Diving - The adventure continues!
April 2018 - Liveaboard in the Maldives - Part 2
We remained in Ari South today, with another current affected (although much less so!) Thila dive before Breakfast and then a novelty, a Wreck!
Vilamendhoo Thila was another nice dive, much bigger than the one the previous day, and the current wasn’t as fierce, but for some reason Iris decided to swim us out into the blue, directly into the current, with little result, except guzzling my air dramatically!
In the end, we gave up and let the current drift us to the far side, where were able to shelter and explore the Thila in more comfort, ending up getting a 49 Minute dive.
Shoal of Batfish
White Tip Shark
Anemone and its resident fish
A couple of White Tip Sharks came pretty close at one point, but mostly it was the usual suspects.
The wreck is known as the Machchafushi Wreck after the island where it sits on sand just outside a resort (Who deliberately sank it for an attraction) at 30M.
It's actually a Japanese vessel, the MS Kudimaa.
We descended, most of my group looking for eels under the keel, but I stuck at deck level and made a video, before joining them on the bottom for the Rudder and Propellor.
Stern of the wreck
Tiny fish inside handrail
Angelfish and Bannerfish on superstructure
I then headed up to the superstructure (it’s a small cargo vessel). Swam through the bridge and then met up with the others as the swam along the hull.
There’s an opening into the hold on the side of the ship, which most people were going in, but Iris didn’t bother, so I nipped in for a quick look (nothing to see really) and then surfaced through the hatches above, rejoining them on the bow.
We swam back along the deck, seeing a tiny Blenny in a rail on the bow, and Moorish Idols, Box and other fish around the mast, before surfacing on my DSMB (I managed to drop back down to 8M after completing my safety stop when launching it, so had to do another 3 minutes stop!)
The morning had been cloudy, with even the odd drop of rain and a clap of thunder as I reboarded after the Wreck dive.
We returned for lunch and then relaxed for a while before the 3rd dive of the day...
This was originally planned to be another Thila (one with 5 distinct peaks), but the current was immediately identified as too strong, so we did a wall dive instead.
The current was pretty quick, and varied, sometimes up and down as well, but we went with the flow and, whilst pretty quick, it was an enjoyable dive, notable spots on this dive included a Moray, a couple of Lion Fish and some White Tip Sharks as we neared the end.
A night dive followed tea and cake. This proved to be a gentle drift along a wall, with many overhangs and small caves. It was pleasant enough, with an intestine like yellow and white Sea Cucumber being the stand out, if a little unremarkable. I suspect, in honesty, I was a bit tired by this point.
That night we moved onto Meenu Atoll to do some Kandhu (Channel) dives, where the current rushes in and out through the reef, bringing plentiful food and attracting the pelagic fishes (Sharks, Rays, Barracuda, Tuna and others).
The first, pre-breakfast dive was to Vanhuruavaali Kandhu . We dropped in on the Ocean side of the Atoll and quickly made our way to the side of the reef in the channel mouth.
There we were exposed to the current, brisk, not raging, and hooked ourselves onto the reef at around 30M and watched the show, as the big fish swooped in and out of the current, looking for food. There were about 6 Sharks (Grey Reef Sharks and, I think, some Blacktips), a few Eagle Rays, at least one Barracuda and one Tuna, plus thousands of schooling fish.
Grey Reef Shark
As our No-Deco time started to run out, even on Nitrox, we made our way back up the reef, away from the current and spent the next 15 minutes or so, exploring the shallower parts of the reef, before swimming out into the blue, so that the boat could pick us up again.
That had been a really good “Channel Diving” experience, pretty much as I’d expected, but the following two, either side of lunch at Mulaka Kandhu and Rakheedo Corner, were much more like your typical wall drift dive, with significantly less ‘big fish’ activity than the first.
Spotted Eagle Ray
Still not sure what Wrasse this is, but they're lovely!
