by Roger Edwards
Changi/Seletar Group (Patrick Lahiffe)
The rowing club boathouse was located on the opposite side of the road to the yacht club. It was a wooden shed containing half a dozen racing boats; fours, pairs and singles. Our ‘playing field’ was the water between Seletar Creek and Punggol Point, and out to the yellow buoy called Perimbi. Some crews went further afield to the Navy dockyard or around the coast to Changi. One intrepid member would take a single to the Malay mainland.
Every time we went afloat we had to sign out in a safety book; number of persons and time out & time in. Storms could descend in minutes especially in the monsoon season. Twice I had to land on a sandy beach and wait for a storm to pass. The marine life was inquisitive; sea snakes would pop six inches out of the water to watch us and tiny flying fish would jump over the boat, some hitting the body and falling in the bottom of the boat. Jelly fish basking on the surface could slow a boat appreciably as it passed over and when an oar stuck in one it would tip the boat precariously to one side.
Passing 65 Sqn. Compound, Seletar (John Dyer)
Heading out for practice in Repulse Bay.(Roger Edwards)
Seletar and Changi had rowing clubs and each organised a regatta once a year. At Seletar there were also in-house competitions. ln singles, Paddy Lahiffe and Rod Abbott were the top two, the rest of us trying in vain to beat them. Because of the lack of competitive racing, invitations from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and Colombo Colombo Rowing Club (Ceylon) in 1968 were enthusiastically accepted. 12 members from Changi and Seletar went to Hong Kong. Some flew by Hercules to RAF Kai Tak with a company of Gurkhas. Sitting knee to knee on canvas para seats made trips to the toilet at the rear of aircraft quite a feat. it a was 6-day detachment with daily training until the regatta. The journey to the boathouse entailed a bus or taxi ride to the ferry terminal, ferry to Hong Kong island, bus trip to other side of island, boat taxi to Middle island and boathouse. The boat taxi took four at a time and the little Chinese lady would whisk us across the water with one oar over the stern. When we tried, it was either a snail’s pace or going round in circles Regatta day had fine weather and calm water in Repulse Bay. There were races in all four sizes of boat, and though there were some close finishes the RAF were whitewashed. A subdued team of rowers attended the post-regatta reception in the RHKYC building. That was a real wake up call and so water and Land training became more intense. At this time, Seletar had sufficient members to form two competent fours. A decision was made that the winner of Open Fours at Changi regatta would be selected to contest the Colombo Challenge. On the morning of Changi regatta I was on a working party to transport our boats. They were towed behind the yacht club launch and behind them was a large stingray which twice leapt out of the water. Was this a good omen?
The two Seletar fours progressed through their heats to the final, the ‘A’ crew finishing first. So the 7-man team for Ceylon was a coxed four (Charles Merchant, Ray Hall, Roger Edwards, Bash Bashaarat, cox David Packman) and a Changi coxless pair (John Pilgrim-Morris and Howard Jones).
The pair and cox also competed in singles. Seven rowers and six oars were squeezed into a Shackleton fuselage; not the most comfortable of journeys. We were told that a Shackleton on the same route had crashed into the sea earlier that year to add to the discomfort. Accommodation was offered by club members and lavish hospitality meted out could have affected fitness, had our coach not planned three serious outings in the 36 hours prior to the regatta.
The course was 1000 yards across Beira Lake finishing in front of the clubhouse. Spectators included the British High Commissioner and other European dignitaries.
The host club led 2-1 after the sculling races, which shook us, because we had expected to win at least two. The fours race was next, and offthe start the Colombo crew drew ahead. In the first half of the r.ace the lead changed three times. From the RAF crew a voice cursed and said ‘get this……… boat balanced’; with immediate response we surged a length ahead and maintained it to the finish. The Changi pair won their race easily to give the RAF a 3-2 victory and the Singapore-Colombo Challenge Cup, presented by Lady Tomlinson. 1968 had been Seletar Rowing Club’s most successful ever season.