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Published: October 29th 2014
After my Greece and Turkey trip this August, I didn't think I would go anywhere else until the rest of the year. I was wrong. I could not resist the temptation of joining my friends to go for a seven night live aboard in Maldives. How could I say no to a 45 meter, four deck yacht? After a great difficulty in getting clearance from work, I flew to the capital city of Maldives, Male, on October 4th evening and met 16 other divers who came from Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. Once landed at the airport, we were introduced to each other and transported by a dhoni, local wooden boat, to Maldives Princess, was a beauty! It was spacious enough for the 17 of us with a proper living room, a bar, a dining room and a sundeck with a jacuzzi (which unfortunately didn't work). It's a live aboard package inclusive of three meals a day and a total of eighteen dives.
The next morning on Sunday, as the boat headed towards Ari Atoll, we could see beautiful white sand island resorts nearby. We woke up early as we were eager to go for our check dive, done at
at the beginning of each dive trip so that the Dive Master can see the skill of each diver. Unfortunately, we had to wait for a few hours until our dive boat was fully repaired, and while waiting, we spent our afternoon by kayaking and swimming near the boat. How we wish we could have visited a nearby island and soaked in the sun!
At 5 pm, the dive boat finally arrived, and we had our sunset dive at Kuda Hitthi House Reef. Having a high expectation of Maldives marine life, many of us were disappointed to find the colourless coral and poor visibility; we could not help yearning for the rich sea life of the Eastern part of Indonesia! It was during the check dive that my dive buddy and roommate, Nina, had an eye irritation from the shampoo used for mask cleaning, as a result of which she had to take a one day dive break. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the beautiful sunset of Maldives and was glad I brought my DSLR camera. After dinner, a few of us spent some time on the upper deck gazing at the stars (even spot a
shooting star) before it got cloudy and started to drizzle as the boat headed towards the next destination.
We were told that our second day on Monday was for "Vortex dives" at Baa Atoll; it's a dive site frequently visited by Mantas for plankton feeding, of which formation resembling a vortex. Just like anything in nature, there was no guarantee that we would be able to spot it, and the dive crew would get informed by a nearby ranger of such possibility arised. Our first dive was at 6.30 am at Dharavandoo Thila, an underground land mass of which shape was like a plateau. Most of the dive sites in Maldives are not very deep but the current is strong. During briefing, we were told to get our gear ready, jump into the water and descent quickly due to the strong current. Unfortunately, the visibility was not much better than prior day dive, but, thankfully, we spot among others a school of Barracudas, Moray Eels, Puffer Fish, Bat Fish and Trigger Fish. Before lunch, we had our second dive at Kihaadhuparu Thila which was not too impressive either, for which reason I skipped the third dive at Dharavandhoo Faru.
After the third dive, the boat started to move; we were told to expect a rougher sea as the boat had to cross unprotected area to reach Ari Atoll. I was glad I didn't get motion sickness this time.
On Tuesday morning, the boat anchored at Rashdoo Madivaru, and the first dive started even earlier at 6 am, which was far too early for my standard and I'd rather spend my morning on my warm bed in the lower deck cabin. Later on, I learned from the group that the current was strong, and our fellow diver, Herry, got very tired from swimming against the current, while his buddy, Budi, found out that his oxygen ran thin, reaching 50 bar - a level of which divers were recommended to start ascending and do a safety stop. It was a blessed coincidence for both of them.
I joined the second dive, during which the group were accidentally split into two. Unfortunately I along with five other divers 'got lost' underwater as we kept swimming down against strong current. Reaching 30 meter in poor visibility, we still could not see any sign of reef, and it was Nina who gave
I am looking at you, Kid!
I took this shot with Charlene's camera, which I was mistaken it with mine (and only realised I did so after I finished the dive).
a signal to abort the dive. Relieved when surfaced, we could not understand why our Dive Master didn't bother waiting for us and didn't lead us. When we raised our concerns during the next briefing, we were reminded to simply jump and descent quickly due to strong current. We could not help thinking "couldn't they provide a rope for divers to hang on to while waiting everyone to jump to the water so that we could descent at the same time?".
By the time we did our third dive at Fesomo Wreck, we ran out of patience as we were split into two groups again. I along with 5 other divers were following the Dive Master who kept swimming ahead without looking back! We had to swim against the current and followed the Dive Master towards the Thila but failed to see the wreck. Frustrated, my buddy Nina decided to cut the dive short and signalled to the rest of us to return to the boat. Once surfaced, she could not take it anymore! (I had to thank Nina for being the Voice of the group). She could not understand why our Dive Master hadn't led us to the
wreck. Was it possible that he wasn't familiar with the site? It was then when Nina vented out her frustration at the Dive Master whose response was "you didn't jump fast enough to the water and followed me". Shocked at his response, we raised our concerns as we felt we were not sufficiently being looked after.
