Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

April 18, 2006

Meandering through the Maldives

After a quick check out of Galle on Thursday 9th March to escape being pounded against the pier wall, (or more to the point, rafted to Time Out whilst she was being pounded against the pier) we anchored over at Watering Point (outer harbour) for two days for a bit of bottom cleaning and R&R. Not wishing to start a passage on a Friday (already having bananas and two women on board, we did not want to push our luck), we up anchored at first light Saturday morning and headed for Male in company with Bill (Time Out).

The shipping lanes were well defined and amazingly easy to cross. Only a small number of fishing boats, a whale and a leaping tuna fish were there to entertain us. Although we motored for the first day, the wind soon filled in from the west, then veered north to allow us to steer a good course. The last 24 hours we were reaching along at 7 -8 knots with two reefs in the main and our headsail – 15 knots of wind on our beam! Another 160 nm run in 24 hours!

Having Di with us meant for very lazy watches, with only 1 night watch for each of us! Although we cruise along nicely with Time Out (Petterson 44), we did become concerned about Bill when he failed to answer his VHF for over 5 hours. We decided to give up our lead and our windward position (did he know we were racing him?) and sail towards him. We eventually raised him on the VHF when we got close, (even after Bill observed us gybing back and forth, still wasn’t enough to entice him into calling us, which only reinforced our concern that something was amiss!) and eventually discovered that it was a problem with his VHF radio. Of course he had a spare on board! Between Peter Di and I, we had already decided how we would get Time Out to Male between the three of us and who would claim salvage rights.

Jacana was a day ahead of us and had organized us to come into the Male Commercial Harbour to clear in. A Mediterranean mooring, stern to the rocks facing the NE and reversing back between Bill and some small commercial boats with continual commercial traffic made for a bit of a challenge. I would not recommend it with any wind. Many other yachts have told of horror stories anchoring in there.

The officials were the friendliest gentlemen we have encountered, with no suggestion of bribes. The Quarantine Officer asked Peter to present a de-ratting certificate within 7 days. As he was saying this, our agent was completing the said certificate, passed it across to Peter, who in turn was able to present it to the Quarantine Officer! Such efficiency! With passports stamped and clearing papers done, off we went to explore Male!

Time Out had to move at dusk as a small ship needed to exit the harbour. We stayed the night then moved the next day to the airport anchorage, Hulhumale, which is 2.5 miles to the north of Male. The northern end of the anchorage, although behind a reef is a little lumpy in westerly squalls and winds, so we moved to the southern end which has 360 degree shelter, as we are tucked in behind the runway. The seaplanes had two runways behind us so we had much amusement with all types of air traffic.

It is not surprising that there is some concern of Male sinking under the weight of buildings! Almost every square meter has a multi story building on it. Some of the new buildings are quite ultra modern and represents a mini Singapore. The colours are unique being varied and bold. Very narrow streets that were never built for cars appear to be squeezed with peek hour traffic on a continual basis. We found some up market cafes (that also had wireless internet) that sold great coffee and chocolate donuts, and the Seagull Café that had some good fries and ice cream!! A walk around the island, perusing the shops and looking at life took about 2.5 hours and worked up a thirst! We visited Male from our anchorage a few times via water taxi which cost us 10 Rf return ($1).

We explored nearby Club Med (circumnavigating the island in the dinghy) and Banana Reef. As this was our first look under water, we were impressed by the new coral and the abundance of fish life. As most of the coral here suffered from bleaching in 1998, the coral is new.
After paying our dues to Abdullah, our agent, and securing an inter island cruising permit (for what reason we are not sure!) we raised the anchor once more and motored a huge 8 miles to our first stop at Laguna Beach Resort on South Male Atoll. Entrance to the lagoon was not difficult and we were able to anchor in sand amidst the bommies. We wandered around the island but were informed that if we wanted to come ashore again it was $15 USD per person!

