Raffles Marina: A tranquil spot despite the occasional storm

Aw Cheng Wei The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Sep 14;

ITS website lists a few ways to get there - by bus from Boon Lay interchange; by car via exit 26B - the last exit - on Ayer Rajah Expressway; or by sea - via Buffalo Rock, Raffles Lighthouse or Alert Shoal Buoy.

The journey is part of the fun when it comes to visiting Raffles Marina, Singapore's first private dock for small boats and pleasure craft such as yachts.

Despite its name, it is not near Marina Bay or Raffles Place, but at 10 Tuas West Drive at the south-western tip of Singapore instead. While the "by sea" route is part of Raffles Marina's allure, three people who used this route for a "non-leisure" purpose last month ended up being jailed. They had sailed there on a catamaran from Langkawi island in Malaysia, skipping immigration checks before coming ashore. The trio were jailed 10 to 16 weeks for, among other offences, entering Singapore illegally. Their intentions for illegal entry were related to a dramatic child custody tussle.

The case put the spotlight on the lax security at the marina. But chances are Raffles Marina will not keel over from this latest setback. After all, the marina - which occupies 3ha of land and 4ha of sea - has kept itself afloat for more than 20 years despite a tempestuous birth and the occasional storm. The gleaming marbled lobby and well-manicured lawns of its clubhouse belie its tough start.

Long-time marina member Vivian Tan, 58, said: "Before the club was opened, the estimated cost was lower than the actual. Ten years later, there was talk that the bank might shut the club down. But (members) were not worried. We had faith in the management."

In 1991, during the construction of the club, the belated discovery of a poor seabed and soil conditions led to costs doubling to about $100 million as more expensive methods of dredging and piling works became necessary.

Its initial opening phase was delayed by about six months, and Raffles Marina opened officially only in 1994.

The amount was paid off mainly through membership fees and shareholders' capital. But that did not spell the end of the marina's financial problems.

In 2003, news broke that the club, with the Republic's first multideck boathouse, was insolvent. Auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers said the club did not have the means to pay off its debt of nearly $45 million.

It was saved only after its sole creditor then, DBS Bank, threw it a lifeline by restructuring its loan.

Things took another dive in 2005 when it was weighed down by more than $27 million in unsecured loans from 1,701 pioneer members. The club resolved this by offering members part-ownership to reduce its debt.

These days, the club is facing competition from newer marinas such as One 15 Marina on Sentosa and Marina at Keppel Bay. But despite the competition, its marina is still doing well and filled with sailing boats and yachts.

On weekday afternoons, however, the marina is quiet. While on a visit this month, The Straits Times observed only a handful of hobby fishermen on its decks. There is also ample parking space for those looking to spend a peaceful day gazing at the sea or indulging in a meal at the cafe which is open to the public.

"We are busiest during weekends and lunch on weekdays," a waitress told The Straits Times. "Members usually come here on weekends. Members of the public mostly come on weekdays."

Relatively few non-members make the journey there, but the leisure spot in Tuas has drawn those eager for a whiff of the romance of the sea.

Some even see it as a unique place to exchange lifelong vows.

Said 27-year-old purchasing officer Joy Hoo, who held her wedding at the marina earlier this month: "They have a boat march-in and that is different from your usual hotel one." A boat march-in involves guests waiting on the deck for the couple who will arrive by boat.

Mr Collin Lim, president of the sailing club at Singapore Management University, said the marina, which faces the Strait of Johor, has become "a second home" for his school's sailors who train there every weekend during the school term. The 23-year-old finance major said: "There's a very different feeling here. Some doors are not locked, so we would go exploring."

Former and current members said they go to the club about once a month, if at all. Many signed up when the club opened because "it was something new".

For those who have stayed on as members, it is the isolated location that is the main draw.

A current member, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, said the place is now full of "familiar faces".

The 53-year-old lawyer said the club has become somewhat like home to him.

And while the tranquil nature of the area is likely to be disturbed when the new Tuas West MRT extension opens in 2016, members are confident that the club will weather this change too.

Mr Ang said: "Whatever the changes may be, I'm sure Raffles Marina will do okay."