The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: boats

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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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“I was Screaming Sea Shanteys and Shoutin’ at the Gods!” A Glimpse Inside John Lennon’s Sailing Diary.

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John Lennon. Bermuda Bound. Photo Source: Unknown. 

When I was a kid, I was a Beatles fanatic. I was turned onto the band, by my mom of all people, who for some reason gave me the album Magical Mystery Tour when I was maybe nine years old. For some reason too deep for my young mind to fathom, I literally wore out the vinyl grooves pondering its dense layers of sound and meaning. Yellow Submarine and Revolver would have the same effect. The band’s legend was always writ a little more large for me because my aunt lived in a building called the Oliver Cromwell, right across the street from the Dakota, which was home to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. She caught occasional glimpses of the pair ducking in and out of their home right there in front of Central Park. I always craned my neck when we walked by the Dakota, but never got my own glimpse. When Lennon was shot, 35 years ago yesterday, I remember my aunt telling me how for days it was nearly impossible to leave her building for of all the mourners. Even though I was only in eighth grade, I wished I could have been among them.

Today, Scuttlefish commodore Brian Lam hipped me to something I didn’t know about Lennon. He actually became a pretty hardcore sailor late in life. In fact, he credits a hairball journey in June, 1980 from Rhode Island to Bermuda with curing a debilitating bout of writer’s block. It was a voyage that inspired “Watching the Wheels,” “I’m Losing You,” and an early version of “Woman.”

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John Lennon and his son Sean. Photo source: Unknown. 

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Lessons in Boating: So This Is Why My Father Told Me Never to Buy an Aluminum Boat.

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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Don’t ever buy an aluminum boat with rivets. This is never a good sight, but I must admit it evoked comical imagery from my Disney and Looney Toon-watching days. Word to the wise: A cork or partially chewed gum may work in the cartoons, but it most certainly does not work on an aluminum boat in the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I promised I’d buy myself something classic for my seaward adventures in New Zealand. Something wooden, open-sea-worthy. Timeless. Big sweeping lines with a tall, sheer bow, ready for any swell the South Seas might throw her way. Instead, I ended up with a small, leaky tin boat. I suppose I got what I had coming.

We used to call those “fizzies”, my dad replied when I wrote to report that I’d purchased an old aluminum boat.

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Yes, the entire deck of my poor, neglected skiff doubles as a livewell and petting tank. At least my mussels, abalone and sea urchins can stay fresh. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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More (Mis)Adventures in #Vanlife: No More Bananas Permitted Aboard Raw Paua.

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

The first time I was old enough to begin my quasi-annual fly fishing trips with my Uncle Thom, I pulled a banana from my boat bag about an hour into our day’s outing. Within what felt like the blink of an eye, the once-bitten banana was out of my hand and drifting downstream past the boat.

I wish I could have seen the confusion smeared across face. I have no doubt that my uncle got a kick out of it.

He later brought to my attention the old angler’s adage: never take bananas aboard a boat. Why?

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. . . Here’s why. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Navigated by Sun and Stars, Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe Hokule’a Is Officially Halfway Around the World in Mossel Bay, South Africa

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Photo: Na’alehu Anthony/Polynesian Voyaging Society and ‘Oiwi TV.

Congratulations to Hōkūleʻa and crew on reaching Mossel Bay, South Africa, and their successful passage of the Indian Ocean!

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Approaching South African waters, Hōkūleʻa pays customary respect to their hosting nation by flying their ensign. Photo: Sam Kapo/’Oiwi TV.

South Africa marks the officially halfway point of the canoe’s circumnavigation. She’ll head into the South Atlantic for a long crossing over to Brazil. (View a Google map of their proposed route here.)

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