Back with a Vengeance – the Navy Open House

12 05 2013

Changi Naval Base opens its doors to the public this weekend for the much anticipated Navy Open House which on the evidence of a preview of it I was  fortunate enough to get to see, will be one packed with lots of fun and excitement for anyone heading to the event. The preview which provided a sneak peek into the Open House, hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), also included an opportunity to take a short voyage on the RSS Vengeance, a Missile Corvette (MCV) which can achieve speeds of above 30 knots – one of several rides on RSN’s naval assets the public can look forward to be treated to over the two day event.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN's naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN’s naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

One highlight of the Open House must be the exhilarating Dynamic Display. The display which is on twice during the day sees divers from the elite Naval Diving Unit being dropped into the sea by hovering Chinook helicopters in order to stage a daring rescue bid which culminates with the divers storming a  ship. The display which commences with the firing of a Typhoon gun,  also has other assets on display, including a sail past of the newly commissioned Archer Class submarine, a Seahawk dropping a sonar to conduct a submarine hunt, and rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and a Fast Craft Utility (FCU) used when the divers are in action.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission - part of the Dynamic Display segment.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission – part of the Dynamic Display segment.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

A RHIB carrying divers.

A RHIB carrying divers.

Naval divers storming a ship.

Naval divers storming a ship.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display - flying over one of the RSN's Frigates.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display – flying over one of the RSN’s Frigates.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

The opportunity to have a ride on the MCV will surely be to be a popular one. Besides the MCV there rides on board several other naval assets, the Mine Countermeasure Vessels (MCMV) and Patrol Vessels (PV), to consider. The rides will give participants a glance into life on board and an appreciation of how some of the navy’s shipboard operations are conducted. Visitors are also able to opt for a ride across the waters of the base on some of the RSN’s amphibious assets including the Fast Craft Utility (FCU) and the LARC V (a “Duck Tours” type craft). Due to the limited capacity on these rides, registration during the Open House will be required and selection will be carried out through a ballot.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

The MCVs.

The MCVs.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

At the berth side, there will also be a chance to go on board several of RSN’s assets including the Frigates, Landing Ship Tank (LST), MCV, PV and MCMV which will be open for public visits. There is also a possibility that some of the foreign naval vessels which are in town for the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) will also be open to the public – including the state-of-the-art US Navy (USN) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN's LCS.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN’s LCS.

To complete the experience, there are also a couple of tents where visitors can find out more about the RSN, its assets, how it operates and understand more of what life is like on board. The Mission and Capability Tent provides insight into the 3rd Generation RSN’s capabilities through its equipment and how it integrates them. Displays include a missile exhibition, 3D models of the assets, and some very interesting equipment. Those which caught my eye are the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV – which can also be deployed in a sacrificial manner as a mine detonator when armed with an explosive head); both deployed by the MCMVs. Also of interest is a fixed wing Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) which extends the capability of the MCVs – due to the limited deck space on the MCV, the ships are equipped with a specially designed recovery net to allow the UAV to be recovered.

Staring a UAV right in the eye - the surveillance payload of the MCV's UAV.

Staring a UAV right in the eye – the surveillance payload of the MCV’s UAV.

The surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A face underwater – the surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

The second tent is the Experience Tent which provides an opportunity to go on board on a rope ladder and fire a gun which shoot paintball pellets at targets. Once inside, visitors also get to see a shipboard surgical team in action in a mock-up of a state-of-the-art mobile surgical theatre which some of the larger vessels can be fitted out with. Another mock-up is that of the inside of a submarine where not only is there an opportunity to have a feel of what the inside of one is like, there is also a chance to hear first-hand of what living in the confines of one is like from one of an exclusive class of naval servicemen – a submariner.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

If all that isn’t enough to occupy the visitor, there is also a “Family and Fun” Tent where game stalls and video simulators can be found. The little ones can also look forward to have their photos taken in uniform as well as be entertained by roving buskers, and get their hands on balloons and souvenirs at the Navy Open House.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

The Navy Open House will be held on 18 and 19 May 2013 at Changi Naval Base. To get there, visitors will need to hop onto a shuttle bus from Singapore Expo which will run from 8 am to 4.30 pm on 18 May and from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on 19 May. For more information do visit the Navy Open House website http://www.mindef.gov.sg/navyopenhouse/ and the Navy Open House Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/singaporenavy.





The rise of the new Ocean

31 03 2013

The vantage provided by Stellar at 1Altitude atop One Raffles Place, one of three tallest buildings in Singapore, gives a magnificent view of the new world around Marina Bay, as well as a building diagonally across Raffles Place from it, the new Ocean Financial Centre. At 245 metres high and with 43 floors, the Ocean Financial Centre, which was completed in 2011, is certainly much higher than the building it replaced, the 28 floor curved Ocean Building – which dominated the skyline of the former waterfront along Collyer Quay for some 33 years from 1974 to 2007. Although taller than its predecessor,  the building is one that does not dominate, becoming absorbed into the backdrop of the rising skyline in the area, a skyline which is no longer associated with the harbour which brought Singapore to life.

The rise of a new Ocean - the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site (photograph taken with LG Optimus G).

The rise of a new Ocean – the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site (photograph taken with LG Optimus G).

The 28 floor Ocean Building was in fact the third building of the same name to rise on the site. It was a name that was very much associated with a one time local shipping giant, the Straits Steamship Company. Incorporated in 1890, the company played a significant role in Singapore’s development as a maritime nation, and at its height, operated a fleet of 53 ships and was instrumental in linking ports in the Malayan Peninsula and British Borneo. Most who were around in the 1960s would probably remember the second Ocean Building which was a grand example of the wonderful works of architecture along Singapore’s bund, standing proudly at the end of the row of the glorious row of buildings along Collyer Quay which we have lost, from 1923 to 1970. More on this an the other Ocean Buildings can be found in a previous post.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

The second Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets).

A little known fact about the Straits Steamship Company is that it can probably be considered as the founder of a giant in the airlines business, Singapore Airlines. The company registered Malayan Airways which it later sold off. That was to later become Malaysian-Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1966 which split into Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) in 1972. With the advent of containerisation, the Straits Steamship company’s conventional regional shipping business became less relevant and the company was sold to Keppel in 1983. A shift in focus to land development saw its name changed to Straits Steamship Land Ltd, before becoming Keppel Land in 1997. With the Straits Steamship Company making a complete withdrawal from the shipping business in 2004 and the demolition of the third Ocean Building which it erected, all that remains to remind us of a once proud shipping, is nothing more than another building named Ocean standing on where the three previous Oceans of the Straits Steamship Company once stood.

The new Ocean Building in July 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

The new Ocean Building in July 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).





The largest dock east of the Suez in the midst of a world that is to change

25 12 2012

Tucked in the far north of the island of Singapore is a huge 86 hectare shipyard which seems far out of place. Its location is far from the large concentration of shipyards and related industries which has grown in the far west of Singapore. The shipyard, Sembawang Shipyard, today stands as a physical reminder of a legacy left by the former colonial masters of Singapore. The British operated the yard as a Naval Dockyard which was an important component of a huge naval base which had stretched some six and a half kilometres along the northern coast from Woodlands (close to where the Causeway is) to Sembawang (the eastern boundary ran along the northern end of Sembawang Road from its junction with Canberra Road to where Sembawang Park is today).

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

The dockyard and the base was for a long time, an important source of employment in Singapore. A report in 1961 put the local workforce of the dockyard at 10,700, with the base accounting for as much as 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Singapore. What this did mean was that when the accelerated pullout of the British forces was announced in 1968, there were huge concerns, not only from a security viewpoint, but also on unemployment. As part of the arrangements made in the lead-up to the pullout, the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token $1 in 1968. Sembawang Shipyard Pte. Ltd. was established on 19th of June that year and a British commercial shipyard, Swan Hunter roped in to manage the transition of the yard to a commercial one.

The Dockyard's gates seen in the 1960s (source: www.singas.co.uk).

The Dockyard’s gates seen in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk). The Naval Dockyard had been a major source of employment in Singapore. The local workforce in 1961 numbered some 10,700.

A key component of the transition was in training the local workforce, not just on the ground but also management staff to eventually take-over the running of the yard. Besides Swan Hunter, the British Ministry of Defence also seconded some 150 Naval Officers and civilians in the first year to ensure that the transition from a naval dockyard to a commercial one, over the three years it was to take the pullout to be completed, would go smoothly. The arrival of the first commercial ship came in March 1969 and by the time the year had ended, Sembawang Shipyard had docked some 66 merchant vessels and was well on its way to becoming a leading ship repair yard. The success of the shipyard was one of Singapore’s early success stories and by 1978, the tenth anniversary of the yard, a mainly local management team was in place to run the yard. The yard also introduced a highly successful apprenticeship programme in 1972 – from which many of the skilled labour and second generation supervisory staff were to come from and was key in not just raising skills levels, but also in improving productivity of the local workforce necessary to become competitive in the ship repair market.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The yard as we see today, has seen a huge expansion in its capacity with the addition of many facilities since it inherited the already well equipped dockyard in 1968. In addition to the King George VI graving dock (referred to affectionately as ‘KG6′), which when it was completed in 1938 was described as the largest graving dock east of the Suez (and the largest naval graving dock in the world – more on it can be found in a previous post on the Naval Base), the yard now has a huge 400,000 DWT capacity graving dock – Premier Dock built next to KG6, as well as three large floating docks. Premier Dock was an early addition to the yard, having been completed in 1975 at a cost of $50 million and opened by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Plans for the huge dock which measures some 384 metres in length and is 64 metres wide, built to meet a demand for the repair of huge Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) which were being constructed, were drawn up as early as in 1968, although the go-ahead was only given in 1972. The 150,000 DWT President Floating Dock which was one of the largest floating docks in Asia at the time was added in 1981.

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial  - 'Copyright expired - public domain').

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial – ‘Copyright expired – public domain’).

The sheer size of yard can probably only be fully appreciated attempting to walk from its entrance at Admiralty Road West to the far end of it located just west of the former Stores Basin of the Naval Base (now used by the US Navy as a logistics base) – an end which is visible from the old jetty at Beaulieu House. It does take a good half an hour to 45 minutes to do just that – an effort that I regularly had to make to get to Berths 8 and 9 of the yard during the six long months I spent undergoing training at the yard in 1983/1984 (so much so that many of us ended up bringing our own bicycles to reduce the effort). That six months is probably one that was for me best forgotten – the slump in demand for ship repair then meant many hours spent squatting in a designated area when there was no work assigned to the work gangs we were attached to. Tea-time was always a time to look forward to then – it provided that much needed break in monotony. As trainees, one of the tasks assigned was to head to kiosks located at strategic locations along the wharf sides to buy pre-packed packets of tea and coffee as well as snacks for the rest of the gang.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s - the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s – the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today (source: http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_203.shtml).

The yard, besides being the location of a historically significant graving dock, is also where a conserved building in the form of the former Sembawang Fire Station can be found in. While it does look like the yard is a long time fixture in the area and so the future of this historical part of Sembawang is quite safe, we do know that the winds of change is right now sweeping across large parts of the area close by. The expansion of Yishun town and Sembawang town will bring high-rise developments that will do much to alter a unique character and charm that has been associated with the area since the days of the Naval Base. The area to the east of the yard is itself undergoing a tremendous change. A renewal programme will see the park feel a lot less like the quiet corner many like me had found an escape in, and more like any other overly manicured seaside spot in Singapore. That does I suppose does complement the private development just to its east. That development will see a shoreline where idyllic seaside kampungs could once be enjoyed and a shoreline I have continued to find an escape in, become a place in which that charm will no longer be found.

What will be one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in.

