18 April 2011

Raffles Lighthouse

The Raffles Lighthouse built in 1855, located in the Straits of Singapore about 14 kilometres south of mainland Singapore. Goes by the direct Mandarin translation of the English name as well as in Malay, Rumah Api Raffles. The island where the lighthouse is built on, is called Pulau Satumu - One Tree Island.

Likewise with Jerome, being fond of lighthouses. I have a liking for bridges as well as mountains, among others. Surely I wouldn't pass up this opportunity to visit the Raffles Lighthouse. One day perhaps, I would have a chance to make an educational trip to Pedra Branca to visit the Horsburgh Lighthouse built on fabled 'pristine white rocks' out at sea.

This educational trip to Raffles Lighthouse, 'Maritime Learning Journey', was organized by The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA for short). The trips to the lighthouse span over five days for the participants of Singapore Maritime Week with a glimpse of the fire fighting vessels as well for demonstrations. While Jerome and Andy made the trip on the first day, while I did it on the third day.

Nuggets of historical info from the Wikipedia page,
The lighthouse was erected on a 1.3-hectare rocky island called Pulau Satumu, the southernmost off-shore island of Singapore. Pulau Satumu means "one tree island" — sa refers to satu (one) and tumu is the Malay name for the large mangrove tree, Bruguiera confugata.

Raffles Lighthouse, 1931
[Photo shot from the original in Raffles Lighthouse's museum]

Friends of then Acting Governer Shelly, having a picnic on the island, 1931
[Photo shot from the original in Raffles Lighthouse's museum]

The light source was a wick burner which was replaced in 1905 by a pressurised vapour kerosene mantle burner to increase the light intensity for a greater visible range. A 2nd Order optic was mounted on a roller carriage to allow for smooth rotation. (The Order is a system of classifying the type of lenses used based on the focal length of the lens). This roller carriage was a weight-driven machine which had to be rewound manually to lift the weight whenever it reached the base. The rewinding was done hourly. A crew of seven men was required to man the lighthouse.

Picturesque look of Raffles Lighthouse back in early days

In 1968, the installation of a 4th Order electrically operated revolving optic replaced the original 2nd Order optic with a pressurised vapour kerosene ‘Hood’ mantle burner. The light source was changed to 100-volt/1,000-watt incandescent bulb producing 350,000 candelas of light intensity with a visibility range of 22 nautical miles (about 40 km). The power supply came from one of the three generators installed in a generator room built close to the keeper’s room. As the rotation was electrically driven by motors, the crew was reduced to 4 men.

In 1988 the 4th Order optic was replaced by a rotating beacon. This comprised an array of quartz halogen lamps in aluminium parabolic reflectors mounted on gearless revolving pedestal. The lamps require only one-fifth of the energy required to produce the same intensity as incandescent lamps. These low power lamps therefore allow solar power to be used in place of generators. In addition, the operation of the light is controlled by photocell. The manning of the lighthouse was further reduced to two men. The use of solar energy which is freely and readily available has resulted in a reduction of operating and maintenance cost.

The present lighthouse equipment consists of a main and standby rotating beacon, each producing 117,000 candelas with a nominal range of 20 nautical miles (about 37 km). A radar beacon (racon) was also installed at the lighthouse which provides additional navigational information to ships by emitting a morse code on the ship’s radar screen. In 2005, an Aids to Navigation Automatic Identification System (AIS) was installed to broadcast additional positioning information to ships.

Gathering at the Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal, I joined fellow online folks who had signed up for the trip. Along with what seemed like two classes of students doing maritime studies, overall we were quite a big group of perhaps numbering around 50. The friendly staff and volunteers from MPA were on hand to provide information and details of the trip and the lighthouse itself.

Jetty at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal

Early stages of the new terminal to replace the current Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal

Weather was looking good but still suspect, given that the past few days were grey, gloomy with flash tropical storms. My silent request was answered with an almost cloudless day with a merciless sun that gave me burns on my shoulders and neck. Nevertheless it was good for photography, and our journey to the lighthouse begins!

The route we took goes past the Cyrene Reefs, rounding the islands Pulau Bukom, Pulau Sebarok and Pulau Semakau.

Pulau Satumu at the bottom

Captain at the helm

Port Inspector Francis who did the lighthearted onboard commentary, teaching us on the finer 'art of driving a boat' and identifying tide timings

Amended info: This ship is the Maersk Nectar, unloading her oil/gas products into the Single Buoy Mooring (yellow buoy), which will then be carried via pipes to the Shell refinery on Pulau Bukom.

Seen a marine animal? Chart by SWiMMS

Refinery pipe stacks on Pulau Bukom

Pulau Sebarok

Pulau Jong with Pulau Semakau on the left

Approaching Pulau Satumu

As we approached the jetty of Raffles Lighthouse, we could see Mani; one of the lighthouse keepers, welcoming us. MPA volunteers helped distribute the goodie bags to participants as well as offloading the lunch packs while camera totting participants begin their fun photography assault on the lighthouse like antsy tourists.

