The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: Indian Ocean

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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A Tiny Indian Ocean Island Nation Duped into Selling Its Citizenship for a Paradise Village That Never Came to Be

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Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG via Getty Images.

The Comoro Islands, which lie 200 miles off the east coast of Africa beside Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, are listed, economically, among the poorest countries in the world. In 2008, a group of Emirates devised a $200 million dollar scheme which would, ostensibly, provide the Comoros with enough capital to build new infrastructure: schools, roads, ports. Comorian politicians were led to believe that this new fortune would put Moroni, the nation’s capital city on the map. It was to become the next Dubai–“a Hawaii for Arabs.”

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The Comoro island of Moheli. Photograph: Marka/UIG via Getty Images.

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We’ll Never Let Anybody Know. And We Stupidly Believed That Would Work. From Tavarua to Nias with Barbarian Days Author William Finnegan. The Third of a Four-Part Interview.

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Kevin Naughton on the cover of the 1984 Surfer Magazine issue that revealed Tavarua to the World. Before this, William Finnegan surfed the island in blessed solitude. 

Editor’s Note. Recently, I fired up Skype for a chat with author and longtime New Yorker reporter William Finnegan. In his recently released New York Times bestselling memoir Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life, Finnegan has written a sweeping, engrossing narrative that literally took six decades of living to write. Today, Finnegan talks about stumbling onto what are today among the most famous spots on earth – surfing them completely alone, and the tragedy of the commons that’s unfolded in the years since. All the interview entries are also linked at the end of this one. — CD 

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Barbarian Days. Well worth 1926 pennies.

Chris Dixon. Something that really struck me, and I’m sure you had this discussion with other surfers who read Barbarian Days, is the scale of your hits in your surf travel. I’m reading the book, and I’m thinking, I’ve been there, I’ve been there, I haven’t been there – but I know about that place. I’m reading the book, and just shaking my head and wondering aloud, was there a point – maybe Tavarua when it was exposed by Surfer – was there a point where you realized, holy shit, I had these experiences in places that would become seminal in surfing; Nias, Tavarua, Grajagan, Jardim do Mar. I’m sure some felt remarkable, like real discoveries, but did you feel some of these would become seminal places in surfing? Does that make sense?

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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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Watch an 1100-Foot Container Ship Bend and Twist in Rough Seas in the Indian Ocean

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Screenshot from video (below) taken aboard the Skagen Maersk.

There’s nothing structurally wrong with this vessel; if large ships like these–nearly a quarter of a mile long–weren’t designed to give way to pitching, rolling and yawing, they’d snap clear in half.

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Screenshot from video (below) taken aboard the Skagen Maersk.

Some vessels caught in high seas with heavy loads do break in half, like the MOL Comfort incident in 2013.

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The 2005-built MOL Comfort experienced “hogging”, or convex longitudinal deformations before her hull snapped amidship off Yemen in 2012. Photo: Marine Log.

Watch video of the Skagen Maersk in high seas below, and read more about the vessel here.

–OJB

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“Beyond the West Horizon”: A 1950s Home Movie of a Round the World Sailing Voyage

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“There was never anything to suggest there were other humans on this planet” – Eric Hiscock on the couple’s TransPac voyage. Screenshot from Beyond the West Horizon.

Eric and Susan Hiscock, earlier pioneers of small-boat pleasure cruising, sailed around the world on their 30-foot cutter, Wanderer between 1952 and 1955 during a time when few took to the high seas for any reason other than necessity. The video below is a full-length feature on their journey as filmed and edited by Eric and Susan themselves.

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“I suppose that practically everybody who owns a small boat as a desire–a dream, you might say–to sail around the world.” – Eric Hiscock. Screenshot from Beyond the West Horizon.

The Hiscocks recorded Beyond the West Horizon together during their 3-year, 3-week journey round the world–their first of three. Out in the open ocean, they encounter only one other vessel throughout their entire journey. There was no radar, no emergency rescue and on all but a few stretches, almost all of the steering had to be done by hand, which meant very little sleep.

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Sailing through the Greek Isles. Screenshot from Beyond the West Horizon.

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