The shoreline along the former Kampong Wak Hassan is one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in we will soon lose.





The White Lady graces our shores

15 08 2012

I just love the sight of a tall ship and it is a shame that we get to see very little of them here in Singapore, and so, I have to settle for that occasional visit to one that comes alongside every once in a while. One such ship, the Chilean Navy training ship, the Buque Escuela (BE) Esmeralda, a four-masted barquentine, on a four-day visit to Singapore, was opened to the public over the weekend and I took the opportunity to pay a visit to it on Sunday. The Esmeralda, which means “Emerald” in Spanish, is affectionately known as “La Dama Blanca” or “The White Lady”, is currently on an eight-and-a-half month training voyage that will see her call at 13 ports in 10 countries – a voyage that started in her home port of Valparaíso on the 22nd of April this year and will end with her return to Valparaíso scheduled for 6th of January 2013. Singapore is her sixth port of call on the voyage which also sees her calling at ports in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India, Israel, Turkey, Spain, Colombia, and across the Panama Canal in Ecuador.

The BE Esmeralda seen here berthed at VivoCity is a four-masted training ship used by the Chilean Navy.

The Esmeralda, launched at the Spanish shipyard, Astilleros de Cádiz, in 1953, has had a rather interesting history. When her keel was laid in 1946 at what had been the Astillero Echevarrieta y Larrinaga de Cádiz, she was to have been built as replacement for her sister ship, the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano and would have been named the ‘Juan de Austria’. What followed was a series of events that led to the ship being transferred to the Chilean Navy. Construction on the ship was halted in August 1947 due to massive explosions at the shipyard which not only caused damage to the ship, but also resulted in such damage to the yard itself that it brought the yard to its knees. The yard was eventually rescued by the Franco government in 1951. The government formed the Society of Cadiz Shipyards (Sociedad Astilleros de Cádiz S.A.) which the shipyard came under when the takeover was completed in 1952.

Boarding the Esmeralda.

A manually operated capstan on the poop deck.

The capstans are marked with the words Astilleros de Cádiz – the shipyard that built the BE Esmeralda.

Before the takeover was effected, Spain had entered into negotiations with Chile in 1950, on the repayment of debts it had incurred as a result of the Spanish Civil war, primarily from the import of thousands of tons of salt with a loan from the Chilean government. As Spain wasn’t in a position financially to repay the loan, an offer was made to repay this through manufactured products. This was accepted by the Chilean government and part of this included the transfer to the ship (approved in December 1951) which was valued at US$ 2.98 million. Construction then recommenced and the ship was launched on 12 May 1953 and christened the BE Esmeralda. She was finally completed some eight years after her construction was started and delivered on 15 June 1954 to the Republic of Chile, setting sail the following day. She arrived at her home port of Valparaíso on 1 September 1954 via Las Palmas, New Orleans, Panama and Tongoy.

Helm on the poop deck – the words ‘Vencer o Morir’ or ‘Conquer or Die’ the motto of the Chilean Navy is inscribed on it.

The Chilean Coat of Arms seen at the forward end of the deckhouse.

The ship is apparently the second longest tall ship with a length overall of 113 metres and a length (without her bowsprit) of 94.13 metres. Her two main masts are just a metre shy of the main mast of the STS Pallada which I visited in March 2010 at 48.5 metres in height. The steel hulled barquentine displaces a maximum of 3,673 tonnes. On its four masts and bowsprit, a total of 29 sails can be hosited, providing an total sail area of 2870 square metres and giving it a top speed with sails of 17.5 knots. More information on the very pretty ship can be found at the Chilean Navy’s page on the ship. The Esmeralda set sail on 14 August and is scheduled to arrive at her next port of call, Mumbai, on 30 August 2012. When she arrives back in Valparaíso at the end of the training voyage on 6 January 2013, she would have travelled some 30,414 nautical miles, spending a total of 208 days at sea.

The port sidelight.

A porthole on a skylight.

Brass nameplate for the door to the Midshipmen’s Navigation Room.

The bowsprit.

The fore mast.

A view of part of the fore deck with the fore mast.

The starboard anchor windlass and chain stopper.

The forward main mast and the forward end of the deckhouse.

Part of the rigging on the gunwale.

A tender on launching davits.

Close-up of a tender.

A pulley block.

A peek inside the deckhouse.

A cook in the ship’s galley.

A view of the lower deck.

Close-up of rope work.





A 120 year old vessel prepares to set sail

23 04 2012

Currently berthed at the Marina at Keppel Bay is a 120 year old historic ketch, the H/V Vega, which I first visited in early 2010 and following which I made several more visits during her subsequent stays in Singapore. The vessel, which is owned by Shane Granger and Meggi Macoun, is a beautifully restored top-sail ketch which was originally put to service as an open decked vessel that carried stone and slate along the tempestuous waters off the Norwegian coastline. I was able to drop by again yesterday to say hello to Shane and Meggi, who were in the midst of getting the H/V Vega ready for what has become an annual 6 month-long voyage of mercy which she is taken out on every April or so. The voyage is one that will take the Vega to the distant eastern distant reaches of the Indonesian archipelago with a cargo of much-needed items – medical supplies, farming tools, books, stationery and even sporting gear – a lifeline that many of the remote and often overlooked island communities especially in the Banda Sea area depend very much on.

A coil of rope. The H/V Vega is being prepared for what has become an annual mission that will take her to the Banda Sea.

The H/V Vega is a 120 year old ketch that has been very nicely restored and is now used to bring aid to remote island communities in the Indonesian Archipelago.

With most of the supplies they are carrying over from Singapore already packed in, what was left for Meggi and Shane and two volunteers to do was in packing in the last few items of aid they are carrying from Singapore, as well as getting the boat’s gear prepared for the voyage. The H/V Vega is due to set sail on 25 April 2012 for Jakarta where she will pick up some more supplies for the island communities. A peek below decks revealed the amount that is being carried. Having been designed as a high density cargo carrier, the Vega is limited not so much by the displacement but by its available volume and this was very evident below decks where the items the Vega is carrying seem to spill over into all available space that will possibly make the voyage a rather uncomfortable one for Shane, Meggi and two other crew members who are joining them. Besides the boxes of medical supplies, books and stationery, loose items such as CPUs, toys and sports gear were seen to have been stowed on sleeping berths as well as free spaces in the accommodation areas, including a mechanical sewing machine – once a common household items in Singapore that will be very useful to the island community that it is being delivered to, in the dining area.

Shortlink anchor chain being readied on deck.

Ropes being prepared deck seen through a portlight.

While the Vega has been able to obtain much of what is needed by the communities, as of yesterday, there are some small but essential items that she is short of (see also: http://sailvega.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/list-of-one-off-items-needed-by-the-communities-we-assist/):

  • 1 x 12 Vdc cool box for vaccine storage
  • Reading glasses
  • Battery for Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop
  • Battery for Dell XPS M1210 Battery type HF674
  • 200x Nail / Hand scrubbing brushes
  • 100x Plastic closeable hand soap carrier (should have a snap to keep it closed in bag)
  • Sharpening Stones
  • Thread and sewing needles
  • Guitar strings (Metal and Nylon)
  • Power cables for desktop computers
  • Cables between monitors and CPU for desktop computers

Anyone be in a position to help with any of the items may get in touch with Shane Granger.

The annual clutter in the living spaces - aid items stowed in the accommodation spaces for delivery to the island communities include books, stationery, medical supplies and a mechanical sewing machine.

Supplies stacked up on a bunk.

The view down into the forward accommodation space filled with medical supplies.

Used sports equipment and CPUs being packed.

More boxes to be brought below decks.

A cabin being partially used to stow supplies.

The forward accommodation space as seen from below decks.

Even Elmo is going along on the voyage.





Extreme action on the Bay

9 12 2011

This weekend will see some Extreme action returning to Marina Bay as Singapore plays host to the 9th Leg and grande finale of the 2011 Extreme Sailing Series™ – the second time the Extreme 40 circuit will be seen at Marina Bay, the first time being in December 2009. The race will see ten teams featuring 40 of the world´s best sailors racing from Wednesday 7 December to Sunday 11 December 2011 in what is the final and deciding round of the 2011 season. The race will commence at 2pm on each day with the 9th to the 11th being public days, and action can be caught at the Extreme Race Village which is located at the site of the Singapore Flyer, which will be opened to the public from Friday to Sunday.


The Extreme 40 Boat

The creators of the Extreme 40 took the biggest, fastest sailing boat in the Olympics — then made it twice as big and even faster. And no, brakes do not come as standard… The concept of Extreme 40 is to bring the sailing to the public and not the other way round.
The Extreme 40 catamaran is a scaled-up version of the former Olympic class Tornado, all of the dimensions are relative to the Tornado, it’s just twice as big and incredibly fast. Both light -for better speed and acceleration potential – and very stiff – to withstand the huge efforts put on the structure – the Extreme 40s are made of a honeycomb core trapped between two carbon fiber skins. The stability is provided by the shape of the structure, the Extreme 40 being a “rectangle” sitting on the water, but things change very quickly when the wind kicks in and one hull starts to fly: it’s a treat for spectators, and a real challenge for the crew who have to maintain the balance whilst making the most of the boat’s potential. The generous sail area allows Extreme 40s to sail faster than the wind, in just 15 knots of wind, an Extreme 40 is capable of traveling at 25+ knots.



Weekend Race Programme:

Friday 9th December
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
12:00 – 14:00 – Moth Racing
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Public presentation to the top boat of the day

Saturday 10th December
10:00 – 12:00 – Moth Racing
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
11:00 – 14:00 – Optimists Racing and NeilPryde Racing Series
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Public presentation to the top boat of the day
17:00 – 19:00 – NeilPryde Racing Series

Sunday 11th December
11:00 – 12:00 – Moth Racing
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
12:00 – 14:00 – Optimists Racing and NeilPryde Racing Series
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Championship trophy presentation

**please note that times/activities might vary


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Step on board the Titanic in Singapore

2 11 2011

For those, like me, who’ve wondered what it would have been like to be on board the RMS Titanic as she set sail on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic, there is now a chance in Singapore to step right on board – at the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION which is currently on at the ArtScience Museum. I did just that over the weekend, having received an invitation from the kind folks of the museum for a guided tour, one which despite just arriving back jet-lagged from a trip to Europe, I couldn’t pass up on.

Visitors to the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION at the ArtScience Musuem get to step on board and have a feel of what it was like on the ill-fated RMS Titanic (photographs taken with the kind permission of the ArtScience Museum).

Stepping through the entrance to the exhibition at the B2 level of the museum, visitors are each provided with a boarding pass, each with the name of an actual passenger, personal information, as well as the class in which the passenger was travelling on. It is through the entrance that the visitor is greeted by the glorious bow of the ship which provides the backdrop for a photograph opportunity with ‘Captain Smith’. It is through the next part of the exhibition that I took not just a step into the world that might have existed on board what was, a century ago, the world’s largest passenger liner, but also on board for a voyage of discovery which included a step into the drawing office, shopfloors and slipway of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast at which the mammoth liner was conceived, designed and built.

Visitors are also given a 'boarding pass' on which with the name and personal information of a passenger and can find out at the end of the exhibition about the fate of the particular passenger.

Visitors to the exhibition also have a chance to be greeted by 'Capt. Smith' and have a photograph taken with him.

