huge hats off.

We also feel extremely privileged to have been introduced into this community of kayaking enthusiasts in Singapore – there are so many folks in the group that have vast and deep experiences to share. We learnt a lot paddling with them these past four days: How to lead an expedition; how to help out as port, starboard, and stern sweepers; how to read the winds and tides and plan our trips around these; that even if the tide is against us, it’s possible to find lines of localised eddies that are in our direction of travel. That this was a community organised event made it all the more special, as we weren’t just participants, but all teammates working in concert.

That last point was a lesson that didn’t really resonate till right before the event started. Initially, I’d wondered why we couldn’t procure newer and more sea-worthy kayaks for use, instead of having us macgyver modifications to the boats: sourcing and sawing off PVC pipes for use as footrests, removing seats (and then paddling with the exposed screws jutting out of the floor), drilling holes in the kayaks to attach rivets and decklines, and endless patching of holes and cracks in these old boats. But a lot of the folks didn’t complain, but just got down to doing what needed to be done. They weren’t running this as a professional charity event, but really as a ragtag team of enthusiasts to raise funds for a charity. I think, at the end of the day, that it made the event that much more meaningful.

And it was really beautiful to see how we all started to work together as a team by the end of the four days. We appreciated the debriefs we held each day, where everyone had the to chance to reflect on the day’s expedition. Everyone internalised the feedback, such that by the end, we were paddling in tight formation, and helped looked out for one another especially during the storms.

We also learnt that our bodies can take the distances and the long hours on the water, and that we can comfortably keep pace with the more experienced kayakers. We made sure to stretch religiously after each day, and refuelled with delicious hot meals my mum sent over each night – steak, salmon, and juicy roast chicken with hearty portions of salad. Though our bodies, especially shoulders and upper back, felt sore, we never hit a wall where we just had to stop. In fact, two days later, as I write this, I feel charged to go for another round… and gauging from the chat in our WhatsApp group, the consensus is pretty much the same! We definitely feel more seasoned and comfortable as kayakers now, able to tackle the varied conditions on the water, and able to appreciate a bit more what the kayak-authors write about of their expeditions.

Day 1 – Shortest, but not the easiest day

Route: Kranji Dam to Raffles Marina, distance: 21 km

Islands hit:

  1. Buloh Island
  2. Sarimbun Island
  3. Pergam Island
  4. Island of Bajau

We did not backtrack to the Woodlands Causeway in the end, because it proved too much of a hassle to negotiate permissions from the coast guard. That led to our shaving 6km off the pre-planned route, though the strong headwinds and chop made up for the energy we might have saved. What would have usually taken us 3.5 hours to cover took 5.5 hours.

Highlights:

  • We had a representative from the Children Cancer Foundation see us off at the start. Mr Khoo Siew Chiow, Singapore’s premier adventurer, also came and gave us some words of encouragement and helped us carry our kayaks down the rocks.
  • The start of the paddle was glorious: we kayaked past Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, where sea eagles soared overhead, and egrets and herons eyed us watchfully from the water edge. Some in the group even passed by a 2m long crocodile, though we only saw its startled dive down by the time we heard their excited yells.
  • We paddled to the drumbeat of the army live firing practice, stretching from Surimbun all the way up to the Tuas causeway to Malaysia

Not so much of a highlight: fighting the aforementioned wind and chop. That was draining!

Day 2

Route: Raffles Marina to Sentosa; distance: 49 km

Islands hit:

  1. Jurong Island
  2. Salu Island
  3. Sudong Island
  4. Island of Bukom
  5. Ghost Island
  6. Semakau Island
  7. Jong Island
  8. Sebarok Island
  9. Sisters Island
  10. Sentosa

This was a long day, made longer by the fact that we’d been mentally prepared to paddle 42km based on our pre-departure briefing, but with added islands enroute, we ended up paddling 49km.

It started excitingly enough though: a 5am push off in the dark. With currents assisting, we flew down the south western edge of Singapore, and passed Tuas at sunrise. We also got to surf some big waves when we made the crossing to Jurong Island, which was mighty fun. Major props to Sea Ops for coordinating with the coast guard to help manage traffic in the busy channel!

