All at sea

24 07 2014

The launch on Saturday of Singapore HeritageFest 2014, bring us to focus on one of the key reasons for Singapore’s being, the sea. This year’s festival much of which revolves around a maritime based theme, “Our Islands, Our Home” has us looking at our maritime past as well as our present as a maritime nation.

HeritageFest 2014 opens a window to Singapore's island heritage.

HeritageFest 2014 opens a window to Singapore’s island heritage.

It is to raise the profile of this heritage, one that goes back to times well before the arrival of Raffles, that is in fact what the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) and the National Heritage Board (NHB) hopes to achieve with the establishment of the S$500,000 Maritime Heritage Fund, which the two agencies will administer – for which a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the two agencies at Saturday’s launch.

One of the highlights of this year's HeritageFest is a lighthouse trail that includes a stop on Pulau Satumu, Singapore's southernmost island, on top of which Raffles' Lighthouse is perched.

One of the highlights of this year’s HeritageFest is a lighthouse trail that includes a stop on Pulau Satumu, Singapore’s southernmost island, on top of which Raffles’ Lighthouse is perched.

Once a common scene in the waters off the Southern Islands. Boats such as the kolek on the right, are very much part of our maritime heritage (a similar kolek is on display at the Balik Pulau Exhibition at the National Museum).

Once a common scene in the waters off the Southern Islands. Boats such as the kolek on the right, are very much part of our maritime heritage (a similar kolek is on display at the Balik Pulau Exhibition at the National Museum).

The focus of the fund, which complements the NHB’s S$5 million Heritage Grant Scheme launched last year, will be on developing community-initiated projects related to Singapore’s maritime heritage that will promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s maritime connections, as was touched on by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Community, Culture and Youth, in his speech at the festival’s launch.

Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of NHB launching Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of NHB launching Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Mr Wong also spoke of the transformation that will soon take place at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), where the launch event was held. Besides a revamp of the museum with expanded galleries that will include a space allocated for the Tang Cargo and see new shops and dining outlets, the museum will be given a new entrance that will open it up to the river and give it a direct connection into the historic heart of Singapore.

Another lighthouse - the very pretty Sultan Shoal Lighthouse at the western extremities of Singapore's waters seen during the lighthouse trail as part of Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Another lighthouse – the very pretty Sultan Shoal Lighthouse at the western extremities of Singapore’s waters seen during the lighthouse trail as part of Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

The revamp is part of the ongoing effort to develop a civic and cultural belt around Singapore’s colonial civic district (see: The Old Vic’s ticking again) that involves also the newly refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, and the conversion of the Old Supreme Court and City Hall into National Gallery – due for completion in 2015.

The Old Vic's definitely back!

The newly refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

A cultural performance at the launch of Singapore HeritageFest2014.

A cultural performance at the launch of Singapore HeritageFest2014.

The launch also coincided with the first evening of a two-night series of programmes taking place around the ACM and the river, River Nights. The event, brought much life and colour to the river, and celebrated its changing identity over the years – in the same way the well received series of activities  for Singapore HeritageFest 2014 celebrates the islands.

A dragon dance performance at the start of River Nights at the ACM's front lawn.

A dragon dance performance at the start of River Nights at the ACM’s front lawn.

More information on the Maritime Heritage Fund, Singapore HeritageFest 2014, River Nights and on Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands (an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore held in conjunction with HeritageFest 2014) can be found in the following links:

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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






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!





Revisiting Clifford Pier

13 10 2010

Having spent a few hours of my weekend in Rotunda Library of the former Supreme Court, I was able to have a last feel of what must be considered to be the greatest work of Frank Dorrington Ward. This certainly allowed me to have a better appreciation for the genius of the architect who gave us some of the magnificent structures we have inherited from our colonial past, including one that my attention was turned to last evening, Clifford Pier. Ward’s contribution towards the beautiful pier was as the Chief Architect of the team of architects at the Public Works Department that provided the design for what must be the finest pier to be built in Singapore, in which the Art-Deco style features prominently. The pier, which may have looked a little worse for wear in the latter part of its life as a public pier from which many people made their journeys to the southern islands and the gateway for many seamen coming ashore to Singapore, has been wonderfully restored and a large part of it given to use as an exclusive restaurant “One on the Bund”, and the front end of it being converted into an entrance to the very posh Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Clifford Pier at its opening in 1933 (source: Woh Hup 80, Building with Integrity).

