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.
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.
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!