Fun in the sun

After Friday’s kayaking with Lina and shopping with Jiahui, it was amazing that I managed to wake up at 630am on Saturday morning… Changed into my Rovers uniform and beat it down to Pasir Ris Mrt, where I waited for William and the Rover girls to turn up. We were going sailing!

Yup, sailing. William had managed to contact a friend of his and chartered his 60-foot sailing boat for two days, so that us Rovers and the Scouts could get a first hand experience of sailing a large yatch. His aim? To get the Rovers to sail to Thailand at the end of the year for the World Scout Jamboree. While I won’t be able to make it for that one, I was glad that I got the chance to go on this sailing trip, which was pulled together at the last minute.

We reached Changi Sailing Club and quickly boarded the sailboat, where we conducted the flag raising ceremony. After which, we thankfully changed out of our uniforms into the more comfortable casual wear – William didn’t make his intentions clear at first, and we were initially horrified at the idea of having to try sailing in our full uniform, tight skirts, scarves and all. Haha, I think we would have revolted if he had meant that.

Anyway, the whole bunch of us soon decided that it was a bad idea to stay under deck and we all poured out onto the deck for some sun and fresh air – The rolling motion combined with the stuffy air made staying under deck an unbearable experience, and in no time at all, a couple of people were sporting green faces.

While Huiyi sat at the bow of the ship trying to get over her seasickness, Lina, Yuhua and I lounged around on deck, trying to stay out of the way of William and Edwin who were disciplining the scouts. It had been such a long time since I was out at sea on a yatch again, and I relished the feel of the strong wind cooling my skin as the scorhing sun overhead beat down on it. It was indeed delightful to cast my eyes over the unending horizon, to where the greenish-blue sea met with the sky with its billowing clouds. In a way, I was reminded of Lake Michigan back in Chicago, except that I couldn’t help appreciate the fact that I could swim in the waters here as and when I pleased, and need not wait for the small window of time when I could dip myself in Lake Michigan without freezing. Come winter in Chicago this year, this moment will be what I’ll definitely be looking back on – lying on deck enjoying the warmth of the sun’s rays and the refreshing sea spray.

When the sail boat had past the eastern most tip of Singapore, the skipper called everyone together for a short lecture on navigation. We learnt how to read the nautical maps and plot our route using compasses and GPS. At the same time too, we were also introduced to the complicated GPS and other electronic devices the ship had, including an autopilot system. After which, it was time to raise the sails. This sailboat, named Windsong, has 4 sails, of which we raised three, leaving just the storm sail unused. With the sails raised, we got her to move faster, up one knot to about 6 knots per hour. We were aiming towards Horsburgh, the infamous lighthouse that was fought over by both the Singapore and Malaysian authorities. Currently, both governments have established it to be the property of Singapore, even though it is situated far far away from mainland, and is actually sitting in the midst of Indonesian and Malaysian islands.

Funny how being out at sea vastly increases one’s appetite, for we easily wolfed down the plateful of noodles with vegetables and sausages prepared by the first watch consisting of Huiyi, Lina and the scouts. And after this lunch, we soon became hungry again, including Huiyi, who had long recovered from her bout of nausea. So we snacked on biscuits and watermelon whilst taking turns to steer the yatch. At the same time too, we caught a few winks, using our cumbersome bright orange life vests as pillows.

Past two o’clock, the skipper decided that we couldn’t make it to Horsburgh without reaching our overnight destination, Pulau Hantu, at 11 pm earliest. So regrettably, we turned back towards Pulau Hantu, Malay for “Ghost Island”. Meanwhile, we snoozed on deck and climbed the mast to get a better view of the ocean.

Finally reached Pulau Hantu at nearly six in the evening. The clouds were turning an ominous grey by then, and the sun had long been hidden from view. However, William was keen for us to build up water confidence by jumping from the bow of the ship and so we tried to anchor the boat in the waters between Pulau Hantu and the Shell refinery. The undercurrent there in this little straits was terrifyingly strong though, and we could clearly see the swirling eddies atop the otherwise calm looking waters. After William jumped in, we could see him kicking and paddling like crazy to no avail. He simply stayed rooted to the spot. And the moment he stopped struggling, he was swept back by the currents, where we then threw him a bouy and dragged him to safety. After which, we searched in vain for a better spot in which to anchor the boat.

Eventually, everyone did the jetty jump, with a little outboard motor boat lowered into the waters to drag us to safety if in case we were swept away by the currents. I was really surprised at the strength of the currents when I dived in. In no time at all, I found myself swept to the stern of the sailboat whereupon I grabbed onto the bouy thrown at me and hauled myself back up.

When that was over and done with, the sun had set and the dark clouds were closing in. Loath to spend the night on board a rocking ship in the middle of a storm, we unanimously elected to stay on shore. As such, we loaded the small little motor boat with all our dinner supplies and William and two scouts took off with it towards the lagoon. After a long time, William returned for the second trip.

I took the next trip out, along with William, Yuhua and Wenjian, one of the scouts. After a treacherous ride, during which the boat rocked dangerously under the weight of so many people and luggage, we reached the lagoon. Thereupon, William decided to change our original camping spot, electing to stay at the other end of the island instead for there were evidently too many fishermen and campers on the side we were on. Thus, we reloaded the boat with all our luggage and foodstuff and while two of the scouts pushed the boat across the lagoon, the rest of us slowly waded our way across in the dark.

We finally reached the shore on the other side and quickly dragged all our gear to one of the shelters while the boatman went back to Windsong for the others. In the meantime, we tried to fix up the stoves and start cooking dinner. Unfortunately, the stoves we had were of an older model, and none of us knew how to fix it up. In the process, we punctured one of the gas cyinders and sent gas bursting from it, till we finally managed to tighten the valve with much trepidation. And then, we realized we didn’t have any lighter with us… hehe. So we had to wait for the others to arrive.

Just as everyone else straggled in, the storm started. And my, it was a sight to behold. Lightning lit up the sky often, in light so blinding that we shuddered and squinted our eyes in pain. Thankfully, by then, we had the fires going and the pots on the stoves.

So dinner was a pretty weird affair – ten of us huddled together under a small shelter, sharing a pot full of noodles, sausages and vegetables, plus mess tins full of cream soup with potatoes. But the food was hot and it warmed us up, so at least our spirits weren’t so dampened by the pouring rain. And the rain did let up after dinner, so we could disperse from that shelter and set up tents in the other shelters that littered the little island.

We four girls shared one tent, and soon after changing into relatively drier clothes and laying out the sleeping mats, we turned in, exhausted by the day’s events…

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