March 31st, 2010, posted by Max Jourdan Tags: Crew, Max Jourdan, Oceans

Mermaids – ‘They hang out under patches of floating kelp and seaweed,’ the lady at the Sausalito bait and tackle store told us. She seemed to know. ‘You need to head for those and trawl your lures there. That’s where you’ll catch the Dorados’. Problem is, we haven’t seen any drifting kelp since we left SF 10 days ago and, let’s face it, the Plastiki has as much steering capabilities as an oversized bathtub rubber duck.

No seaweed; which reminds me of the time I pitched a photo travel piece about mermaids to a fashion magazine. I’d read somewhere that the mermaid myth originated in a small island off the Southern coast of Korea. This island is run as a matriarchy and the women’s occupation has for centuries been the gathering of pearls and edible seaweeds. These female divers have broken records and over the years developed a phenomenal capacity for holding their breath. Apparently they swam naked and early navigators sighting these aquatic beauties came back with phantasmagorical tales of sea creatures, half-fish half-woman.

I managed to lure the magazine editor with my own fabulous visions of modern mermaids and got the assignment sold on the spot. She was even going to get the fashion department to source swimwear for me to take out on the trip.

I flew out to Seoul with a suitcase full of bikinis and a map of the island. I spent a night in a run down hotel and quickly headed south. Coming off the island ferry at dawn I headed, like all of the other passengers, for breakfast at the fish market. I sat with other diners at a long table surrounded by tons of dead fish and live ones squirming in tanks. There was no menu and I don’t speak a word of Korean, so I pointed at various dishes and sushi combos other people were eating. Somebody came up to me to feel the hairs on my arms. Then I was served a live baby octopus skewered on a stick. I dipped it in wasabi and to the table’s great amusement the writhing thing stuck a desperate arm up my nostril as I stuffed it into my mouth.

It took a while to get anyone to understand what I was looking for – naked female pearl divers. Finally a man approached me in the street and asked in broken english if I was lost. ‘Not really’, I said. ‘I’m looking for diving women,’ he giggled. ‘Not so many ladies now!’ He pointed down the coast line and marked the direction on my map.

I pitched up to a tiny seaside village, camera and swim suits in hand. The skies were grey and a bitter off shore wind was blowing. The beach and rocks were lava-black and strewn with flotsam. Tankers and rusting wrecks filled my frame. On the jagged rocks, a group of septuagenarian woman were crouched around a large net of seaweed sorting plastics and other detritus from the
edible stuff .

As I approached they turned and stared at me. They wore thick, tatty neoprene suits and home made goggles. Their faces were tanned and wrinkled like antique leather. Arthritic fingers pointed at me and shooed me away. ‘No. No!’ a diver shouted at me as she hauled herself onto the rocks. She was clutching a length of rope tied to a trawler size net of glistening seaweed. ‘There’s no way I can leave here without a set of photos’ I thought. I hung around like a lone seal around a pod of females.

One of them must have taken pity on me because she beckoned me over and handed me a rope. ‘You pull this monster out of the water,’ she seemed to imply ‘and you can take some photos of us’. I tugged and worked to get what seemed like my body weight of wet sea vegetables up onto the shore. My hands were blistered and bloodied, but I got my shots and I never worked for that magazine again.

Max filming on board the Plastiki

3 comments  | Comments are closed



  1. Ulla says:

    You’ve made me very curious – is there anywhere on the internet where those shots can be seen ? I’d love to take a look :-)

  2. Laurel says:

    I LOVE your descriptions, Max! Incredible detail. I hope you help to write the Plastiki book when the time comes. After reading this the other day, the image of the tiny desperate octopus tentacle up the nose kept going through my head! I’ll think twice the next time octopus is on the sushi menu!

  3. mike C - stampede says:

    Happy Birthday Max! for 9th April

    Stick the camera on the tripod for the day and sink your teeth into some sushi. Have an interesting, mid-Pacific kind of birthday.

    Your Lady left a message for me…no wonder your email bounces back and your phone rings out..Please drop me a line about your schedule if you have one, and learn to swim quick. And catch me a fish!

    Good luck.

    Mike C