One of my favourite past-times was paddling my old dug-out canoe out from what was then the Royal Air Force Officers Club at Changi – I think this is now the Junior Sailing Club if my modern map of Singapore is correct.
Our canoes were stored upside down on a grass slope beside the club building ready for launching. Most young people had rather larger boats made out of planks but mine was smaller and a genuine dug out canoe. It came without a paddle so I accompanied my father to a boat yard in Changi Harbour where he explained what we needed – unfortunately what came back was a well made – but rather heavy – paddle which I used for the next couple of years building up arm muscle!
One continual problem was that in the hot sun the wood of the canoes shrank or cracked and needed re-tarring – and (courtesy of my old friend of the time, Ray Shaw) I have a photo of a group of us repairing one of the canoes (I am the handsome one with the towel around my neck).
Looking back, I am surprised just how far we got in the canoes. Often a few of us would paddle our canoes for short trips along the Changi coast but occasionally we would take a longer trip across towards Pulau Ubin and a small island or two in that direction – in retrospect and given the tiny size of my canoe - this now seems reckless but we were of course young, fit and excellent swimmers.
I do recall landing on a small island with an old house – looking rather like an English country cottage - and finding some bananas growing in the garden. We took a few to eat (a process known in the UK as ‘scrumping’, which is an innocent sounding term for stealing fruit off people’s plants and trees!).
I have hardly been in a canoe since those days but that tiny blue and white painted dug-out gave me a lot of fun.
Footnote: I hope those kayakers I blogged about earlier will read Brian’s story. They will appreciate, I am sure how blessed they are to have the modern kayaks of today. Compare picture below with Brian’s home-made version. – Lam Chun See