One of the wonderful touches that the exhibition provides is an insight into the people behind the building of the Titanic, as well as some of the principal characters on board the vessel during the voyage. At the Construction Gallery, we learn of the conditions that existed that motivated the design of such a huge passenger liner – designed so as to compete against rival Cunard Line’s superliners Lusitania and Mauretania. The Titanic was the second of three in its class, which included the Olympic and Britannic (the Britannic was converted into a Hospital Ship by the Royal Navy and never saw service in its intended role). We are introduced to Lord Pirrie, Chairman of Harland and Wolff and Bruce Ismay, the Chairman of White Star Line, as well as to the Head Designer and General Manager, Alexander Carlisle, who led the design team, whom we were to learn had his heart broken by the tragedy – something that I could identify with having spent most of my own career in the drawing office of a shipyard.

The Drawing Office of Harland and Wolff at the time of the design of the Titanic.

On the building berth, the difficult working environment and conditions that the shipyard workers endured are brought to light – we learn of the four-men teams responsible for driving the 3 million rivets – the glue that holds the steel plates together in days that preceded the advent of welding as a means to connect steel, who worked from the break of day to late in the evening with only half an hour’s break for lunch.

We learn of the hardship endured by the four men riveting teams who put long hours in to drive the 3 million rivets that held the Titanic together.

The Titanic after her launch.

The next section of the exhibition is where one steps on board, through doors and a passageway that the first class passenger would have passed through – all recreated to allow a feel of life onboard from the luxury and opulence that the well-heeled enjoyed to the conditions faced by the thrid class passengers made up mainly of immigrants seeking a passage to the New World, as well as that in the bolier room. The highlight of the recreated spaces would be the Verandah Café and perhaps the Promenade where one could lean over the bulwark and stare into the night sky, as well as the Grand Staircase.

A lighted panel that resembles a door panel that may have been fitted in the first class public areas of the Titanic.

A first class cabin recreated for the exhibition.

A recreated passageway through the first class area.

A replica of the Grand Staircase in the first class area which is 27 feet high.

The boiler room is also recreated.

A spanner in the works - an artifact from the wreck.

Another artifact brought up from the wreck - a wash basin.

A photograph of the Titanic's boilers lying in the workshop prior to installation.

Next, in the Iceberg Gallery, visitors can interact with an Iceberg Wall which allows visitors to experience the freezing temperatures on that passengers would have encountered on the frigid night in the North Atlantic when the Titanic sank, by putting their palms on the frozen wall.

Visitors can put their hands on an 'iceberg' to have a feel of how it felt on the night of the tragedy.

A palm print left on the 'iceberg'

The main draw of the exhibition, which has been visited by more than 25 million people over 15 years worldwide, is of course the artifacts recovered from the wreck site. A total of 275 are on display, including 14 that have not previously been exhibited, from the 5,550 objects that have so far been recovered from the wreck. What perhaps catches the attention and provokes a deep sense of tragedy are personal objects that have been recovered which are the only living memories of lives that may have been lost on the fateful night. These include the marbles of a child and a pair of spectacles.

Child's marbles.

A pair of spectacles.

The deadlight of a porthole.

A baggage tag - not wanted tags were for pieces of baggage not required by the passenger during the voyage.

At the end of the exhibition, a Memorial Wall confronts the visitor. Lists of names or survivors and those who sadly perished – passengers categorised by the class they travelled in, as well as that of the crew are displayed and it is here where one can match the names on the boarding passes given at the entrance to the names on the wall to discover the fate of their passenger. Sadly the name of the passenger that was on the pass that I was holding was on the list of those who died. There is also uniquely at this edition of the exhibition, a Singapore 1912 gallery which showcases how news of the tragedy reached Singapore and with photographs of what Singapore would have been like at the time of the sinking.

The writing on the wall - name lists on the Memorial Wall provide information on the fate of the passengers and crew. Visitors are able to establish if the passenger who's name appears on the boarding passes they are given at the entrance to the exhibition survived.

Visitors checking the list of names on the Memorial Wall.

There was also a treat that awaited the participants of the guided visit in the form of a meet-up with ‘Captain Smith’, who shared not just his experiences playing the role for RMS Titanic Inc for the exhibition, but also of the opportunity he had going on a dive in the confines of a submersible, two and a half miles underwater to wreck site. One of the things that he shared that caught my eye was the effect the pressure at that depth had on a styrofoam cup – out of ‘Captain Smith’s’ pocket came a tiny cup with the silhouette of the Titanic drawn on it which had as he put it, ‘had its air sucked out of it’ – reduced to a small fraction of its original size, that was carried on the pressure side of the submersible. Amazing – as was the overall experience of the exhibition which is well worth visiting. The exhibition will be held at the ArtScience Musuem until the 29th of April and will mark the 100th Anniversry of the tragedy in April 2012.

Comparison of a styrofoam cup carried on the pressure side of the submersible which had 'its air sucked out of it' compared to one in its original condition.


Information on the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION including ticket prices and opening hours can be found at http://titanic.sg/.






Onboard the Audi ultra on Marina Bay

26 09 2011

Thanks to the URA, I had an opportunity to take a short cruise around Marina Bay on the Audi ultra, a 90′ Super Maxi class ultra-lightweight racing yacht. Besides the wonderful views of new Singapore that has blended with some of the old I got around the bay, I was also able to have a quick peek around the state-of-the-art all carbon-fibre marvel of modern engineering.

A cruise around Marina Bay on the Audi ultra provided a wonderful view of the former inner harbour - now part of a downtown freshwater reservoir around which the transformation of Singapore can be best appreciated.

The boom seen against the towering mast - the Audi ultra features a 40 metre high mast.

Another view of the mast.

All hands on deck to welcome a glamourous visitor.

At the helm of the yacht was Geoff Bauchop, who gave a run through of the yacht’s features which includes a 40 metre tall mast. Fully rigged, more than a monster 1000 square metres of sail can be raised. Another feature of the yacht is the canting keel holding lead ballast that weighs almost half of the 22 tonnes that the yacht displaces. At a touch of a button the keel can be moved to the windward to counteract the huge heeling moments induced by the large sails. A demonstration of this was given during the cruise by Geoff, heeling the yacht a few degrees off vertical. Geoff later revealed that the canting keel was also used to bring the yacht under the bridges over Marina Bay the lowest of which has a clearance of only 9 metres into Marina Bay. To allow this, the yacht was heeled over to an extreme angle using the keel to allow the yacht to be towed under the bridge (see youtube video below) – pretty amazing stuff!

Mr Geoff Bauchop of the Audi Ultra team at the helm.

Heeling over ...

... off the vertical - Geoff demonstrating how canting keel can be moved to counteract heeling moments on the yacht.

Looking forward.

I also had a chance to see what was below decks – where the carbon-fibre used in the construction of the hull was quite evident. Construction is mainly of carbon-epoxy sandwich – using high modulus carbon fibre which has been infused with epoxy resin and cured at high temperature on the extremely thin skins with a nomex honeycomb core that allows a rigid yet lightweight construction. The skins I was given to understand were only 2mm thick on the outboard surfaces and 1 mm on the inboard surfaces – hardly enough to resist any impacts with floating objects. Kevlar – the stuff of bullet proof vests and military helmets are used in strategic areas just to provide the impact resistance.

The view above decks seen from the opening of the companionway.

Under the glare of the tropical afternoon sun - the boom seen through a hatch from below decks.

The carbon-fibre epoxy hull features skins of 2 mm on the exterior surface and 1 mm on the interior separated by a nomex honeycomb core.

It is below decks where any illusions that sailing is a glamourous sport almost immediately evaporates, as the heat under the tropical sun-baked carbon-fibre deck quickly becomes apparent. Racing yachts are built with minimum weight in mind and air-conditioning machinery are not always considered essential. Sleeping accommodation is provided by hammock like hot berths that line the boat sides and the crew rests on the windward side – to help in offsetting heeling moments to the leeward side. Amidships, a navigation console is arranged – here onboard computers help with navigation and communications. What is also evident below is the powerful hydraulic rams below a clear perspex window at the bottom of the hull that moves the canting keel.

The navigation console below decks.

A window to the powerful hydraulic rams that control the canting keel.

The Audi ultra has been brought in and will be based at Singapore’s One° 15 Marina to promote the development of professional and big boat sailing and will help in the hands-on training and development of sailors and will be used to participate in races under the Singapore flag and crewed by a combination of Singaporeans and experienced International yachtsmen and women and is supported by the Singapore Sailing Federation. More information on the Audi ultra and the Audi ultra Racing Team can be found at the Audi ultra Racing Team’s website.

Sailing on the bay.

Sailing is being promoted as a sport in Singapore.

Marina Bay - formerly the inner roads is now being promoted as a sailing competition venue.

A last look at the Audi ultra.





A date with a lovely French lady

23 05 2011

I took the rare opportunity to pay a visit to a French lady that was in town recently. She is a lady of much beauty and the pride of the French (Naval Fleet that is) and was the largest of the warships that was in Singapore for the biennial IMDEX Asia Maritime Defense Exhibition which was held last week. The vessel, the FNS Mistral, is indeed a beauty, designated as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), she has been provided with six helicopter landing spots on an expansive flight deck which features an island (offset) superstructure, resembling an aircraft carrier. In fact, she might be seen as a mini one, having the capability to deploy up to sixteen large helicopters that can be stowed in a large hangar below the flight deck. An LPH is traditionally designed to support long range troop deployment and amphibious assault, providing a force projection capability to the forces that deploy them, with the U.S. Navy having the largest fleet not just of LPHs but of purpose designed amphibious assault ships. The Mistral is designated by the French Navy as a Bâtiment de Projection et de Commandement (BPC), or a (Force) Projection and Command Ship, and is the lead of two Mistral class BPCs, the other being the FNS Tonnerre.

The French Navy LPH or BPC, the Mistral was in Singapore for a visit during the recently concluded IMDEA Asia exhibition.

Having previously visited similar but smaller vessels such as Landing Platform Docks which have a reduced capacity and hence capability as compared to the Mistral, including the FNS Foudre, and the ITS San Giusto, the Mistral seemed a lot larger and a generous amount of space that the smaller LPDs (the Foudre is 168 metres in length and the San Giusto, 133 metres compared to the Mistral’s 199 metres) do not afford. The Mistral represents a tremendous effort in coordination and engineering, not so much from its design but by the fact that the hull was constructed in two pre-outfitted sections, the aft section at Direction des Constructions Navales’ (DCN) yard in Brest (which also constructed the island superstructure) and the forward section at the well known passenger shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St-Nazaire. Various sub-assemblies were also outsourced in the process to contractors in various locations including to a Polish shipyard. The keel of the Mistral was laid in July 2002 and the vessel was launched in October 2004, before being commissioned in December 2006, thus being in service for some six and a half years already.

The Mistral, seen at berth at the finger pier in Changi Naval Base during IMDEX Asia, next to the USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke class Destroyer. The Mistral, which displaces 21,500t at Full Load, was the largest of the warships in town for the event.

A view of the Mistral's bow in the rain.

One of the large differences in the Mistral compared to the LPDs is that there are multiple decks for the stowage of vehicles and helicopters compared to a single deck in the case of most LPDs. This was very much in evidence from the guided walk through the less sensitive parts of the magnificent vessel led by a member of the ship’s crew, which started with a walk up the multiple decks, first to the Bridge, then to the Helicopter Control and Operations Rooms, and the Flight Deck before visiting the Helicopter Hangar immediately below the Flight Deck (helicopters are raised and lowered via two elevators), the hospital, the large Vehicle Deck below the Flight Deck and the Dockwell. A ramp allows vehicles and other material to be transported between the dockwell and the vehicle deck. The dockwell is floodable by ballasting and opening of a stern ramp with a water depth of 1 to 2 metres and lined with wooden sheathing to take punishment from the Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM), up to four of which can be accommodated, allowing for troops, vehicles and equipment to be deployed to shore. The Mistral also features a side ramp / door which can be used to load and discharge vehicles and equipment to the wharf.