We moved further south the next day to another resort which was difficult to find sand for our anchor – however we were in 10m of water, could see all and sundry and we had a dive shop on the shore!! Jacana had organized us to eat ashore for $15 USD per person, which turned out to be a fantastic meal! We actually got it cheaper than we should have as someone made a mistake! Lucky for Gorbar as he was paying and he wasn’t even there!!!

One of the yachties is a float plane pilot and a friend of Bill’s, and as it is always good to have friends in high places, we were given some anchorages that he had seen from the air. So by good fortune we found paradise, anchored in a sandy lagoon, with two reefs to windward and one to leeward! Apart from the sandy spit and some rocks that are a pathetic excuse for an island at the entrance, there was no sign of land or human habitation. (However, the odd safari boat and fishing boat ventured past at a distance.)

So there we were anchored in the middle of the Indian Ocean, clear skies, billions of stars, no more than 10 knots of breeze and amazing coral and fishes! Once you put your head under water, a whole new world opened up. There were times when we would turn to look at someone and you could not see them through the fish!! Such an amazing array of corals with sensational colours! We had the great rescue of a manta ray that got caught up in Bill’s trip line and many adventures to the different reefs and Di and Peter climbed the light on the outer reef. It is the different colours of the water that brings the most sensational image to the eyes. The variable colours of the deep blue of the ocean depths, to the azure colour of a sandy bottom at about 10 m of depth, then the opaque lime green over the shallows, although difficult to catch on camera will remain imprinted on our mind.

We continued our way south to a circular atoll, which had a small uninhabited island at the entrance. En route we passed a pod of whales heading in the opposite direction. Many local fishing boats were inside the atoll – the first local fishermen we had seen. We poked around and found a 10m sand patch inside the reef, with protection from our westerly winds. Behind us, at the entrance, a small deserted island with a sand bar made for a good spot to burn some rubbish. A horrid deathly smell on the island alerted Bill to something being amiss. He was on a mission! The culprit was a dead whale that had been washed up on the shore, with teeth already extracted by some enterprising person. We burnt our plastic rubbish and had a snorkel – giant manta rays and some large old corals on one of the south facing walls of the inner reef. With some fine negotiation by Bill (with Di and I assisting) we purchased our first fish (2 fish for 2 USD) and had a B-B-Q on Time Out.
Listening to the SE Asia Maritime Net we heard that the Brits have asked all the yachts in Chagos to leave for the first week in April. So we are in no hurry to head down there as yet! What a place to sit back and relax!!!! The Maldives certainly deserve months of exploring, and we only have one month!

We had heard from another yacht of the massive trees that had washed up on the reefs in the Maldives. We had not seen any until Meemu Atoll, which I guess is where the Equatorial Ocean Current reaches the Maldives. The north east reefs around Meemu and the next two atolls south were littered with such trees. They look like small islands from afar! Yachts last year were lucky not to have hit one of these. The locals say the trees are from Ache.

We had no notes on anchorages in Meemu Atoll, but Lonely Planet mentioned the villages on the local islands. Sounded good to us! A significant swell was running which transpired into huge surf along the shore. We could not see the entrance until we were quite close. It was late afternoon and an anchorage was needed before the sun got too low.
Peter and Di launched the dinghy and did a ‘reckie’ into the harbour and Bill surveyed further south where it looked likely to be a channel into the lagoon. Both were successful and it was decided to take the later entrance, which turned out to be the better anchorage. We had inadvertently stumbled onto another piece of paradise! The two local islands were typically Maldivian with their swept sandy streets with walled, coral houses. They also had ice cream!! There was much re-building due to tsunami damage. The colours of the water were phenomenal – such brilliant aquamarine and brilliant lime green in the shallows. (The later is reflected in the sky from a distance.) This lagoon ran for about 6 miles that we could see.

