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Dodging Giants: A sea kayaking microadventure to Pulau Jong

Singapore has around 60 Islands, most are natural, some are man-made  and some no longer exist.  (See the complete list here).

Today with my wife Stephanie, we decided to head out to explore a tiny little uninhabited island known as ‘Pulau Jong’.  This island is also referred to as ‘Junk Island’ or  ‘Hamburger Island’.   The name ‘Junk Island’ comes from a local legend whereby  a Chinese junk was attacked by Malay pirates one night where the island now is. Just as the pirates were about to board the junk, the captain (the Nakhodah) awoke. When the captain saw the pirates, he uttered such a frightful yell that the sea spirit turned the whole junk into an island (Source Wikipedia).  Because of its shape it is also referred to as ‘Hamburger Island’.

Pulau Jong is 6km off Singapore’s south coast. This part of Singapore has some of the strongest currents which always makes paddling interesting.  We intended to depart and return to Tanjung Beach in Sentosa.  However the real issue with getting to Pulau Jong is that you have to cross the ‘Jong Fairway’ and the ‘Sisters Fairway’.  A ‘fairway’ in this sense is a an area where vessel traffic is free to move.  In crossing these fairways you have to skip between the path of some ENORMOUS vessels.  Fortunately these move slowly up and down the channels and do not cause much stress or wake for a paddler to worry about.  More of an issue is the fast ferries which come steaming past from Batam.  These travel very quickly and one was heading directly towards us before I stood up and waved my paddle at which point they veered away.  I gave them a friendly wave with my middle finger and they gave me a friendly honk on their horn in return.

We did not have too many problems getting to Pulau Jong.  We arrived at the Island in around 1.5 hours paddling with a distance of 6.7km.  As the tide was low we had the good fortune to be able to land on the island (at high tide this would be impossible) and stretch our legs for a short break.  We then paddled back via a circuitous route, with another pit-stop on the beautiful Sisters Islands, then around the Southern Islands of St Johns, Kusu, Lazarus and Seringat. We arrived back at Tanjung beach on Sentosa, 5 hours and 21.5 km later.  A great days exploring, however the amount of vessel traffic makes it a place to paddle with care.

Enjoy the photos below.

Our route as mapped by GPS, 21.6 km in total.

Our route as mapped by GPS, 21.6 km in total.

All set-up in the Divorce Machine and ready to go from Tanjung Beach, a glorious morning for a paddle.

All set-up in the Divorce Machine and ready to go from Tanjung Beach, a glorious morning for a paddle.

Pulau Jong way out in the distance.

Pulau Jong way out in the distance.

The vessels at anchor are so impressive to paddle around, they are monsters!

The vessels at anchor are so impressive to paddle around, they are monsters!

We saw a friendly crew member on the back deck here who gave us a wave.

We saw a friendly crew member on the back deck here who gave us a wave.

We have a thing for anchor chains.

We have a thing for anchor chains.

The anchor chains are enourmous.

The anchor chains are enormous.

We gave way to this guy.

We gave way to this guy.

And we decided to give way to this baby also....

And we decided to give way to this baby also….

Pulau Jong in front of me is also referred to as the 'hamburger island' because of its shape.

Pulau Jong in front of me is also referred to as the ‘hamburger island’ because of its shape.

A close -up of Pulau Jong at low tide.

A close -up of Pulau Jong at low tide.

Because of the low tide we could land on Pulau Jong, its  a lovely peaceful little uninhabited island.

Because of the low tide we could land on Pulau Jong, it’s a lovely peaceful little uninhabited island.

A small beach on Pulau Jong.

A small beach on Pulau Jong.

Having a rest and swim on the beautiful Sisters Islands.

Having a rest and swim on the beautiful Sisters Islands.

The rocky foreshore around St Johns.

The rocky foreshore around St Johns.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

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Crocodile Hunting in Singapore: A sea kayaking microadventure from Kranji to Sungei Boloh

Sleeping with rats: An overnight microadventure to the Sisters Islands

For all those men out there who are wishing for more physical contact or intimacy with their wives or partners, I have the solution for you. Take your partner on a microadventure to sleep on a deserted island infested with rats. I did this with my wife and she never strayed more than 0.5m from me the entire evening. Its been years since she paid me this much attention!

Our recent microadventure involved paddling our trusty inflatable sea kayak (affectionately labeled ‘The Divorce Machine’) to the Sisters Islands in Singapore, and spending a night there camping in our tent.  The Sisters Islands are actually two tiny islands, around 3.5km off the Southern Coast of Singapore, which form a group known as the ‘Southern Islands’ of Singapore. They are uninhabited by humans, are without power,  have a basic toilet facility, a few monkeys, some monitor lizards,  a bbq pit, loads of palm trees and as we found out a fair few rats.