A walk through the FNS Mistral

The wheelhouse console on the Bridge.

The Bridge was the first stop.

A view of the Flight Deck and ship's bow from the Bridge.

The Helicopter Control Room.

Windows of the Helo Control Room.

View of the Flight Deck from the Helo Control Room.

Helicopter ops are planned in the Helicopter Operations Room directly below the Helo Control Room.

Looking forward from amidships on the large Flight Deck which has six helo landing spots.

Looking aft over the expansive flight deck.

View of the Helo Control and Ops Rooms from the Flight Deck.

The walk through also provided an appreciation of the generously sized alleyways on the Mistral.

The hangar below the flight deck. Two elevators (one seen in the background) provide communication between the Flight Deck and the lower decks which includes the Hangar and the Vehicle Deck below.

The hangar can accommodate up to 16 large helicopters.

Another view of the Hangar.

A view at Hangar level.

Republic of Singapore Navy Officer Cadets posing for a photograph in the Hangar.

The Mistral is equipped with a large Hospital over 900 square metres on Deck 5 to support both military and humanitarian operations. This is expandable by use of the Hangar to provide space for up to 100 beds.

One of two Operating Theatres inside the Hospital.

The large (upper) Vehicle Deck. Together with the lower Vehicle Deck which is contiguous with the dockwell, the vehicle decks provide for the stowage of 60 armoured vehicles or 13 main battle tanks on 2 650 square metres of space.

Another view of the (upper) Vehicle Deck.

A ramp provides communication between the upper and lower Vehicle Decks (and the Dockwell).

The side door/ramp at the lower Vehicle Deck / Dockwell.

The floodable Dockwell accommodates up to four Landing Craft or two LCACs (Hovercraft).

Information on the Mistral from the DCN Brochure






A visit to the lighthouse on Singapore’s One Tree Island

12 04 2011

An hour by boat from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal, lies Pulau Satumu, which by virtue of being the southernmost island of Singapore, is the southernmost point in Singapore. The island, which is some 14 km south of the nearest point on the main island of Singapore is also home to a lighthouse, Raffles Lighthouse, one of four offshore lighthouses operated by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA), the others being on Sultan Shoal, Pedra Branca and Pulau Pisang which is on Malaysian territory. Being very much one who has always taken an interest in all things nautical, I have always been drawn to lighthouses … my very first encounters with one being the one that had shone its beacon from the top of the Fullerton Building that I loved watching on the many strolls with my parents down Collyer Quay, and when the opportunity arose to catch a boat to Raffles Lighthouse, I certainly wasn’t going to give it a miss.

Pulau Satumu or "One Tree Island", the southernmost island of Singapore, is home to Raffles Lighthouse.

The visit to the lighthouse, part of a learning journey organised by the MPA in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Week was a rare opportunity. Lighthouses are protected places in Singapore and access to the islands that the lighthouses of the form that most of us have an impression of is restricted, and I certainly did not need a second asking. So, on an overcast and rather muggy day, I found myself sitting in a launch at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal with a large group of students, as I keenly anticipated the start of a journey that would take me to the first ever operating lighthouse that I would have ever visited in Singapore, to the gentle rolling of the launch to the undulations on the surface of the sea.

Lighthouses currently operated by the MPA, as seen on a nautical chart at Raffles Lighthouse.

The ride which took a little more than an hour, provided me with an excellent opportunity to have a look at the massive changes to the waters around the south west of Singapore. What greets the eye immediately upon leaving the ferry terminal is the reclamation taking place off Pasir Panjang, part of the effort to expand the container terminals that the area now hosts. Moving off along with the launch we were in, was a double ended ramped single deck vehicle ferry with a load of construction vehicles, a sign of the frenzy of activity that is now surely taking place offshore. The Semakau landfill (perhaps more appropriately “seafill”), which has joined Pulau Semakau with Pulau Seking (a.k.a. Pulau Sakeng), is clearly visible from the start, the long building that serves as a receiving station is instantly recognisable. The first island we actually pass along the way is Pulau Bukom on which the Shell Refinery has long been a feature, and moving southeast we soon see Pulau Jong, a tiny rocky island which is topped by green vegetation, before going past Pulau Sebarok which houses petroleum products receiving and discharging facilities as is evident by the many tanks and berthing spaces on the island. It was in going around Pulau Sebarok that we catch the first sight of Raffles Lighthouse in the grey of the overcast sky … just as I had envisaged it – well, almost … there are certainly more than a single tree that one might have expected knowing the origin of the name of the island that the lighthouse was built on. Pulau Satumu, based on information found on Wikipedia, “means one tree island — sa refers to satu (one) and tumu is the Malay name for the large mangrove tree, Bruguiera confugata”.

On the launch to Pulau Satumu.

Pulau Jong.

The receiving station at Pulau Semakau, looking beyond Pulau Jong.

Pulau Sebarok.

Enroute to Raffles Lighthouse.

The stern and exposed propeller of an unladen tanker - probably undergoing sea trials ....

Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu as seen on the approach to the jetty.

Raffles Lighthouse as seen on land.

Once on land, whilst waiting to be taken up to the lighthouse, MPA was kind enough to provide the participants of the tour with lunch, and it was over lunch that I had a chat with a member of MPA’s staff. One of the interesting things he did mention was that there were holiday facilities for staff at Sultan Shoal, as well as there being rooms within the lighthouse that were reserved just to allow Ministers to take a holiday on the island. One thing we could do before going up was to have a walk around what certainly seemed like one of the few idyllic places left in Singapore, that is until the silence was punctured by the roar of jets flying above – the island being in close proximity to the live firing range used by the Airforce at the cluster of islands that lay to the west of Pulau Satumu: Pulau Senang, Pulau Pawai, and Pulau Sudong. Still, the island does exudes a charm that has been lost from the coastal areas of Singapore with a little beach and coconut grove leading to the southernmost point of Singapore.

A bench at Raffles Lighthouse.

An idyllic scene from Pulau Satumu.

The beach leading to the southernmost point of Singapore.

Pulau Senang.

It was soon time to ascend the flight of steps up to the top of the lighthouse – 107 steps we were told, 86 built into the lighthouse and a further 17 on the iron stairway up to the top – hard work even for the fit. Standing some 72 feet high, the lighthouse, the second oldest operated by Singapore (the oldest being Horsburg Lighthouse built in 1851), was built in 1855, on what was then referred to as Coney Islet, and looks none the worse for wear in spite of its age. A little bit of its history can be found in the infopedia stub on the lighthouse. At the top we were greeted by one of the two lighthouse keepers on duty Mr. Mani. The lighthouse keepers work on a rotating 12 hours shift for 10 days, returning to the mainland for 10 off days, and are involved in the upkeep of equipment and in the event that the beacon fails – would require to operate the emergency beacon run off batteries. It is quite a quiet and lonely life for ten days … something that is probably hard to imagine in the fast pace world that we live in today. Lighthouses, which have always been important aids to navigation, has with the advent of GPS and electronic navigation means, been rendered somewhat obsolete. However, these are still around and serve an improtant function as a backup in event that electronic means onboard ship fail.

The stairway to the top ...

A window at the bottom of the lighthouse.

A pressurised vapour kerosene mantle burner system that was employed at the turn of the 20th Century at a landing just before the top.

Up the last flight of stairs.

The beacon at the top of the lighthouse.

A radar reflector.

Mr Mani, one of the two lighthouse keepers on duty showing us around at the top.

All too soon, it was time to leave, the launch taking a different route that took us to Marina South, with a stop off Marina South to watch a demo by MPA’s fire-fighting vessel Api-Api, throwing a spray of sea water with its two monitors. Soon back on dry land, we were to be greeted by a different spray altogether – one of a shower that was threatening to come down on us the whole day … fortunately we had made our trip to Raffles Lighthouse and back, with pleasant memories of a rare foray to an otherwise off-limits southernmost part of Singapore.





Sembawang beyond the slumber

29 03 2011

Highlights of a heritage tour of Sembawang, “Sembawang Beyond the Slumber”, with a focus on the Sembawang that I was familiar with in the 1970s. This was conducted through the Sembawang Public Library on 27 March 2011. The two and a half hour tour included a visit to the last kampung mosque in Singapore, as well as to several other points of interest in Sembawang:


The Sembawang of the 1970s was a place that I spent many a happy moment at. Back then, it was a place that, as with many of the coastal areas of Singapore, had the air of a sleepy part of Singapore where one could escape from the hustle and bustle of the urban world that I had in brought up in. The Mata Jetty at the end of Sembawang Road had then been the focal point of many of the seemingly long journeys to the northern most area of Singapore, dominated then (as it is now) by the huge shipyard around which life seemed in those northern part, to revolve around.

The destination that first brought me in contact with the post Naval Base Sembawang of the 1970s, the Mata Jetty.

The shipyard was to many who lived in the area, a source of sustenance, having provided a living to many who settled in the area since it started life as the repair dockyard of the largest Naval Base east of the Suez (said to have enough berthing space to take in the entire Royal Navy fleet at that time) over the 1920s culminating in the opening of the dockyard’s graving dock in 1938. Opened by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas on 14 February 1938, the King George VI dock (fondly referred to as KG6), was then the largest ever naval graving dock, one which is still very much in use today. The establishment of the dockyard had been a godsend, coming at the time when a slump in rubber prices meant that many who worked in the area which had depended very much on the rubber plantations introduced by Lim Nee Soon would have had an uncertain future. The dockyard attracted many from far and wide and was responsible for the establishment of the largest community of Malayalees in Singapore in the north. The announcement of the pullout of the British forces in 1968 had cast a shadow of doubt on the future for many who worked there as well as in many of the military bases around the island, coming at a time when a newly independent Singapore was struggling to find its feet, with the bases combined contributing to 20% of Singapore’s GNP. The establishment of a commercial shipyard on the site of the dockyard (the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token fee of $1) on 19 June 1968, had however, secured the future for many.

The shipyard which was established on the site of the former naval dockyard brought much life to the areas around Sembawang in the 1970s.

The Dockyard's gates seen in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

By the time I started frequenting the jetty, the British had disappeared, and the ANZUK forces installed in place. By the time 1974 arrived, it was only the New Zealand Force SEA that was left with the withdrawal of the Australian Forces, and their presence didn’t go unnoticed in the area – with “The Strip” – a row of shop houses at Sembawang Village which contained several watering holes including the popular Nelson Bar being a popular hangout. Sembawang Village , established outside the Naval Base’s Sembawang Gate on Admiralty Road had several “makan stalls” including a row of Indian stalls that was popular for Mee Goreng as well as having hosted a bicycle shop that perhaps supplied the families of the many British, Australian and New Zealand military personnel that passed through the area, Cheap John’s which is still in the area – further down Sembawang Road close to Sembawang Shopping Centre.

Sembawang Village grew on the outside of the Sembawang Gate of the former Naval Base, catering to many who lived on the base (Courtesy of Mr Derek Tait).

"The Strip" around Sembawang Village, provided watering holes for the many foreign servicemen in the area, which included the popular Nelson Bar.

"The Strip" seen in the 1970s (Source: ANZ Military Brats of Singapore).

Sembawang Village was also where Cheap John's - a popular bicycle shop started some 40 years ago, was located. The shop is still around, currently located further south along Sembawang Road close to Sembawang Shopping Centre (Source: ANZ Military Brats of Singapore).

Cheap John's at its current location is still very much a source of bicycles for Sembawang residents.

