The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: weather

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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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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“The Lady of the Lake.” This Is What the Gales of November Look Like on Lake Erie

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“There have been moments on Lake Erie where I have lowered my camera,looked over it & literally out loud said to myself “What. The. Hell… Did I just see” and my jaw drops.. This was one of those moments” — Photographer Dave Sandford.

. . . And, this is the weather that took down the 729-foot iron ore carrier the Edmund Fitzgerald on nearby Lake Superior over 40 years ago this fall.

London photographer Dave Sandford wanted to see the gales of November on the Great Lakes for himself, so he set out for Canada this past fall to capture some of the most treacherous conditions Lake Erie could produce. The results are enough to evoke terror and humility in any waterperson, salty or sweet.

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The Long Rain. Joaquin’s Filthy Barrels, Epic Devastation and Rising Tide. A Photo Diary from Charleston.

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Griffin Jackson. Folly Beach. Photo: Justin Morris/Follyhood.

THE rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped. — Ray Bradbury.


Here in South Carolina, the past two weeks have been best of times for surfers, and the worst of times for everyone else. I’m not really sure how to otherwise describe the last two weeks of life here. As everyone knows, Hurricane Joaquin and the Almighty conspired just over a week ago, to unleash an apocalyptic fire hose of precipitation and surf on the Palmetto State. Rainfall in some places near my home in Charleston was along the lines of 25 inches over the course of three days. That’s half of the average annual rainfall for many parts of the state – over the course of 72 hours. If you’ve ever seen a “Pineapple Express” hit southern California – it was sort of like that, only much, much worse.

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A couple of days before Joaquin. Photo: Chris Dixon

In the days and hours leading up to the first drops of rain, while hapless Bahamians and the crew of the container ship El Faro were being mercilessly hammered, our coast was blessed with a stretch of heavenly weather and perfect waves. That’s always been the Faustian, nerve-wracking, and immoral bargain Gulf and East Coast surfers make with hurricanes. Someone is being slammed. Someone else is feasting on tropically sourced waves – and that someone may soon be under the gun too. And we would indeed be under the gun.

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The first line of storms just offshore from Folly Beach. Photo: Chris Dixon

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Watch a Massive Hailstorm Bombard a Helpless Little Fishing Skiff in the Bay of Naples, Italy

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Imagine one of those landing on your noggin. Screenshot taken from Spazio Napoli’s Facebook video.

Like dive-bombing gannets, or perhaps small mortar rounds, these baseball-sized hailstones shot into the sea at warp-speed around this helpless little open fishing skiff yesterday morning, and like any good Napolitano fishermen, this crew got the camera rolling and stood strong. Okay, so maybe there wasn’t much else for them to do, but I’d have been down on the deck hiding underneath one of those fish crates.

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Note the steel spool standing proud on the bow–an excellent lightning conductor if I ever saw one. Screenshot taken from Spazio Napoli’s Facebook video.

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Wish You Were Here: Long, Fishless, Surfless Days in New Zealand

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand, living in a house truck 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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All quiet on the Tindori bow. As a Hawaiian fisherman once told me after one fruitless day of chasing marlin off Maui, “Da sea gotta win sometimes, too, bruddah!” Photo: Satoshi Fukase.

Sometimes you zig when you should have zagged. According to the surf report from the night before, 9am was the time to be at the rivermouth. When I woke up at 8, the air was as still and warm as it’d been all winter (it’s late winter “down under”) and the skies were clear. Who knows, we might even have paddled out without our heads bound in neoprene.

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The end of a long, fish-less, surf-less day with Raw Paua. Yes, I have sheep for neighbors. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I climbed into the wheelhouse of Raw Paua at 8:30 and, looking at my fuel gauges (I have two tanks), remembered that one was reading empty, and the other had been stuck at a half a tank for over a week. In summation, I was clueless as to whether I had enough fuel to make the 5 mile drive to the rivermouth and back.

Slapping together a cursory morning meal, I decided to chance the 10-12 mile trip up State Highway 1 to the next town, which happens to be the only place within something like 50 miles, I’m discovering, where I can get my fuel (propane) tanks filled.

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Wish You Were Here: Tropical Storm Erika – Reborn Off Folly Beach?

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The Remnants of Tropical Storm Erika. Will She Be Reborn off Charleston? Photo: Chris Dixon

Last night the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika rolled out off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina and and spun up over the Gulf Stream. This morning, the results of that spin were plainly, and beautifully apparent off Folly Beach, South Carolina.

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Erika’s Swirl. Photo: NOAA. 

I rolled up at the south end of Folly just after dawn this morning and was greeted by a stunning, curved arc of grey-purple clouds, green ocean and a flawless thigh high swell. I grabbed my standup paddleboard and pointed it towards an ephemeral sandbar somewhere between a half mile and a mile to the south that was showing occasional whitewater. Folly’s northern and southern stretches are ringed by these shallows. If it’s low-tide and glassy, swells wrap, bend and peel across them before disappearing into deep water. If you know where to look, well, you get the picture.

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Nobody Out. As is Usually the Case. Photo: Chris Dixon

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