As time progressed some impressive looking clouds built up, but they often disappeared by morning
A type of Pufferfish, I think
Both were pleasant enough, and the current pretty brisk on the afternoon dive, but aside from a few Eagle Ray sightings and a few big Tuna and a couple of big Napoleon Wrasses on the second, it was fairly traditional (not to say bad, of course!) Maldivian Reef diving.
Enjoyable dives, both, but the morning one was definitely the highlight.
We only did 3 dives today, as we headed further into the Vaavu Atoll for tomorrow’s diving....
We had a torrential rain storm in the evening, but the day dawned bright with the odd cloud.
We arose early in the hope of being in the blue in front of the Fotteyo channel at the right time to see a Hammerhead Shark or two, but after 25 minutes of hanging we admitted defeat. (I’d spotted one Shark while we waited, but I’m pretty sure it was a Reef Shark of some sort) .
Many-Spotted Sweetlips - A big fish
We headed over to the Oceanside reef wall for the remainder of the dive and spotted some more Reef Sharks and plenty of other fish around the reef – Even without a Hammerhead, it was a good dive, we always knew with such warm water (30C) it was a long shot to see a Hammerhead, but with our luck with Whale Sharks nearly everyone felt it was worth a try.
After breakfast, our second dive was in the Fotteyo channel proper. Again, this was mostly a drift along the wall and latterly the reef, but the light was incredible, looking like 5M at 20!
Black & White Snapper
Surgeonfish impersonate the Red Arrows!
This made spotting all sorts of life very easy and we saw a few White Tip Reef Sharks, a Napoleon Wrasse, 3 good sized Eagle Rays and, as someone else put it “Fish Soup”!
As we ate lunch the boat moved along the Vaavu Atoll to a spot near Fushi Valu known as “The Golden Wall”.
This is so named as much of the wall is peppered with yellow coral, giving it a ‘golden’ coloration.
Not a great photo, but you can see the 'golden' colouration
Another Porcupine Fish does the Peter Lorre look
This was a nice afternoon dive, with plenty of fish, but nothing particularly unusual until near the end when we spotted a white Ray – This was a Porcupine Ray and it came pretty close, so we got a good look at it.
Black & Orange Filefish
Another pretty Wrasse of some sort, I think!
Just about to reboard the Dhoni
Probably the most unusual experience of the trip followed as a our final night dive of the trip.
By now we were at Alimathi, a famous Itailan owned resort island in Vaavu Atoll and we dived the Alimathi Jetty.
Marc explained that local fisherman delivering to the resort were asked to bring ‘cleaned fish’ and so tended to gut the fish around the Jetty, providing a feast for Rays, Nurse Sharks and Trevallys.
I’m not sure how true this, and suspect some degree of ‘feeding’ goes on here, but the upshot is a chaotic, but exciting night dive, where you lie amongst these big fish, swooping in and out, sometimes brushing past you and large, ugly looking Trevallys, dodging your head by inches, all by torch light.
Sharks, Rays and Trevallys are everywhere and totally unworried by divers
There were 5 or 6, sometimes more possibly, Nurse Sharks amongst us at times and many, many more Trevallys and Jacks, plus 2 or 3 reasonably sized Stingrays.
Rays, big and not so...
Sharks seemed to look for food in particular places, making us wonder if food is left to attract them...
Overhead, though, we could see 40 or 50 Nurse Sharks passing by, it was, if I suspect not the most natural gathering, certainly a pretty unforgettable one and most people were ‘buzzing’ when we returned to the boat after 45 minutes or so.
A tiny part of the huge gathering of Sharks overhead
It was certainly good to see Nurse Sharks up close as we’d seen no others on the rest of the trip.
Dinner was late that evening and I retired to bed fairly early, although by the time I’d backed the day’s photos and videos up to my PC and read for a bit, it was gone 11PM.
