Kayaking: Training weekend

We got in three training days this weekend. A dawn paddle around Ubin on Thursday, a paddle to Yishun Dam on Sunday, and a paddle to Changi Village and Coney Island on Monday. 20+km per trip. Feeling stronger and faster that’s for sure!

The round Ubin trip felt leisurely, for the weather was mild, the water glassy, and the currents on our side. A far cry from the whiteout conditions we met the week before!

A garfish jumped straight into Jeff’s boat
Kayaking round Ubin, enjoying a quick breakfast of waffles

On Sunday, we joined the expedition group for a training paddle to Yishun Dam, where Singapore’s Last Fishing Village is. A hodepodge of blue plastic barrels, zinc sheeting, and wooden stakes tied together to form a series of floating platforms, juxtaposed against the modern buildings in the background.

Got back to Pasir Ris right before the storms hit

Monday morning, National Day, we got up for another early morning paddle. The tide was the lowest we’ve seen. Just past Api Api River, the waters were so shallow that we got stuck near the blue buoy barriers, about 100m from shore. We had to carry the kayak over the barrier in order to continue to Changi Village.

Stuck in the muddy bottoms at low tide
Sun rises over Changi Sailing Club

The hawker center at Changi Village was bustling, never mind that safe distancing measures were still place, such that we had to check in to enter the hawker, and could only buy food for takeaway but not dine in. No matter. I bought two packets of nasi lemak and lime juice, and brought it back to the beach for a leisurely breakfast.

Enjoying a very Singaporean breakfast

At Coney Island, we watched the fighter jets zoom past in formation, then the slower chinooks bearing the Singapore flag fly past. It’s a lovely gesture, these helicopters, going around the island with the flag, since we don’t have a proper parade this year due to the heightened measures.

Kayaking the Four Rivers of Pulau Ubin

When the time and the tides align, one of our favorite paddles is to explore the four rivers of Pulau Ubin, where we’d cross over from Pasir Ris, and cut up from the southern side of the Island via Sungei Jelutong up through to the northern tip, then paddle back down through the island again on a couple other rivers.

On Sunday, we did just that. The gloomy weather predictions had mostly fizzled, such that we were offered a clear sunny window to mid morning. The crossing was easy – on flat waters under a partly cloudy sky after a beautiful orange-pink sunrise, and all too soon, we’d left behind the drone of power boats in the channel and entered another world, filled with the melodic chirpings of unseen birds and incessant calls of crickets.

Shan, as always, was our unflappable guide through the rivers, although on this day KayakAsia was also leading several groups up through the rivers as well, so we used them as our guideposts as we overtook the groups, exchanging pleasantries and greetings with our friends as we passed.

Jeff’s shot of me – love the lighting!

We made good time, even with stopping for a short snack by the narrow silver of beach on the northern side of the island (next to fresh wild boar tracks!) and floating around in the thick of mangroves for around 20 minutes or so, waiting for the tide to rise just high enough for us to paddle over a couple of half submerged tree branches that blocked our paths.

Busy day on the water: Waiting for the ship to cross the channel from west to east, and two sand barges to cross from east to west before we made our north to south crossing back to Pasir Ris

By the time we made it back out the southern end of the island via Sungei Puaka, we could see thick grey clouds overhead. And by the time we hit Pasir Ris and looked back, Pulau Ubin was shrouded in mist; the storm had descended upon the island. We got lucky; a few passing puffs of rain clouds hit us as we got our kayaks out of the water, but it was only after Jeff and I had just finished washing our kayaks that the rain really started to come down – just in time for a warm shower and lunch!

Quick Jaunt to Paulu Ubin from Pasir Ris by Kayak

When your company’s country head asks you for a 1-1 meeting done on the water, why would you ever say no? Especially on a brilliantly warm and breezeless day like it was last Monday, when the waters even in the middle of the channel looked absolutely flat and glassy?

So it was that we set off from Pasir Ris towards Pulau Ubin, me in my trusty Oru kayak, and Scott on his stand up paddle board.

Mid crossing pic from Scott
Scott on his paddle board, approaching Pulau Ketam

We had a couple of hours before other meetings, and so decided on a quick exploration of the mangroves in Pulau Ubin. We ventured up the river mid-tide, when the flow was still mild and in our favor, past a family of monkeys swinging through the trees alongside and overhead us.

