The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Goodbye (for now)

by brian lam

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Coming in 2017. A big book from your ocean loving friends at The Scuttlefish and Chronicle Books. 

Hey all, after a few years, hundreds of weird and interesting stories, and a lot of fun it’s time to put The Scuttlefish on pause. Several months ago, Chris Dixon and I had an idea for an ocean related book. That idea turned into a proposal, and that proposal has become a contract with Chronicle Books, publisher of among other titles, Chris’s Ghost Wave, Matt Warshaw’s The History of Surfing, The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook and of course, Darth Vader and Son.

We are keeping the details under wraps for now, but it’s a project that we couldn’t pass up and there’s not enough time in the day to do both the book and this site. The Scuttlefish has gone into hibernation before, though and I’m sure it’ll come back in a different form, one day. Thanks to our faithful readers – and the ocean – for all the inspiration.

Thank you to Chris Dixon, Owen J. Burke, Mark Lukach, Carolyn Sotka and other contributors who put their love for the sea into so many fine words and photos on The Scuttlefish. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.  – BL

A Thanks to Brian Lam, Matt Warshaw, Jeremy Spencer, Chronicle Books – and Everyone who’s Made this Ocean Life Possible

by Chris Dixon

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My first ever rejection letter. Courtesy of Surfer Magazine and Matt Warshaw. 1989. 

It’s weird the stuff you decide to file in your folder book of memories. The above note is one such recently found object. It’s my very first, of very, very many professional rejection notes. If you’re a writer, you get used to rejection notes from editors. If you don’t, well, you’d better find other work. Aside from being a first, what makes this letter so very damn special is that it was written and signed by none other than Matt Warshaw. If you’re a surfer who’s worth even a grain of salt, you know him. If you’re not a surfer, suffice to say that the author of The History of Surfing and editor of The Encyclopedia of Surfing is to our sport as Ken Burns is to baseball – or James Michener is to Hawaii.

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Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Warshaw’s note in the back of my garage, amidst a stack of yellowing articles and letters. I’d completely forgotten this little nugget, but I vividly remember when it arrived. It was late 1989. I was a hopeful young journalism graduate, freshly minted from the University of Georgia, freshly cast off by my UGA girlfriend and freshly rendered unemployed and homeless by hurricane Hugo’s godawful smashing of the South Carolina coast. Forlorn and filled with a twenty-something’s boundless capacity for angst, I’d found temporary refuge in the basement of my dad’s Atlanta condo, and a temporary job shuffling fonts around on a Macintosh computer at his advertising agency. I reckoned the only way out of depression and self-pity was to write, and get the hell back to the beach.

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Farewell from Raw Paua and the Land Under Down Under.

by Owen James Burke

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Live Dinner and Raw Paua. Photo: Pauline Nobels. Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

As the crew of the good ship Scuttlefish sets sail for new horizons, Raw Paua and I have but a handful of weeks left to spend in this fine South Sea summer. We’re not quite sure where we’ll roam, but it’s safe to say we won’t trudge too far from the sea or her foam.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part III: The Shorebound Moken and the Plight of the Andaman Sea Gypsy.

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

After over a week of dead-end slogging from port to port in Burma, I finally found a group of Moken living on an island near the Thai border. There were less than a hundred of them at the time of my visit, and though they were so close to shore and its modern facilities, they remained nationless with no political representation, no identification–that means no healthcare. Apart from generators and cisterns, they had gained none of the societal comforts that might be associated with moving ashore–and, in doing so, seem to have been forced to abandon old ways. This small village, for example, no longer has any of their traditional kabangs, the beautiful teak longboats designed for offshore sailing in which the Moken have been living and roaming in flotillas for centuries. The vessel above is a scaled down version of the kabang, the stone-aged Andaman Sea dugout longboat.

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A traditional Moken kabang, or houseboat. Image via Indigenous Boats.

