Singapore: Returning to Home Base after a Two Year COVID Delay

After sailing his Beneteau Oceanis ’50, S/Y Sea Monster, from Singapore to Thailand and enduring a two- year COVID-19 enforced delay, Jeremy Chase has finally returned to Singapore and is looking forward to sailing again in his home waters. This is his story of what happened and how they finally made it home.

Published 1 year ago

In December 2019, just before the COVID pandemic swept the world, we sailed our Beneteau Oceanis 50, S/Y Sea Monster, from Singapore to Langkawi and then on to Phuket, where she was to undergo a period of maintenance. 

We have fond memories of that trip and while it was only a 550nm hop, it was the first extended journey we had embarked upon since acquiring S/Y Sea Monster in June 2018.

We broke the 2019 trip into two legs. 

1. Singapore to Langkawi, Malaysia

Firstly from Singapore, through the Malacca Straits, to Langkawi.  Good friends from Sydney, Australia (James Bevis and Yee Fong Wong), joined us on that leg. We had the usual challenges of dodging squid boats at night, but thankfully manoeuvred around Port Klang and the One Fathom Bank in daylight.  This turned out to be a good thing as one of our crew had never sailed at night before.

We reached Langkawi on New Year’s Eve.  Unfortunately though, it had been 25 kts upwind for the last 75nm from Penang into Langkawi.  While S/Y Sea Monster revelled in the strong conditions under a reef and full jib, the crew were shaken around all night and didn’t sleep much.  As such, there were a couple of the crew who didn’t manage to ring in the New Year!

After snugging S/Y Sea Monster into her berth at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, we returned to Singapore and work. 

In January 2020, we returned to Langkawi where we were joined by my father (Ken Chase), best friend from high school (Nick Townend) and long time colleague from HK (Ian Ritchie).  We all recall walking through airports and marvelling at the sights of people fully-garbed in PPE (we didn’t even know that term at the time) as rumours continued to circulate about a new “SARS-like” disease that was spreading around the world.

2. Langkawi, Malaysia to Phuket, Thailand

Unperturbed, we had an excellent time sailing from Langkawi to Phuket.  As we had allowed 10 days for the passage of only 150nm, we were able to stop at many of the iconic stops along the way. 

Our favourite place in Langkawi was the “Hole in the Wall” – an entrance from the sea into an estuarine mangrove system.  As the name suggests, the gap to enter was very narrow (only a few boat lengths) between soaring granite cliffs.  Having sailed through the entrance, we gingerly navigated through shallow water up a side creek.  The attraction here was seafood restaurants under the shadow of the imposing mountain range behind.  As if on queue, as we rounded the corner, the friendly waiters-cum-boat-boys poured out of the restaurants and arranged a fore-aft mooring for us just metres from the side of the mangroves.

For the small sum of US$15 we were allowed to moor overnight and the restaurant agreed to stay open for us after all the day-trippers had left, so that we could enjoy a slap-up seafood supper.  We had been given a tip by a good friend and at sunset, we broke open the chicken bones we had bought in a local supermarket.  Langkawi is home to hundreds of magnificent Sea Eagles.  We stood on the restaurant deck holding up chicken bones for the Sea Eagles to swoop in and take.

After leaving Langkawi, we slowly motored our way northwards in light breeze through Thailand with stops at Koh Tanga (an undeveloped island with a postcard perfect sandy spit), Koh Muk (where we swam through the tunnel into the smuggler’s cave), Koh Ha (which is like an aquarium in the middle of the Andaman Sea), Koh Phi Phi (i.e. “The Beach”) and finally onto Phangna Bay (James Bond Island) before we arrived in Phuket.

Arriving in Phuket and Time for Maintenance

While it had been a delightful cruise and we ticked a lot of items off a lot of bucket lists, the purpose of our journey north was to do some much neglected maintenance work on S/Y Sea Monster ahead of a planned departure on the World ARC. When we motored into Boat Lagoon in Phuket on 31 January 2020, little did we know that we would not have her back in Singapore until nearly two years later. 

