Raf Seletar Rowing Club

(the early years 1962-64)
by Gordon Wilcox (582)

It must have been the latter half of 1962 that WO Roy Elliot (CPRU) approached me and asked whether or not I would like to join the rowing club he was attempting to form. I assumed he had discovered my interest by perusing the forms we were required to complete in the PE section during arrival; although only a novice I did have some previous experience as an oarsman. By contrast, Roy had many years in the sport, plus many useful contacts. Before leaving the UK for Seletar, Roy had been approached by the Amateur Rowing Association with a mind to possibly establishing a club at the base, as at the time the sport did not exist in FEAF. As personnel with any experience were minimal, I was thus to receive the call, and starting from scratch was no easy task. Our first two boats were clinker-built (overlapping plank construction) coxed fours,

borrowed from a local club. But before taking to the water, our inexperienced members needed to be taught the basics, requiring the use of a training rig, which of course had to be built. This consisted of a sliding seat fitted to a frame, complete with row-lock, located on the side of the slipway. But as the rig did not move, the inertia generated by pulling the oar through the water was bled off by drilling holes in the oar’s blade.

Safety and local politics dictated that the club be associated with the yacht club, for they always had a safety launch on standby, though during my time at Seletar we never had a need for its use. As the yacht club had insufficient storage space available, we found our own, within walking distance of the slipway.

The main difference between rowing on inland waters and the sea is the tidal swell, which can pose problems should the oar be squared at other than the last moment (blade at right angles to the water), commonly known as “catching a crab”, which slows the boat considerably – this happened frequently during our early, inexperienced, days.

Eventually the club purchased two second-hand, shell coxed fours (thin plywood hull), but these required a considerable amount of work before they could be used. And it soon became evident that, training rig apart, a clinker-built coxed pair would be required for training use, prior to trainees venturing out in the shell fours, which were lighter and more fragile. This coxed pair boat was eventually built in station workshops, and funded by Psl.

Rowing Club 1

After four months hard training were invited to represent FEAF at the Far East Area Regatta, held in Hong Kong during October 1963. Transport Command flew us up, and we were billeted at RAF Kai Tak. Hosts for the event were the Royal HK Yacht Club – rowing section, who had kindly arranged daily transport to the venue from the Star Ferry terminal.

Although the RHKYC is situated on the north side of Victoria lsland, the rowing club is located on Middle lsland, off the southern coast between Deep water Bay and Repulse Bay.

After training on the Friday afternoon, a luxury yacht transported all competitors back to the ferry terminal, journey a of around two hours, during which the bar was open. Even so, I do recall seeing the world famous, floating Chinese restaurant, very impressive when lit up. On the Saturday night, after the regatta, the RHKYC held a fancy dress dance (l believe the Seletar crew went as pirates), but as the club operated on a “no cash” basis, they kindly provided their guests with vouchers for purchasing drinks etc. However, with club members proving to be so generous (especially the ex Oxbridge blues), many vouchers were still in our possession on arrival at the airport.

We would have returned on the Monday had our seats not been taken by officers’ wives going on a Christmas shopping trip to Singapore – shopping obviously rating higher than personnel returning to work! A three day delay proved rather difficult for us, being as we had already spent our cash on presents, believing we were about to depart. Still, although we had not been successful at the regatta, we all valued the experience, and thought the trip to have been very memorable.

On the Slipway at Seletar. This Coxed Four reresented FEAF in the Area Regatta at Middle Island, Hong Kong. Captain, WO Roy Elliot (wearing Cap). Far Right Gordon Wilcox.

Our next trip was to the Penang Boat Club Regatta, held during the Easter weekend. 1964. Three of us flew from Changi to Butterworth, being billeted with the Royal Greenjackets, on Penang, transport and entertainment courtesy of the Boat Club. Another interesting and memorable, albeit unsuccessful, occasion. Memorable also was the return trip by rail, the leg from KL to Singapore by sleeper. June/July 1964 was the of occasion the Royal Singapore Rowing Club’s regatta, to which we were invited.

We entered a coxed four and a coxed pair, and to the best of my knowledge, we won both events – success at last.

Rowing Club 2

Royal Singapore Rowing Club Regatta. Left of Picture Gordon Wilcox. The Pritty Female Cox was the wife of a Seletar Airman.

I was tour ex in September’64, but continued rowing on the River Nene at Peterborough, whilst stationed at North Luffenham. Unfortunately I cannot recall any more members names from Seletar, so hope that others may be able to add to the history of the RAF Seletar Rowing Club.