I picked Stephanie up from work at 5pm, and we raced into Sentosa Islands Tanjung beach which was our launching point. We arrived at 6pm and were in a race against time to set up the Divorce Machine then paddle out to the Sisters Island’s through the busy shipping channel before darkness fell. We are getting efficient at setting up now after lots of practice and were in the water ready to paddle in only 20 minutes flat.  It was a beautiful evening and the stress of a days office work soon melted away as we paddled out off the coast heading for the Sisters island.  This really is a beautiful part of Singapore with gorgeous views of the CBD of Singapore, of huge ships moored and some steaming slowly by with their precious cargo, and the Southern Islands themselves. Dodging past a few fast ferries which came roaring past leaving their large wakes, the last 20 minutes paddling was a real struggle as we battled hard against a strong  current to reach the Sisters Island just after 7pm.

All loaded up on Sentosa and ready to paddle.

All loaded up on Sentosa and ready to paddle.

Stephanie leaving the shores of Sentosa and heading out across the shipping channel

Stephanie leaving the shores of Sentosa and heading out across the shipping channel

Sisters Island in the distance.

Sisters Island in the distance.

We quickly set-up the tent, our home for the night.  I then started a fire in the bbq pit with a small bag of charcoal we had bought over with us.  As darkness fell we both noticed a small furry rodent with a very long tail come scuttling past the bbq pit. “What was that?” Stephanie exclaimed in alarm.  After 39 years of living on this planet, experience has taught me that there are certain combinations of things that do not go together at all well. Just like ice cream and beer, ladies and rats are a terrible combination. A combination so bad that it can have severe lasting negative effects for any man who is unfortunate to put the two together.

“Erm…… I think it was a squirrel” I replied in a lame attempt to hide the fact it was a bloody big rat. “A squirrel? Squirrels don’t look like that…. Are you sure?” replied Stephanie very suspiciously. “Yeah I think so….either that or it was a long tailed mouse” I said even more meekly. Suddenly the rat came racing back out underneath the bbq pit right beside us “Oh my god! It’s a rat” Stephanie squealed. “Don’t worry it won’t come anywhere near us, it’s just looking for food scraps”.  So set-off a very uneasy silence for the next few minutes as I quietly cooked some noodles and sausages for dinner on the bbq. Stephanie sat on the table with her legs drawn up, anxiously scanning the ground in search of the rat. “Fuckin hell – it’s on the table” she shrieked as she jumped off the table.  The jolly rat (lets call him ‘Roger’) had jumped up onto the picnic table beside her in an attempt to share some of the chips Stephanie was nibbling on.  Now this was all a bit traumatic for poor Stephanie and I must take my proverbial hat off to her bravery in the face of adversity as she was scared stiff and came and stood beside me for the rest of the evening never venturing more than a footstep away.  We finished dinner(I ate all 6 sausages as Stephanie lost her appetite), had a wash-up and were making our way to the tent when we noticed that actually Roger was not alone on the island but had a number of friends running around the picnic area with him also.  It was a very relieved Stephanie who made it into the tent and zipped the door tightly shut for the night.

Home for the night. The MACPAC tent on Sisters Island

Home for the night. The MACPAC tent on Sisters Island

Cooking some noodles and sausages over the BBQ

Cooking some noodles and sausages over the BBQ

Sleeping in tents in the tropics has never been one of my favorite experiences. If you ever had a few too many beers and fallen asleep in a sauna you will understand the feeling of what its like sleeping in 30+ degrees heat and high humidity.  My air mattress which I had last used in a snow cave in an emergency bivvy on Mt Cook in New Zealand in December had also sprung a leak.  So it a fairly uncomfortable night sleeping on the ground.  Roger and his friends were having a great time outside the tent, squealing and fighting and making all sorts of noises as they clambered in and out of the metal dustbins.  Around 5am a strong wind picked up which cooled things down and Roger and his mates finally decided to bugger off to bed.  This allowed us a rather nice 2 or 3 hours sleep until morning time.

IMG-20130808-00141

Stephanie packed up and ready to head back to Sentosa the next morning.

We rose around 8:30am and slowly packed the gear and paddled off for Sentosa.  It was a lovely morning and we had a swift trip home as the current pushed us back over to Sentosa in only 25 minutes.  We both came back from our adventure with smiles on our faces, still married and non the worse for wear. It also made us enjoy a hot shower and a nice bed the next evening, those things we often take for granted in normal everyday life.  I would go as far as to say it was jolly good fun. Would Stephanie do it again? In her own words “Probably not”.  Would I do it again? Absolutely.  Next time I would take a hammock however, sling it between the trees and sleep in that as it would me much cooler.  I may also bring a cat.