Despite the presence of the foreign military personnel, it was probably the workers of the shipyard that were responsible for perhaps rousing Sembawang from its slumber in the 1970s, bringing much colour and life not just to the villages that provided housing to many of them, but also to the streets around. One of the sights that greeted the early morning scene along the narrow Canberra Road that wove its way past the old Canberra Gate (another of the former gates of the Naval Base), of which one concrete pillar remained close to a bus stop that always looked busy with the comings and goings of the many schoolchildren who attended the few schools along the road, and the extended Chong Pang Village which grew to the west of Canberra Road all the way to the marshy land on the banks of the Sungei Sembawang, was that of the convoy of bicycles, their riders in the colourful overalls marked with the seahorses that Sembawang Shipyard had adopted as its logo.

Canberra Gate along Canberra Road in 1968 - near the junction with Sembawang Road. (Courtesy of Mr Derek Tait)

A scene reminiscent of the Sembawang of the 1970s and 1980s - the stream of bicycles along a part of Canberra Road that has remained relatively unchanged.

Along Canberra Road across from the area where Sembawang Mart is today, the sight of a Hindu temple set in a clearing would greet the traveller. That was what was the original Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple built in the 1960s around an altar to Lord Murugan set up by a dockyard worker. It was at this temple where a annual festival which provided the area with much colour, Panguni Uthiram, involving a procession of a chariot and a kavadi procession, was first celebrated in the area in 1967, a tradition which continues till today, with the temple having moved to a new location in Yishun Industrial Park A in the 1990s.

The old Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple off Canberra Road (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).

The area still plays host to the annual Panguni Uthiram festival, which now takes a different route. The festival was first celebrated at the old temple in 1967.

There were several other houses of worship which rose up prominently along some of the main roads of the area as well: the distinctive St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1963 to serve British Military personnel in the area along Admiralty Road close to what had been Sembawang Gate, which is still around; Masjid Naval Base which was close to the junction of Delhi Road and Canberra Road (since demolished); and the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea (now in Yishun) at the corner where Canberra Road branched off from Sembawang Road. One that was in an obscure location – nestled in the wooded coastal kampung area to the east of what is today Sembawang Park, in the Malay Settlement, Kampong Tengah, established by the British to house Malay dockyard workers, the Masjid Petempatan Melayu, built from the 1960s right up to the 1970s when the bulk of it was completed, is also still around in a setting very much unchanged (except that the kampung around it has since deserted it), having been granted an extended lease of life on a temporary basis. What the future holds for the mosque, dubbed the “Last Kampung Mosque in Singapore”, no one really knows, as Mdm. Zaleha of the mosque’s management committee laments … Today, the mosque comes alive during the school holidays, with camps run by the mosque for Muslim schoolchildren being a popular activity. One of the participants of the walk thought that it would be a nice idea to set up a holiday campsite in the area for schoolchildren of other religions as well.

Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang - the last kampung mosque in a kampung setting.

Mdm. Zaleha of the Mosque's Management Committee speaking to two of the participants.

Around the St. Andrew’s Church is the area dominated by the stately residences of the military personnel, many of which were built in the 1920s and 1930s as the Naval Base came up, both to the north of Admiralty Road all the way to the coast, and to the south towards Canberra Road. Many of the houses, referred to as “Black and White” houses for the way in which they are painted, are still there today, housing military personnel from the US Navy’s Logistics Base which now occupies part of what was the Stores Basin of the Naval Base just west of Sembawang Park. The former Stores Basin is also occupied in part by the Sembawang Wharves, run by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), established in the 1970s when it was vacated by the British. Sembawang Wharves had since been associated with timber, rubber and container imports, as well as being at one time one of the entry point for cars imported to Singapore.

St. Andrew's Church, built in 1963 for the British Military personnel and their families.

Sembawang has a generous distribution of "Black and White" houses built in the 1920s and 1930s to house military personnel and their families.

The Stores Basin seen in 1962 (source: http://www.singas.co.uk). Part of it is used as a US Navy Logistics Base and the rest is part of PSA's northern gateway, Sembawang Wharves.

In the cluster of Black and White houses south of the park, along Gibraltar Crescent, there is an interesting find – an entrance to a bunker engulfed by a Banyan Tree that has grown over it – a scene similar to that which greets a visitor at the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple complex in Siem Reap. Bunkers were commonly found nestled amongst the houses – most have been covered over now, including one at Gibraltar Crescent of which the only evidence left is a grass mound, as is one that used to greet the eye behind Beaulieu House.

The entrance of a WWII bunker engulfed by a Banyan tree along Gibraltar Crescent.

Another view of the bunker's entrance.

Speaking of Beaulieu House, it is one of a few buildings in the area with conservation status, having been granted that in 2005. Built as a seaside home of a wealthy plantation owner in the early 1900s, it was acquired by the British military as the Naval Base was being built, serving as a home for the engineers and later for senior naval officers and it is mentioned that from 1940 to 1942, an Admiral Geoffrey Layton, the Commander-in-Chief for Britain’s China station stayed at the house and the house was occupied by Senior Fleet Officers after the war. The URA’s write-up on the house mentions that the name was derived from a certain Admiral Beaulieu, a Chief of Staff of the Royal Navy, but makes no mention of whether he stayed there.

Beaulieu House started life as a seaside home of a wealthy plantation owner, before being taken over by the British as the Naval Base was being constructed in the 1920s. Beaulieu House was included URA's conservation list in 2005.

Beaulieu House, overlooks what was referred to in the 1970s as the Mata Jetty, being located at the end of Mata Road, which took one past two Muslim graves at a bend under a tree close to the fence line of the former Stores Basin. The jetty brings with it many memories of the smell of rotting fish used as bait in square bamboo framed crab traps weighed down by lead weights wrapped at each of its four ends of the frame, tied to the jetty with nylon or raffia twine. What comes back as well to me are the burnt planks and the railing-less sides and end off which a car was driven off at high speed in 1975. The waters around the jetty were great for harvesting shrimps with butterfly nets while wading in the eel and puffer fish infested waters. The shrimps eyes stood out when a light was shone in the water and that enabled one with a quick hand to scoop them out with the net. These often ended up over an open fire which we often built on the beach – the smell of fresh seafood over the fire and the crackling sounds that accompanied them as they cooked are still fresh in my memory.

Beaulieu House overlooks the Mata Jetty which was built in the 1940s and is today a popular jetty for fishing and crabbing.

Other buildings in the area which have some form of conservation status include Old Admiralty House which has been gazetted as a National Monument in 2002, and the former Sembawang Fire Station which was given conservation status in 2007, both of which we did not visit due to physical limitations. Old Admiralty House on Old Nelson Road (just across Canberra Road from Sembawang MRT Station), a two-storey brick bungalow housed the Commodore Superintendent of the Dockyard and later was used as was the official residence of the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief, Far East Station from 1958 up until 1971, when it was named Admiralty House, was constructed in 1939. In the lead up to the fall of Singapore, it saw use as the strategic planning headquarters of the British forces. Except for the period during the Japanese Occupation, the house was the official residence of the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief, Far East Station, until the withdrawal of the British military from Singapore. The URA also provides some information on the former Sembawang Fire Station (which is now within the grounds of Sembawang Shipyard): “built in the 1930s, this two-storey concrete building is designed in a simplified Art Deco-Modern style and has an elegantly proportioned fire-hose tower. The building is a local landmark for both the Sembawang area and the Shipyard”.

Admiralty House, built to house the Commodore Superintendent of the Dockyard and later used to house the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy's Far East Station was gazetted a National Monument in 2002.

Another building with conservation status is the former Sembawang Fire Station built in the 1930s with its distinctive fire hose tower. The building is within the premises of Sembawang Shipyard.

The last stop was perhaps the highlight for many, a visit to the site of the hot springs that has long been associated with the area. The hot springs, dubbed “Sembawang Hot Springs” was for much of my younger days, associated with the Seletaris bottling plant that came up in 1967 under a subsidiary of soft drink giant Fraser and Neave (F&N), Semangat Ayer Limited. The existence of the spring, based on a heritage guide published by the HDB and the National Heritage Board, had been known as far back as 1908 (which a book written by Song Ong Siang, “One Hundred Years of the Chinese in Singapore” puts as 1909), when a Municipal ranger called W. A. B. Goodall discovered it. The land owner, a certain Mr Seah Eng Keong proceeded to start bottling the water under the brand “Zombun” soon after, after he had established that it was safe to drink, establishing the Singapore Natural Mineral Hot Springs Company. F&N bought the company over in 1921 and bottled the water right up to the war under several brands which included “Zom”, “Salitaris”, “Singa Water” and “Vichy Water” until the Japanese Occupation, during which the Japanese built thermal baths in the area. This was destroyed during an allied bombing raid on Singapore in November 1942 which interrupted the flow of the spring water to the surface and on advise of a geologist after the war, F&N left the spring until flow was naturally restored in the 1960s. When Semangat Ayer’s bottling plant was established in 1967, there had actually been plans to build a spa in the area – but that never took off, and bottling continued until the 1980s, when the land on which the spring was on was acquired by the Government to build an airbase. That would have sounded the death knell for the hot spring and if not for an outcry from the local community, we might have seen the last of the only hot springs on mainland Singapore. A corridor was built in 2002 within the perimeter of the airbase along Gambas Avenue leading to a concrete base with standpipes which channel the spring water to taps, allowing the public use of the hot spring which is thought to have curative properties for several ailments. As several of the participants were to find out, the water which reported flows out at 65 degrees Celcius, does, based on its acrid smell, have some Sulphur content which is said to be useful for the treatment of skin problems.

Sembawang Hot Springs was the source of Seletaris - a brand of mineral water bottled by F&N's subsidiary, Semangat Ayer Limited up to the 1980s (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).

The visit to the hot springs brought back memories of another part of Sembawang that I was fond of, one that was accessible through a road Jalan Ulu Sembawang that lay at the back of what is now the Seletaris Condominium complex, developed by F&N on the site of part of what had been the Seletaris Bottling plant. A little stub of the road is still left, but no more than that. The road had once provided access to a vast area of farmland and fishing ponds – rising up onto a crest of a hilly area that overlooked what had seemed like rolling plains of vegetable farms. My father had in the 1970s and 1980s been fond of driving along the road just for that view … one that I remember as being one of the most picturesque in Singapore. The road lead to the Lorong Gambas and Mandai area which many who did National Service in the 1970s and 1980s would remember for the training areas they contained. Like much of what was around Sembawang, that is now lost, as is the large Chong Pang village that dominated much of the are south of the Naval Base which was demolished in 1989 after residents moved out in 1986 or so. Much of the area now occupied by the new Sembawang HDB estate. The plot of land where the heart of Chong Pang was, the roundabout near which the Sultan Theatre stood and where some of the best food in Singapore could be found, still lies empty, with plans to build a sports complex over the area. While that has gone, there are still many reminders that remain – particularly the areas on which the Black and White houses are located, the jetty and of course the old kampung mosque. There are also some reminders of the traditions that existed, the stream (albeit a smaller one) of bicycles heading down Canberra Road being one … and there is the most colourful one of all – the procession of kavadis that still make its way down once a year … on a different route, but one that reminds us of what Sembawang is all about, beyond that apparent slumber.

The Ulu Sembawang area was very scenic with its rolling slopes of vegetable farms (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg)..

The area was also home to several fishing ponds (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).





