Sun, sea and history: All aboard newly launched Raffles Lighthouse tour

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is launching bi-monthly tours to Pulau Satumu, home to Raffles Lighthouse. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Faced with national problems and possibly at their wits' end, Cabinet ministers in 1959 would sojourn in Singapore's southernmost island to reflect and brainstorm solutions.

For $62.71 - $34.70 for students - you can follow in their footsteps and take a trip to Pulau Satumu, home to Raffles Lighthouse, as part of a new bi-monthly tour organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

Held on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, the five-hour tour begins at Marina South Pier with a guided walk-through of the Singapore Maritime Gallery.

ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

There, visitors can get a taste of what is to come. Models of the five lighthouses operated by MPA are on display.

These are Horsburgh Lighthouse - Singapore's oldest, in operation since 1851 - on Pedra Branca; Sultan Shoal Lighthouse; Pulau Pisang Lighthouse; Bedok Lighthouse; and, of course, Raffles Lighthouse.

All five remain in operation today.

After about an hour in the gallery, which offers panoramic views of the pier, tour participants are ushered on board a ferry bound for Pulau Satumu.

A direct route to the island, located 23km from mainland Singapore, takes about an hour, but tour participants spend about 75min on the vessel, which takes a slight detour to offer them a better view of highlights along the way, such as Pasir Panjang Terminal and Pulau Semakau, Singapore's man-made offshore landfill.

Guides provide live commentary as the vessel sails past each landmark.

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Towards the end of the ride, Raffles Lighthouse comes into view.

At just 29m, the lighthouse is certainly not as imposing as container ships that visitors may come up close with in Singapore's waters. But standing upright against the clear sky and amid a swathe of coconut trees, the white-walled structure still catches the eye.

ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Once on the jetty, a narrow passageway, followed by a flight of steps, leads straight into the heart of the 167-year-old structure, built using granite from Pulau Ubin's quarries and with the help of convict labourers.

ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The MPA says 88 steps lead to the top, but those left breathless after clearing the initial steps are in for a surprise - another series of narrow steps has to be scaled to get to the lantern room.

360°: The steps that lead to the lantern room

Underneath the final flight of steps, visitors see two green cylindrical tanks - relics from the past which were used to store pressurised vapour kerosene between 1905 and 1968, when a flame served as the lantern's light source.

ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Visitors emerge in the lantern room at the end of the steps, which is filled with well-polished brass fittings.

Some might be panting after the ascent and feel stifled by the tiny room's stuffiness, but a quick exit through a hatch into its surrounding gallery brings a gust of fresh air and a rewarding view.

Towards the north are Pulau Senang - used today for military live firing - and the smaller Pulau Biola, while Indonesia's Riau Islands lie to the south.

360°: What you see from the top of the Raffles Lighthouse

Turning around to face the lantern, visitors can see the lighthouse's orb-shaped lenses continue to rotate, even in the day when the lights are off.

This helps to prevent the light-emitting diodes (LED) from being damaged by the sun's rays.

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Climbing back down, at the foot of the lighthouse is a room that serves as a small museum, showcasing equipment and navigational tools that were used in the lighthouse and by sailors over the years.

 

360°: Look around the small lighthouse museum

Among them is an incandescent lantern placed on top of a set of lenses that helped to focus and magnify the lighthouse's light beam, both previously used in the lighthouse.

An incandescent lantern placed on top of a set of lenses, both previously used in the lighthouse. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Also on display is a note handwritten by the late former president SR Nathan during a visit to the lighthouse on Dec 4, 2006.

"A memorable visit to a memorable lighthouse that has seen many eventful days in the history of Singapore," it reads.

"In 1959/60 it served as a place for our ministers to reflect and think out solutions to the many national problems they were faced with."

A short flight of steps leads down to a beach and the tip of Singapore's southernmost island, which serves as a good spot to pose for photos.

360°: The view from the beach

The island's shores are a nesting and hatching site for hawksbill turtles, which are critically endangered.

In September 2018, The Straits Times got a close-up look at hawksbill turtle hatchlings breaking out of their shells and taking their first steps towards the sea on Pulau Satumu.

As the hatchlings use the moon to navigate to the sea, light from other sources can confuse them. To prevent this, red light - the colour their eyes are least sensitive to - was used to illuminate the hatching site.

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Make time also to chat with the two lighthouse keepers staying on the island.

Mr Ab Wahab, 63, and Mr Sahroni Omar, 41, are among eight lighthouse keepers employed by MPA. They serve 10-day shifts on the island and take 10 days of shore leave in between shifts.

Mr Ab Wahab (left) and Mr Sahroni Omar are among eight lighthouse keepers employed by MPA. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Mr Sahroni said that while the duo enjoy the peace that comes with being the only two persons on the island, they look forward to welcoming visitors and explaining their work.

"Before I took on this job, I had no idea that there were people living in lighthouses, but now I know, and I'm happy to tell others what I do," said the lighthouse keeper of eight years.

Apart from making sure the lights never go out at night, they also see to the cleanliness of the entire island, and they spend about half of each workday on cleaning and landscaping.

Back at the jetty, be sure to peek over the railings to spot marine life in the island's waters. Lucky visitors may even see blacktip reef sharks.

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Then it is time to bid the island goodbye and an hour-long ride on the ferry takes visitors back home to the mainland.

Students leaving after a tour of Raffles Lighthouse on Jan 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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