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105km in 31 hours – Training row #2

We departed this previous Thursday evening at 5:30 PM with a plan to make a complete, self-supported circumnavigation of Singapore by human power (using Simpson’s Donkey rowing boat).  Well, as complete as you can, because you see, in reality it is impossible to row around the Singapore mainland. Why? Because someone built a bloody big causeway which you cannot pass under.

What we can do however, is start on one side of the causeway, and row 80nm (130 km) all the way around to the other side of the causeway.  Not a complete loop then, althouugh some might say this is being pedantic as you are only missing a few metres of the causeway section.  We would actually have to leave out a few hundred meters either side of the causeway itself, as from previous kayaking experience I know that the Singapore authorities get more jittery than a long-tailed dog in a room full of rocking chairs when you get close to their sacred bridge which separates Malaysia and Singapore.

Building on the ass-bruising, back-breaking, sleep deprived 1st expedition three weeks earlier, we made a number of experiential based changes, possibly the most important being taking a pee bottle (to avoid falling over board or urinating on yourself or your partner whilst trying to finish your business whilst standing on a slippery, rocking deck, holding on to two of your most prized possessions by one hand each – one of those being the boat of course).  Revisions were also made to our radio and camera systems, shift patterns, food, water, rowing techniques, footwear, and more….

Rather than subject you to a blow- by-blow, 31 hour account of the row, I would sum it up saying, we missed the crucial timings in terms of tide by a couple of hours all the way around.  There are some hot spots in terms of currents around Singapore, and if you don’t get past them with the tide at the right times then it gets really tough to drag a half tonne rowing boat around them.  Right from the start, we had a head wind of 8 – 10 knots which slowed us to a speed of less than 2 knots for the first few hours. This affected us all the way around as we were never able to catch up the time and had to battle indeed around points such as Changi finger and the Tuas hockey stick, as we missed the timing of the favorable tidal streams.


So after 31 hours and 108km, we rowed into Raffles Marina at 3am on Saturday morning, cutting the journey short by 22km.  Here the tide was against us and the remaining distance would have taken around 7 hours at the pace we were at to reach the causeway. Upon which point we would have had to turn and row back 23 km all the way to Raffles Marina where the boat is housed.  Making a very long day and effectively spoiling sacred weekend time with my family. You can see a real time interactive map of our route here:

Route map

A route map in red showing our journey around Singapore, starting at the centre-top, at the main causeway, and finishing at the red market at Raffles Marina.

So the complete-around-the-island, unsupported loop  challenge remains.  Once again as per the first training row, we learnt an enormous amount and will make changes before preparing once more to do battle with the multitude of challenges that attempting to row a loop of Singapore by human power entails.

Rowing a boat two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours per day, in the tropics is an experience that is difficult to describe in words. Under the intense Singapore sun, it can be nothing short of a brutal,  miserable suffer-fest by day.  There is no escape from the heat and sweat.  Just trying to live on this tiny platform, to keep clean, to eat, to drink, to sleep is a challenge let alone trying to row 12 hours per day each.  The vessel traffic was thick and fast, and the ships were just massive as they glided past us every few minutes, keeping us constantly on lookout and making evasive maneuvers.  However if this game was easy, everyone would be doing it.  I am looking forward to the next outing, Enjoy the photos.

Love Axe

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