This looks like a drone pic, or a pic from a bridge, but it’s actually just from Scott standing on his SUP

There are rivers that we could paddle up to bisect the island, but the turns are tricky, and without relying on maps, we found ourselves in disused prawn farms instead. No matter – it was time to head back to the mainland anyway.

We wandered through the old prawn farms on Pulau Ubin

As it was during the phase of the full moon, the tides were stronger than usual, and the head-on flow took us almost by surprise. The waters were still calm, but we had to exert much more energy to fight the currents all the way down the river and back across the channel to Pasir Ris.

But fun times – and we’ll be looking to do more of such meetings on the water!

Boxing day paddle up Sungei Api Api

Brought my friends’ kids out for a socially distant paddle up Sungei Api Api. We’d gone once a few weeks ago, and the winds and currents that day were really challenging, especially for first timers.

Today though, the sun was out and the winds much calmer, so with much more confidence, we decided to venture past the bouys to round one of the nearby kelongs (houses on the water) for a bit of adventure.

Afterwards, we turned back in to paddle up the Sungei Api Api. We didn’t spot any hawks or otters this time around, but everyone still had fun leisurely floating up the river, peering into the murky depths for fishes or into the mangroves for the flashes of brilliant blue kingfishers as they flitted from root to root. Also spotted: an iguana and a tortoise, plus a couple of egrets.

Short paddle for me, but it was nice to see friends and their kids take to the new sport!

Kayaking: Pasir Ris to Changi Village

Month 9 of no overseas travel. Every time I start to feel remotely sorry for myself though, I think about how lucky we are to be here in Singapore, where the government has managed to get the virus under control especially when compared to the (non) responses of some other governments. Except for the trying month in May where we were all placed on lockdowns, we have been able to resume most activities – swimming, tennis, kayaking, and meeting with small groups of friends and family. I caught up with friends Stateside last week for Thanksgiving, and found out that most of them had essentially been self-isolating since March! 😦

So yes, even though we aren’t able to explore the crystal clear waters of Raja Ampat, Ningaloo, Phuket, or the Greek Islands this year (all itineraries we’d planned for), we have had the opportunities to explore the sea and rivers close to home.

One recent Saturday morning, our group of kayaking buddies met at Pasir Ris park for another mini expedition. Nothing ambitious this time – just a short paddle along the coast eastwards to Changi Village. We beached up and dragged our kayaks high up on the sand, carrying our paddles and life vests for the short stroll to Changi Village hawker centre for a mid-morning meal and coffee. Yum.

Stomachs filled and feeling sleepy from food coma, we refreshed ourselves in the cool waters before climbing back into our kayaks for the trip back to Pasir Ris. Along the way, we branched up Sungei Api Api (River of Fire) where we marvelled at the lucky residents whose apartments overlook this serenity, a haven of egrets, herons, and eagles.

Perfect jaunt for a hot, sunny morning, before the afternoon monsoons set in.

Kayaking: Exploring my backyard in Pasir Ris

The tides didn’t line up with when we wanted to go out to explore the mangroves of Pulau Ubin. Rather than wait another weekend though, we decided to venture out anyway. Even if we couldn’t find a river to cut through the island, it still would be a great way to get in some fresh air and workout.

The rain overnight did not clear the clouds, which still loomed low in the sky. The air also felt still and heavy, but at least we had a smooth crossing from Pasir Ris over to Pulau Ubin. Within a half hour of launch, we entered the river fronting the abandoned PA chalets. As soon as we rounded the first bend, the chirping of the crickets enveloped us. We spotted our first pair of otters placidly swimming past.

As always, the cacophony of crickets enveloped us when we entered the mangroves

On our past forays into the mangroves, we had friends guide us. This time, my brother and I were alone. With the help of a grainy Google Earth (Google Maps did not offer enough detail here) and a compass though, we felt confident enough to map our way out of the labyrinth network of riverlets.

We squeezed past narrow gaps in search of navigable routes to the northern shores of Pulau Ubin

Alas, no matter what small channel we managed to squeeze past, the tide was just a little too low, the mangrove roots too exposed. Oh well. We retraced our path, following a brilliant blue kingfisher that flitted just ahead of us with every quiet stroke of our paddles.