Happy adventuring and see you out there!

Axe

Back on Sentosa again the morning after... Sisters Island is evident in the distance, 3.5km away.

Back on Sentosa again the morning after… Sisters Island is evident in the distance, 3.5km away.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Sea kayaking Selatar Island – the divorce machine sails solo

The skipper of the Divorce Machine was unavailable for selection this morning, so I made the first solo excursion. I am currently in training to paddle across a potentially dangerous stretch of water as part of my next expedition coming up in December. So as well as microadventuring, my weekend paddles also serve as training for my December trip.

Today’s plan was a circumnavigation of Seletar Island on the North East coast of Singapore. Departing and returning to Sembawang beach this is a round trip of just over 12km. I was pleasantly surprised by how the Divorce Machine handles as a single-seater. She rides higher and therefore does not take on as much water as when we have two people. Of course it is much more fun when my wife joins me but it was also nice to have some time to myself as I paddled along the coastline and around the Selatar island. Seletar Island is a popular spot for wakeboarding and a number of boats were zipping up and down the channel past me.  So I opted to return on the northern side of the island where it is much quieter. After just over 2 hours I returned to Seletar beach to a small crowd of curious onlookers. They watched me paddle into shore, pull out the kayak onto the beach, let out the air and roll it up into its bag, then haul it onto my back and walk off up the path. I got the feeling by the attention I was receiving that they thought this was very odd behavior, and where on earth did I come from and where was I going!

The 12km loop around Seletar Island starting and stopping at Sembawang beach.

The 12km loop around Seletar Island starting and stopping at Sembawang beach.

The Divorce Machine set up to ride solo.

The Divorce Machine set up to ride solo.

A fisherman checking his net

A fisherman checking his net

Paddling under a kelong or fishfarm.

Paddling under a kelong or fishfarm.

A panorama showing Seletar North Link bridge

A panorama showing Seletar North Link bridge

I passed a group of three other kayakers

I passed a group of three other kayakers

Lunch on the road

Lunch on the road

This guy was fishing for crabs from his boat.

This guy was fishing for crabs from his boat.

Wake boarders

Wake boarders

This monkey came down to the beach to check me out as I paddled past.

This monkey came down to the beach to check me out as I paddled past.

Paddling around the north side of Seletar Island

Paddling around the north side of Seletar Island

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Kayaking Kukup – a world first circumnavigation of Pulau Kukup for $30

After 5 previous microadventures around the coast of Singapore, it was time to venture further afield.  Together with my wife Stephanie we loaded our sleek gray inflatable kayak (affectionately known as the ‘Divorce Machine’) into the boot of our sleek gray Toyota VIOS (we have a thing for gray) and set off for a microadventure in Malaysia.

The plan was to drive over to the small fishing village of Kukup.  Kukup is located in the south-eastern corner of Peninsula Malaysia.  Kukup is 150 years old. Many of the houses are built on stilts over the water.  The main industries are fish farming and feeding car loads of hungry Singaporeans who come to sample the fresh seafood at the small restaurants which line the main street.  From Kukup we planned to launch the Divorce Machine and do a complete circumnavigation of Pulau Kukup Island.   I had scoured the internet for information on kayaking around Pulau Kukup and came up empty so was looking forward to a real adventure today trying something that I had no idea was even possible.

After spending 1hour and ten minutes stuck in a school holiday traffic jam crossing the 2nd link causeway  into Malaysia, we got through just in time before I was forced to urinate in our water bottle(I was busting to pee and the was the only thing we had available).

It’s approximately a  one hour to drive to get to Kukup.  However all engines need fuel to operate and Stephanie and mine are no exception.  We stopped off at our favorite ‘Roti Prata’ stall in the small town of Gelang Patah.  Roti Prata is an Indian type of flat, fried pancake(more commonly known as ‘Roti Canai’ in Malaysia).  I like my Roti Prata accompanied with fish curry while Stephanie prefers hers with sugar.  All washed down mugs of hot sweet ‘teh tarik’ (tea sweetened with condensed milk) – a perfect start to the day.

The driving route to Kukup  from Singapore

The driving route to Kukup from Singapore

Upon arrival in Kukup village we had a small problem in finding a suitable launching spot for the Divorce Machine.  The houses along the main street back into the water but it is a busy area and not a good place to try and set up the kayak.  We spotted a visitor information center and I popped in to ask where we could launch from.  I was lucky to meet a very friendly chap who could not speak English so in my broken bahasa (malay language)I  asked him where we could launch our boat.  He was very helpful and offered to guide us to the local Sungei (river) on his motorbike.  “Ada buaya dalam sungei?” I asked him (“is there crocodiles in the river?”).  “Dula ada, skerang tedak ada” he chuckled in reply (“Last time there was but now not anymore”).  We drove behind him for a few hundred meters down a small lane lined with many small basic houses built on stilts.  It looked like the inhabitants throw their rubbish directly into the swamp below their houses as litter lined the area.

We soon found the small launching point at Jetty Nelayan Pengkalan Tok Ali.  It was a sweltering hot day as we quickly set-up the Divorce Machine.  We are getting quick at this now and in less than ten minutes were ready to go.

Jetty

Jetty Nelayan Pengkalan Tok Ali where we launched from.

Some helpful locals especially the chap on the right guided us to the launch spot

Some helpful locals especially the chap on the right guided us to the launch spot

Together with Stephanie with our new sun shields which were very helpful in the hot sun.

Ready to launch together with Stephanie with our new sun shields which were very helpful in the hot sun.

Skipper of the Divorce Machine ready to go.

Skipper of the Divorce Machine ready to go.

I made my usual mistake and did not bring enough water and was already feeling very thirsty as we paddled slowly out the small river past the rows of houses in stilts.  We soon reached the strait between Kukup and Pulau Kukup (Pulau means ‘Island’ in Malay).  Pulau Kukup is said to be the second largest uninhabited Mangrove Island in the world.  The distance across the small Strait varies from between  500 – 1000m.  The strait is lined with floating fish farms. You can take a small ferry across to Pulau Kukup and go for a walk along the board walks there.  Our plan was to circumnavigate the island, which meant a total round trip distance of about 12km.  We paddled north first and soon left the fish farms and the human population behind.  It was incredibly peaceful as we glided along and soon reached the northern tip of Pulau Kukup.  The sea was calm and with no wind at all the sun beat down mercilessly.  I was soon feeling very hot and thirsty and knew it was going to be a long paddle without much water.  As we came back down the western side of Pulau Kukup the magic of this beautiful mangrove Island became more apparent.  It was so calm and peaceful and we stopped frequently to drift and enjoy the tranquility.  Far out to see on our right hand side we could see some huge container vessels steaming up the straits of Malacca – one of the busiest and most strategically important shipping channels in world shipping.  It also happens to be heavily pirate infested.  On our left side was the Mangroves of Pulau Kukup.  Bird life was abundant and small fish jumped out of the water continuously as we paddled along.

Paddling out the sungei (river) past the houses on stilts

Paddling out the sungei (river) past the houses on stilts

We passed a man cooking lunch over a wok in his house here.

We passed a man cooking lunch over a wok in his house here.

Looking across the strait to Pulau Tekukor (Tekukor Island) - the worlds second largest uninhabited mangrove Island.

Looking across the strait to Pulau Kukup (Kukup Island) – the worlds second largest uninhabited mangrove Island.

A lone mangrove at the Northern tip of Tekukor Island.

A lone mangrove at the Northern tip of Pulau Kukup.

Looking out into the Malacca Strait at some huge cargo vessels.

Looking out into the Malacca Strait at some huge cargo vessels.

Coming around the southern tip of the Island we had to paddle a few hundred meters offshore as it was so shallow.

Coming around the southern tip of the Island we had to paddle a few hundred meters offshore as it was so shallow.

Soon we reached the  southern tip of the island.  Here we realized the vast extent of the shallow mud flats and had to paddle a few hundred metres offshore to get enough water under the Divorce Machines keel to get around.  The problem with a sea kayaking circumnavigation beginning and ending in the same point is that you will usually have to fight current for at least part of your journey.  And for the last hour we were battling into the current as we rounded the southern tip and paddled the last 3km back up the straits to Kukup.  By this stage I was feeling severely dehydrated which was causing me to feel very weak and lethargic and develop  a headache.  Stephanie was going strong however and put in a great effort to get us back over the Strait to Kukup.  This is not the first time I have made the mistake of not being adequately hydrated before the kayak and also not taking enough water along with us.  It is very interesting to see how my performance decreases when I get dehydrated. I estimate that during this paddle I was probably was at around 50% only of my normal strength and endurance, purely through not drinking enough.

The tide was going out was we reached the small Sungei (river) where we started from and it was fascinating as we paddled back up the river to see the hundred of mudskippers jumping around the mudflats and skimming along on top of the water as we approached.

A closeup of a mudskipper

A closeup of a mudskipper

Stephanie paddling back up the river at low tide as we finish the paddle.

Stephanie paddling back up the river at low tide as we finish the paddle.

The GPS track our route showing km markings in red.

The GPS track of our route around Pulau Kukup showing km markings in red.

Stephanie with the Divorce Machine all packed up in the boot.

Stephanie with the Divorce Machine all packed up in the boot.