Mr. Mani awaits

MPA staff and volunteers handling the 'cargo'

Raffles Lighthouse

Shao Jie (left) is in charge of the trips

Pulau Satumu looked beautiful with it's crystal clear waters and idyllic coconut trees dotting the island. Some would know it is also well known for it's biodiveristy.

Mr. Mani and Mr. Utra, two lighthouse keepers who were on duty that day; told us of their lifestyles on the quiet island. About their 10 day shifts, what they would do in their free time and even unexpected events (Eg. bad storms, snakes, etc). Further explained the intricate details of the lighthouse, which I found was immaculately kept clean and tidy. It's very little wonder, as the lighthouse keepers do treat the place as their beloved second home. Mani speaks of former retired lighthouse keepers who missed this way of life, and couldn't sleep well in their homes on the mainland.

And I was wondering if there were any unique, interesting stories during the war or even urban legends of this place. Apart from the story of catching a large lizard which happen to have swum and arrived on the island. And stories of pirates lurking in nearby waters in the distant past (which explained the prescence of a Navy corvette nearby and the Coast Guard patrol boats).

Mani explaining the workings of the lighthouse while waiting for the first group of students to come down from the top.

Mani pointed out the Joint Tidal Studies benchmark in 1878 next to the entrance of the lighthouse

Immaculately clean, neat and tidy

Tinted panes

Rib outlines of stairs evident from the interior ceiling

107 steps to the top?

Ancient winding clock

The confined space at the platform of the top made moving around difficult as it wasn't meant for more than 10 people. Our group's time at the top was short as there were other waiting groups of students who had just finished their lunch.

Lighthouse beacon

Treated to a fantastic view at the top of the lighthouse, my Dutch friend Martijn would love to have some vacation time on such a tropical island with his family.

A view of the island's jetty

Lunch was brief, I was eager to head out for a walk around the compound and to the small shallow reef area seeking photography opportunities. The view was incredible with the endless sea, it was an incredible feeling of grandness of the world; the same feeling when I faced the immense raging sea off the coast of Zandvoort, Netherlands. With a quick rush to the lighthouse's museum to take photos, soon the foghorn from the ferry sounded and we had to bid the island and the lighthouse goodbye.

The shallow reef

Sonic booms reminded us that the islands next the lighthouse were used for military training - STAY AWAY

On the way out, these are the Sisters Islands - Subar Laut and Subar Darat

Pulau Tekukor, but I prefer to call it Monkey Island. This island was formerly planned to be converted - a sanctuary for monkeys which are proven problematic and a nuisance.

We were treated to a demonstration by fire-fighting vessel, Api Api 1 (of two existing vessels)

Very nicely made souvenirs depicting Raffles Lighthouse and the Sultan Shoal lighthouse

Last but not least, we here at One° North Explorers would like give a big thanks to the MPA people for organizing such wonderful educational trips to places we don't usually get to see. Thanks goes out to the volunteers and the lighthouse keepers, Mr. Mani and Mr. Utra, as well for making the trip pleasant and informative. Let's hope there will be more unique trips to come!

More photos:
More photos in our album
Photos from MPA on Facebook

Impressive lighthouse documentation around the world done by Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Raffles Lighthouse historical info on Infopedia
Raffles Lighthouse Memorial Tablet information on Infopedia
Raffles Lighthouse article on WildSingapore
Biodiversity on Pulau Satumu by Ria of WildSingapore
Raffles Lighthouse article on Wikipedia
Jerome Lim's trip to Raffles Lighthouse
Andy Lee's trip to Raffles Lighthouse

Article & Photos copyright of Andrew Him

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  1. If u are going to Pedra Branca, remember to ask me along haha.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Glad that you enjoyed yourself (: I must say that this write-up is pretty impressive, well done!

    Just a slight error on the photo of Maersk Nectar, she is not refuelling but rather is unloading her oil/gas products (depending on what is her load) into the Single Buoy Mooring (that yellow buoy), which will then be carried via pipes to the Shell refinery on Pulau Bukom.

    Keep up the adventuring spirit folks!

    Regards (:
    Shao Jie (NOT SHAO WEI!! haha)

  3. @Andy - if we ever do have the chance to even go near and smell the bird droppings on those white rocks! Hahaha i would be content to go near without landing, it's for educational documentation. :)

    @Shao Jie - Thanks a lot for the updated info! Implented and corrected immediately, we pride ourselves in providing accurate info to our best effort for all our readers. I hope i got the lightkeepers' names right, by chance i spotted Mr.Utra's name in another backdated 2008 news article. Heh

    Would you have more to share with us, email us (so i could ask you some stuff on maritime too, doing a side project too)! :D