We’re back in Singapore at our favorite yachting venue; the laidback Changi Sailing Club. While we have visited Singapore on all four of our circumnavigations, the last time on Round #3 we spent a year here. Why? Well, the primary reason is our daughter and three grandkids (my, how they grow!) are dirt-dwellers here in S’pore. But almost as important is the fact that the Changi Sailing Club (CSC) is so amazingly welcoming.
The members and staff not only politely invite us ashore for all social activities, they have (seemingly) amended their bylaws to include the Goodlanders whenever/wherever free food, drink, or tee shirts are dispersed.
It’s an amazing place—think Bogie and Bacall on a colonial veranda, with Asian boats bobbing in the background. The last time there was a case of possible theft from a vessel was in the mid-1950s, although the hope is that the lifejacket in question actually blew overboard and wasn’t pinched by a passing Sampan.
Yes, the facilities are amazing. Old world waiters silently carry silver trays of tropical drinks to and fro. Bartenders and chefs mingle. Launch service to and from your vessel is included—as is the use of the huge leather-chaired nautical library and worldwide chart room. Best of all is the diverse fleet of over fifty small racing craft available to all members seven days a week.
Like most clubs, the emphasis is on club racing. Having competed in regattas all over the world on many famous racing vessels, the locals appeared to be interested in my silly stories of the Rolex Cup, Antigua Sailing Week, the Heineken Regatta, and the Bermuda Race aboard such vessels as Olin’s Stormy Weather and Charlie Morgan’s Heritage, etc.
Actually, impressing people the world over with my sailing skills is dead easy—I just never allow them to witness me at sea.
So that’s basically what I’ve been doing lately—being an armchair sailor. And, casting modesty aside, I must admit I’m pretty good at it.
Alas, reality and ego got in the way—they always do.
Enter local club racer Tim Hill, a former British Army captain and martial arts expert who successfully invaded the Southeast Asia business community armed only with an MBA. He was in a bit of a bind. An ex-pat from the UK who married a Singaporean—he’d dominated multihull racing at the CSC for a number of years aboard his 24-foot Corsair Cicak, but the competition grew steadily and the previous year he’d come second in fleet—much to his chagrin.
He was now, in December of 2019, only one point in front of his arch rival as the racing season drew to a close—and, being a highly competitive fellow, didn’t like the thought of losing again. But on the final day of the current series, his crew failed to show up.
What to do?
Being tenacious and thrill-seeking, Tim Hill didn’t give up. Fifteen minutes before the start he went trolling all the lay-abouts passed out on boats in the harbor, and I stoooooopidly volunteered to help out a mariner in distress on the spur of a confused moment.
Tim was delighted—he’d sat through more than one of my Caribbean racing yarns.
Now normally in S’pore, the wind varies between very light and non-existent. Today it was blowing like stink—with huge lifts and sudden gusts pouring off of Ubin, the rugged island just to windward of the CSC. There’s a strong, swift current in these tricky waters as well. And while it is true that I’d just sailed 6,000 ocean miles on my 35,000-pound ketch-rigged Ganesh (which, since it accelerates ponderously, we named after a slow moving elephant), all those cruising miles had been spent under Monitor windvane and Simrad autopilot. The last time I’d actually steered a racing craft with my bare hands was over two decades ago.
No, we didn’t have time to discuss any of this.
Regardless, Tim wanted to beat his arch rival and carry off the prestigious year-end trophy. So he decided, immediately after nailing the start, to give me the helm so he could be sailing master and thus have us prepared for any complicated sail changes.
Thus, much to my surprise, I was given the helm with an entire fleet of hard charging vessels directly astern. There was no time for chitchat—no time for any of my clever ‘oh, didn’t I mention yesterday I broke my wrist’ BS.
I did my best to calm down, play the shifts, and not get the ‘wrong side up,’ so to speak. To concentrate, I laser-focused on my telltales—it was suddenly just me and those fluttering/lifting beauties.
Now this was a Saturday at the CSC and our little race wasn’t the only one being staged at the time. A huge regional youth Opti regatta with nearly a hundred vessels was in progress as well.
Of course, I knew they were out there somewhere but they’d been far away during the start. Now, suddenly, I realized they’d all tacked and were heading straight for me.
I would have immediately tacked over—save for the awkwardness of my unfamiliar tiller extension. Cicak, being a multihull, had a tiller extension that was, like, ten feet long. I wasn’t used to it. It kept catching on stuff. I kept clumsily tripping over it as I shifted sides while tacking.
By the time I’d confirmed to myself that I was on starboard tack and my tiller extension was clear, it was too late. The fleet of Optis were upon us. I went swooping into them at hyper-speed, praying I wouldn’t dismast half of the boats, then decapitate the remaining mini-skippers as well.
Frankly, I’d totally forgotten that multis accelerate as you bear off. Thus, instead of carefully picking my way through the fleet of hobby-horsing prams…well, I went careening through it like a scalded cat, barely in control.
I couldn’t believe I’d made it through with no fatalities.
I was grinning and shaking like a leaf. (Perhaps I really was a clever sailor after all?)
Even better, all my competitors—being compassionate skippers who loved children and were in complete control of their craft—had tacked away and, crazily, that put us in a fairly good tactical position.
Tim beamed—and gave me a thumbs up.
I didn’t respond verbally, for fear I’d whimper. Plus, we were currently getting huge cannonball gusts and there seemed to be a problem with Tim easing the mainsheet—a hockle or something.
Now, because of the strong currents, the CSC doesn’t use large inflatable marks during their races, they just use the existing mammoth navigational buoys.
The good news was that this giant red buoy—the all-important windward mark—was impossible to miss. And that’s the bad news, too, because I hit it so hard that I rang it like a bell.
In fact, not only did I hit it, I rode up and over its rounded buoyancy chamber, and then stuck the bow of my port ama into its angle iron—which spun the entire vessel counterclockwise in a huge circle.
You could hear a pin drop on Cicak.
“Touched the mark,” I said calmly as the boat spun nearly through 360 degrees—with me just giving it a tiny bit of help towards the end with the rudder.
“…and our penalty turn is done!” I intoned, as if I’d done something extremely clever.
By this point, the rest of the fleet had caught up—and there I was, intent on smothering our rival, totally oblivious to the rest of the vessels on the course.
A couple of minutes later I happened to notice another hulking nav mark fly by and thus said softly-but-firmly, “I would like it noted in the ship’s log that I did not hit THAT mark!”
A few minutes later, Penny Hill chimed in respectfully while trimming the jib, “By gosh, there’s another mark he didn’t hit!”
“And yet another!” sang out Mariel Chaviz, from the windward side.
Even owner Tim Hill got into it at the end, noting truthfully that I’d missed dozens of marks during the two-hour race.
Me? I didn’t say a word, just made sure I was a couple of seconds ahead of our rival at the finish—and thus Tim was able to carry off the silver (while I hid in a bathroom stall in total embarrassment during the award’s ceremony).
So if you ever get to Singapore, take the MRT out to the Changi Sailing Club, and ask them if I know how to sail. They’ll tell you the all-too-obvious truth: “Not really!”
On the plus side, however, the constant badgering me to go racing has abruptly ceased.
Editor’s note: Cap’n Fatty continues to amaze the sailors of Asia—if not exactly in the way he intends.