We soon had the Divorce Machine packed up in the boot of the car and I was very happy to start rehydrating with some well-earned 100-plus sports drink.  We wandered down the relaxed main street of Kukup and had a beautiful plate of nasi goring ayam (fried rice with chicken).  Food always tastes better when you are hungry.

Overall the paddle was an interesting change of scene from Singapore.  We describe it as a very peaceful paddle as you really get a feeling of quiet isolation especially when you paddle around the western side of Pulau Kukup.  Total cost of the day including petrol, toll charges, causeway charges and food was around S$30 for both of us!  And I am fairly sure we did a world first circumnavigation of the Pulau Kukup in an inflatable kayak by a husband and wife team. Not that doing a world first is important to us at all to be frank BUT we did prove once again that you don’t need to spend hundreds  or even thousands of dollars and weeks of leave to fly somewhere to have an adventure. You can do one from your back doorstep. Happy adventuring!

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Inflatable sea kayaking microadventure: Sembawang beach to Changi beach

The captain of the Divorce Machine (my wife Stephanie) was unavailable to paddle yesterday so cabin boy Blair Spendelow was called in to fill the 2nd seat on the sleek inflatable dream machine.  The plan was to paddle from Sembawang beach down to Changi beach, checking out the small islands of Pulau Seletar and Pulau Serangoon on the way.  The tide was going out all morning which meant the current should he heading east. I was hoping this would push us along nicely and make for a relaxing paddle but it turned out to be quite hard work and the current seemed negligible most of the way and not of any noticeable assistance.

We arrived at Sembawang beach at 7:30am.  It was my first visit to this spot and what a beautiful little beach this is.  The weather was perfect and the sea surface was mirror smooth.  There are great views of the Johor Straits and Johor Bahru across the water.  We soon had the Divorce Machine setup and ready to go, complete with 2 litres of water each(I learnt my dehydration lesson from last trip around Changi about what happens when I don’t drink enough).

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow with the Div orce Machine checking the conditions frrom Sembawang beach.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow with the Divorce Machine checking the conditions from Sembawang beach.

The paddle started out well and we made good time following along the coastline for the first 10km.  We then chose to cross the strait and paddle around the northern coast of Pulau Ubin.  Coming around the eastern tip of Ubin to Chek Jawa marine reserve the tide was so low that we had to make a large detour to get around the shallow water.  It’s a completely different experience paddling around here at low tide as compared to high tide.

The wind also picked up here and it was a slog to get across the strait to Changi beach.  The Divorce Machine also started taking on water in the choppy sea state. The newly purchased water pump came in handy and Cabin Boy Spendelow did a fine job on the bilge.  We pulled into Changi beach after 4 hours of paddling, a distance of 23km in total and the longest trip the little pleasure craft has made to date.  We packed up the boat on the beach and took a taxi back to Sembawang beach to pickup the car.

This is a really nice paddle with interesting coastline, calm water and nice views across the strait to Malaysia.  I will definitely plan to come back and explore the Islands more in the future.  Enjoy the photos below.

Map of the route from Sembawang beach to Changi beach.

Map of the route from Sembawang beach to Changi beach.

We met Robin - a kayak fisherman in his very cool inflatable kayak. It was peddle powered and he even had an electronic fish finder.

We met Robin – a kayak fisherman in his very cool inflatable kayak. It was pedal powered and he even had an electronic fish finder.

The conditions were smooth and perfect for paddling for the first 10km.

The conditions were smooth and perfect for paddling for the first 10km.

We stopped at Punggol jetty for a quick stretch.

We stopped at Punggol jetty for a quick stretch.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow took this shot with his GOPRO waterproof camera.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow took this shot with his GOPRO waterproof camera.

We watch them, they watch us. The Coast Guard came by to check us out. (Photo credit Blair Spendelow)

We watch them, they watch us. The Coast Guard came by to check us out. (Photo credit Blair Spendelow)

Crossing the Johor Strait to Pulau Ubin.

Crossing the Johor Strait to Pulau Ubin.

Love the bow wave of this vessel which steamed past it at a fair rate of knots in the Johor Strait.

Love the bow wave of this vessel which steamed past it at a fair rate of knots in the Johor Strait.

Cabin Boy Spendelow working hard on the bilge pump.

Cabin Boy Spendelow working hard on the bilge pump.

We saw a number of these beautiful birds, they are very elegant and have long legs and for some reason remind of me Gwyneth Paltrow.  If anyone knows the name of these birds please let me know.

We saw a number of these beautiful birds, they are very elegant and have long legs and for some reason remind of me Gwyneth Paltrow. If anyone knows the name of these birds please let me know.

I jumped out for a wee swim in the Johor Strait and took this photo of Blair.

I jumped out for a wee swim in the Johor Strait and took this photo of Blair.

