April 2017 - Maldives

1 April 2017   Dhigurah,  South Ari Atoll
The rest of the fleet moved off to an island 25 miles ENE of Dhigurah, but we couldn’t face another small island tour, so we stayed for the day, planning to a dive with “Jackster”.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too good and Jacqui has developed a cold, so after a bit of prevaricating, we cancelled the dive.  

The wind was blowing steadily from the north west, bringing 2 foot wind waves into the anchorage, so we upped anchor and moved a couple of miles to get some shelter behind a shallow reef.  We anchored at 03°31.26N 072°54.14E in 7 metres on sand, which was a little more sheltered than the main anchorage and much prettier.

The reef looked inviting, so we went snorkelling on the western edge of a sea mount at 03°31.45N 072°54.11E.  The coral is 90% dead, but it was an attractive slope with lots of fish - we spotted Blacktip Reef Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks and a huge Grouper.  If you ignore that the coral is dead and focus on the structure of the reef, it’s not too bad - I’m much more positive today.

Gaggle of Cruisers doing a safety stop

2 April 2017   Dhigurah,  South Ari Atoll
I climbed out of bed; did my ablutions; leisurely brushed my teeth; and then looked at my phone.  There was a message from  Kia on “Atea” saying that they were going diving at 08:15.  Bloody Hell - that’s in 30 minutes and we’re anchored two miles away.  Glenys looked dazed as I started the engine and started pulling up the anchor.

We motored across the lagoon - Glenys navigating, while I dragged out and assembled our scuba gear.  After gulping down a bowl of breakfast cereal, we jumped in the dinghy and met up with “Atea” & “Jackster”.   We all raced off in our dinghies to follow a local dive boat - Kia from “Atea” had arranged for them to show us a dive called Kudarah Thila, which is in the main channel at 03°33.538N 72 55.431E.

There was a stiff, 10-15 knot wind blowing, raising 2-3 foot waves, so it was tough going for ten minutes in our small dinghies.  The dive boat stopped over the isolated reef and let us tie our dinghies to their boat.  The dive was very good.  It’s a lump of reef that sticks up from the 40 metre deep channel.  There was a strong current running, but the dive master knew his way around the currents.  The reef was in very good condition with lots of healthy coral, sea fans and soft corals.

After a bouncy ride back to the anchorage, we ran our dive compressor and filled our tanks.  We’d just started to relax when Jess and Mairy from “Ngalawa” came over and told us that they’d been snorkelling at a Manta Cleaning Station.  Well we couldn’t miss out on this and zipped over with our snorkelling gear.  We saw a couple of Giant Manta hover over a patch of coral rubble to patiently wait while small cleaner wrasses nibbled parasites from their bodies.

Unfortunately, the site was over ten metres deep and when I snorkelled down to take a photograph, I scared the first Manta away, so I remained on the surface after that.  Dave and Jacqui from “Jackster” took their dive tanks and lay static on the sea bed, which was a much better idea and didn’t spook the Mantas, so they got a much closer look at the huge creatures.

Soft Coral

In the afternoon, “Atea” picked up a dive instructor, who had agreed to guide us to a prime dive site.  There was a bit of discussion and finally he took us to a site called “Seventh Heaven” about 2 miles NNE from the anchorage.  It was a very tough bash getting there, but at least there were five dinghies going out, so we had backup.  There was an incredible current on the dive site, so it took us ages to sort out the dinghies and get down the anchor line.  

The “guide” didn’t speak much English and stayed in one of dinghies, so there was confusion about where we were supposed to go.   We headed up current, which was strong on top of the reef, but dropped off once we went over the edge.  It was another nice dive site with lots of soft corals and fish, so it looks like the deep reefs in the channels have survived the Bleaching Event - I guess because the strong currents bring in cooler water.

By the time that we got back to the anchorage, a squall had passed over bringing strong winds, so it was very bouncy in the anchorage - we ran away and re-anchored by the reef in the same place as last night, where it was much calmer.

After three dives on fabulous reefs with colourful hard and soft corals, I’m starting to feel much better about the Maldives.  However, there's no doubt that the shallow reef is mostly dead, so snorkelling is somewhat depressing and the culture of the islands is uninteresting, so I think that we’ll still leave the Maldives much sooner than planned.

3 April 2017   Dhigurah to Jinnathugau, North Nilandhe Atoll
After four nights in Dhigurah, we decided that it was time to move on.  We couldn’t leave the island without one last attempt to see Whale Sharks, so we motored slowly along the south-east shore, staying 50 metres from the reef.  I stood on the bow for three hours, looking for dark shadows in the water, but alas, no Whale Sharks - ah well, perhaps somewhere else.

There was absolutely no wind, so we motored south-east down to the North Nilandhe Atoll, staying outside the north-east side and entering through a pass at 03°13.94N 073°01.96E.  Three miles inside the atoll, we entered the fringing reef of Jinnathugau at 03°11.73N 072°59.51E and anchored at 03°11.89N 072°59.50E in 24 metres of water on sand.  What a fabulous spot - a 400m diameter lagoon surrounded by reef and a small deserted island.  The water colours are beautiful.

