New Year in the Maldives
(by Tim Hunt)
Had we planned to fly from Gatwick or Heathrow we wouldn’t have been able to take off because of the snow, but since our fellow travellers, Bob and Fre, live 10 minutes by taxi from Manchester Airport , that seemed the sensible departure venue. We woke on Saturday to about 3 inches of snow, but the airport was operating smoothly, and only 3 hours behind schedule. 8 hours to Dubai on an Airbus A380, an because everything was delayed, we had a mad dash to the other end of the airport for our connecting flight to Male. 4 hours later we were there.
Sea Spirit is one of two boats run by Maldives Scuba Tours (www.scubascuba.com). We had been aboard the same boat 5 years ago, and the only things that hadn’t changed was the cook; the rest of the crew were different, but still welcoming and efficient. The boat is wooden hulled, with lounge/ eating area and sundeck, plus 6 double cabins with en-suite shower and head. Lunch and dinner were served on the front deck. Dave and Tracey ran the diving and were very knowledgeable about the dive sites and the underwater life. They had to change plans a few times, because of weather forecasts and information from other vessels, but theirs and the crew’s relaxed professionalism and enthusiasm kept everything running smoothly.
At this stage we were the only 4 guests on board; the following day 2 arrived from Birmingham and 2 from Paris but the last pair were due from Gatwick; sadly, and it was their honeymoon, they weren’t going to get to Male ‘till Thursday, so they cancelled.
The usual routine on Sea Spirit revolves around 3 dives a day; pre-breakfast, pre-lunch and pre-tiffin; dinner follows about 2 hours later. That’s a 7am. briefing for the first dive, hop onto the support dhoni and head for the water. All the gear stays on the dhoni where the cylinders are filled from the onboard compressor. The first full day’s diving we did Banana Reef, Velassaru Caves and Kuda Giri, and spent the between-dive rest pouring over the identification books; snappers, wrasses, angels, triggers, parrots and 3 species of moray. Tracey has a super-keen eye for the little stuff; pipefish, nudibranchs, cleaner shrimps, etc. so anyone with their camera set to macro followed her around.
Dave generally dropped in for a current check; and sometimes there were currents…oh yeah…the worst was a fierce down current at the back of Atabu Thila; once I had let go of my hand-hold on to a rock, I had to over-inflate my jacket and zoom up to 10 meters and regroup. At this depth there seemed to be no current and I watched some of the others struggling and thinking about doing the same manoeuvre as me. We all made it back to the surface but everyone agreed that it was a dive we didn’t want to repeat.
The next day we dived Kudadhoo Thila to 14 meters populated by a million neon fusiliers tearing around like XR-3 drivers. By complete contrast, a school of about 2000 blue-line snapper cruised serenely and I managed to drift into the centre of the group for a very up-close and personal experience. The next dive was Captain’s Thila, covered in a trillion silversides; bait-fish that ebb and swirl and part spectacularly when a diver swims through them; absolutely brilliant. Jacks and tuna were buzzing about feeding at the edges of the fish mass.
We did see sharks; white tip reef, grey reef and leopard, but one white tip was swimming around us inquisitive for a few minutes before flopping down on the sandy bottom…bored I think!
We didn’t see any mantas while we were diving but had a magical experience snorkelling with 4 of them. They were gliding past within touching distance for about 30 minutes, doing forward rolls and feeding in the plankton rich water.
17 dives in 5 full days, beautiful, demanding, eye-popping, relaxing, stressy, awesome, and indelible and did I say, beautiful.
The simple mind of man, even with an unlimited palette, could never conceive of the variety of shapes and patterns and colours of the fish we saw; Darwin ’s guiding hand over millions of years of evolution has managed such spectacular wonder.
Christmas morning we wanted to get an early start to look for hammerheads out in the blue; no sharks but 6 of us did dive wearing Santa hats.
Dinner that evening was roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings with Christmas pudding (which we took out and almost put us over our baggage allowance) washed down with some very passable Australian red.
A farewell to the crew who had looked after us magnificently.
All over too quickly, but we needed a rest now; 35 minutes in a 14 seater sea-plane run by Maldivian Air Taxis; when I saw the pilot kick his flip-flops off to get a better feel of the foot controls I knew we were in chill-out zone: our island is called Filatheyo on North Nilandhoo Atoll. The plane landed in a lagoon about 10 minutes by dhoni from the dock. From there we were processed at reception and escorted to our cabin; about 5 minutes walk. The Island has about 120 cabins, most overlooking the beach, with a dozen or so sea cabins over the water.
We ate at the large restaurant, which seemed to have some cuisine theme most night, but always with a great selection of curries. Other amenities included a couple of bars, gym, library, souvenir shop and water-sport centre.
Where Sea-Spirit was action and 3 dives a day (pretty good for us old-f____), Filatheyo was late breakfast and a good book on a sun bed. The snorkelling was pretty spectacular, but I think the most energetic activity was an hour’s slow circumnavigation of the entire island…..on foot. We did organise our own hermit crab racing.
We talked to the guys at the dive centre but decided that super triple filtered Maldivian air compressed through gold pipes into hand polished cylinders was a luxury we COULD forgo; well, with the prices they wanted to charge us something must have been very special.
I know it’s clichéd, but all too soon we were landing at Manchester Airport and driving down the M6 and going back to work and …………………………….planning the next diving holiday.
Tim and Inger.