Wong Tet Choong, better known as ‘TC’, became one of Singapore’s most famous sailors last year. Having explored much of Southeast Asia in the past decade, he set off in early February 2020 for his biggest trip yet, sailing his Leopard 50 Ximula III through Indonesia on his way to the South Pacific.
However, as Covid rapidly spread around the world, borders quickly closed around him. His family back in Singapore were among those worried about him alone at sea, with nowhere to berth. Turned away in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Tuvalu – where he was able to buy and receive fuel and food from a distance – he was eventually allowed into Fiji in late April.
The episode generated news in Fiji, Singapore, Australia and elsewhere, even making international headlines through the likes of the BBC and The Guardian. However, if his situation seemed dramatic then, Wong couldn’t be more relaxed now. Living on his Leopard, often at Port Denarau Marina, he has been away from his family in Singapore for over 20 months and appears in no rush to return home. “I’ve been sailing around the islands in Fiji and I video call my family almost every day. There are so many beautiful islands to explore here,” says Wong, who had been in the country for just over a year when he turned 60 this May.
“Once the borders reopen, I’ll resume my journey towards Tahiti, visiting as many islands and atolls as I can. I believe this will take two to three more years. I’ve received many messages and well wishes from people telling me they’d love to embark on a similar lifestyle. Actually, there are many people already living the life I do.”
THE CALL OF THE SEA
Wong began boating three decades ago, picking up a small secondhand powerboat in 1992. At the same time, he picked up an interest in sailing and rented boats to cruise around Singapore with the staff of his company, Zhaplin Work.
“That was when I started to learn more about the boating lifestyle and community,” recalls Wong, who also enjoys rock and mountain climbing. “When I was sailing, I really enjoyed being able to play with the elements, harnessing the power of the wind and adapting as it changes.”
Still, his next purchase was another powerboat, a 34ft Riviera he had from 1996-97 when he often cruised south to the nearby Indonesian island of Batam with his young family. However, as money was tight, he was unable to sustain upkeep of the boat and had to let it go, vowing to return to sea when his finances were more stable.
“When I sold off the Riviera, I promised myself I’d get a sailing boat once I had the money and time. I wanted to sail further, as there were so many beautiful islands I wanted to visit and explore.”
Wong’s company started to grow on the back of the innovative Ximula wardrobe system, an award-winning product still used throughout condominiums and other residences today. In 2013, after almost two decades of “working hard and saving up”, he was able to buy his first sailing catamaran, Ximula, a Lagoon 400 S2.
Wong used the boat regularly, sailing almost every week during the first year with family, friends or staff – “whoever was available and keen”. He typically sailed in Singapore and Indonesia, although early trips included a one-month expedition from Singapore to Phuket with his family.
He also joined several convoy trips organised by Nongsa Point Marina, where he learned from other sailors about Indonesia’s waters. Trips opened his eyes to the amazing islands around Singapore including the Anambas to the northeast and Tambelan and Badas to the east, off the west coast of Borneo.
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Wong Tet Choong - Singapore's Most Famous Sailor
TC Wong made global headlines last year when the rapid spread of Covid left him stranded at sea in his Leopard 50 for months until he was eventually allowed into Fiji, where he has remained since. Now, the adventurous 60-year-old is waiting for borders to open so he can continue his journey around the South Pacific on his beloved Ximula III.
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