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Notes from producer Frédérique Lengaigne

When we first discovered our boat docked in the Southern Burmese harbor of Kaw Thaung, we raised our eyebrows with skeptism. We couldn't believe that wreck would take us through the dangerous passages and seas of the Mergui Archipelago. The boat the Burmese had found for us, the Htaik Wai Lin, was an old wooden cargo boat that had been painted a dull gray probably decades ago.

We left the harbor on December 5, 2001, with 11 people onboard and the hope of finding the last of the Moken flotillas.

For a month or two, the Moken would always disappear on us. We would spot them at a distance, anchored along the shore. By the time we would get closer, they would have fled and disappeared behind a cliff or an islet. The Burmese had forgotten to tell us that the Htaik Wai Lin was an old military boat; the very sight of it was probably frightening the Moken away.
On the way back to Kaw Thaung, we had our own flag made up of some colorful cloth we bought in the local market. The Moken could easily recognize the flag from a distance, and soon they stopped running away from us.

In the middle of a December night, our captain suddenly rang the alarm. The boat was slowly sinking into the sand as the tide was ebbing. The morning revealed the ghostly sight of our boat lying high and dry in the middle of the beautiful bay of Kubo.

The Htaik Wai Lin and her crew brought us daily adventures like this. We almost lost the boat and the crew on several occasions, especially after a monsoon hit the archipelago in May. It started almost like a joke in a cartoon. As we were ready to drop the anchor to get protection from the coming storm, a sailor got his ankle caught in the anchor's rope. Somebody quickly cut it with a machete, freeing the anchor, but soon the boat was drifting dangerously in the current. Klaus was getting ready to dive when, with an amazing stroke of luck, the captain spotted the tip of the rope floating in the current, and we could pull it back up.
Despite the leaks, the engine failures, and the unsettling creaking of the wooden planks, the Htaik Wai Lin became our home. Abbey of the Nyaung Wee flotilla told us he was getting used to seeing the big gray boat parked in the bay. He said he slept better the nights we were around, knowing we could come help them in case of trouble, knowing nobody would dare come and bother them while the Htaik Wai Lin was watching after them.

On December 28, 2002, the Htaik Wai Lin left for good the shores of Nyaung Wee Island. On the way back to Kaw Thaung, a military patrol boat stopped us, wondering what kind of flag was flying on top of the front mast.

A Moken flag perhaps...


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