A craving to convey kolek races back again to Singapore

By | November 30, 2016

Words and phrases by Mayo Martin / Multimedia by Lam Shushan

Study Component 1 of this series: Viewing a way of existence vanish

Component 2: Bringing back again a generations-old tradition

RIAU ISLANDS, INDONESIA: For some Singapore residents observing at house, it is stirring nostalgic memories of times gone by – and the wistful hope that they might be introduced yet again.

We are on locale at Tanjung Pinang in Bintan, streaming the pre-race festivities of a kolek or regular sailboat regatta on Fb Dwell on a cloudy working day in late October.

Viewing this, Yazid Van Lamri writes: “Last viewed this with my late father at the coastal parts of (Pasir) Panjang at the rear of hawker centre now at close by park.. they connect with it ‘lumba kolek’.”

Other people like Hisham Hiseánas Huang remember how these tall, sleek sailboats that have been aspect of the region’s maritime culture considering that the 1800s employed to be raced all through the New 12 months Regatta and off Katong, Siglap, Telok Kurau and Bedok.

A kolek race in Bedok in 1963. (Photograph: Ministry of Info and the Arts Collection, courtesy of Countrywide Archives of Singapore)

Arthur Lee states: “If this was aspect of our Singaporean heritage, why not have Singapore Tourism Board organise this function? I think it could commence from Clifford Pier, go close to Sentosa as a vacationer promotional function, and conclusion at HarbourFront.”

Baseer Shamsudin is amongst those who thinks it a excellent idea to revive these types of neighborhood-bonding activities. In the old times, kolek racing was a kampung-compared to-kampung function, significantly like neighbourhood soccer clubs.

Observe: The Fb Dwell stream from Tanjung Pinang

It is all quite encouraging for Mazlan Mohd Nasir, a Singaporean who is doing work to convey back again the sport of kolek racing to prominence yet again, at minimum in the Riau Islands. (Study about his efforts listed here.)

“It feels good having these good responses. When there are more participants, points can turn out to be a reality,” states the 54-yr-old, who grew up in the Southern Islands observing his family’s kolek, Pujangga, catch the breeze. (Additional on the old times listed here.)


The thrill of these races isn’t like Components 1 or horse racing, where by the competition burst full-throttle from the beginning blocks. But there is a selected class when their brightly-colored large sails slowly and gradually distribute as the crews labour to harness the wind.

And then they out of the blue electric power earlier you, and you realise how quickly these craft are. Mazlan states they can likely go up to 11 knots (20kph) tapping sheer wind electric power.

And simply because they constantly feel to be tilted to the aspect, kolek give the impact of perpetually currently being this shut to capsizing. Straining to management the sails, the crew stand on the gunwale at a perpendicular angle to the boat in buy to preserve stability. Within, there is constantly just one guy frantically bailing out the h2o coming in.

Overlook F1, this appears more like a rodeo – with 9 people today valiantly attempting to subdue a quite stubborn and gigantic bull.

There is a little perception of awe when you realise just how significantly skill it takes – and pleasure, as well, when you remember that the kolek of the Riau-Singapore-Johor location in the 1800s was way in advance of the English sailboat (which employed to be beaten by the kolek in races in the nineteen sixties, Mazlan recollects).

In fact the trapeze process of leaning out of the boat, it is stated, only arrived to be employed by English sailors in the thirties.

Observe: The kolek in action. Observe from three:05 for how the regular compares to the modern sailboat.

What’s at stake at these races? Mazlan states there are trophies and a bit of hard cash, close to S$eighty at most for the profitable staff. But more importantly, it is about “the title (of the boat) and the pride”.


However, this isn’t Mazlan’s racing year. His family’s boat capsizes 2 times in two races in August, which is when we 1st witness Pujangga in action in the Riau islands.

When its yellow sail vanishes from look at for the next consecutive race, it is not by itself – eight of the 11 boats in its class also capsized, a testimony to how challenging this sport is. “The wind is quite powerful more than there,” mutters Mazlan.

The drenched sailors come up to accumulate their consolation prize of packets of nasi padang, h2o and gas for the journey back again house. “Capsize yet again!” just one of the sailors blurts out. They are all smiles, but Mazlan’s nephew Firhan whispers to us: “They’ll be upset.”

It is two months prior to we see Pujangga yet again, this time in Tanjung Pinang in October in the most significant and final race to be held this yr. The kolek capsizes in its third consecutive race. But this time, Mazlan is beaming.

Click on interactive story-map: Our journey to doc Mazlan’s story

Not only has Pujangga been joined by a different kolek from Keban, where by Mazlan’s 76-yr-old father life and the family is attempting to revive the racing culture – Mazlan has also lastly confident his spouse, who does not share his passion, to go away Singapore for a bit and be a part of him in Bintan for this race.

Additional than 30 kolek commence out on that quite challenging circuit, circling a huge island off Bintan. A fierce squall blows in half an hour into the race. As the rain and winds lash out, the Pujangga is amongst its a lot of victims.

But for Mazlan, this third consecutive capsize isn’t a negative consequence at all. Ahead of the storm strike, the kolek was amongst the frontrunners at some details and had managed to reach the turning issue at the other island, the longest length it had sailed this yr.

“I’m pleased,” he tells us. “They did it towards the powerful winds, which demonstrates you the high quality of the boat and the crew.”

He’ll have to wait around till future yr for his kolek to complete a race. But for now, as the survivors trickle in to significantly cheering and excellent-natured heckling by spectators cheering for their kampong teams, it is time to delight in the instant.


In fact at the conclusion of the working day, profitable and getting rid of isn’t the most essential thing that matters to these island-folks.

After just one of the losses, we return with Mazlan to his father Mohd Nasir Awang’s compound in Keban. Whilst we have been fast paced at the race, his sister Lela and the many others have been fast paced preparing for a sumptuous feast serving as each a celebration and a commemoration.

It is a thank-you dinner for the valiant crew who gave it their all. It is also held in memory of Mazlan and Lela’s mother, Cik Nasir’s spouse, who handed away in 2003 and their brother, a diver who died in 2008. For them, family and neighborhood are just one and the same.

The dwelling home has been cleared out to make home for the attendees, folks from the villages who pack on their own in to sit on the ground as the village priest qualified prospects the prayers.

Later on, the food streams out of the kitchen area, a buffet of hen curry, epok-epok, bubur kacang hijau, prawn porridge, roti jala and an assortment of kuehs.

Observe: Food stuff they make at house on Keban, in 1:twenty mins

As the air grows thick with cigarette smoke, Mazlan, who’s seated with the crew, leans more than to us and states: “This is the time for bonding. We get jointly to discuss and share stories.”

Due to the fact there is no race the future working day, anyone stays up later than regular. After dinner, Mazlan, Cik Nasir and the crew transfer outside the house to go on their banter under the stars.

Despite having lived significantly of their life in Singapore, it is apparent just how powerful these Singaporeans’ bonds are with the people today of Keban, who have embraced them in change.

For Cik Nasir, it is a existence that has come full circle: The son of a penghulu who still left Keban to develop a family (and even assist a new country come across its footing) is now back again house.

For his have son, Mazlan, after getting rid of contact with his kampung childhood by the sea and his beloved kolek, he has rediscovered in his father’s hometown. And now he shuttles between two locations he calls house, to keep a distinctive tradition afloat for the future generation.

Study Component 1 and Component 2 of Mazlan’s story. Coming up: A former Singapore national sailor turns artist documenting regular boats.

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