On a whim, when we got back to Pasir Ris, we decided to venture up the canal bisecting Pasir Ris Park. We’d crossed the main bridge hundreds of times in the years past, but never did venture up its length. But the canal is much cleaner now, evidenced by another pair of otters that ducked between the mangroves alongside the water’s edge, watchfully eyeing us as we paddled past.

Going up the Pasir Ris River

We were so astounded by the quiet beauty of the river, and of the uniquely Singaporean sight of the colourful housing blocks peeking from above the trees. What a lovely view these residents enjoyed of the river, with the resident egrets and herons nesting on the high branches. My brother spotted another otter, this one bravely swimming right under his kayak and then popping its head out of the water to stare at him.

Beautiful morning.

Kayaking: Pasir Ris to Ubin

With Covid cases flaring back up in countries that had already eased restrictions, we are resigned to the fact that for the foreseeable future, we will be stuck here in Singapore.

A friend reminded us the other day though, that it’s important to find pleasures where we can, otherwise life will be miserable. True that.

So we try to be in the present, to continue to count our blessings that we otherwise are healthy and have jobs, have still the freedom to meet with small group of friends for in-person catch-ups, and the freedom to take to the waters to explore.

In the past couple of months, we have made a half dozen paddles over to Pulau Ubin from Pasir Ris, eagerly squeezing under low bridges to dive deeper into the lush mangroves. Each time that we bring new friends along to explore, we delight in the wonder and excitement they enthuse as the cacophony of cricket calls and overhanging branches envelope us, transporting us into a different world.

If we’d have the flexibility to travel, we would not have been able to explore as deeply as we have the wondrous environment right at our doorstep, so there’s something to be thankful for!

A scorching hot morning paddle

We’d a friend visit from Sydney, and he’s long longed to try out our trusty foldable kayaks, the Oru Bays. So Saturday morning, we took him out for a paddle.

It was a hot, hot day. The water was still and the sun and the air torrid, as we slipped our paddles methodically into the water, to get around the annoying blue barrels that the authorities had strung out along the beach front. What an awful sight. Thankfully, there was a break in the line of barrels a few hundred meters down the shoreline, so we were able to slip past and cross the channel to Pulau Ubin.

It was just a short paddle. A quick 10km up the mangrove swamps of Pulau Ubin and then back across to Pasir Ris. We had a scheduled wine night that we still had to prep for, but it was still a satisfying jaunt. Always fun to get out on the water to work those muscles.

Kayaking: Sembawang to Pasir Ris, Singapore

One of our kayaking friends put together this ambitious plan – to kayak from Sembawang, the northern tip of Singapore, to Changi Village via the back side of Pulau Ubin. And then back to Sembawang. That journey would have been roughly 56km.

Not something I’d have undertaken, not in the heavy humidity of Singapore. Since we were going by Pasir Ris though, Jeff and I thought we could just load up our foldable Oru Kayaks into the car to Sembawang, then paddle home to Pasir Ris. Our two other friends who had their own kayaks as well also elected to pull out at Pasir Ris.

Credit: Carol, from Sembawang Park. The rain threatened, but never fell while we were paddling

The four of us with our own kayaks launched early Saturday morning, from the newly renovated Sembawang Park. We drifted just outside the park, on the Singapore side of the channel, waiting for the others who were renting from Sembawang Yacht Club. A Police Coast Guard came charging up the channel, towards us. They cut their engine and floated alongside us, asking for our trip itinerary. Malaysia loomed large just a couple of kilometers away – and in fact our phones had already jumped to the Malaysian networks.

Credit: Shan. The Singapore Coast Guard checking in on our itinerary

Satisfied with our answers, the coast guard soon departed as the others caught up.

It was a fun paddle, along a side of Singapore I’d never visited before. The winds and current were a bit against us, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We hit Pasir Ris after a leisurely 4 hour paddle, around 18km. By then, it was past noon, and the team who had to return back to Sembawang decided not to cull back their ambitious plans. Instead, we decamped as a group to the zichar food court by the beach for a quick lunch just as the skies opened.