Rounding the southern tip of Singapore at sunrise

The paddle in between the islands of Sudong, Bukom and Semakau saw many of us flag though. We’d been on the water for 6 hours by that point, and were starting to get hungry. The sun came out overhead in full force, and the protection of the islands meant that we had no waves, no surf, and no wind to distract ourselves with. By the time we hit Pulau Hantu, our lunch point, everyone was exhausted. While some sought the shade, some of us just soaked in the sun-warmed water, where we rehydrated and scarfed down lunch.

Happily, at least we’d covered the bulk of the distance by then, though it was a tiring stretch back to Sentosa from the Southern Islands, where we had to fight a strong drift to the southwest. Some folks decided to camp overnight at Sea Ops’ facility on Sentosa; Jeff and I elected to head back home for the comfort of our own bed.

Day 3

Route: Sentosa to East Coast; distance: 31 km

Islands hit:

  1. Palawan Island
  2. Tekukor Island
  3. St John Island
  4. Lazarus Island
  5. Kusu Island
  6. Seringat Island

We got lucky with the weather and made it to our end point at Constant Wind in beautiful conditions.

It was a super fun 31km day. We set off just after 6am from Tanjong Beach in Sentosa, and paddled to the Southern Islands for a gorgeous sunrise. The Maritime Port of Authority vessel accompanied us for the crossing towards the Tanjong Pagar Terminal, the beautiful skyline of the central business district in front of us the whole way.

Some nice waves to surf north towards the city on

Though we were supposedly against the current along the long East Coast stretch, the downwind created lots of lovely waves for us to surf back on. Compared to the prior two days, day 3 felt like a breeze! We ended 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, and felt like we still had a full store of energy.

Not all kayakers chose to be on the water. We had kayaking enthusiasts helping out in all sorts of land roles. Joe, our photographer, met us by the Bedok Jetty for photo opps
Thanks to a nice down wind, we ended the day 1.5 hours earlier than estimated, and so celebrated with a cheeky cocktail lunch at Constant Wind, where we beached up for the day

Day 4 – The Longest Day

Route: East Coast to SAF Yacht Club; distance: 51 km

Islands hit:

  1. Tekong Island
  2. Frog Island
  3. Pulau Ubin
  4. Pulau Ketam
  5. Coney Island
  6. Punggol Timor Island
  7. West Punggol Island
  8. Seletar Island

Long in terms of both time and distance. 12 hours on the water, and 51km.

Technically, we launched by 6am, but actually floated in the bay for 45 minutes waiting for our safety boat to show up.

We finally pushed off at 645am, but within 15 minutes, the thunderstorm that we had seen billowing and thundering in the distance caught up to us. Given that we had the huge traverse around the Changi Naval Base ahead, we beached up to wait for the visibility to improve a tad before setting back off.

It rained most of the day. But since we were wet already, we actually didn’t mind and found it quite refreshing and fun, especially since the currents were light. It was a bit of a relief from the scorching sun the previous three days, and the early morning light filtered through the clouds made the whole seascape very surreal.

The approaching squall
We pulled up to Changi Beach for an early lunch break and to wait out the worst of the storm so we could safely make the crossing to Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin

And then, it seemed that we were suddenly almost at the finish line. With 15km to go as we crossed over to Coney Island from Pulau Ubin, we alternately felt excited at the prospect of stretching out and checking off this big adventure, to feeling wistful already that the expedition was almost at the end.

Nearing SAF Yacht Club
At the finish line!

But a last surprise was in store when we pulled up to SAF Yacht Club! We’d been diligently tracking and recording the islands that we’d passed on our route, and the official from the Singapore Book of Records was waiting for us at the finish line to award us with certificates for the largest island hopping kayaking expedition around Singapore! We’d covered 28 islands in our journey. 🙂

Jeff receiving his certificate from an official representing the Singapore Book of Records
An anonymous donor from the SAF Yacht Club sponsored our dinner ❤

It’s been a super fun ride. So grateful to have been a part of this expedition, especially in a time when we’re still stuck on Singapore unable to go anywhere else. And the charity drive continues through the end of the month too. Hopefully we can hit our stretch goal of $40,000!

*Feature drone image credit: KC Kwa

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