The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: Survival

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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Holy Hell. This is Why Giant Waves are the Greatest Show on Earth.

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That’s gonna hurt. In fact it might just kill you. A frozen moment of carnage at Jaws.
All frame grabs courtesy: World Surf League. 

Yesterday I had the honor of reporting on the the inaugural Big Wave World Tour Pe’ahi Invitational for Surfline.com. Holy hell. The. Most. Insane. Surf. Contest. Ever. Watching it live in my living room on, and wondering if Greg Long, Billy Kemper, Carlos Burle, Shane Dorian and a slew of other madmen were going to even survive this cerulean gladiator pit was a wild, stomach clenching ride – even from the safety of the couch.

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Shane Dorian. Will he make it? Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

At the end of the line, feel free to give my Surfline story a click, and comment on whether you agree with my prognostications, or whether I’m missing something altogether. — CD

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A view from the contest HQ. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Maui Local Albee Layer. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Helicopter Pilot Don Shearer gets his cameraman a drone’s eye view. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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The ski would end up a casualty of the wildest surf contest in history. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Greg Long. Maybe the biggest wave ever paddled into at Pe’ahi. At least Jaws guru Dave Kalama thought so. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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The Cocovore’s Fallacy. How a German Escapist’s Coconut Utopia Went to Hell in a Handbasket.

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“Man, how noble in reason…” – Hamlet. Photo courtesy of Christian Kracht, author of Imperium.

Did you ever read the book The Beach? The story of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century German nudist and ideologist August Engelhardt reads like a heinously nightmarish, psilocybin-riddled version of Alex Garland’s novel.

In the late 19th century, in the wake of the popularly published works of Darwin and Thoreau, many German youths were looking to get back into nature, a movement known as Lebensreform (Life Reform).

Some actually did. Unfortunately, in 1902, Alex Garland’s prophecy was not yet at the disposal of the young Engelhardt, a nudist and proponent of Lebensreform left Europe for the South Pacific island of Kabakon (now Papua New Guinea) with a library of books and an even more simplified idealogical approach: He was going to live on nothing but coconuts.

Engelhardt’s theory was that coconuts–how god-like they sit atop their skyward perch, how infinite in faculty–were a magical substance of divine provenance bearing all the sustenance a man needs; and if apes live on raw fruit, why shouldn’t we?

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Bitten by a Shark During Her First Ocean Swim, A Colorado Woman Vows to Go Back in the Water

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Screenshot ©GoFundMe/Fox 31 Denver’s video (below).

Before she ever set foot in the surf at Cocoa Beach, Florida, 28-year-old Colorado woman Jill Kruse, who was about to wade into the ocean for the very first time of her life, felt that something was going to go wrong.

Many of us have this sneaking premonition around the sea, but after a moment or two, the reality of the situation seems almost silly to acknowledge: you have a one-in-11.5-million chance of being bitten by a shark, according to the University of Florida’s “International Shark Attack File”. What are those chances on your very first time in the ocean?

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“It was the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done.” Back in Salt: Living to Surf Again, Thanks to Big-Wave Surfer Darryl “Flea” Virostko and FleaHab.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

Henry Skipp was the brightest, most interesting and articulate mind I encountered during my collegiate years. He was also my best friend.

We were both pursuing higher education with some degree of reluctance. I had left my dream job where I was preparing to take over a successful charter fishing business out of Long Island Sound, and Henry had turned down an invitation to join a surf team based out of Miami, Florida. These were, perhaps, wise decisions in the long run, but at the time we shared the agony of being trapped in academia after rejecting more aquatic career paths.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

Instead, as our gills began to dry, we were forced to endure “society” parties, as they were called at our school, all awash with bad music, frat boys, and worse still, bad beer. We found solace in commiserating.

I was just finding my way in the world of surfing, and Henry was all too happy to show me the ropes. There weren’t too many other people interested in surfing at our tiny liberal arts school in East Los Angeles. We were obliviously optimistic in thinking we might tailor our schooling to 45-minute surf trips to Newport Beach, with no car. But no one shared our lust for the sea. Anyone who does, generally would have the common sense not to go to school in East LA.

We lived in the same dormitory, but Henry was crammed in with two obnoxious baseball players whose lives seemed to revolve around their shot glasses and Carmen Elektra posters. I took pity on my new companion and offered to have him move into my spacious single room.

When we weren’t in class, Henry would talk Thomas Campbell and Dave Rastovich, or peel through Surfer’s Journal magazines with big, glossy double page spreads of photographs by Tom Servais; I’d ramble on about fly fishing for striped bass and missing the bluefin tuna run each fall. We’d also talk literature–mostly Hemingway, about whom his grandfather had taught an entire course for something like two decades at Duke University.

Occasionally we’d scrounge a ride to the beach, where Henry would try, and mostly fail, to enlighten me with the finer points of surfing.

Time passed and we tore our way, fighting tooth and nail, through academia, dreaming of a life outside, and the surf trips we’d take to Nicaragua and Panama after graduation – trips which, I’m grateful to report, are still being considered.

Then I went off to Portugal, where less class and better public transportation meant I could make it to the beach almost every day after school.

Henry stayed behind in LA. He continued to struggle with some inner demons, and somewhere along the way, he went dark. I stopped hearing from him, mostly. When he did call, his voice was flat and dull. His responses to my suggestions of far-flung surf adventures were curt and bleak.

Our lines of communication shut down, and we all but lost contact.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

More recently, on my way to New Zealand, I gave him a ring, recalling that he’d mentioned having moved to Santa Cruz several months before. I asked him to meet me in San Francisco for the weekend. We could catch up, and I could break up my long flight from New York.

“Sure,” he said to my surprise. He didn’t have a car yet, but agreed to bus up on Friday night and meet me.

Meeting him on Lombard Street in my old neighborhood, I could have just as soon passed him by – not that he’d visibly aged, but because his head was high, his eyes were bright and he wore a genuine, bonafide smile I’d not seen in years.

“Where have you been?” I asked after the pleasantries.

“FleaHab,” he replied.

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Semper Paratus: Watch The USCG Coordinate the Rescue of 36 Fishermen from a Burning Vessel. . .Over 2,000 Miles Southwest of Hawaii

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Credit: USCG. Video below.

The United States Coast Guard’s 14th District in Hawaii is responsible for a 12.2 million square mile swathe of land and sea (that’s almost twice the size of Russia). When the 70 meter (230-foot) fishing vessel Glory Pacific No. 8 activated their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), it was the USCG’s responsibility to organize the rescue of the Papua New Guinea-flagged ship, which had caught fire 2,071 miles southwest of Hawaii.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part I: Yangon (Rangoon) and Dala, Myanmar (Burma). A Tale of Two Cities.

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Yangon (Rangoon), seen from Dala (Dalla). Photo: Owen James Burke.

I flew to Myanmar (Burma) to meet a group of seminomadic sea-dwelling peoples around the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea collectively known as “sea gypsies”. But that didn’t get off to a great start. First, I was hung up in Yangon, and what I encountered there was a far grimmer, more harrowing reality than the one I’d set out to find.

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The ferry terminal in Yangon. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I landed in Yangon (as the capital city of Rangoon is now known to modern-day, militarized “Myanmar”), during a monsoon where people were sitting in plastic chairs along the sidewalk dining in a river of mud and street grit, and despite recent large-scale urban development, the streets—even in the town center—were dismally dark by any city’s standard.

I must have spent three hours in a taxi on the way home from the airport, otherwise a 25 minute jaunt across the city.

After finding a hotel, I dried off and began to wander the streets, ankle deep in mud, runoff and grit. Taking each step, I felt as good as blind. High-rise buildings may have been going up, but it seemed like the sidewalks hadn’t changed since Orwell was sipping and spilling gin and tonics on them.

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The Last Dive Into Devil’s Hole.

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James Houtz came into this world nearly 80 years ago during a raging snowstorm. He lived the first three years of his life in a tiny Colorado outpost called Allen’s Park, but at the age of four, he and his older sister moved to Catalina Island after their mother was offered a job running a popular Girl Scout camp. When the Houtz’s weren’t on the island, they lived in an equally remote cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains above Los Angeles. Jim was rarely indoors, spending his early years hiking playing and hunting in the hills or diving and spearfishing in Catalina’s crystalline waters. Eventually he also took up surfing, growing particularly fond of the long pointbreak rollers around Santa Barbara.

A fanatical obsession with diving eventually led Houtz to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s submarine forces on an underwater demolition team – the precursor unit to the SEALS. He dove to recover spent torpedoes and Regulus II missiles (the first nukes ever to be launched from submarines) and led in acoustical experiments aimed at helping ships and subs run silent through the water.

Houtz was honorably discharged in 1960. He became a diving instructor and fell in with a team of experimental mermen who were working determine what sorts of exotic cocktail of oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other inert gasses might prevent the deadly state of deep dive drunkenness known as nitrogen narcosis.

By the early mid 1960’s, Houtz began a well-publicized mapping exploration of the deepest depths of a gigantic, tidally influenced western aquifer whose sole connection to the earth’s surface is a tiny volcanic fissure near Death Valley – a scar called Devils’ Hole. The hole is home to a critically endangered species, the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, and is steeped in lore. Native Americans held that a beast hid in its depths that would leap from the water and pull careless humans to their deaths. The Reverend Ethan Allen believed it a gateway to Hell, while Charles Manson thought his Family could hide safely in its depths during the coming chaos of Helter Skelter, and find a lost city of gold.

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Merl Dobry and Jim Houtz inch their way through a narrow passage on the way to Brown’s Room. The photograph illuminated a world of utter darkness darkness at 92 feet. Photo courtesy, Jim Houtz.

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