The tide was so low we had to paddle a long way off Chek Jawa Marine Reserve on Pulau Ubin.

The tide was so low we had to paddle a long way off Chek Jawa Marine Reserve on Pulau Ubin.

The end is in sight! Changi beach in the distance.

The end is in sight! Changi beach in the distance.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Sea kayaking microadventure – Changi Village to the East Coast SAF Yacht Club

When the alarm went at 6am on Saturday morning, neither myself or Stephanie were feeling particularly energetic.  After a few minutes lying in bed procrastinating we got up, loaded our inflatable kayak (a.k.a ‘The Divorce Machine’) into the car and set off on our morning microadventure.

The plan  was to paddle from Changi beach all the way down past Changi Airport and Changi Naval base to the East Coast parkway.  During pre-planning I knew low tide was at 0653 and high tide was around 1320hrs but I was uncertain exactly what the currents would be doing around this complex area of coast.  Our route following the coastline would take us in easterly, southerly and westerly directions.  After last weeks struggle in the strong currents, wind and a thunder-storm to get back from St Johns Island to Sentosa (click here to read about that), I wanted to try to work the currents more to our advantage for future kayaking trips.

The morning was calm and perfect for paddling as we parked beside the Changi Ferry Terminal and set-up the Divorce Machine.  We are getting faster at setting her up and in 15 minutes set off paddling at 0720hrs.  We followed closely to the shoreline as we headed out in the direction of a very narrow spit of reclaimed land called ‘Changi Finger’.  I had been told the current speed picks up to a very high-speed coming around ‘Changi Finger’ (in the order of 3+ m/s depending on tide) and to be careful in this area.  So I was a little nervous at how we would manage getting around the tip of the finger.

Stephanie prepares the "Divorce Machine' on a beautiful morning on Changi beach.

Stephanie prepares the “Divorce Machine’ on a beautiful morning on Changi beach.

Beautiful flat conditions initially as the sun rises and we head towards Changi finger. The land visible on the left of the photo is the South Eastern coast of Malaysia.

Beautiful flat conditions initially as the sun rises and we head towards Changi finger (right hand side coastline). The land visible on the left of the photo is the south-eastern coast of Malaysia.

It’s over 5km of fairly boring paddling to get out to the end of Changi finger.  We took a rest beside a large clam-shell dredger which was working digging up huge mouthfuls of sand.  Up until this point staying close to the shoreline, the current speed had been negligible.  But rounding the tip of Changi finger the sea was a bubbling mess as the currents collided.  We had to paddle as hard as we could to get through this section as the Divorce Machine twisted and bucked in the waves.  Gradually the currents eased off as we got further away from the tip of the finger.  Next we had a large bay to cross  to get to Changi Naval base.  Crossing this turned out to be a real slog.  We took the shortest route, a 6km straight line which took us far from the shore.

This huge dredger was working at the end of Changi finger

This huge dredger was working at the end of Changi finger

Now I don’t want to be one to point fingers however being in the front seat, I was not sensing a great deal of paddling input coming from the skipper of the Divorce Machine seated behind me.  Stephanie later admitted she was feeling really tired and had been having a few ‘rest breaks’.  To make things harder, the currents in the bay go in two opposing directions.  The first 4km we were paddling into the current.  This was exhausting and I began to get really tired.  I paddled for 100 strokes at a time then rested.

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As we crossed the bay we came along way offshore – its 6km hard slog to reach Changi Naval base just visible way out in the distance.

We finally got close to the Changi Naval base where the currents reverse direction and the going got easier.  As we rounded the south-eastern tip of Singapore Island and the long break water of Changi Naval base, the sea became choppy and the Divorce Machine started taking on  water.  When she is dry she glides through the water like the  S$2000 dream machine she is.   However when she takes on water she behaves more like a pregnant bathtub and becomes hard work to paddle.  We had also forgotten to bring a container or sponge to bail her out with so Stephanie used our water bottle to attempt to empty some of the water. We finally got around the choppy waters of Changi Naval base and started to head west with the currents towards the east coast of Singapore.  By this stage we were both really tired.   The day was starting to get very hot with the sun blazing and glaring off the water.  I had not drunk enough water and had a splitting dehydration headache.   The SAF yacht club was a welcome sight as the first point in a few km where we could get into shore safely.

The red colored roof of the SAY Yacht club in the distance was a welcome sight.

The red colored roof of the SAF Yacht club in the distance was a welcome sight.

We gratefully and slowly paddled in and ended the voyage here.  Even though we only paddled 13.6km, it took 2 hours and 50 minutes and was tiring working against the currents.  I was feeling completely knackered and well in need of some food and drink.  We deflated the Divorce Machine here, loaded  her into a taxi and headed back up to Changi beach car park to pick up the car.  I started to feel a little normal again after powering down a beautiful plate of Ayam Penyet (Malay style fried chicken) and drinking a fresh coconut in Changi Village hawker centre.

