Around the island in 22 hours: NUS sailors raise donations for health fund

Under the steady hands of the NUS Sailing Varsity Team, a keelboat slid quietly out of its berth one cool, crisp September morning. It would be circumnavigating Singapore, relying solely on wind power – a rare attempt in the history of sailing in Singapore.

It was a 22-hour arduous journey that needed brawn and brain. But mostly, it was a journey driven by the heart – to raise fund for young children who are chronically sick. Comprising four NUS Medicine students – Loh Jia Yi (Year 5), Matthew Scott Lau (Year 4), Chantelle Chen (Year 3) and Wong Riji (Year 2), as well as Shaun Ho (Business Administration and Law, Year 4) and Amanda Koh (Economics, Year 3), the team has so far roped in $5,000 for the KKH Health Fund and donations are still ongoing. The Fund helps needy women and children with their medical expenses at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), so that they can fully focus on their recovery.

Named the Sail SG Challenge, the journey was conceptualised when the medical students in the team were reflecting on their hospital posting experiences. One experience that stood out was working with families facing the unexpected challenge of chronic diseases in their young children. The team felt that the challenge would be a chance to step into the shoes of these young patients and their families, beset by headwinds that are out of their control.

“The financial burden of medication, hospital visits and monitoring can deprive families and children of the time and space needed to live out a ‘normal’ childhood. COVID-19 has deepened the financial impact and complicated the recovery journey, with some measures like the strict visitor policy leaving many young patients feeling lonely and isolated from loved ones. We wanted to create a sporting challenge that parallels the challenges experienced by patients at KKH and uphold inspiring values we feel these patients embody every day in their healthcare journey,” explained Matthew, the challenge’s principal organiser.

Tough going

The team had to navigate through ever-changing currents and unpredictable weather conditions, as well as traffic around the world’s busiest port-island, all the while working with the strength of the wind to push them along in the right direction.

A hefty amount of logistical planning was required even before the keelboat set sail, including navigation planning using maritime charts and weather forecasting especially during the late-September inter-monsoon period. They also had to obtain the necessary permits and safety support for the journey.

Along the way, the team encountered a disappointing two-hour patch of no wind which left them stranded. Then, there was a storm with full-on downpour. But the team pulled through with perseverance and tenacity, aided by timely gusts of wind. Starting on 25 Sep, they managed to complete the challenge just before sunset the next day.

Shaun, the main route and navigation planner for the challenge, shared, “We needed to come up with a detailed route plan that involved a comprehensive safety risk assessment for approval from Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), requiring many revisions as we discussed the risks of many hazards around the Singapore coast such as storms, underwater obstructions like rocks and reefs, live firing areas, and even crocodiles. We are very grateful to the Port Marine Safety division of MPA for their support and guidance throughout the event.”

Great support all round

The team was also buoyed by the support of family, friends, partners and donors during the planning and completion of the challenge.

While the path may not always be smooth-sailing for the young patients at KKH and their families, the team hopes that their effort and contribution will be able to make a difference, and raise awareness for the real challenges faced by the patients. They also hope that the challenge may inspire others to use their passion to help those in need.

Donations to the campaign are open till end of 2021. Those who wish to contribute can do so at: https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/sailsgchallenge