Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Mergui Archipelago (day 1)

I wanted to see a little of the far south of Myanmar in the Tanintharyi Region which forms the northernmost part of the Malay Peninsula. Here, the land mass is only around 45 miles wide and this is shared by Myanmar, with its coast facing west on the Andaman Sea, and Thailand, with its coast facing east on the Thai Gulf.

Since this part of Myanmar is largely noted for its 800-odd offshore islands forming the Mergui Archipelago (also called the Myeik Archipelago), I'd decided to take one of the Burma Boating Cruises on a small sailing ship embarking in Kawthaung.

Events of Saturday, 23rd April 2016

Flying is by far the fastest way of travelling from Yangon to Kawthaung so on Saturday, 23rd April 2016 I travelled on an Apex Airlines ATR-42 turbo-prop XY-AJV from Yangon with one intermediate stop at Dawei.

On arrival at Kawthaung, luggage is unloaded as an elderly fuel bowser re-fuels the aircraft.

On arrival, I was met by the Burma Boating chief guide, Aung Kyaw Kyaw, and introduced to two fellow-passengers. We were driven into Kawthaung and disembarked at Myoma Jetty, near the centre of the bustling town where we were joined by two more passengers. We were told that the final two passengers were arriving from Ranong Airport in Thailand.

Myoma Jetty, Kawthaung.

We made our way across the jetty to the floating steel pontoon against which a number of large launches were moored. Half-hidden in a corner was a rigid, inflatable dinghy which was to take us to our vessel. Clambering off the steel pontoon into the dinghy was safely accomplished and we set off across the harbour to an elegant sailing vessel, the 'Meta IV' and our home for the next six days.

My home for six days - 'Meta IV'.

A few statistics of the 'Meta IV'

Length: 23.75 m
Breadth: 5.7 m
Draught: 2.85 m
Net tonnage: 35
Gross tonnage: 58
Fitted with a 195 kW Cummins diesel and single, reversible screw.

She was built 1998 in Phuket, Thailand and there are some interesting pictures of her construction and early trials in the album Sailing Vessel 'Meta IV'. Although built and originally rigged as a 2-masted ketch, the sail has been removed from the aft ('mizzen') mast so she now has a headsail and mainsail. Most of our cruising was performed using the diesel engine but, on two days, the crew ran under sail part of the time, easily making 8 knots.

To accommodate up to 8 passengers and 4 crew, together with auxiliary engine, fuel, fresh water and effluent tanks, within the complex contours of the sailing hull requires some ingenuity but the result, if not spacious, was practical, including a shower cubicle with vacuum-flush toilet for each cabin.

Sailing Vessel 'Meta IV': My cabin.

My cabin had a lower bunk set fore-and-aft, which I used, and an upper bunk athwartship.

En-suite Vacuum W.C., Wash handbasin and Shower.

Sailing to Ba Wel Island

Once our final passengers, a young couple, were on board, the anchor was raised and we headed out to sea using the diesel engine, passing one anchored cargo vessel, the 'Shwe Tharaphu' and numerous fishing vessels of various sizes and designs.

Kawthaung and its fishing fleet viewed from 'Meta IV' en route to Ba Wel Island.

The mainland falling behind us was dotted with golden pagodas, as were some of the islands we were passing. At one point, I saw a strange construction rising out of the sea - a fence of vertical bamboo poles covered in netting which I presumed was a 'fish trap'. Our inflatable dinghy was simply towed behind us, on a long line. We were flying a rather faded Austrian flag at the stern, as 'Meta IV' was registered in Salzburg, Austria.

Aboard Sailing Vessel 'Meta IV' to Ba Wel Island.

With guests assembled in the dining area on the aft deck, our guide gave us a briefing on our itinerary for the next few days which would take us to various locations around Lampi Marine National Park.

Map of Lampi Marine National Park.
Click here for a larger view.

I spotted Myanmar Navy vessel 558. There's an interesting Wikipedia article on the Myanmar Navy from which I learned that 558 is a 5-series Fast Attack Craft built by the Myanmar Naval Dockyard in 2004 armed with both guns and missiles.

Fast Attack Craft 558.

It was late afternoon when we anchored off Ba Wel Island and celebratory champagne was served to the guests.

Arrival off Ba Wel Island.

Our first visit ashore on Ba Wel Island

Our trailing dinghy was hauled alongside on the port side and the guests prepared for the first of many disembarcations in order to be ferried to a nearby deserted white sand beach. Whilst the other guests enjoyed a cooling swim in the tranquil water, I contented myself with beachcombing. All the time, fishing vessels were anchoring offshore apparently for the night, some in companiable groups side-by-side, some individually. We then returned to 'Meta IV' for a splendid dinner prepared by our Thai lady cook before retiring for our first night afloat.

Related posts

A report on the following day on 'Meta IV' is here.

All my posts on my trip to Myanmar in 2016 can be found here.

My pictures

Pictures in this article can be viewed uncropped by clicking on the image. To view in other resolutions or download, select from the albums below:-

Yangon - Dawei - Kawthaung by air.
Around Kawthaung.
Sailing Vessel 'Meta IV'.
Sailing from Kawthaung to Ba Wel Island.

All my pictures taken on my trip to Burma in 2016 are in the collection Burma, 2016.

[Minor corrections: 8-Jul-2016]