50th anniversary of OBS

Instructor recounts Batam 'adventure'

Mr Shaharudin Othman says joining Outward Bound Singapore as an instructor paved the way for him to explore his interest in sports such as kayaking and diving.
Mr Shaharudin Othman says joining Outward Bound Singapore as an instructor paved the way for him to explore his interest in sports such as kayaking and diving.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It was a sea of confusion - 64 young women were putting their kayaks into a motorboat and two speedboats, in the middle of the open sea near Batam.

That was in 1993 when Mr Shaharudin Othman was leading a group of female officer cadets on a six-day Outward Board Singapore (OBS) sea expedition and Indonesian marine patrol officers had stopped them.

"They told us we couldn't be in the waters... They claimed there was something wrong with our permit," he said.

Another four instructors, a nurse and two operations support staff were also on the expedition, which involved travelling from Singapore to Batam and back.

It took the group of 72 about an hour to pack up all 32 kayaks. "Everyone had to squeeze into the motorboat, which was meant for 12 people, and the two speedboats. We were packed like sardines, I can't imagine how we did it but we did," said Mr Shaharudin, 53, an OBS instructor for nearly three decades.

The group then "moved very slowly to shore", he added.

They were held overnight in a wooden hut in a coastal village south of Batam. "The villagers were curious about us, especially the women. I was worried because it was not our intended campsite," said Mr Shaharudin.

In the evening, one of the instructors swam about 800m to nearby Pulau Buloh to call the OBS headquarters for help. The group was released the next morning.

"There was some miscommunication between the Indonesian agents and the authorities," said Mr Shaharudin. "It was an adventure for us."

This was one of the most memorable incidents for Mr Shaharudin, who joined OBS as he liked being outdoors. When he joined in 1987, OBS was still under the Ministry of Defence.

The father of two children was one of OBS' longest-serving instructors until he switched to an operations support role in 2014.

"In the early days of OBS, things were very basic. We didn't have many facilities, so we made use of natural elements like tying a rope between trees," he said. Later in the 1990s, safety equipment such as harnesses and belays were used.

But no matter which tools are used, or how well an instructor can facilitate a course, Mr Shaharudin said it is more important to let participants learn from experience.

"The teachable moments come from their experiences. We can teach them about teamwork even through cooking," he added.

"Every group of students can be different. One group can have students from five schools. You have to size them up when they arrive.

"Different schools have different cultures. Some students are timid, some are more open; some don't have experience, some have more.

"The job of the instructor is to gel them together with the activities and experiences."


OBS also paved the way for Mr Shaharudin to explore other sports.

Besides sailing, he took up courses to become a kayaking and diving instructor and a jumpmaster. He has logged more than 3,000 dives and done 600 jumps as a skydiver.

"Running programmes can become quite routine. So you need to improve yourself to be a better instructor," said Mr Shaharudin. "The sea has always been my forte, I'm always at ease in the waters."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Instructor recounts Batam 'adventure''. Subscribe