Dead Reef

We hopped into the dinghy and went for a snorkel on the reef to the west of the entrance channel.  It wasn’t too bad, but most of the coral was dead and the water was murky.  Nevertheless, it kept us occupied for an hour with some interesting coral formations.  With the lack of live coral, I’ve gone all artistic and started to take Black and White photos of the reef structure - well, it’s something to do.

4 April 2017   Jinnathugau, North Nilandhe Atoll
We had a lazy start to the day and pottered about.  Mid-morning, we went snorkelling on an isolated reef located ¼ mile north-west from the anchorage at 03°12.18N 072°59.12E.  It was pretty good - the coral was in slightly better condition (20% alive) and there were crinoids, anemones and some patches of sponges.  I guess that there’s a strong current sometimes, but we hit it at high tide, so there was no current.

The weather was miserable in the afternoon, with squalls going through, so we hunkered down and read our books.  The thunder, strong winds and rain continued into the night.

5 April 2017   Jinnathugau to Hulhudhelee Dekunu, South Nilandhe Atoll
It was a restless night with squalls going through - Glenys was awake for a couple of hours in the middle of the night counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.  

However, by 08:00 it had cleared up and we had a cracking sail down to Hulhudhelee Dekunu.  The wind was 10-15 knots from the south-west, which put us hard on the wind, but in the flat seas, it was a fun challenge to squeeze past the various reefs - sometimes passing within 20 metres of the shallow coral.  I must admit to using the engine a couple of times to “power-tack”, and point 20 degrees higher than we could under sail alone.

Cracking Sail

We anchored at 02°49.75N 072°50.36E in 14 metres of water amongst lots of coral patches, so I clipped a couple of fenders onto our anchor chain to lift it off the seabed and try to prevent it snagging on the coral.  As usual, we were soon in the dinghy and off snorkelling, but it wasn’t very interesting with murky water because we’re inside a lagoon.

We’re travelling in company with four boats “Atea”, “Ngalawa” and “Jackster” - we've temporarily split from the rally because we’re all more interested in diving than the rather boring island visits.  Dave and Jacqui from “Jackster” invited everyone over for sun-downers.

6 April 2017   Hulhudhelee Dekunu to Kadufushi, Kolhumadulu Atoll  
We’re all keen to re-join the rally in three days’ time, so we upped anchor and headed 25 miles south.  When we left, the weather was unsettled with large rain clouds around, so it was a bit nerve wracking feeling our way out of the reef in the poor light.  Once under way, we were able to sail, but after ten minutes a squall hit us, making us put in a quick reef; and then the wind backed by 30 degrees, forcing us to turn on the engine.

It settled down after half an hour and we were able to sail again, which was nice.  We exited the south channel of the atoll and headed across to Kolhumadulu Atoll, reading our books and chilling out.  Then a squall sneaked up on us and we had such a strong gust that the boat broached, heeled over to 50 degrees and veered upwind.  We both scrabbled for the main sheet, but Glenys was faster, dumping the mainsail and restoring a bit of order.  

After a frantic bit of reefing, we were soon back on course with 25 knot winds.  I then noticed that our fishing line was now wrapped around our wind generator, which is eight foot above our deck, so we must have heeled a lot.  It took ages to untangle it all.

Another squall approaching

We arrived in Kadufushi, via the nearby pass, without any more traumas and anchored at 02°31.26N 072°58.61E in 14 metres on sand, but between lots and lots of small reefs.  Our anchor is in a nice big patch of sand, but after we’d put out 50 metres of chain, we’d backed over the edge of a large reef patch.  I jumped in the water and I estimate that the shallowest part of the reef is 4 metres, so with our 2 metre draft, we should be okay.  The anchor is well buried in sand, so after putting some fenders on the chain, I feel fairly comfortable.

The anchorage is pleasant, tucked behind a long reef and there’s a pretty island about ¾ mile away, so we grabbed our snorkelling gear and headed for land.  It's a small deserted island, with a white sand beach and a few coconut palms.  I guess that it would be a dream destination for most people, but we just had a cursory look for shells, didn’t find any, so ten minutes later we were off snorkelling.

There’s a narrow pass next to the island, but there was a strong out-going current, so we looked for a more settled place.  We jumped in the water just south of the island, but sadly the coral was all dead and there weren’t many fish.  By this time, there was a nasty squall line building upwind, so we headed back to Alba and snorkelled on our “House Reef”, which is surprisingly good.  A huge 5 foot  Barracuda spotted us and came over to check us out, but didn’t come any closer than 20 metres. 

The squall hit us mid-afternoon, with 25 knot winds for a few hours, so we hunkered down and worried about the reef behind us.  Fortunately, it calmed down in the evening and we had steady 10-15 knot winds all night.