Another Year, Another Plan

If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be living and working in Singapore, as part of a stopover on an around-the-world sailing adventure, in a marina, on a boat, a catamaran nonetheless (instead of a monohull), I would have laughed and told you you were crazy.

When we left the UK in 2014, it was meant to be for 2 or 3 years only, 4 at the absolute maximum. Definitely not 6 or more. We sold our house but we left most of our belongings in storage, thinking they would come in handy on our return.

Now, I wish we had gotten rid of everything before we left, so we wouldn’t be paying a monthly storage fee for things we mostly don’t care about anymore. Furniture, books, clothes, kitchen appliances, toys, clothes, CDs, DVDs, skis, bikes, … The only thing I miss having with me is some of the jewellery that I inherited from my grandmother (and has sentimental value) and my favourite Mulberry handbag (but only because I could use it now that I’m back at work). And I know the kids would love to get hold of some of their Lego sets that we left behind.

Reflecting back on 2019, it was a very busy year for us. Going back to work after nearly 5 years off was a bit of a shock. Combining the daily grind with a live-aboard lifestyle, homeschooling the kids and keeping up with boat projects and maintenance, has left us all feeling rather exhausted.

So, we took a break over the Christmas holiday period and did what we enjoy most: we went sailing. We didn’t go far and decided to explore what Singapore has to offer in terms of anchorages (which is not much, I have to admit, but it was plenty for a short break).

Rehua dressed for the holidays

We left Raffles Marina on Boxing Day and sailed over to St John’s Island, just south of Singapore. It’s a well-protected anchorage that gets frequented by tourist charters during the day but empties out in the evening. The weather was beautiful and not too hot and, despite it still being the wet season, the sun came out and only disappeared briefly during the solar eclipse on Boxing Day.

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Solar eclipse on Boxing Day

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Eerie atmosphere at sea during the solar eclipse

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Approaching St John’s Island

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And then, just like that, the sun was back (and so were the tourist boats)

We anchored in the sheltered bay and jumped in the sea for a refreshing, salty swim. It felt so good to be back at anchor. The kids did some surfing behind the dinghy and crazy jumps off the boom. We turned on the BBQ and ate some delicious home cooked food and then slept the most peaceful sleep at anchor with the breeze coming through the boat and the gentle rocking of the waves.

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St John’s Island in the background

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Surfing behind the dinghy

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Singapore skyline in the background

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After a couple of days (and nights) at anchor we nipped into nearby One15 marina, arguably the poshest marina in SE Asia, for a treat and a night out in town. The next day, we did some laps in the resort-style pool and sauntered along the marina’s border walk which is lined with fancy restaurants, bars and cafés. On New Year’s Eve, we left the marina and sailed around the top of Singapore to the Changi Sailing Club, where we celebrated the start of a new decade with a few sailing friends.

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Singapore skyline upon leaving St John’s

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Marina Bay Sands in the background

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Sailing along the coast of Singapore, on our way to a New Year’s Eve party

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Mooring area at Changi Sailing Club

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Getting ready for New Year’s Eve

The party was fun and so was New Year’s Day but we fancied a few more days in a quiet anchorage to finish off our holiday. We sailed back south and enjoyed another couple of peaceful days and nights at St John’s. We finally saw a first drop of rain on the 3rd of January. We had been very lucky with the weather; it was supposed to be the wettest period of the Northeast Monsoon and we had been enjoying some lovely dry days filled with sunshine. Regardless, it was time to return to our base in Raffles Marina and get ready to go back to work and school and boat jobs.

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Sunrise over Lazarus Island

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The beach on Lazarus Island

I think we’re ready for another year. It’s going to be another tough year and we’ll all be working hard to reach our goal of setting sail again and crossing the Indian Ocean. It will all be worth it. Having taken a break from cruising this year has made me realise how much I love sailing and living onboard, being able to travel and explore new and remote places, meeting new people and simply being together as a family away from all the craziness that comes with modern society. I can’t wait to continue our travels.

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Sunset over the Singapore Strait

If I had one wish for 2020, it would be to catch up with some of our close family and friends we haven’t seen for the last few years. Hopefully some of you will consider a stopover in Singapore in 2020. You know where to find us!

Romantic Escape, Chased by Warship

Last weekend was a four-day long break for most people in Singapore. On Friday, the young nation celebrated its 54th birthday and on Monday, there was a public holiday for the annual Muslim observation of Haji (the ritual pilgrimage to Mecca). Friends at Raffles Marina were planning a short week cruising around the south of Batam, Indonesia, and we decided to take a couple of extra days off and join in the fun.

