A group of 12 NUS students from various schools and faculties went from strangers to friends when they took off on an unconventional journey, living and working together onboard a ship on an 11-day voyage to the remote Anambas Islands of Indonesia.
The group set off from neighbouring Batam island on 30 April on a schooner, an 18m ship with eight sails, headed northeast for the desolate islands. Accompanying and guiding them was a trio of faculty members — Associate Professor Martin Henz from NUS Computing, Assistant Professor Andrew Quitmeyer from NUS Communications and New Media, and Dr Matthias Hoffmann-Kuhnt from the Tropical Marine Science Institute and NUS Biological Sciences.
The Anambas Islands is a small archipelago in the South China Sea, with Peninsular Malaysia to its west and Borneo to its east. The team traversed over 740km for their voyage, making stops at the little-known islands and rocky outcrops — covering Tokong Malangbiru, the southern-most point of the Anambas islands; Pulau Bawah; Telok Bakau; and Sagu Dampar — to explore the relatively untouched nature. The students' time at sea was spent learning the ropes on sailing and navigating. At the islands, they had the chance to try out a variety of activities, from rock-climbing and abseiling to snorkelling, kayaking and observing wildlife.
One of the highlights of the trip for Lim Qi Hao, Year 2 Engineering student, was a rare sighting of a whale shark south of Telok Bakau. "The ocean holds many surprises for people who travel across it, and we were very lucky to be able to see such a rare and magnificent creature up close and in the wild," he said. During the trip, the team also encountered a playful pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship.
For Rachel Oh, Year 2 student from NUS Science and University Scholars Programme, the trip gave her a keener appreciation for nature and exploration. "Exploration gives us not just new paths to take, but new 'eyes', perspectives or lenses for us to understand this world," she said.
The trip was not all leisure. On board the ship, students had designated roles to keep the trip smooth-sailing, from cooking for fellow sailors to cleaning the deck. They were also divided into three teams to keep watch in four-hour shifts round the clock to ensure the ship was always on a safe path — they would plot their course, keep a lookout for obstacles in the sea, and help steer the ship. The students also took charge of planning the trip and deciding the itinerary on a day-to-day basis.
For the students, learning opportunities abound as the voyage took them out of their comfort zone. "Because we were out by ourselves, we had to find things out on our own. It provided a platform for us to share our knowledge and it definitely helped us to learn new things together," said Rachel.
The voyage is a pilot initiative designed to encourage experiential learning and cross-fertilisation of ideas and perspectives by engaging groups of students from various disciplines in the unique setting of sailing. Assoc Prof Henz led a similar sailing trip earlier in January that brought students across the Equator.