Life in the “fast-lane”: adventures on a vehicle deck of a RORO Ship

10 12 2010

One of the wonderful things that shipping has given us is the Roll-On Roll-Off or RORO ship. The RORO ship is probably an adaption of the landing ships of the Second World War, built with a bow ramp and to beach thus allowing military vehicles and logistics on wheels to be carried over large distances and quickly discharged ashore. In its simplest form the RORO ship takes the form of a double ended ferry with ramps at both ends and a deck to carry vehicles on – there were many of these operating in Malaysia – many of the larger rivers in the more remote places had to be crossed in this manner as bridges had not been built. The Penang ferry is another example of a simple RORO vessel and it is this form that perhaps the first commercial RORO Ships took shape in 1953 (the same year the first commercial jet-liner, the De Havilland Comet, was introduced), allowing a “drive-on” service to be introduced from Dover to Calais. This eliminated the need to load vehicles by lifting gear which was a time consuming and delicate affair, thus allowing a ten-fold increase in the throughput of cars on the crossing. The idea was extended first to the carriage of freight in trucks and trailers – allowing door-to-door delivery of goods, particularly refrigerated goods without having the need to unload and reload them into road freight vehicles. In the 1970s, as demand for passenger cars increased tremendously – particularly from Japan, dedicated Pure-Car Carriers (PCC) were introduced to transport brand new cars across the globe.

The RoRo Decks of a RoRo Vessel can be one of the more dangerous places to hang out in.

A feature of the modern RORO ship is the huge garage contained within the steel structure of the ship, often with several decks accessible through ramps and sometimes lifts. The garages are also equipped with huge ventilation fans, meant to extract exhaust and fuel fumes to keep the decks safe. “Safe” I guess in this case a relative term, as the vehicle decks of a RORO ship would probably count as one of the more dangerous places to be hanging out in – not that this is usually permitted. Standing in the middle of one gives the impression of being in a huge car-park, which a RORO deck effectively is, only that it is built of steel instead of concrete, and of course that vehicles are packed very tightly with barely any space left in between, as the “car-park” fills-up. It is a place where life is literally lived on the fast lane, with trailers, and sometimes trucks and cars zipping up and down and in a loading or discharging frenzy that is very much motivated by by the rush to load or discharge vehicles in the shortest possible time.

A car being driven off a RORO ship.

The vehicle deck of a RORO ship resembles that of a huge car-park, except that vehicles are packed with hardly any space between them.

Trailers parked on a vehicle deck of a RORO ship.

A trailer being driven up the ramp of a RORO ship.

The prime mover coming down the ramp after unloading the trailer on the upper deck - just 3 minutes later.

On the larger RORO ships, ramps are a common feature – most modern ROROs with multiple vehicle decks are fitted with hoistable ramps which can be hoisted up to the deck, allowing the space on the ramp – as well as below it to be utilised – maximising the use of deck space. This is opposed to fixed ramps, which are cheaper to build but result in valuable deck space being sacrificed. On some other RORO ships, movable decks can be lowered in place, allowing intermediate decks to be quickly created allowing two or more decks of vehicles requiring a lower headroom (such as passenger cars) to be utilised in a space that can also be used to carry on deck of cargo requiring a larger headroom.

A hoistable ramp being lowered with vehicles loaded on it.

A fixed ramp to a lower vehicle deck.

Closing the ramp cover for the fixed ramp to maintain watertight integrity of the lower deck.

A movable deck onboard a ship made to carry larger cargo, the Ville de Bordeaux which is designed to transport the fuselage and wings of the Airbus 380 manufactured in various plants over western Europe to France for assembly, allowing the ship to also be used for other RORO cargo.

Non standard RORO cargo can also be transported.

Tying down or securing of the cargo through chains, straps and turnbuckles to elephant foot fittings on deck is important.

Tie downs ...

Getting up close an personal ...

Close-up of a hoistable ramp.

Safety from a ship stability viewpoint has been of prime concern on RORO ships with its large decks which if flooded with water not only reduces buoyancy but also results in a large free-surface, since the well documented and published capsizing of the MS Estonia. Besides maintaining watertight integrity of the decks through which vehicles are brought on the ship generally through a stern or bow ramp, calculations are now required to demonstrate that these ships are safe even with the decks flooded with water.

The stern of a RORO ship is often where vehicles are loaded and discharged from over a ship fitted ramp.

Loaded and almost ready to go ...





Looking for Gopher but finding a Legend: The Legend of the Seas

25 11 2010

I have to admit that it has been ages since I have embarked on a cruise, some three and a half decades to be precise – half a lifetime ago. In saying so, I have to also admit that while I went on a series of two cruises in the short space of a year, they had been ones that provided a very different experience from what the magnificent cruise liners we see on our shores today can provide. The two cruises had been ones that were taken on a shoestring, so to speak, as fare paying 2nd Class passengers onboard an old fashioned davit adorned cargo cum passenger ship of a 1950s vintage, the M.V. Kimanis. While that offered the relative comforts of a clean and what would have been a luxuriously outfitted cabin, the simple furnishings of the cabins would probably seem Spartan against the luxurious settings of today’s cruise liners.

The setting for my first two and only cruises to date.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines offered bloggers a peek through the portholes to the wonderful Legend of the Seas - a very different world from the old cargo ship I had taken a cruise on all those years ago.

The concept of luxury cruise liners wasn’t actually alien to this part of the world back then. The M.S. Rasa Sayang, probably the first to be based in Singapore, offered cruises that offered more than the one-armed bandit, duty-free beer, strolls around the wooden sheathed deck and the odd visit to the Bridge. That however, was out of reach to most back then, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I got my very first experience of a cruise liner – with the help of the very merry Captain Merrill Stubin and his jolly crew on the Pacific Princess, I was, together with my parents and sister, carried to exotic sounding ports such as Acapulco and Puerto Vallata on the west coast of North America – not physically, but virtually on the screen of my family’s first coloured television set. That was of course the then very popular sitcom, known to us as “The Love Boat”, which featured characters such as a favourite of mine Gopher, the Yeoman Purser.

The bow of the Legend of the Seas seen through the link bridge at the Cruise Centre.

Now, fast forward to 2010, and despite my early adventures on the high seas, the inspiration provided by Gopher, and having had many past encounters with ships large and small and one that literally flies, during the course of my career, it wasn’t until the generous offer of a half day tour of the Legend of the Seas made by Royal Caribbean Cruises to promote their “My Royal Caribbean Cruise Adventure” to bloggers, that I finally got not just to peek through the portholes of a cruise liner, but actually be brought around one.

The tour of the Legend of the Seas provided bloggers with a first hand view of the fabulous 70000 ton ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Taking the first peek at the very luxurious Legend of the Seas.

The ship tour offered a rare opportunity to visit a luxurious cruise ship and cameras started clicking from the word go!

I guess I wasn't the only one awed by the experience ... Mr. Personality at the Urban Homme Challenge Aussie Pete was wide-eyed throughout the ship tour.

The walk through the ship started with a briefing at the Anchors Aweigh lounge on Deck 5 at which evening entertainment is held during cruises, moving through a shopping arcade Boutiques of Centrum, where we learnt that we could shop with the assurance that prices would not just be duty-free, but would come with a lowest price guarantee. Also on Deck 5, are the Shore Excursion Desk, and the Purser’s Desk, where I might, expecting to see a familiar face in Gopher, have been disappointed if not for the wonderful smile I got from the lady Gopher … uh I meant Purser.

The Anchors Aweigh Lounge on Deck 5.

Decoration inside Anchors Aweigh.

Welcoming the bloggers at Anchors Aweigh...

Decoration inside Anchors Aweigh.

Where I guess one can shop till one drops ... prices guaranteed too! The Boutiques of Centrum on Deck 5.

A cute offering at the Boutiques of Centrum.

The Shore Excursion Desk on Deck 5.

The Purser's Desk on Deck 5.

The Purser - not quite Gopher, but with an equally wonderful smile.

Snail mail gets delivered too!

Moving up to Deck 6, we were shown some of the smaller but no less luxurious cabins – the Ocean View Staterooms and the Interior Staterooms, but not before having a glance at the Photo Gallery and Shop, and being tempted by the offerings at the Ben & Jerry Cafe Latte-tudes.

Ben & Jerry's on Deck 6 at the Cafe Latte-tudes.

Cones waiting to be treated with a scoop of Ben & Jerry's ...

There is much more than Ice Cream that Cafe Latte-tudes offers the hungry passenger ....

The Ocean View Stateroom on Deck 6.

On Deck 7, we were greeted by the busts of the likes of Mark Twain and the Bard, William Shakespeare before coming to the little but delightfully furnished Library where a wide array of books awaits the passenger, and the Card Room where Mahjong can also be played. On the same Deck, we also saw the Superior Interior Staterooms, and the D1 Staterooms which were fitted with balconies – something that impressed our Urban Homme Challenge Mr Personality, Aussie Pete no end and probably helped convince him that a cruise was in order.

The bust of Mark Twain next to the Library on Deck 7.

A well-stocked shelf in the Library.

Generous windows illuminate the gorgeous Library.

Inside the Library.

The Card Room on Deck 7.

The cruises offered are very popular with organisations looking for incentive travel packages.

An Interior Stateroom on Deck 7.

The room with a view - the D1 Superior Balcony Stateroom on Deck 7 with a balcony that wowed many.

The Balcony of the D1 Superior Balcony Stateroom.

The reverse view of the D1 Superior Balcony Stateroom.

Bathrobes.

The view from Deck 7.

The view up ... to where the air is thin ...

The oxygen level did seem to get thinner the higher up we went and on Deck 8 as after the peek at the WIFI access area situated at the Crown and Anchor Study, and an internet cafe in the form of Royal Caribbean Online, our breath was taken away by the gorgeous suites on the deck which included the Grand Suite, the Owner’s Suite and the expansive Royal Suite, something that perhaps I would have otherwise only set eyes upon in a glossy magazine.

Crown and Anchor Study on Deck 8.

Royal Caribbean Online on Deck 8.

Decoration on the bulkhead at Royal Caribbean Online.

Beautiful natural light is provided by the skylight to the public areas on Deck 8.

The view through a blind on Deck 8.

Inside a Grand Suite on Deck 8.

The balcony of the Grand Suite.

The Owner's Suite on Deck 8.

The bed in the Owner's Suite.

Even the toilet paper used onboard reeks of luxury.

Towels.

The Royal Suite.

Ashtray / Cigarette disposal in the balcony of the Royal Suite.

On Deck 9, we had a quick look around the Windjammer Cafe, which had what seemed a sumptuous buffet spread that had my stomach growling. The very inviting looking Main Pool is located on the same deck, as well as the Solarium and Day Spa & Fitness Centre, which our group somehow missed, missing a show stealer that was put on by one of the bloggers.

The Windjammer Cafe on Deck 9.

Offerings at the Windjammer Buffet ...

The view on Deck 9.

Refreshments on Deck 9.

Up on Deck 10, we came to the Optix, an area for teens which had what seemed to be a very cool recording studio within the area. Situated in the same area is a Video Arcade as well as Adventure Ocean, a kids play area. We were then shown the open deck area where a row of deck chairs leads aft to the Legend of the Links, a mini-golf course and then to a Rock Climbing Wall located right at the aft end of the deck – awesome!

The view of the Main Pool on Deck 9 from Deck 10.

Optix is an area on Deck 10 for teens to chill out.

Adventure Ocean - a kids activity area.

View of the Main Pool from Deck 10.

View of deck chairs on Deck 9 from Deck 10.

Deck chairs on Deck 10.

Shuffle board on Deck 10.

Legend of the Links - Mini Golf!

The Rock Climbing Wall at the aft end of Deck 10.

Sadly for us, even though many of us harboured thoughts of finding a hiding place to stowaway, we made our way to our final stop, the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room on Deck 4, where we were treated to a wonderful three course meal. I had a prawn cocktail, the steamed Halibut served with vegetables and polenta, and a very sweet but light dessert. While all this was going on, one of the bloggers seemed to be studying the cruise brochure pretty hard – nipping out for a while to check the Casino Royale on the same deck out, perhaps hoping that it was opened so that he can get lucky, and perhaps return for a stay in one of those very luxurious suites on Deck 8 that not just he, but most of us were most impressed with…

Lunch at the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room.