The kids are away in Belgium at the moment, visiting their grandparents, so it would be a romantic sail, just the two of us onboard for the first time ever. We had looked at doing a city trip to Vietnam or visiting temples in Cambodia, but, to be honest, the thought of busy airports, hotels, sightseeing, … didn’t quite excite us. When your boat is your home, you can just throw the lines without having to pack any bags and go explore. No queues, no traffic, no crowds. I was very much looking forward to a few nights at anchor, a swim in the sea off the back of the boat, some yoga at sunrise and a few sundowners with new sailing friends.

We cast off at dawn on Thursday and proceeded to the Western Quarantine and Immigration Anchorage, 22 nautical miles southeast of Raffles Marina. A few minutes after we called them on the radio, the immigration vessel arrived to clear us out of the country. We handed our paperwork over, using a fishing net, and they returned it soon after, with all the necessary stamps attached. Efficient and fast, as you would expect from Singapore.

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The Western Quarantine and Immigration Anchorage, Singapore

What followed was a busy day, avoiding the many tankers in the Strait, and, we had to pick our moment carefully to cross the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme).

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Busy as usual, crossing the Singapore Strait

We arrived in Nongsa early afternoon and were welcomed by many old friends. The marina took care of all the paperwork and we were all set to leave early the next day for our 50 miles sail south, to Ranoh Island. A few more Singapore-based yachts were joining the trip, so it promised to be a bit of a social gathering.

The sail south was wonderful. The industrial landscape of the north of the island disappeared quickly, to make way for lush green islands. It felt good to be back in Indonesia.

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We had beautiful sailing weather

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The green and lush islands south of Batam, Indonesia

The anchorage near Ranoh Island was well protected, although a bit rolly. It didn’t stop us from enjoying a refreshing swim and a good sleep. Ranoh Island itself is a beautiful setup with white sand, palm trees, a beach bar and restaurant and all sorts of water activities to keep the day guests entertained (who were dropped off by a fast ferry from Batam late morning).

We had a chill-day ashore and then some sun-downers on a nearby beach while watching the sunset and I felt like we were back in cruising mode.

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Ranoh Island

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The beach bar at Ranoh Island

On the way back up, we anchored for one night nearby Piayu Island and a recommended local seafood restaurant. Black pepper crab, gong-gongs (local sea snails), chilli prawns, crayfish, fried cuttlefish, steamed fish, scallops, … yum!

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The seafood restaurant at Piayu Island

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Piayu Island

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Sundowners onboard Rehua

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Cheers!

And then it was time to head back to Nongsapoint Marina for outward clearance. We had an extremely enjoyable downwind cruise with the sails goose-winged while surfing the two to three metres high waves. We were smoking along at eight or nine knots until, all of a sudden, the radio crackled.

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Goose-winged sailing down the coast of Batam

“Sailing vessel Rehua, sailing vessel Rehua, do you copy? This is the warship on your starboard side.”

“Warship, Warship, this is sailing vessel Rehua on channel 16. Over.”

“Rehua, Rehua, channel 17. Repeat, channel one-seven. Over.”

” Warship, Warship. Copy. One-seven.”

A huge 250ft Indonesian warship had approached us and they wanted to board us. There was no way Seathan was going to let that happen. They would simply crush us and could seriously damage our boat.

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An Indonesian warship approaching Rehua

“Rehua, Rehua, this is Warship, please switch off your engines and stop your vessel.”

“Warship, Warship, this is Rehua. We are currently sailing under sail power alone. Our engines ARE switched off. Repeat, our engines are switched off.”

This was then followed by a long silence where we suspected they were waiting to get the conversation translated by HQ before they could respond.

Next, they asked us to change course and we had to explain that would involve us lowering the sails first and we would need to point our vessel into the wind to do that, and, they would need to move out of the way.

Another long silence.

After more back and forth, with many radio silences in between, we managed to convince them to lower their tender.

Meanwhile, we were still on course for Nongsapoint Marina and only a few miles away from our destination by now.

Eventually, three heavily armed figures appeared in a small tender and we agreed to hand them our paperwork in a fishing net. We tried to explain that because their tender is not a soft, inflatable one, it could still seriously damage our boat should they try to board us. As you can imagine, two moving vessels and a big swell makes these type of manoeuvres extremely tricky. They said they would ‘try’ not to damage us.