The very same day that we arrived in Boat Lagoon, S/Y Sea Monster was plucked from the water and placed on the hard stand.  Our maintenance schedule did not start well when our English Project Manager sent us a WhatsApp to say that he could not meet us as he was out yacht racing for the weekend.  We never heard from him again. Fortunately, we had only paid a deposit of US$1,000, so it was not as bad a situation as it could have been.

Project Managing in Lockdown

We took on the project management role ourselves and, within a day or so, we were able to line up the key contractors.  One of the reasons for doing the work in Phuket was that I have a lot of close friends in the marine industry based there who were able to help us along the way.  We returned to Singapore with a plan to fly up and down to Phuket every month (or more frequently) to monitor the work and ensure things were done the way we wanted.  Needless to say – a few weeks after returning to Singapore the international borders were slammed shut and six weeks after returning to Singapore we found ourselves in a hard lockdown where we were not allowed to leave our house!

Despite the challenge of managing the project remotely, things progressed well.  The craftsmen we had selected in Phuket were absolutely top quality – real artisans of their various trades.  In July 2021, after being double-vaxxed, Genevieve was able to travel to Phuket and re-unite with S/Y Sea Monster.

Back in the Water after 18 Months

A period of intense work followed as the maintenance tasks were all completed and in September 2021, S/Y Sea Monster was “splashed”. Her first time in the water for 18 months.  Fortunately she revelled at being in her element again and other than a slight leak where the prop-shaft seal had been re-set, there were no major issues.  The remaining snagging work was completed and in December 2021, even though I was in the middle of one of the biggest court cases of my career, I was able to travel to Phuket and join S/Y Sea Monster and Genevieve.

We conducted “sea-trials” by way of a shakedown cruise in the week before Christmas.  The modifications to the boat worked really well.  With new solar power and lithium batteries, power was limitless and free in the hot tropical sunshine.  The re-commissioned watermaker started on the first attempt and produced drinkable water by the bucket load.  However, most impressive to me was one morning as we lazed in bed when Genevieve produced her iphone and without leaving her bunk was able to start the generator.

We enjoyed a hectic Christmas and New Year in Phuket visiting markets, pantomimes and eating some magnificent meals.  As 2021 drew to a close my father joined us in Phuket from Sydney (the Australian government having recently decided to allow Australians to travel overseas again) together with a sailing friend (Claire from Singapore).  The plan was for the four of us to sail S/Y Sea Monster from Phuket to Singapore arriving in January 2022.

The Sea Monster crew for the journey back to Singapore.

Dealing with Singapore COVID Protocols

Looking back, the most difficult part of the journey south was the approvals to enter Singapore.  We found all of the relevant government agencies (the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) and the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA)) to be professional and helpful.  However, with COVID protocols changing every few days and no local boat having been permitted to return to Singapore for nearly 18 months, the process was not easy.  We started speaking to the authorities six months before our voyage and ended up exchanging hundreds of emails.  The first attempt was a like a Monty Python skit:

  • MPA: “You can come to Singapore if ICA allows it”.
  • ICA: “ We don’t have an issue but you have an employment visa so you need to speak to MOM”.
  • MOM: “Boats aren’t our jurisdiction. You need to ask MOM.”

Finally, we were able to break the deadlock and obtain the official approvals.  Although the approvals were in place, they kept changing almost until we tied on to the dock in Singapore – this caused some anxiety for the crew who had fears of being trapped on S/Y Sea Monster for an extended and unplanned stay.

Phuket to Sinapore Shakedown Passage

The cruise south was our real shakedown cruise for S/Y Sea Monster. Because of the COVID protocols we were not allowed to stop and go ashore on any islands.  However, we did take the more offshore path which took us through the Adang-Rawi Archipelago.  These are the southernmost islands on the Andaman coast of Thailand and just 30nm from Langkawi in Malaysia.  As the group is a national park, there is only one inhabited island (which provided a much needed cell signal).  The island group forms a magnificent natural harbour which easily rivals the more well known Bass Harbour in Langkawi. 