We dived near Altamathi again on Thursday morning, this being a more traditional Channel dive at Miyaru Kandu (Shark Channel). We did see a Grey and a few Whitetip Sharks, but the current wasn’t strong and the guides reported that activity was fairly low (Sadly this seemed to have been a bit of a theme on the Channel Dives, whether due to the timings of our dives or the time of year, I’m not sure).
Resting White Tip Shark
Huge Ray - A Black or Blotched Faintail, not sure which!
After observing the activity in the Channel for a bit, we moved up onto the reef, where there was a resting White Tip Shark, a number of Moray Eels, a Mantis Shrimp and one enormous, resting, Sting Ray (The fish guide onboard suggesting it was a Blotched Fantail Ray), which Iris reckoned was eating.
As well, of course, there were the usual cast of thousands of reef fish and it was another enjoyable hour or so, with a maximum depth just over 30M for a few moments.
As we ate breakfast and rested, the boat moved onto the South Male Atoll.
Our dives here were both on the Kandhooma Thila. The first was one of those ‘strapped to the roof a speeding car’ kind of dives with a fairly strong current driving us over the Thila and, as we neared the edges, of forcing us down its sides.
There were lots of Sharks to see here – As we descended, I spotted a couple of Greys and then a lot of smaller sharks, I counting 15 in this group in total! Over the whole dive I counted 25, but the rest were all White Tips.
Huge shoals on this dive
Another part of the shoal, I even think there's a Flying Fish there!
We spent a few minutes reef hooked in to watch activity in the Channel, but whilst you could see Sharks now and then, the visibility was cloudy, so we moved on after 10 minutes or so.
Other highlights of the dive were the biggest Turtle I’ve seen so far, someone reported seeing two of the same size, and a Honeycomb Moray Eel.
We reached the end of the Thila and surfaced, I only had 40 Bar in my 15L tank, swimming into the current at the start and then fighting up to avoid being swept into deeper water had taken its toll after 45 minutes!
White Tip Shark
Typical Resort buildings
We dived here again after lunch, but there was only a mild to medium current, but not generally enough to be hard work, so we could explore the Thila in a more leisurely manner.
Struggle to identify this fish, even the family - Maybe a Damselfish, but probably too big!
Iris got very excited about a Blue Marlin that passed above us and a Napoleon Wrasse came close as did a smallish Turtle. Mostly, though, it was a case of hunting out interesting Reef fish.
As above, presumably related!
Bannerfish soup (or are they Moorish Idols?)
I actually had air to spare at the end of this dive, although others had been down near the bottom of other Thila for some time.
Big Napoleon Wrasse
Humpback Unicorn Fish
On the way back, we saw a small Pod of Pilot Whales. They were notably bigger, and slower moving, than the Dolphins we’d seen on other days .
Dinner followed at 7PM and was, as usual, excellent.
Friday, our final day in the water, saw us carry out two dives.
First was at a site called ‘The Fish Factory’ - It’s actually a processing plant, where local fishermen drop their catches and they’re processed.
Unsurprisingly, lots of unused fish leftovers goes straight into the sea and, equally unsurprisingly, such a guaranteed source of food attracts a huge number and variety of fish.
Evil looking sky full of thunder on our final morning's diving
Beautifully marked Honeycomb Moray Eels
Six morays, one hole!
Reports included a Guitar Shark (I believe someone saw it on our dive, but I didn’t) and a Tiger Shark (which no-one reported seeing), but amongst the huge shoals of fish (including one of Remoras, I’ve never seen more than a couple unattached before), were a large number of very large Morays, including 6 sharing a single hole - Only a surplus of food could lead to such sociable creatures!
Remoras live here in a shoal - Something I'd never seen elsewhere
Shoals of fish, including a lot of Remoras
Abundance of food makes fish more sociable!
The seabed was scattered with the remains of fish, but it was a huge variety and number of fish here that made the rather unpromising location (close to Male), such a great dive site, even in poor light (It was very overcast and I used my GoPro light for a number of photographs!.