He's definitely sold on a cruise on the Legend of the Seas!





An Italian lady visits the Harbourfront

22 11 2010

I was looking through some old digital photographs and discovered three I had taken on the deck of the ITS San Giusto, an Italian Navy Landing Platform Dock (LPD) on a visit here in 2001. That was just prior to the unfortunate series of events that took place on the 11th of September 2001, which as a result of, made public access to visiting naval ships extremely difficult.

On the deck of the San Giusto.

The deck of the San Giusto, which had been berthed at the Harbourfront Centre (which is now VivoCity), features an island superstructure arranged at the starboard side resembles that of an aircraft carrier. The San Giusto is actually one of a series of three vessels built by the Italian Navy utilising the same platform. Two of which, the San Giorgio and San Marco have a longer flight deck – not so much for fixed wing aircraft to take off from, but to accommodate larger rotary wing aircraft, functioning almost as a helicopter carrier.

The deck of the San Giusto resembles that of an aircraft carrier.

Landing Platform Docks can be classified under the wider category of Amphibious Transport Dock Ships – of which the US Navy operates the largest fleet of. Although generally seen as a long range vehicle used for the projection of power, allowing large quantities of personnel and military logistics to be transported over large sea distances and delivered ashore utilising smaller landing craft some of which are discharged from a dock or dockwell in the aft which can be flooded by partially submerging the vessel through a stern door or ramp, and some of which are launched from davits arranged on the ship’s sides, these vessels are particularly useful in delivering aid such as in the case of East Timor and in the aftermath of the Indonesian Tsunami. The Republic of Singapore Navy operates four similar vessels, which at 140 metres in length are slightly larger in size than the Italian ships which measure 133 metres in length, with a more conventional superstructure arrangement and regularly deploys the vessels on humanitarian missions – such as the successful ones to Meulaboh, Aceh in the wake of the tsunami.

The forward mooring deck ... notice what is now Harbourfront Centre on the top left corner of the picture (then called the World Trade Centre) - and what was the Harbourfront Centre (with the semi-circular awning) which has now been transformed into VivoCity.





A relic of a forgotten time

12 11 2010

The Cold War, a time that perhaps has been forgotten during which the clash of the ideologies that dominated the world after the end of the second world war, was one through I lived and one which I would remember most for intrigue provided by the many John le Carre-esque incidents of espionage. In an environment created by the clash of the dominant ideologies of the period, no effort was spared in the development of technologies in the attempt by the purveyors of ideologies to dominate the world. In developing many of the inventions that are still used in the post Cold War world, there are also many more with which had fallen with any lingering memories of them erased by the passage of time, leaving in some cases, a relic of that forgotten time that seeks to be discovered …





A date with a 117 year old

6 11 2010

With a few friends, I paid a visit to the H/V Vega, which is in Singapore for a short stopover before heading off on 9 or 10 November 2010 to the Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta, where she will be deployed as a press boat. It was my second visit to the historic top sail ketch which I first visited in March of this year. The ketch has been wonderfully restored in 1995 having been built in 1893 as a stone carrying vessel for voyages in the harsh climes of the North Sea and in the Arctic and is a marvel of 19th century craftsmanship and certainly a joy to wander around and photograph.

I love the old sailing ships for the rigging that seems to clutter the main deck.

The Vega is a very photogenic boat and is a joy to photograph.

During this visit, we had the opportunity to have a chat with the very friendly owner and master of the ketch, Captain Shane Granger and his wife Maggie (who incidentally was responsible for the wonderfully designed cabins below deck). Captain Shane was able to share with us some of the experiences in carrying out the humanitarian aid work that the magnificent vessel is engaged in, a lot of it in the outer and remote reaches of the Indonesian Archipelago – places that are ignored and often forgotten by the authorities and mainstream aid organisations.

The very affable Captain Shane Granger, owner and master of the Vega.

Another view of the rigging.

Among the stories that Captain Shane shared was how the gift of very simple things that we take for granted can transform the lives of the inhabitants of the remote islands. With a gift of pencils and erasers, children were able to have the tools necessary to learn to write, where they had been taught to do so previously on a slate that was the moistened sandy ground beneath them. The erasers had been particularly treasured by the teacher, as it meant that exercise books which were in short supply could be reused by erasing the deliberate light scribbles of the children on the pages of the books.

The not so friendly ship's cat eyeing the camera suspiciously.

Besides school supplies, the Vega also delivers aid in other forms such as much needed medical supplies once a year to her regular destinations around the far east of the Indonesian Archipelago. She was able to receive sponsorship for some of this and among the benefactors were Jotun Paints in Singapore and hopes to continue the good work with further sponsorship. More information on the Vega can be found at her website, as well as on my previous post on her. Captain Shane can be contacted at the Vega’s email address. The Vega is due back in Singapore in April of 2011.

Old tools including a traditional caulking tool at the bottom - traditional methods and materials are used in the upkeep of the ketch.

The ketch's anchor.

A pirate awaits the visitor below decks.

The visit provide some of my friends the opportunity to climb up the mast ... well part of the way at least ...





There would certainly have been a mutiny on this Bounty …

3 08 2010

One of the many things that I looked forward to on this Hong Kong trip was the chance to board the Bounty, a tall ship which is in fact, a replica of the Bounty, infamous for the mutiny led by a certain Fletcher Christian. The mutiny which would have been construed as an act of disobedience not just against the authority of the ship’s commanding officer, Captain William Bligh, but also an act against the Crown, resulted in some of the surviving mutineers setting up a settlement on hitherto uninhabited Pitcairn Island and setting the original Bounty aflame to escape detection. By this unintended twist of fate, the group of islands that Pitcairn is in, has somehow become Britain’s last surviving colony in the Pacific. While we were certainly not in for this level of heart stopping excitement on the present replica of 1978 vintage (in fact this is the second replica built), it was for me, still something to look forward to, as I would do for any opportunity to visit a tall ship.

The Bounty, a second replica of the original, seen in full sail in Victoria Harbour (image courtesy of Hong Kong Resort Company Limited)

Tall ships are one of those things that I have always approached with the awe and fascination of a child. Captivated by the magnificent sight of tall ships in full sail from images seen in photographs and in the movies, and in part, drawn to the silhouette of a brig in the Old Spice brand of men’s toiletries that were popular back when I was growing up, I have long hoped to be able to sail on one, and work her sails. I guess the opportunity somehow never presented itself, and so, the next best thing for me was to attempt to visit one whenever I could. I managed a visit to one earlier this year, when the fastest tall ship, the STS Pallada, a Russian merchantmen training ship called to port in Singapore, and so it was very nice that I have a second opportunity this year, not just to board one, but also stay on her for a cruise around Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, albeit not with sails for practical reasons, but by her diesel power.

The figurehead of the new Bounty (image courtesy of the Hong Kong Resort Company Limited).

This replica of the Bounty that is in Hong Kong, was built in New Zealand in 1978 for the movie “The Bounty”, which starred Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and was released in 1983. This would have been the same ship I had wanted to go onboard during a visit to Sydney some years back, but not having had the time, decided to give it a miss. This Bounty has, since 2007, been in the service of the Hong Kong Resort Company Limited, a company which operates the Discovery Bay Resort on Lantau Island at which the Bounty is based.

The bounty coming in to Central Pier 9 as the sun sets on Hong Kong.

A close-up of the stern.

The replica is not constructed of wood as one might think, being constructed of steel and clad in wood to give an authentic feel. While not as imposing as the Pallada which has a 49.5 metre tall main mast and measures some 106 metres (sparred), the 42 metre replica does have a spacious deck which measures 30 metres in length and 7 metres in width, and in the shadow of the rigging of the main mast which towers some 33 metres above deck, and the two other masts, the visitor is offered a very unique experience onboard. This makes the Bounty an ideal location for the use for which she has been put to. The Bounty is in fact available for charter for events such as corporate entertainment, private functions, harbour cruises, training activities etc, for which information is available at the Bounty’s website.

The main mast of the Bounty rises some 33 metres above deck.

The main mast holding its own against the IFC tower in the background.

The dinner cruise we had boarded the Bounty for, started from Central Pier 9, and it was a treat to stand by the wharf side and watch the magnificent vessel come in. Assisted onboard by the helpful crew, we were greeted by the sight of the expansive sheathed wooden deck, and the web of ropes and tackle along the gunwale that ran up to the masts. This, along with authentic looking fittings on deck as well as cannons lined up along the ship’s sides added a feel that we were going to have an adventure on the high seas, as it might have been for Fletcher Christian and his shipmates, sans the uncomfortable motions that might have come with the wind and the waves that in all probability have accompanied the voyage.

Blocks and tackle by the gunwale.

More rigging and tackle ...

While we may not have sailed the seven seas, the cruise around the harbour wasn’t without exotic sights. There were four to begin with, the lovely ladies in our group, who had a makeover with Celia Wong, a well known Hong Kong based stylist. While this would probably not have sparked a mutiny today, this would certainly have sparked a mutiny of a different kind in the days of Christian and Bligh, and might in all probability, have not just those loyal to Captain Bligh, but the Captain himself, join the mutineers! I guess with the company of pretty ladies, the spectacular night time views of the famous Hong Kong and Kowloon skyline, and the treat of the Symphony of Lights, was an added bonus.

Three of the four lovely ladies who might have set off a mutiny ... from left to right: Gin Oh, Violet Lim, Elaine Chua.

and here's the fourth ... Ms Ang Geck Geck ...


The company of the four lovely ladies was complemented by the magnificent views of Hong Kong and Kowloon from the harbour.

Dining on the deck was certainly a very pleasant experience. The light breeze that accompanied the cruising vessel which charted a course around the harbour made what was a balmy evening very pleasing and enjoyable. We had an opportunity to also inspect the accommodation below decks in the forward mess. An attempt has also been made to recreate the living spaces where perhaps the senior rates might have lived in. Going down through the hatch and stairway, it is probably hard to imagine conditions that may have existed on the actual ship where there would have been men tired and worn from their battles with the sea resting on what are now empty berths, right next to where livestock would have been kept during the early part of the voyage to provide the hungry men with fresh meat. Standing by the two tiered wooden bunks that lined up against the sides and centreline in the warm incandescent glow of light reflected off the lacquer of the wooden bunks and wall panels, I somehow could imagine that, and for a while I allowed myself to be transported to the original Bounty as she pitched and rolled to the rhythm of the violent sea, the creaking of timbers that strained as she rode over the waves, the bleating of goats, and the shouts of rowdy men fuelled by the contents of the wooden casks that lay on the deck, combining in a disconsolate tune. But it was only for a brief moment … the trance that I seem to momentarily be in, broken by the sight of one of the pretty ladies descending the stairway.

Dining on the deck of the Bounty.

Crew accommodation below decks.

Bunks in the old style with a modern watertight door.

The table in the mess.

Ms Ang came down for an inspection of the crews' quarters.

Back on deck, the rest of the cruise in the glow of the bright lights of Hong Kong’s wonderful harbour in the excellent company of my fellow bloggers somehow made the evening pass like a flash, and before we knew it, the evening onboard had sadly come to an end, and it was time to bid farewell to the beautiful Bounty. As we disembarked on to the pier at Tsim Sha Tsui in the glow of the clock tower, a crowd had gathered, seemingly to gawk at the magnificent vessel … but thinking about it, it might have actually been that word had got out that she was delivering her cargo of the four pretty ladies … and it was at them that the crowd were gawking at.