Although we were not able to stop and appreciate the full amenities of the islands, we anchored for one night to allow the crew to rest.  At anchor, through the crystal clear water, we could see extensive coral formations with clouds of fish swarming through the coral fronds.  The most well-known island in the group is Koh Lipe and we have definitely put this place on our list of islands for a return visit.

Leaving the Adang-Rawi Archipelago, the light winds soon freshened into a 15-25kt north easterly breeze.  Typical monsoon conditions.  We deployed the new continuous furling cruising code zero (CCZ) that had been supplied by Zoom Sails.  It took less than an hour for this sail to become everyone’s favourite sail. The spinnaker was stowed and I don’t know when we will ever see that again.  The CCZ is so easy for one person to deploy and to furl. It’s only downside is that until we are able to rig our pole (we are waiting on a few parts), the CCZ only allows us to sail AWA of around 110-120.  We hope that when the final pieces for our spinnaker pole arrive, we will be able to sail comfortably at AWA 165-175 with the CCZ poled to windward.

We enjoyed a spirited night of sailing. Top speed under full main and jib was 9.4kts. We sailed south skirting storms and squid boats.  The new Raymarine Doppler Radar turned out to be an amazing tool for this. We could not only see the fishing boats and the storm cells, but we could tell which direction they were heading and when they were likely to intercept us.  Having rarely used the old radar, the entire crew soon found that the capability of the new radar made night sailing so much easier.  It was rarely turned off after the first night.

Entry into Singapore

After four more days we had travelled through Malaysia and arrived at the border with Singapore.  One advantage of the new protocols is that instead of clearing customs and immigration at sea we were directed to go straight to Raffles Marina.  Flying the Q flag, we were met by a contingent of the Raffles Marina staff who tied the boat to the dock and erected barricades to prevent the public from inadvertently coming into contact with our boat of pestilence. 

A doctor arrived to conduct PCR swabs on Ken who was due to fly to Australia the next day.  We had a final supper of champagne, lamb fillets in cranberry jus and roast pumpkin to celebrate a successful voyage and then turned in for the night.

By the next morning Ken had a negative PCR test and we were free to start the next leg of the trip.  One quirk of the new COVID protocols is that to check in and clear immigration we had to travel 20nm from Raffles Marina to the downtown commercial pier. 

To do this we chartered a harbour work boat – although the “Uncles” driving the boat were very pleasant, they did put up the price by another $250 on the morning we were due to depart.

On arrival at the commercial pier, we joined dozens of ship’s crew who were wearing the unofficial uniform of rubber boots and boiler suits.  We looked a little out of place in our loafers and sports coats. 

Luckily, the hundreds of emails we exchanged with the authorities did their job and we were escorted to a private waiting area before being processed into Singapore. 

Under the rules, Ken was required to go directly to Changi airport and board a flight for Australia – which he dutifully did.  The rest of the crew were sent home and ordered to remain there for seven days.

I write this sipping a morning coffee in my back garden.  We are due to be released from our seven day quarantine tomorrow.

S/Y Sea Monster is securely tied to the dock waiting for us. More than two years after we left, tomorrow we will finally be able to take her for a sail in her home waters.

Jeremy Chase
S/Y Sea Monster


About the Authors

Jeremy and Genevieve Chase

Jeremy is a corporate finance lawyer on a career break. He has raced and cruised extensively in Australia, Europe and Asia including completing the gruelling Sydney to Hobart yacht race on five occasions. However, he is yet cross an ocean.

Genevieve is an avid and long time sailor who has raced and cruised yachts in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Thailand. She is also passionate about learning how the mechanical and non-sailing aspects of the boat work. In between sailing, Gen makes use of her PhD in anti-cancer drug research to work full-time as a consultant to start-up pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies.

SY Sea Monster is a 2008 Beneteau Oceanis 50. She is sloop rigged and has two large cabins. After extensive maintenance work in Thailand, she is ready to cruise the World and has entered the 2023 World ARC which she will take part in following a shakedown circumnavigation of Australia.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

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