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Fishing, like in other Andaman Sea communities during the monsoon season, is largely restricted to the tidal flats where crabs, small fish, sharks and bivalves are collected. Despite political oppression–or what may better be described as abandonment–these Moken seem to make out alright. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The elders of this village–formerly a flotilla–decided to move ashore about 15 years ago for healthcare and education, if not for themselves, then for their children. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Why move ashore? That was the first question I had. The general consensus among the handful of village elders I interviewed (with a translator) seemed to be opportunities like healthcare and schooling for children. The Thai government have begun to issue Thai identity cards, but unlike full-blown citizenship, they offer marginal access to state-run schools and hospitals. Further, the process is slow-going for any number of reasons; the Thai government, if asked, would state that it has much larger, more pressing matters to face, and tracking down the small but scattered population of Moken (estimated at around 2,000) living in and around Thailand and Burma is no small chore–to that, I can surely attest.

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‘We can fish, we can grow gardens, we can eat. But we can’t go to the hospital. We need identification.’ Photo: Owen James Burke.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part II: Boating Amongst the Slaveships in Myeik, Burma.

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

A pale-gray haze lay over the port of Myeik, backed by a droning cacophony of outboard motors and dredges. Few were talking. Almost no one was smiling. The scene looked bleak, and the scarcity of the sun didn’t brighten the picture.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

But then almost all commercial fishing ports carry this tone. It was only later, in Thailand, that I came to realize how close to the edge of hell some of these people were living.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

With no permission granted from the government to visit the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken–a small, disenfranchised group of sea-dwelling ethnic Austronesians known in Burma as the Selung–are said to live, I had left Yangon for Myeik, 535 miles to the south where my travel agent–though she’d advised against it–suggested I might find a captain willing to sneak me out to meet the elusive virtuosos of the sea.

My flight had landed earlier that day and I’d caught a motorcycle taxi straight down to the port of Myeik, which I was told would be the busiest and therefore likeliest harbor for me to hitch a ride out to the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken are said to weather monsoon season.

I had no intention of spending a single night in Myeik–I’d already lost enough time in Yangon. It was still early in the morning, and as far as I could tell, the weather looked fair enough to set sail for open water.

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This Is Life in an Andaman Sea Village During Monsoon Season. A Photo Essay.

by Owen James Burke

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One moment, the Burmese coast of the Andaman Sea looked like this, frenzied and white-horsed, with gale force winds and pelting–literally stinging–rain. The next, it would abate to the sobering serenity of still air and blue skies. All of this has no bearing on the people living in small stilted villages on the Andaman Sea, who make their homes and feed their children day-in, day-out, year-round, come wind, hail, rain or shine. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Watching these small narrow boats fade out on the horizon behind a line of squalls chilled my bones to the marrow. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The sound of the rain meeting this tarpaulin-tin city was tremendous. It hushed all conversation and jarred your concentration. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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But then, moments later, it would look like this, but regardless of the weather, tide or hour, these longboats seemed to be buzzing in and out port all day long. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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A Little Tribute to my Late, Great Friend Sean Collins – via NPR’s Science Friday

by Chris Dixon

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Sean Collins with one of his early hand-drawn maps of swell, reef and bathymetry.
Photo: Chris Dixon

It’s damned difficult for me to believe, but it’s been four years since surf forecaster Sean Collins died of a heart attack. He wasn’t surfing some off-the-grid Baja point break, but simply enjoying a game of tennis. Sean was a buddy, a competitor and a colleague since I first met him back in 1995 when we were working on the respective launches of Surfline.com and Surfermag.com(here’s a Wayback Machine link to one of the site’s first home pages, built using raw HTML). Collins’ Surfline.com would become the world’s first definitive online surf forecasting service. And though Collins kept some cards very close to his chest, he and I talked technology and where this new thing called the World Wide Web was heading at least once a week. Like any competitors, we butted heads occasionally, but I constantly marveled at his discipline and the technology Sean managed to pioneer; live surf cameras, wave models and cellular modems to broadcast big wave contests from a boat off Todos Santos. Without his early warnings of swells, I never would have had some of my surf stories published in The New York Timesand it’s arguable that my book Ghost Wave would never have seen a printing press.

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Wish You Were Here: On a Boat Somewhere in the Andaman Sea, On the Way to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Several months ago, I visited the Burmese and Thai coasts of the Andaman Sea hoping to meet a nationless seafaring people of Austronesian ethnicity known as the Moken or Selung. I wanted to find out how they survive the monsoon months, when pelting rain and violent gales sweep across the Andaman Sea almost daily with little warning and no mercy. This would become one of those days.

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