The front end of the pier now serves as the entrance to the posh Fullerton Bay Hotel.

The magnificent pier, built to replace Johnston’s Pier in 1933, never seemed to go to sleep and was always alive with activity in the 1970s when I was growing up. It was a place that I certainly have many fond memories of, having visited on many occasions to watch the comings and goings of the passengers of the launches that bobbled up and down the sides of the pier. There was always a frenzy of activity as passengers would scramble up and down the precariously slippery steps to or from the spacious deck of the pier. Already busy as it was, the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar would bring with it the frenzy crowd of pilgrims heading to Kusu Island for the annual pilgrimage. The pier was also where I had embarked on several adventures of my own – to the islands that lay beyond the southern shores of Singapore and also on to the high seas. It would have been nice if the pier had kept its place as a gateway to the southern islands and beyond – a focal point close to the old heart of the city from which a doorway opened to the shores that lay beyond Singapore – an area that is significant to the history of Singapore as one being where many of the our forefathers – the early immigrants who made Singapore what it is would have first set foot on the island. This sadly wasn’t to be as the conversion of what is now known as Marina Bay into a fresh water reservoir with the construction of the Marina Barrage put paid to any thoughts some of us might have harboured on this. The pier ceased operations in 2004 as the Marina Barrage had cut off what had once been the Inner Roads of the harbour to the sea.

An early view of Clifford Pier (c. 1950) from an old postcard (courtesy of Mr. Low Kam Hoong).

The pier is perhaps best known for the beautiful concrete trusses which support its roof structure, which provided a wide unsupported span of the roof supports, allowing a clear and unobstructed space across much of the expansive deck of the once well used pier – another piece of architectural genius given to Singapore by Frank Dorrington Ward and his team. While the trusses have perhaps escaped the eyes of many in the hundreds of thousands who might have passed under the roof they provide support for during the 71 years of the pier’s operation, it was (and still is) a sight to behold.

Deck of Clifford Pier with the beautiful concrete arched trusses of the roof structure above (source: Woh Hup 80, Building with Integrity).

Clifford Pier as it appears today as "One on the Bund".

The beautifully illuminated concrete trusses of the roof structure - not everybody gets to get close up and personal with them anymore.

Another view of the setting of the restaurant that now occupies Clifford Pier.

The restoration and conversion of the use of the pier does provide an opportunity to savour the beauty of the truss structure, particularly in the evenings when the effects of the varied and changing hues provided by the coloured illumination which does seem to bring the beauty of structures out brilliantly. However, it is unfortunate for many of us that much of the pier within the exclusive restaurant remains inaccessible to the general public to allow an up close and personal appreciation of the wonderfully design roof structure. I had in the past attempted to capture the trusses on camera but was prevented from doing so and only got a chance to do it as a guest of an event held at the restaurant last evening. While it is nice to see the restoration of buildings that are our monuments and heritage and the use of them in a very dignified manner as is the case with Clifford Pier, and with the consideration that certainly must be made from a commercial perspective, it would still be nice if at least some parts of it are made accessible to the general public who like me, have a link or a memory to a past that might be worth a revisit from time to time. I do hope that whatever is planned for some of the future heritage sites such as the grand station at Tanjong Pagar that consideration be put in to allow parts of them to at least remain accessible to us.


The beautiful setting inside the restaurant.


More views of the restaurant.

Maybe other ideas on conservation are required to allow the general public to fully appreciate some of our heritage buildings?

The entrance to the Fullerton Bay Hotel at the front end of the pier.

The view of the restaurant from the entrance.

Views of the wonderful structure of the pier.

A close-up of the trusses ...