The skipper of the Divorce Machine refuels at Changi Village hawker centre.

The skipper of the Divorce Machine refuels at Changi Village hawker centre.

We both agreed that the Southern Islands and Pulau Ubin paddle are more scenic than this area of coastline.  It is a good trip to build paddling fitness.  In the future I plan a longer paddle and to finish another 12 km down the East Coast at Mana Mana.  This would make a trip of 25km in total.

Map of route

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Inflatable sea kayaking micro-adventure: Sentosa to St Johns Island

Fresh and flushed with inspiration after the maiden voyage of the Divorce Machine the week before, Stephanie and I decided Sentosa Island would be the location to launch our next inflatable sea-kayaking micro-adventure.  I enjoy testing and challenging things to the limit and today I managed to find the limits of both the Divorce Machine, how fast I can paddle against strong currents, and my relationship with my long suffering wife Stephanie.

The official Sentosa Island website describes the island as follows:

“Located just 15 minutes from the city, Sentosa, Asia’s Favourite Playground, is home to an exciting array of themed attractions, award-winning spa retreats, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches, resort accommodations, world-renowned golf courses, a deep-water yachting marina and luxurious residences. Spread over 500 hectares, the vibrant island resort is ideal for both business and leisure.”

Asia’s favorite playground?  I wonder what they were smoking when they came up with that line?  Asia’s most artificial playground with overly inflated property prices would probably be a more appropriate name.  The original name of Sentosa Island was actually a Malay name “Pulau Belakang Mati”.  This translates to “Island of death from behind”.   Since then however it went through a few name changes.  As you can probably imagine not many people wanted to hang out on an island with that name.  Now Sentosa translates to “peace or tranquility”.

We found a car park located at Tanjong beach and inflated the Divorce Machine.  We then carried her down to the rock breakwater and scrambled down the slippery rock wall to launch her.   Our destination today was St John’s Island island to the south-east of Sentosa.  I had been told by a professional oceanographer (Mr Blair Spendelow who also happened to come up with the name for the Divorce Machine) that the currents around these islands are very strong.  So I was a little apprehensive about today’s paddle.

Getting to St John’s was not a problem as the current was whistling along from west to east.  We cruised along easily with the current, making speeds of  6 – 8 km/hour.  There is a high number of fast ferries cruising around the coast of Sentosa, and we had to cross the strait from Sentosa to Tekukor Island in gaps between this vessel traffic.  This was a little hairy and we paddled hard to get across here.  The day was overcast and windy.  The wind was whipping the sea into a choppy mess and coupled with the swells from the vessels zooming fast at high-speed we soon had water pouring over the side of the Divorce Machine.  Compared to the relatively calm water at Pulau Ubin the week before it was definitely a more intense experience.

We island hopped from Tekukor Island over to St John’s Island and pulled into the small bay and beach area.  What a beautiful little island is St John’s.  There were only 2 people on the island, a Chinese chap fishing, and the Malay caretaker named ‘Supar’. Supar was a very friendly chap who had 30 cats and told us he had been there since 1954.  He had one large tom cat with him on the jetty which was more the size of a baby tiger.  We chatted for a while.  I was surprised that here – so close to Singapore was this tranquil little island with only 2 people.  When I Google’d St John’s island when I got home I found it is haunted – maybe that explains it?

St John’s Island is actually located in a group of 4 islands known as the ‘southern islands’, St John’s, Lazarus, Kusu and Seringat. Seringat, Lazarus and St John’s are all connected to each other.  We spent a very enjoyable 2 hours slowly paddling around the perimeter of the islands. We stopped off on Kusu island which has a Chinese temple and a Malay temple on top of a small hill.   You can see more from the photos below.

Around 1300 hrs we started to paddle back to Sentosa.  Immediately the going was harder as we headed into the current.  Paddling hard we were making around 3 – 4km/hr on the GPS.  But it was tiring work.  The current was pushing directly against us.  To make matters worse the islands cause the currents to do strange things and in some areas the water gets very wild where currents from differing directions meet.  This twisted and rocked the Divorce Machine and more water poured into her.  She soon become quite heavy with water and I attempted to bail her out in between paddling.  When I stopped paddling and bailed water Stephanie continued to paddle but I noticed that the current was so strong we were not making any forward progress at all. It took two of us paddling to even move forward.  Things got worse as the wind then picked up and a huge thunderstorm  came swooping in with torrential rain.  So there we were, out in the middle of the shipping channel, in a half sunk inflatable kayak, paddling as hard we could into a head wind and head current, in the pouring rain with very poor visibility, while high-speed ferries zoomed past.  We were making around 1 – 2 km/hr.  It was terribly good fun, however I was starting to get a little concerned as we became more and more tired.  Eventually we made the decision to head into Tekukor Island to wait out the storm, drain the kayak and wait for the tide to turn at 1443hrs and hopefully the current would reverse direction.  Two very tired and relieved kayakers pulled into a small beach on the deserted Tekukor Island and found some shelter in a small rock cave for 90 minutes while the thunder/ lightning and rain passed over head.