The final dive was Maa Giri and, to a great extent summarised the Maldives diving.
It included a number of Thilas and reefs scattered around the Male Atoll.
Vivid blue aneamoe and their fish were a common sight
plenty of life on the reefs
Once again we saw loads of fish and Morays, plus a turtle, a minute yellow box fish and some tiny crabs.
Typical reef site
As we headed back towards Male harbour, we spotted a pod of Dolphins, including some energetic infants (18 inches or so long) that were barrel rolling out of the water!
We disassembled our kit and packed it into boxes so that the crew could rinse it and dry it (weather permitting!) ready for us to pack that evening.
After lunch most of us headed to Male for a tour around the city. I’d heard plenty of horror stories about Male, but it seemed no less savoury than most 3rd world towns I’ve been in, in fact quite a lot better than some British towns!
The old Presidential Palace
Modern buildings and fountains in the business area
Busy fruit market
We saw the newish Mosque (paid for with Saudi money), a memorial to people killed in a terrorist attack, the old and new Presidential Palaces, the shrine of the man who’d bought Islam to the Maldives and an old cemetry and mosque.
We also passed through the, by now nearly empty, fish market and the bustling fruit and veg market (which looked very appetising!). Some of the Americans were stressed that the wifi hadn’t worked on the boat for the last half of the trip (I’d followed advice on the web and bought a local SIM card at the airport for $15 and so had internet whenever we were close enough to an island with a mast, but I seemed to be the only person on the trip who did!) and so they hadn’t been able to book in online for their return flights.
So our guide, Loulou (as he called himself), took them to an Olive Garden Pizzeria which had wifi and i nipped across the road to a rather nice looking Gelatari and bought myself an ice cream.
After that we walked back to the harbour and jumped back on the Dhoni to return to the boat.
Most people in the parts of Male we visited seemed either friendly or disinterested in us, it was certainly not the frightening place some had painted it as.
That evening we had a large Asian Feast meal, which was excellent and watched the video that had been made of the trip (You could buy it, but experience tells me I’d never watch it again, so I passed, but it was pretty good and many did).
Table decoration for the final night
There were also awards for some who had taken courses on-board, a couple of people who’d hit milestone dives on the trip (one was 900, the other a thousand dives and a couple of other people were close to those numbers too).
Finally, everyone who’d completed all the available dives was awarded a medal and certificate as an ‘Iron Diver’, me included.
It was a fairly early start on the Saturday.
We said our farwells to the crew and set off on the Dhoni across Male harbour towards the airport (only to turn back as someone had forgotten some crucial item!).
Heading back to the airport
We unloaded our luggage and went our separate ways after some fond farewells.
We had all shared experiences and got on pretty well, everyone hugged and shook hands and some (like myself) headed straight to departures, whilst others had a few more hours or days in the Maldives before heading home.
Dive Guides and Passengers - Courtesy of Aggressor
Overall, it had been a wonderful trip. The boat (with the sole exception of a recurring smell of fuel in the cabins) and crew were excellent, with great food and comfortable accommodation, both public and private.
The weather had been great for the first 7 days and the rain that followed certainly didn’t spoil the diving at all.
The dive briefings and guides were good and we had great success in finding the fish that many of us only hoped to see, especially the Whale Sharks (Someone said they’d waited 19 years to finally see one and we saw 4 on this trip!).
Full list of the dives
Travelling around on the boat let me dive lots of different locations, some more exciting and enjoyable than others, but all offered something of interest, and travelling alone was no problem as everyone was friendly and we all had the love of diving (and the shared experiences) in common.
Getting a cabin to myself was an unexpected bonus, but certainly one I appreciated.
Would I do a liveaboard again? Absolutely, in fact I’m trying to work out how to, right now!
So long to the Maldives...for now
Would I go to the Maldives again? Certainly, but as always, there are so many places you can go and that I want to see that it might be some while before I do!
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