A resort 4 miles down looked interesting, so off we set in the dinghies. A great run in flat water. We were allowed to wander around the resort, offered reading books for free and were welcomed (of course) in the bar! It certainly was a bar with a view to die for – speaking of which, Di and I took the opportunity to add to our exotic locations in the world for enjoying Pina Coladas!

The sail to Huvadhoo Atoll was a night sail. Di had saved a bottle – Wolf Blass no less, to send off a message. At 0200 at the designated latitude, I woke Di up to complete the task. After blinding ourselves with the need for photographic evidence, the bottle sailed over the rail and into the night. Wanting to share our fun we gave Bill a call on the VHF. (Who sleeps at this hour anyway?) Two hysterical women in the wee hours of the morning..well, what can one say? Peter slept through the ordeal…..or at least pretended to!

We had notes on a sand bar to the north of the island which we think we found and anchored 6m sand. The atoll was alive with dolphins chasing tuna and leaping around with absolute gay abandon. Early afternoon an apparition appeared in the guise of a local lad on a surf board, who promptly scampered aboard and helped himself to some cigarettes. We were invited ashore to his island (Kolamaafushi) and were asked not to talk to anyone else! We were obviously his ‘prize’. Of course Di and I stopped to speak to some gentlemen sitting under the tree (as they do in the afternoons) and were reprimanded for doing so. We were beckoned to ‘come come’ as we were a little slow and more than the customary 5 paces behind our host and Peter. He paraded us around the village, wanting nothing but to show us friendship. We were given fresh tropical fruits and invited to sit with his family for a fresh coconut drink.

Next morning we made our last 21 miles to get to Thinadoo for Di to fly back to Perth. A great sail on the outside of the atoll. Bill caught a shark and called us up to ask what he should do with it? The temporary silence on the radio was our surprise that he was asking us. Whilst we were bouncing around comments, the shark took a dislike to being dragged along the side of Time Out and promptly bit through the steel tracer and swam off with all and sundry. Problem solved!

We finally caught up with Jacana, with Yo and Dan cooking us an amazing meal. We swapped stories and invited 3 local guys, one of whom new Dan’s cousin as she frequently comes to Male as a surfing guide. As it happened, the owner of the safari boat was a Maldivian national cricketer – opening batsman. Martey, the surf guide, invited us over for lunch the next day. What a wonderful farewell for Di! They took her off to the airport in their safari boat and Di got her wish of getting to the airport in the dinghy as they had to take the dinghy the last 100 meters.

A few more rest days hanging out at the island, finally satisfying our ‘tub of ice-cream hunt’, which entailed sitting on a shop step with three spoons and a tub of chocolate ice-cream, to the amusement of the locals. (The last time Peter, Bill and I did this was in Kalumburu Mission, Kimberley.)

It was now time to head to our last anchorage in the atoll, which was a good launching point for the final leap to Gan, our last Maldivian Atoll. Our anchorage was in a shallow sandy spot which butted up to a reef with more dolphins leaping about with even more gay abandon, herding tuna that, in response, were jumping clear of the water – various dive combinations – double pike landing on back, single dive, triple pike.

The anchorage also had a local flotilla anchored with us..its great when you get the best local anchorages. We departed the sand patch in the dark at 0445, as we had done a bit of a reconnoiter the previous afternoon and charted our passage out through the reef. A fishing boat was high and dry on the reef next to the channel – even the locals can get it wrong!

We motor sailed the Equatorial channel so we could make the anchorage in good light. Clear skies..but now we are winter!!! Bill was not far behind, sporting the 9th hole under his water line (with a few barnacles as well!) We crossed equator at 0745 on the 8th April offering Neptune rum and a Koala Bear, for Di.

There were 15 yachts in Gan and we were the first 3 to arrive without flying a yellow flag. What an absolutely amazing cruising ground. Having motor biked along all the islands in Gan, bunkering and provisioning complete, we left Gan at 0830 on Thursday 13th April to make our last southing to Chagos. We are hoping for some wind at least – being careful what we wish for!

No comments: