In 1999, a young French entrepreneur Eric Merlin was rummaging in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris, looking – as was his habit – for anything old with links to Vietnam and Indochina. On this day, he found three postcards, dated 1916, 1917 and 1919. Two pictured paddle steamers in Halong Bay. A third showed a steamer at port in nearby Haiphong. A magnifying glass revealed the name of one of the vessels, the “Emeraude”.
For some time, the cards layin Eric’s desk in Paris.
He dreamed of finding the old vessels. Later, as those prospects dimmed, a new dream took sail. He’d rebuild one of the old paddle steamers. The vision was far more than mere homage. He planned to launch the boat on Halong Bay. The realisation would conjure not just a much missed means of transport but a lost era of glamour, romance and discovery.
In January 2003, with postcards as the only guide, he commissioned boat builders to bring back the Emeraude.