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We handed over our paperwork using a fishing net

More conversations followed on the radio. From channel 16 to channel 17 to the translators at HQ and, finally, they asked for our passports. And they still wanted to board us too.

“Why do you need to board us?” Seathan asked. “You have seen all our papers. Is there a problem?”

They weren’t sure how to answer this. The three guys in the tender radioed back and forth with the big warship and the response we got was “because our commander says so.”

Hmmmh.

Seathan suggested they could come onboard once we were in the marina (by now we were getting very close).

“Sir, you are not allowed to enter port until we release you,” was the response on the radio.

We seemed to be stuck in an impossible situation. They asked us one more time where we came from and where we had been and where we were heading. Then, more conversations between the warship and the guys on the tender and HQ.

And then, for some reason unclear to us, they just handed us our papers and passports back and we were free to go. We even had a chat with the three guys in the tender about our trip and crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific. They wanted to take some selfies with us and Rehua in the background. When we asked whether we could take their picture, they happily posed with their guns in hand. Big smiles, lots of waving and off they sped, back to the warship, which was a good few miles away by now. I hoped they had enough petrol to make it back.

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Big smiles and happy faces after all the checks were done

In the meantime, we were just outside the marina and had to make sure we didn’t crash into the reef.

We were very happy to tie alongside the dock in Nongsa where our friends from SV Windancer were waiting for us with a celebratory beer in hand. They were lucky to escape the warship too, because they would have been next in line. They had heard the entire story unfold on the radio.

One more night in Nongsa and then back to Raffles Marina. Another busy day of crossing shipping lanes, avoiding big tankers.

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Nongsapoint Marina, Batam

It was a perfect little escape. Sunshine, beautiful sailing weather, relaxed time alone and with friends. I feel totally recharged and refreshed. 😊

 

Two Down, Ten To Go.

The months have just flown by and we can’t believe it’s April tomorrow (and that means another birthday coming up very soon). I think it’s fair to say we’re still settling in. Raffles marina is great, we definitely made the right choice in terms of Singapore marinas. The pool was the determining factor for the kids, the distance to the MRT station for me. And both have lived up to our expectations. The walk to the MRT station and my daily commute is absolutely fine. It takes me about an hour to get to work but it’s valuable ‘me-time’ that I quite enjoy. And getting home to Raffles marina in the evening is like coming home to a different world. It’s peaceful and quiet with space around us and the contrast with the fast-paced and hectic life in the city centre is wonderful to help one ‘switch off’.

Seathan is cracking on with schoolwork, and on weekdays the membership lounge (which is hardly used) is turned into a class room. There is the bonus of a free coffee machine to keep the teacher going and the kids can be separated by a few metres and each have their own desk which can make a huge improvement to the concentration levels, as you can imagine. There are daily trips to the gym and, of course, to the swimming pool. Add to that the usual chores of grocery shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning, as well as boat projects and maintenance, and you can imagine that the boys are pretty busy all day. It’s great to see the kids helping out more than they used too, and I have to give Seathan credit for that because he’s much better in delegating than I am. 😀

So what about work? Well, I’m actually really enjoying being back. It’s been remarkably easy to get up to speed and I feel I can really add a lot of value. I couldn’t have wished for a better role, I’m challenged and I have a lot of responsibility but I also have a lot of support and I feel very appreciated. I work with great people and I’m also learning new things. The hours are long but I don’t mind that because the days just fly by so quickly.

Now, would I rather be out there sailing the big blue ocean? Of course I would. I miss it every single day. I miss waking up at sunrise and jumping of the back into the turquoise clear water for a morning swim. I miss going snorkeling together, admiring the colourful fishes and corals. I miss not seeing the boys all day. I miss having an afternoon nap on the trampoline under the sunshade. I miss sailing for days in a row and then arriving somewhere we have never been before. I miss going ashore in the dinghy, in some remote atoll, and meeting the local villagers. I miss being at anchor and feeling the breeze come through the boat. I miss watching the sunset from the cockpit. 

But, it is what it is and I think a year will go very quickly. The only thing that has been worrying us a bit is finding friends for the kids. There are not many other liveaboards in Raffles, let alone liveaboards with kids. But, you would think that in a big city like Singapore, that wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Most kids go to school and have a series of after school clubs and social commitments we wouldn’t really fit into. We’re also keen to keep homeschooling. International schools are very expensive and local schools hard to get into. And homeschooling works well for us. Luckily, we’re not the only ones in Singapore doing homeschooling. There are quite a few in fact, including a lot of expats. So there we go, this weekend we caught up with two other families, one American and one Australian, who both have kids of similar ages and who also homeschool. The kids all clicked and had a great time, so we’re very hopeful this is a sign of more to come! 