Thanks to Nina who voiced out our frustration and anger, from there on, our diving experience improved! Later on we learned that it is common, outside Indonesia, Dive Master merely showed the way, but didn't necessarily have to watch the safety of the divers. Certified divers were expected to be skilled enough and be independent while diving (or perhaps, we were too pampered all this while diving in Indonesian water). The good news was we learned from the first group we didn't miss much as it was a small wreck and the coral was not fully developed!
Thankfully, our evening experience had turned the mood back as it was "Manta night", and the fully light up boat docked at Fesohoo. The bright light facing the water had attracted the planktons. As we waited patiently, a two-meter Manta started to appear near the
boat half an hour later (I could hear the cheer out of excitement) and fed on the planktons, in a slow motion as if it performed a graceful dance. It's such a rewarding experience seeing Mantas swimming on the surface so near to the boat! The group had their night dive (which I didn't join) to see the Mantas underwater, and apparently, they had to wait approximately for about 45 minutes before two Mantas appeared.
Even though the mood was much better on Wednesday after we spot Mantas the night before, we were halfway of our dive trip, and some of us had lost hope of seeing pelagic species in the Maldivian water, while the rest took it easy. I myself had hoped that I could return home by then. The dive sites we visited in the day at Fish Head (which I missed), Lhami Yaru Thila and Raidhiga Thila - were alright but not extra ordinary. I had taken a few shots underwater but mine was nothing compared to those of other fellow divers: Fandy, Ming and Edwin - all of whom could be categorised as professional underwater photographers. I got lucky getting a good shot of the
moray eel while mistakenly using Charlene's camera. To make things worse, we had looked forward to the BBQ night plan - to be held at the nearby island, which had to be shed as it started to rain in the afternoon.
The next day on Thursday, we went to the sanctuary area of Whale sharks. We were told the chances of seeing them was slim but it's worth trying. After circling around for about an hour, our dive boat stopped at Angada Thila for our first dive. Even though we didn't see any of the Whale Shark - other than Chandra who spotted a baby one upon surfacing, we had a great dive. The site was excellent, and visibility had improved compared to prior days. The Thila at Dhigurah Beyru and Dhigurah Arches, with more variety of soft and hard corals, were richer in color. A few sections of the Thilas had a cave-like underwater landscape, filled with a school of yellow fish which didn't seem to be afraid of divers either. Unfortunately, it was pretty crowded down there as we saw other divers from other boats, and it felt like being in a big aquarium with 40 other
The only shark shot I got
I didn't bring my camera to catch the photos of the grey shark unfortunately. This one is a small black tip shark.
Friday was the last day of our dive, and it was a 'shark dive', as well as the highlight of our trip. The only-and-last dive that I had was quite rewarding as I have never seen that many grey sharks roaming around in less than ten meters away. Enjoying this show of nature while kneeling on the sand felt surreal! I had to keep telling myself I was not at Sentosa Aquarium. I had seen sharks while diving in Indonesian water but they were black tip reef sharks: smaller and shy of human.
The group who went for the night dive were in ecstasy when they surfaced. They shared their thrilling experience not only being "greeted" by many Nurse Sharks but also swimming very close to and among the divers. Imagine the feeling! Trust me, I could tell this one dive had 'saved' the entire trip and 'erased' the prior unpleasant dive experience as I listened to each diver's experience. It was the last night of our cruise; some celebrated their lucky encounter way past midnight and some preferred preserving the memory in the dream as the boat headed towards Male.
By 11 am on Saturday,
we reached Male and were transported to land by a dhoni. I decided to follow the rest to Male as I was told I'd have enough time to catch my 2 pm flight back to Singapore. By 12.20 pm, I felt uneasy for not making a move to the airport and decided to go to the sea taxi pier only to learn that the dhoni that carried my luggage was not there. Apparently it had moved to the other side of the island. When I asked where the dhoni was, the crew simply said "it would take ten minutes to get here". Ten minutes later, I still had not seen any sight of the dhoni. Only twenty minutes later the dhoni arrived, just in time to pass me the luggage and catch the sea taxi. Bear in mind that Maldives is a country consisting of 1,190 islands, and the airport is located in an island about 10 minutes ride from the Capital City of Male. I was relieved to arrive at the airport only five minutes before the counter was closed! Had I missed this flight, I would have suffered as the next flight was delayed for 36 hours like
my fellow diver Chandra.
Anyhow, I was glad I made the decision to go with this trip, thanks to the duo who talked me into this: Nina and Lolo who unfortunately had to cancel the trip at the last minute (and her slot was taken by Itha). It was the first time that I had a seven night live aboard without touching land! I had enjoyed the cruise and meet great people (divers were known to be easy going). If you ask me, whether I'd go for live aboard diving at Maldives again, my answers are probably "only if I have exhausted all the dive sites in Indonesia".
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