Air-conditioning vents blend in with the existing structure.


The decor of the restaurant does include many reminders of the past.

More views of last evening’s event:

Dough figurines that were commonly found amongst the vendors that accompanied the the wayangs (street Chinese Operas) of old.

The open air deck at the far end of the pier.





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.





An adventure on the “high seas”

13 06 2010

In today’s age of air travel, it would probably be difficult for many of us to want to embark on a journey between continents that might have taken weeks, or even a journey between cities in the region taking at least a few days, other than when one is perhaps considering going on a leisurely cruise. There was a time however, when such a journey would have had to be made out of necessity and not to indulge oneself in leisure as we would be inclined to these day. It was perhaps in the 1970s when air travel became accessible (and affordable) to many, and up to that point, travel between the regional ports would have probably been made aboard a cargo liner on which passengers were allowed to be carried on.

The M.V. Kimanis and several other cargo liners owned by the Straits Steamship Company plied the route between Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula (Source: W.A. Laxon, The Straits Steamship Fleets).

This was a time when just the thought of a voyage by sea might have evoked the romantic notion of travelling in style and luxury that is associated with the ocean liners of the North Atlantic. Indeed, for the well heeled, the leisurely journey might have been taken in lavishly decorated cabins, whilst being waited on by a steward dressed in all whites, in a setting, as I was told, could be compared to one in a Joseph Conrad novel. For the less well off, there would have been a choice of a more modest second class cabin which would have been comfortable enough for the journey; or, in a less than comfortable third class dormitory like cabin (if there were any – many of the ships coming from India had this), or perhaps as a deck passenger. A passage as a deck passenger would be unheard of these days, especially with the adoption of the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code – one of a slew of measures implemented in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Back then, it would have been a cheap and practical means of getting about, with deck passengers having to brave the elements during the passage on the open deck or perhaps, where the situation might have allowed it, in the cargo holds.

The M.V. Kimanis was a 90 metre long, 3189 ton, cargo liner built in Dundee in 1951 and was in the Straits Steamship fleet up to 1982.

One of the local shipping companies that ran a passenger service was the now defunct Straits Steamship Company. The Singapore based company was founded in 1890 and at its height, operated a fleet of 53 vessels, plying routes that connected ports in the Malayan peninsula, including Singapore with ports in the far flung corners of British Borneo. Many of the ports in Borneo would have had names steeped in the history of the rule of the British and the White Rajahs (in Sarawak), such as Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu). Many of the ships that the company operated had themselves been named after the ports which the company served.

A subsidiary of Straits Steamship Company started Malayan Airways, which later became MSA and was split into two entities, Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airline System.

By the time the 1970s had arrived, air travel had taken root and demand for passenger travel by sea had diminished (incidentally, it was a subsidiary of the Straits Steamship Company, that started Malayan Airways, the predecessor to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA), from which both Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) were born). The Straits Steamship Company thus promoted passenger travel on the ships they operated for leisure (as a cheaper alternative to the one offered on the M.V. Rasa Sayang which was then offering cruises on the Malacca Straits and around the Indonesian Islands before being sold off a year or so after a tragic fire killed a few crew members in 1977), offering a window into a world of a forgotten age of sea travel. The cost of was a very affordable $80 for the three day return trip to Port Swettenham (or Port Klang as the port had just been renamed as), and it was on such a voyage, aboard one of the Straits Steamship’s vessels, the M.V. Kimanis, that I had an opportunity to have that experience, not once, but twice in 1975.

On the main deck of the Kimanis.

The first voyage that I had on the Kimanis would best be described as an adventure of a lifetime. It had been my very first experience on board a ship and one in which provided me with a view, not just into what life was on board, but also a first hand experience of the stories that I had heard of a voyage on what seemed to me, the “high seas”. It was a voyage that began one evening from Clifford Pier, and via a launch that took us out from the Inner Roads to the Outer Roads and the Eastern Anchorage, where the M.V. Kimanis was anchored. Arriving at the accommodation ladder of the davit rigged black vessel, which featured three white deckhouses, it was with some difficulty that we got onto the ladder having to contend with the violent rolling and heaving of the launch, needing the assistance of the receiving crew members of the Kimanis. I still remember being quite afraid of falling in – even as I was ascending the ladder to the main deck of the vessel.