The spectacle of the Symphony of Lights and the beautiful Hong Kong skyline is seen through the rigging of the Bounty.

The view of Hong Kong's magnificent skyline by night was a treat!

Alvin seemed to want to participate in the ongoing Symphony of Lights!

The dance of lights on Hong Kong's skyline.

Some of the excellent company onboard ...


More night time views of the magnificent Hong Kong skyline from the Bounty.

Tsim Sha Tsui's historic clock tower (1915) ... the last remnant of the Kowloon Railway Station.

More views off and on the Bounty …

The ship's bell.

The bowsprit and figure head.

The fore deck.

View through the rope work towards Hong Kong Island.

The compass and helm.

Part of the ship's rigging ...

More of the ship's rigging.

The figure head seen from the fore deck.


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.





Where life comes to a standstill for nine minutes in Hong Kong

29 07 2010

One of the must-dos for any visitor to Hong Kong is to catch the slow boat across the Victoria Harbour. The Star Ferry, aptly named as the ferry service is one of the “stars” of the fragrant harbour, connects Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland, providing a vital link that served as the main link across Victoria Harbour before the Cross Harbour Tunnel was completed in 1972. These days, the MTR offers the most efficient means of getting across the harbour to those travelling on the public transport, and one can be whisked across in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the nine minute ferry ride (not including waiting time), or being stuck in traffic, but there is really nothing like the laid back old world experience of making the crossing in a charming green and white ferry boat.

Star Ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier. One painted in festive colours for the Dragon Boat Carnival is seen with one in the traditional green and white.

Star Ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier. One painted in festive colours for the Dragon Boat Carnival is seen with one in the traditional green and white.

A Star Ferry against the backdrop of Hong Kong Island.

A Star Ferry against the backdrop of Hong Kong Island.

Up the stairs to the Upper Deck at Tsim Sha Tsui. The more expensive upper deck provides good views of the harbour.

Up the stairs to the Upper Deck at Tsim Sha Tsui. The more expensive upper deck provides good views of the harbour.

Tokens can be purchased at vending machines at the pier, or if you have the exact fare, you may proceed straight to the turnstiles.

Tokens can be purchased at vending machines at the pier, or if you have the exact fare, you may proceed straight to the turnstiles.

Turnstiles at Tsim Sha Tsui.

Turnstiles at Tsim Sha Tsui.

I suppose, I can be accused of being biased in stating this, having throughout much of my life had a fascination for ships, particularly old ships, and I guess taking a ride on any ferry for that matter is something I would always make a point of doing and something that I would not tire of. The ones with some of history in them can especially be irresistible: Wiseman’s Ferry being one of them, perhaps partly for that bit of nostalgia for the river crossings of old, and the Penang Ferry being another. Ferries often provide not just a means to get across a body of water, but a means to take the sights in: the Staten Island Ferry provides an excellent vantage from which the green lady we know as Liberty can be photographed, and the ferries running across Sydney Harbour which provide an economical way to take in the sights of the Sydney’s magnificent harbour in. It is in fact the Star Ferry that offers all of that, if not much more: history, nostalgia, a means to get across the harbour, and magnificent views of the harbour and the Hong Kong’s and Tsim Sha Tsui’s spectacular skyline … and a first hand feel of how the masses of people were (and still are) moved across the harbour.

The Ferry Time Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/)

The Ferry Time Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/)

The Fare Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/). The Star Ferry provides a cheap means to take the sights of the spectacular harbour in.

The Fare Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/). The Star Ferry provides a cheap means to take the sights of the spectacular harbour in.

Indeed, the nine minute ride on the Star Ferry, which the National Geographic Traveler magazine had identified as one of 50 places of a lifetime in 1999, provides not just a means to cross the harbour which would perhaps be more efficiently traversed on the MTR, but offers an experience that is unique to Hong Kong. It is on the ferry where one can mingle with a Hong Kong rush that comes to a standstill, forced to slow to a pace that is in keeping with the old world that the ferries seem to take one back to. It is on the ferry that tourists and locals, people from all walks of life on the move, can pause for a while, where faces are no longer faces that are blurred by motion, but faces that are to be observed.

Taking in the beautiful sights of Victoria Harbour.

Taking in the beautiful sights of Victoria Harbour.

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A team of Dragon Boaters returning to the island after the races on 25 July.

A team of Dragon Boaters returning to the island after the races on 25 July.

Based on information on the Star Ferry’s website, the ferry traces its origins to 1880 when a Parsee cook, Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, began a ferry service across Victoria Harbour using a steamboat named the Morning Star. By 1888, the Kowloon Ferry Company as it was known as then, ran the a regular 40-minute to one-hour trip, through the day, stopping only on Mondays and on Fridays for coaling of the steamboats to be accomplished. By 1890, four single-deck Star Ferries were operating, and double deck ferries were later introduced to cope with the increasing demand. These days the service is run like clockwork utilising ferries that are very much still old world in appearance, the fleet having been built in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving visitors with a piece of Hong Kong that is very much the old Hong Kong that has survived the onslaught of the fast paced world we see today.

Sights in and around the Star Ferry and the terminal


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Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.





Singapore welcomes the Jewel

3 07 2010

After a voyage of more than four months starting in February 2010, the Jewel of Muscat, a reconstruction of a 9th century Arab sailing dhow has arrived in Singapore. Having arrived in Singapore waters early this morning on the final leg of her voyage which started in Penang, she made her appearance to a small but eager crowd that had gathered in the drizzle at about 4.30pm under tow with her fore sail hoisted.

Members of the public welcomed the Jewel of Muscat at Tanjong Berlayer.

A small crowd had gathered in the drizzle to welcome the Jewel of Muscat.

A TV8 News crew awaits the arrival.

The voyage from Oman using traditional navigational methods retraces part of what must certainly be something to marvel at – the voyages taken by Arab traders in the 9th century, past Singapore to China. The construction of the 18 metre replica of a 9th century dhow is in itself a marvel, being constructed entirely without the use of nails. The planks of the Jewel are held together with coconut fibre, each a perfect fit to ensure watertightness, and protected by goat fat mixed with lime. The reconstruction of the Jewel of Muscat was painstakingly undertaken in Oman and the ship has been sailed here as a gift from the Sultanate of Oman to Singapore.  Based on reports, the Jewel of Muscat would be the centrepiece of Resorts World Sentosa’s Maritime Xperiential Museum which is scheduled to open in 2011. More information on the Jewel of Muscat can be obtained on her website.

The Jewel of Muscat arrives under tow with a fore sail hoisted at around 4.30 pm.

The Jewel says hello.

Two MPA Fire-Fighting Vessels on standby to welcome the Jewel.

The Jewel moving past the throw of the fire monitors.

Another view of the Jewel moving past the throw of the fire monitors.

Views of the Jewel of Muscat’s arrival to the shores of Singapore:

And finally ... seen in the company of the very grand 200' M/Y White Rabbit Echo at the Marina at Keppel Bay.





The gateway to the roads that lay to the south of Singapore

21 05 2010

There was a time when embarking on a journey to not just a distant land, but to a destination that would now be considered closer to home, would mean saying goodbye not at the terminal building of Kallang or Paya Lebar Airport as it might have then been, but perhaps at a wharf in Tanjong Pagar or a pier along Collyer Quay. That was a time when the journey would invariably have had to be one made by sea, not with the intent of a leisurely cruise as we are inclined to do these days, but out of necessity. So it was that piers came into prominence as entry and exit points through which the many immigrants, some of whom were our ancestors, arriving in Singapore, and travellers setting off on their journey would pass.

Clifford Pier as seen today. The pier would have been the starting point for many a journey from Singapore back in the earlier part of the 20th Century.

View of the Roads in the 1950s from an old postcard. Clifford Pier, the Inner Roads, the Detached Mole (breakwater) and the Outer Roads beyond can be clearly seen (courtesy of Mr. Low Kam Hoong).

In those days, the inner harbour that would have greeted the immigrants to Singapore, or where those setting off on their journey from Singapore would have had a last glimpse of the island, would have appeared to be very different to what is in the area today. For much of the twentieth century, Singapore’s busy harbour been separated by a breakwater referred to as the “Detached Mole”, built in 1911, which ran parallel to the shoreline. This in the area where today, another breakwater of sorts, the reclaimed parcel of land which now forms part of the southern boundary of the Marina Bay reservoir, and on which the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort and part of the East Coast Parkway has been built on, now sits. The breakwater back then, separated what was referred to as the Roads – the Inner Roads within the breakwater where the smaller coastal vessels and the tongkangs and twakows (lighters and bumboats) and passenger launches could be safely anchored. The smaller boats ferried their cargoes of goods and people to and from the larger ocean going vessels, being less susceptible to the effects of waves and wind, anchored in the Outer Roads that lay beyond the breakwater.

Another view of Clifford Pier, the Inner Roads, and the Breakwater in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk)

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s showing the Detached Mole, Inner Roads and Outer Roads.

Where the limits of the Inner Roads, the Breakwater would have been. On this sits the reclaimed land on which the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort has being built on.

The starting point for many a journey would have taken place at Clifford Pier, named after Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, the Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1927 to 1929, which replaced the original Johnston’s Pier opposite Fullerton Square in 1933. The wonderfully built structure features a roof structure supported by beautiful concrete arched trusses designed by the Public Works Department, served as the arrival point for many immigrants as well as a departure point for many seafarers and travellers out of Singapore. It was one of my favourite places, growing up in Singapore in the 1970s, being first of all, across another favourite place of mine, Change Alley, on which Derek Tait has an interesting post on, and also being where I could, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the going-ons of the pier, observe the comings and goings of travellers and seafarers through the wide hall like deck of the pier, and up and down the numerous stairs at the pier’s end and sides from which the colourful wooden launches took or discharged their passengers. It was also where, I could catch the sea breeze on a muggy evening, standing by its open sides.

View of the Inner Roads from Collyer Quay in the 1960s with a fleet of passenger launches moored in the foreground (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

Looking across Marina Bay from the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay across the area that would have once been the Inner Roads.

Change Alley across from Clifford Pier as well as Clifford Pier, was one of my favourite places in the 1970s. I remember being greeted by the sound of the many Laughing Bags that the vendors set off filling the alley as you walked through it.

Clifford Pier would also have been where boats that would take us to what seemed then to me as the distant shores of the then inhabited islands that lay to the south could be boarded, with the promise of an adventure on the high seas that I would somehow associate with a trip to what I would see as my Islands in the Sun. It was also from Clifford Pier that I also later embarked on a voyage of adventure of my own, far beyond my Islands in the Sun, one which I would be describing in another post. It is also interesting to note that the pier is known to locals as Hong Ten Ma Tou 红灯码头, or Red Lamp Pier, named after a red lamp that was placed on it to serve as a navigation aid to seafarers, or so the information plaque says. It is thought however that it was actually hung on Johnston’s Pier and the locals continued the use of the name for the new pier when it replaced Johnston’s Pier.

The beautiful arched concrete trusses that support the roof of the pier.

A window in the façade of the pier.

It may be comforting to know that despite the large wave of land reclamation and redevelopment that has swept over much of the Inner Roads and the areas around Collyer Quay and has seen Clifford Pier cut off from the boats, ships and islands that provided it with a reason for her being. But alas, Clifford Pier is now, despite looking none the worse for wear, only a pale shadow of what it was in its heyday. Where the pier had once been alive with the continuous footsteps of seafarers, travellers and the many interested onlookers that pass through its deck, it is now devoid of life, surrounded by waters that can only lap sadly and silently onto the columns that hold it up.

Plaque commemorating the opening of Clifford Pier in 1933.

Information plaque on Clifford Pier.








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