Backstroke with vertigo

Shrouded in cloud, David Reyne peers over the 'vanishing edge' of the world's longest elevated swimming pool.

It's 6.30am and the lift at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel smells like polished leather. It soars silently towards the heavens, arriving in a heartbeat. I step out and can see a grimy orange sun clawing its way through the low cloud of a muggy Singapore morning.

I swipe my card, a gate to the SkyPark clicks open and before me is a lap swimmer's nirvana. The faintly rippled surface of the world's longest elevated swimming pool is all that exists between me and the pinnacles of Singapore's cloud-piercing skyscrapers.

As if the entire structure is not astonishing enough, this 150-metre pool has been designed with a daring "vanishing edge". From where I stand, gobsmacked, it seems there's nothing between the swimmer and a 200-metre plummet to the street. A row of palm trees, still trying to come to terms with the altitude, is beginning to show promise of shade. Beneath the palms are two rows of sun loungers. Another row sits at the water's edge, low enough to almost be submerged.

I wipe the humidity from my goggles and enter the water. To my left, an eerie grey and orange cloud has settled like a lid over the city. I swim my first few laps feeling as though I'm freestyling with God. The great curse of the lap swimmer is the boredom: the endless up and down along a black line; stroke, stroke, breathe. Turn and repeat. It helps to have something to think about and, naturally up here, my mind turns to the improbability of this pool and the somewhat alarming facts I've discovered about its construction.

I'm immersed in almost 1.5 million litres of water, swimming among the clouds atop the world's largest cantilevered platform. I wonder how heavy all this water must be. The three Marina Bay Sands Hotel towers on which the pool is perched are almost 200 metres high and prone to movement caused by wind and settlement in the earth. Good grief!

I'm now consumed by the fantasy of the whole structure heaving to one side in a sudden buffeting of weather, forcing a million litres of chlorinated water to cascade over that already-vanishing edge, sucking me into a waterfall that ends on the footpath below.

The thought is so plausible, I lose count of the number of laps I've done.

Fortunately, I also recall the remarkable engineering solution engaged to counter such a catastrophe. Five hundred jacking legs have been installed beneath the structure, allowing the appropriate adjustment to be made to ensure swimmers stay in the pool.

As one nightmare dissipates, another immediately emerges. A gaggle of hotel guests has taken to the water for the inevitable holiday photo. I'm forced to manoeuvre like a downhill skier who has strayed onto the slalom course. And it's not just me they're disrupting. I seem to have inspired some Chinese visitors who are now less than happy to encounter further obstacles in their attempt to master the Australian crawl.

I give up and swim to the deckchairs that sit low at the pool's edge. Though the cloud has cleared a little, the air is still sticky. I lie back to marvel at the view but each time a fresh tourist dips even a toe in the water, the resultant wake causes a ripple that runs up the chair and forms a puddle at Speedo level. It's not long before the permanently damp feeling has me looking for my towel.

The SkyPark's deck is filling with astonished sightseers. They're photographing the pool. They're photographing the garden opposite the pool. They're clearly bewildered as to how either can exist at such altitude. The people in the spa are gazing at the 153 ships I count at anchor in Singapore Strait. The spa also has a "vanishing edge" and hotel staff are ferrying fried snacks to its occupants.

The lift returns me to earth faster than a free fall. I slice my way through the humidity to a vantage point from where I can marvel at the amazing structure above me. The three hotel towers bend in the middle. I assume they were designed this way but, when viewed from the street, it's not such a stretch to think they're struggling with the weight of the pool on top.

All around me, Singapore sparkles and shines. The waterfront is in a frantic state of development. Every new building seems designed with an architectural award in mind. Some resemble armadillos; others paper planes, oyster shells and rocket ships. But I remain at a loss as to how to describe the shape of the SkyPark and that swimming pool now being licked by cloud.

And then it comes to me. Could it have been inspired by the tongue of that guy from the '70s US rock band Kiss? It's a thought I'm grateful I didn't have while swimming.


Getting there

Singapore Airlines has fares to Singapore from Sydney and Melbourne for about $1095 low-season return including tax; see Emirates and Qantas also have non-stop flights.

Staying there

The Marina Bay Sands hotel, Bayfront Avenue, Singapore, has 2500 rooms and suites, from $425 Singapore dollars ($323) a night; see Hotel guests can visit the SkyPark and infinity swimming pool without charge; open daily 6am-11pm. Use of the pool is restricted to hotel guests. As well as the pool, the SkyPark has gardens, restaurants, a bar and nightclub.

Visitors not staying at the hotel can buy tickets to the SkyPark public observation deck at Marina Bay Sands box offices. Phone +65 6688 8826, see Tickets cost $20 adult, $14 child (2-12 years). The observation deck is open Mon-Thur 9.30am-10pm, Fri-Sun 9.30am-11pm.

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