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The pool at Raffles marina

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Jump

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Scooters rule

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Exploring town, Marina Bay Sands in the background

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Gardens by the Bay

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Otters! Such cute animals

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Happy city-trippers

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Rooftop at the National Gallery

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Sunrise over the marina

 

 

 

Week One, Some Observations

One week in and I’m totally exhausted. I’m physically very tired after a week in the office. It’s been a big adjustment. The work itself is great, it’s as if the role was made for me. The content knowledge and business skills all just came flooding back. It’s a bit like riding a bike. The company is also very impressive (I’m not allowed to mention the company name here as this is a public blog, but you can find out on my LinkedIn page).

I’ve spent most of my time in meetings this week and there are a lot of names to remember. My biggest issue was the temperature change. I’m well acclimatised to the tropical climate and don’t mind the heat but in Singapore it’s freezing everywhere because of the aircon. The office, the MRT, the shops, the restaurants, … everywhere it is so cold. I’ll have to start carrying a cardigan around I think.

It’s a big adjustment for Seathan and the kids too, they’ve mainly focussed on school this week and the change in teacher was a good opportunity to review the schedule and the curriculum and to re-organise classes a bit. They’ve also started visiting the pool and the gym at Raffles on a daily basis and ventured into town to do some grocery shopping.

It’s a very strange feeling to all of a sudden be separated like this, whereas before we spent pretty much 24/7 together. We’re making the most of the weekend together and yesterday we went into town to play tourists. Today we’re just going to chill by the pool, here in the marina.

And then there’s the culture to get used to. Singapore is so different from anywhere else we’ve been. Everything is super organised and super efficient. But you can’t deviate from the rules. People work extremely hard and long hours, the dedication is impressive. Most people won’t leave the office until their boss goes home. There’s a strong work ethic and a culture of respect and inclusiveness.

The language is something to get used to as well. Even though English is the official language, most Singaporeans speak a local version of it. They tend to speak very fast without pronouncing everything properly and ignoring the grammar. It will take some getting used to. We were in a shop yesterday, buying some phone credit, and I had to translate to Seathan what the shopkeeper was saying (Singaporean English to normal English) 😂.

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Scooting around town, Marina Bay Sands in the background

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the rooftop bar at Marina Bay Sands

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admiring the view

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it’s a long way down

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happy tourists for the day

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life is better with a cocktail in hand

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thirsty work being a tourist!

 

 

 

Welcome to Singapore

First of all, I’m very happy to report that Tyrii is recovering really well. He’s managing to eat solid foods again and can almost speak normally again too. The stitches (16 or so!) will take up to 3 months to dissolve. I don’t think he will be doing any front flips for a while and he’ll probably stay away from trampolines all together. It was a big trauma and we’re all very relieved there were no further complications.

So, yes, we have finally landed in Singapore. The sail across the Singapore Strait took an entire day as our destination, Raffles Marina, is on the other side of the island. We received a very warm welcome and we’re happy with our new berth and surroundings. It’s not as exotic and lush as Nongsapoint but there is a great swimming pool featuring water slides and even a jacuzzi, a decent gym, restaurants, a bar, and, it’s peaceful and quiet. It will do just fine.

Best of all, Raffles Marina has an MRT station (aka underground or metro) right outside the entrance to the marina. It takes a good hour to get into the centre of town but the MRT is very comfortable, clean, airconditioned and there is phone signal everywhere.

I’m starting work on Monday but have already been into the office to meet and greet some key people and collect my new phone and laptop. They had also organised a welcome dinner which was a very nice gesture.

So, here we are, Singapore, we are ready for you. It will be a big adjustment but we’re excited for the changes ahead. Wish us luck!

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bye bye Nongsapoint

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Singapore, here we come

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approaching the big smoke

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Singapore skyline

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at the Western Quarantine Clearance, first check is done by the Police

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busy Singapore Strait

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it’s near sunset as we approach Raffles Marina

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Raffles Marina

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entrance to Raffles Marina with the famous Raffles lighthouse

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we have a lovely quiet spot at the end of C dock

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our gorgeous neighbour

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C dock

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there’s even a complimentary newspaper, delivered directly to the boat each morning

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view from the bar

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the swimming pool is approved by the kids!