While waiting on Tekukor Island we made friends with a little hermit crab which brightened up our day (See the short YouTube video below). At 1440 the rain had gone and we emptied the Divorce Machine of water and relaunched.  With a rest and the currents easing off we made good time and paddled hard across the strait to reach Sentosa Cove.  From here we had another 2 km of hard paddling to get back up to Tanjong beach.  We pulled in at 3PM, pretty tired and with sore hands from paddling.  The trip was just over 18km in total.

The next time I attempt this trip I will pay more attention to the tides and make sure we have the currents in our favor for the return journey.  And I strongly recommend anyone trying this for the first time to take care with the currents.  They really are very strong and the water can be rough and choppy with large swells.  We had fun, but it was a battle and a good reminder of the power of mother nature.  Enjoy the photos below.

Map of the route - 18km in total

Map of the route – 18km in total

Leaving Tanjong Beach behind and making good time paddling with the current. Some big black clouds behind Stephanie's shoulder would eventually catch us out later.

Leaving Tanjong Beach behind and making good time paddling with the current. Some big black clouds behind Stephanie’s shoulder would eventually catch us out later.

A high speed ferry whizzes past in the distance.  These travel so fast they are on you within a couple of minutes.

A high-speed ferry whizzes past in the distance. These travel so fast they are on you within a couple of minutes.

Sentosa Cove in the distance on the left hand side.

Sentosa Cove in the distance on the left hand side.

Stephanie takes a dip in the bay at St John's Island.

Stephanie takes a dip in the bay at St John’s Island.

Arriving at St John's Island.

Arriving at St John’s Island.

The signboard for St John's Island.

The signboard for St John’s Island.

The Divorce Machine on the beach at St John's Island.

The Divorce Machine on the beach at St John’s Island.

Stephanie checking out this guys catch.

Stephanie checking out this guys catch.

He had caught a lot of these small Pomfret which he says he steams and eats and taste great.

He had caught a lot of these small Pomfret which he says he steams and eats and taste great.

The Malay caretaker 'Supar' who has worked in the island since 1954 with one of his 30 lovely cats.

The Malay caretaker ‘Supar’ who has worked in the island since 1954 with one of his 30 lovely cats.

This guy was super fat and super cute.

This guy was super fat and super cute.

Stephanie arrives at Kusu Island jetty.

Stephanie arrives at Kusu Island jetty.

The signboard on Kusu Island.

The signboard on Kusu Island.

Kusu means 'turtle' in Chinese apparently.

Kusu means ‘turtle’ in Chinese apparently.

Paddling home - Marina Bay sands in the distance.

Paddling home – Marina Bay sands in the distance.

A fishing boat passes us.

A fishing boat passes us.

That white water just infront of the boat is a sign of two different current streams meeting.  Was hard work paddling through this and it filled the boat up with water.

That white water just in front of the boat is a sign of two different current streams meeting. It was hard work paddling through this and it filled the boat up with water.

Stephanie's legs showing what it takes to be an outdoor girl! Tan lines and scars, and sitting in a boat full of water as we paddle hard to make Tekukor Island.

Stephanie’s legs showing what it takes to be an outdoor girl! Tan lines and scars, and sitting in a boat full of water as we paddle hard to make Tekukor Island.

The view across the straight to Sentosa Island from Tekukor Island in the pouring rain.  You can see how the visibility dropped and made it dangerous to paddle amongst the high speed ferries.

The view across the straight to Sentosa Island from Tekukor Island in the pouring rain. You can see how the visibility dropped and made it dangerous to paddle among the high-speed ferries and strong currents.

Living the dream.

Living the dream on Tekukor Island.

Stephanie finds shelter on Tekukor Island from the rain and lightning.

Stephanie finds shelter on Tekukor Island from the rain and lightning.

My hands after 5 hours immersed in water.

My hands after 5 hours immersed in water.

Some of the million dollar properties at Sentosa Cove.

Some of the million dollar properties at Sentosa Cove.

Finally back at Tanjong beach - very happy and a little tired.

Finally back at Tanjong beach – very happy and a little tired.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Micro Adventure’.  Micro-adventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘micro-adventure’.  You can read about him here.  I will continue to add more micro adventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

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