Hope floats: Couple's inspiring sailing adventure

Cancer survivor Ng Yong Seng and his wife Wong Siew Wheng will be spending the next two years sailing round the world. They hope their trip will encourage other cancer patients to live their lives to the fullest.
Cancer survivor Ng Yong Seng and his wife Wong Siew Wheng will be spending the next two years sailing round the world. They hope their trip will encourage other cancer patients to live their lives to the fullest.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Round-the-world boat trip is couple's way of inspiring others

Nine years ago, doctors told Mr Ng Yong Seng that he had stage four blood cancer.

He had more than a hundred tumours in his body, the biggest of which was in his lung and was the size of a large orange.

Mr Ng was ready to give up hope - they call stage four the last stage for a reason, he thought. But his then girlfriend and now wife Wong Siew Wheng insisted he would pull through.

And he did.

Now, the 35-year-olds who call themselves Seng and Wheng are about to set off on what they hope will be the adventure of their lives - a round-the-world trip by boat.

Mr Ng's near-death experience has motivated them to pursue their childhood dream. "I told him when we got together that he had to take me around the world," said Mrs Ng, speaking to The Straits Times near the Marina Country Club where their $44,000 vessel, named Hydrus, was being repaired.

The couple first met as classmates when they were 14, and began dating three years later, when they joined the same sea sports club in junior college.

She did well in her studies, and would go on to be a tutor after graduation.

After re-taking his A levels, Mr Ng spent five years as a navy officer. Then, after his third application to the same university, he was finally admitted to study engineering.

Through it all, they grew very much in love.

Then cancer struck.

In the second year of university, at the age of 26, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Nine months of intense chemotherapy and radiation later, doctors pronounced him free of cancer cells.

For him, it was a second shot at life. For her, it was the end of alternating between crying as she watched him in pain and gently chiding him to "Be a man". They tied the knot in 2011, and three years on, enjoy a successful life.

He works at Shell, overseeing oil transportation logistics and earning more than $100,000 a year. She tutors primary school children, bringing home about $4,000 a month.

But Mr Ng has been on unpaid leave since early this month, and his wife stopped teaching after the last academic year - so they could conduct "practice trips" to Tioman and get the Hydrus prepped for departure in May.

It is an ambitious - and risky - plan as, by their own accounts, they are sailing rookies. They bought their 10m sailboat last year, and the longest stretch they have clocked on it is a couple of hours bobbing in Singapore waters. "The obvious choice was to fly around the world but that seemed less adventurous. We wanted something more exciting. So we decided on a sailboat," said Mr Ng.

They have put aside $150,000 of their savings for the two-year trip, which will first take them to Indonesia and Australia's Christmas Island. Then it will be over to South Africa, the Caribbean, French Polynesia and New Zealand before coming home. Then they hope to start a family before hitting 40. That is, if all goes according to plan.

Pirates and storms are their two biggest worries. "We made a conscious decision to avoid Somalia," said Mr Ng - and have even bought two mannequins to give the illusion that the boat is more heavily guarded.

They are also poring over online literature on how to manage in a storm, which they hope they will never have to test out.

The Hydrus will be stocked with offshore life jackets, a life raft, first-aid kit, an emergency position-indication rescue beacon and a satellite phone. The deck will be fixed with harnesses so the pair can clip themselves to the boat at all times.

They have a cramped sleeping area, a tiny kitchen, and a toilet - but no bath area. Showers will have to be taken onshore, and the couple will make do with wet towel wipe-downs at sea.

The longest stretch at sea is a 35-day crossing of the Indian Ocean, from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to Mauritius.

Asked if their lack of expertise was any cause for hesitation, Mr Ng said: "Our families and friends are concerned, but they trust us to be well-prepared. If we decide halfway we can't do it we can always turn back."

But there is much to will them on, as accomplishing their goal is their way of giving hope to other cancer survivors. "We want to show them they, too, can pursue their dreams," said Mrs Ng.