Wandering around the main deck of the Kimanis was an adventure in itself.

Once onboard, we were greeted by the Chief Steward, a Hainanese man with a greying head of hair, decked in a starched white shirt with epaulettes that seemed to extend up from his shoulders, and brought to our cabins by a steward. The second class cabins we were to stay in were on the next deck above, located along the ship’s side, and had tiny portholes from which we could have a view of the numerous ships that lay at anchor. The cabins were modestly furnished, two single bunks, a rattan chair and dresser, a wardrobe and a wash basin. Showers were to be taken and visits to the toilet were to be made in the communal washrooms arranged on the centreline at the aft end of the alleyway. A door at this end on the aft bulkhead opened to an open deck which also provided access to the main deck below and the deck above. Right at the after end of the next deck was an open deck with an awning that offered partial shelter from the elements on which a bar counter was located, with tables and chairs that formed an open air lounge area. That was where passengers would sit and exchange stories and I remember a man who had started his journey in Tawau with quite a few interesting stories to tell. I can’t remember any of them, but what I do remember very vividly was how he looked – he wore the scars of burns to his face very prominently. We had also on that voyage, met a very friendly and talkative Australian man, from whom I had first heard of what we call the papaya being referred to as a “paw-paw”. He also introduced to a gourd to us which he said was delicious, which he referred to as a choko – which we would later discover was also planted in the Cameron Highlands.

The bar area where passengers exchanged stories.

Besides lounging around at the bar, the day long voyage to Port Klang provided an opportunity for my sister and me to roam the main deck – I was fascinated by the vents that seemed to rise like trumpets out onto the main deck. Somehow, I had imagined them to be sound pipes through which the men working below decks could communicate with crew on the main deck. Meal times were particularly interesting and a steward would alert passengers to meal times by walking through the accommodation area ringing a bell, which would trigger a procession of children following the steward around as if he was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Meals were served very formally and besides having to dress appropriately for meals, we had to pay careful attention to table etiquette. That was also the first occasion in which I was to be confronted by the intimidating array of cutlery on the table. I quickly learnt the trick for navigating through the cutlery, starting from the outside in as each course was served.

Meal times were particularly interesting on board the Kimanis. A typical menu (Source: W.A. Laxon, The Straits Steamship Fleets).

Arriving at Port Klang, we were greeted by the sight of the wharf side container cranes, which I imagined to be chairs of giants, half expecting to meet a giant on the passage into port. Tugs boats appeared as the ship was guided into port, and went alongside, as I looked forward in anticipation of being able to go ashore. It was on this particular trip that we first visited Genting Highlands, taking a bus into Kuala Lumpur where we could catch a taxi to Genting. I remembered the journey down quite well for the way the taxi driver negotiated the hairpin bends at a seemingly high speed, and as a result, my mother swore never to take a taxi to Genting again! The stay in Port Klang which had been scheduled for one day, spilled over into a second day. We were told that there was always a slowdown for one reason or another at the port – and so we were to have a four day stay on board for the price of three days!

Up on the Bridge - the children on board were given a treat by the Scottish Captain who allowed each of us to handle the helm for about a minute or so.

Little did I know it then, it was on the return voyage to Singapore that the children on board were in for a treat. The ship’s Captain, a Scotsman, invited us children up to view the Bridge, and provided each of us with the chance to be at the helm where we could have a hand in steering the ship. While this experience lasted maybe only for a minute or so, it was certainly a big treat leaving a big impression on me, and at that moment, I decided that I did not want to be a pilot that I seemed to always have wanted to be, and instead thought that it would be more my cup of tea to sail the seven seas and see the world at the same time. I was to have a second experience on the Kimanis later that same year, one which perhaps, I would devote another post to. However, it was this first experience that was to be the one that I would most remember.





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.