45-minute boat ride to work on a shift that lasts 10 days

45-minute boat ride to work on a shift that lasts 10 days
Mr V. Uthrapathi (left) taking over duties from Mr Syed Hassan, 66, at Raffles Lighthouse.

SINGAPORE - Changing shift is somewhat complicated in Mr V. Uthrapathi's line of work.

At the crack of dawn, the 51- year-old boards a boat at Brani Port and sails 45 minutes to his workplace at the southernmost tip of Singapore, the island of Pulau Satumu.

Waiting on the jetty is his colleague, Mr Syed Hassan, 66. The two men shake hands in greeting before turning to their charge: the 160-year-old Raffles Lighthouse, the second-oldest lighthouse in Singapore, after Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedra Branca, four years its senior.

Every 10 days, the lighthouse keepers of Pulau Satumu hand over their duties to a pair of their colleagues. The former sail back to civilisation and their families, while the latter prepare to spend 10 lonely days keeping watch over Singapore's southern waters.

This little-known but vital handover ceremony has been caught on film for the first time by visual media collective Captured Images as part of the Singapore Memory Project.

Since 2013, Captured has been recording stories of life on the southern islands in what it says is the first multimedia documentary on the subject. So far it has covered nine of the 54 offshore islands, and even organised a reunion excursion last November for more than 70 former residents of St John's and Lazarus islands and their families.

Captured's founder, Mr Edwin Koo, 36, said: "We want to galvanise communities to come together in an emotive way."

During the handover, Mr Hassan walked with Mr Uthrapathi around the island as they discussed the number of boats caught fishing last week, noted the fresh polish on the century- old brass banisters and climbed the 88 spiralling steps to the lighthouse's glass dome, where they checked the solar-powered beacon.

To pass time, the keepers have their hobbies. Mr Uthrapathi does gardening, bringing across plants such as guava or lemon to see if they can survive the salty sea air.

The clear waters around the island offer sightings of dolphins, sharks and the occasional submarine. Mr Hassan, however, recalls a more sinister apparition.

While checking on a boat waiting for rescue at nearby Pulau Senang, he saw a woman in white peering out from a small hill, staring at the boatman. "I could not sleep for a few days," he said.

Ghostly glimpses and solitude aside, Mr Hassan considers being a lighthouse keeper "a dream job".

"Previously, when I worked at (soft-drinks maker) Yeo Hiap Seng, I was always thinking about how I could retire by the sea and go fishing. So when I found this, I fell in love with it," he said.

Mr Uthrapathi said: "This is my palace. You will never see sunrise and sunset like you see here."


This article was first published on February 7, 2015.
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