To get to the Maldives we sailed just over 1200 miles west south west of the Andamans, skirting the south coast of Sri Lanka. We had only one client on board, Bjorn Hvidberg who likes to join for the passages which contrary to popular belief, are usually very relaxing affairs. He was previously scheduled to join for the trip from Bali to Malaysia last October, which some of you might remember I did solo (see “Hell Hath No Fury“). Needless to say, he made a great decision to switch trips! While our departure was delayed three days waiting for customs to clear a box of parts in Bombay the overall passage went without incident. We caught a few tasty fish, got some unexpected wind which made for some solid sailing, and sadly saw more plastic and refuse en route than anywhere else we’ve been. Plastic and floating garbage is becoming a nearly constant eyesore at sea these days. And there is no longer such a thing as a pristine beach. I haven’t stepped on a beach sans garbage in years.
Male, the capital of the Maldives seems totally out of place. I’d viewed the island via Google Earth prior to our arrival and found the view strangely familiar from the decks of Discovery. It is an island of concrete, a dwarf-sized Manhattan. No beaches, no parks, no greenery of any kind. Narrow roads lined with shops selling cheap Chinese shoes and clothing are overflowing with motorbikes and cars squawking at one another at all hours of the day. The Maldives are made up of many ethnicities- Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Indian, and of course Maldivian. The recently democratized, strictly Muslim country is in serious threat of disappearing forever. While the highly-regarded president has pledged that the Maldives will be the first nation to be carbon-neutral in ten years, everyone knows they are on borrowed time, and it is of course a shared world we inhabit. The highest point of land is 2.4 meters, the lowest of any country in the world. Outside of Male 26 atolls stretch “like a string of pearls” north and south hundreds of miles, ringed with some 1190 islands, many little more than a bed of sand. If sea levels rise just a couple inches most of the islands would be uninhabitable. The government is in the process of adding land and even going as far as creating a new island, but everyone admits this is only delaying the inevitable.
Safari boats and seaplanes whisk a half-million well-healed tourists off to posh resorts from Male at all hours of the day every year. We would be joining this group, but our hope was to take us to places even the most-adventurous don’t visit. The possibilities are nearly endless. Of the 1190 islands in the Maldives many are uninhabited. Just picking north or south was daunting. And Google Earth didn’t help- it all looks dreamy. A local friend, Ali Riyas who runs a kite center near Male told me the corals were generally considered better to the south, and there was a shot of swimming with Whalesharks. So south we went.
We’re joined by Konstantin and Bruce, two former Apple programmers and admitted tech geeks; two Danes Ida and Frederik currently living in Cape Town; and the man responsible for keeping our website looking flash, Marc. This would be the first trip of the expedition without an owner on board so I was a bit nervous as I had very little idea how everyone would get along. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. In my initial safety and orientation briefing I usually say something like “this is your trip; the most important thing you can do in order for us (the crew) to meet and exceed your expectations is to let us know if you want anything different. Want more bacon? Just ask Bobby…” This was an inappropriate example considering the Maldives are Muslim and we had no bacon on board! But Konstantin in particular picked up the analogy and thereafter whatever crazy activity he and Bruce dreamed up (tow kiting in no wind, zip lines from the top of the mast, GoPro filming with a fishing line…) became known as the “Bacon” request and off we went.
I was asked early on the trip what our chances were for kiting. As the Maldives are just above the equator (Male is 4 degrees north) and the trade season ends in March, I put our prospects at 30%. Thankfully I was wrong again. We did indeed have perfectly calm weather for the first few days which allowed for very pleasant exploration of some of the most bewildering hues of blue I’ve seen at sea. It’s not hard to understand what the attraction is of the Maldives, fancy resorts aside. But the forecast showed promise. Cloudless skies were replaced with puffball cumulus and the winds slowly picked up. As we ventured further and further from Male, first to Ari atoll and then on to Felidhe the reefs and fish life grew more and more impressive. I’m pretty sure the fish themselves know that spearfishing is illegal as Giant Trevally, Dog Tooth tuna, Snapper, and a great number of others just swim right up to you, seemingly saying HELLO!
We spent one afternoon seeking out the great and elusive Whaleshark but were unsuccessful. We did have a number of dolphin visits and Mikey got to paddle on the SUP with an inquisitive Manta Ray before the winds clicked into kiting force and the kites came out. Within an hour we had Marc and Mikey up on a board for their first attempt at the sport (Kahoonas ROCK!) and Bruce showed impressive skill bodydragging. Frederik and Ida had trouble staying up wind for their first attempts on the surfboards but quickly got the hang of it and stowed their twin tips, a common enough theme on the boat. No doubt my influence may have something to do with it…
At night Konstantin, a professional poker player schooled Marc, Frederik and me in all the multitude of ways he could strip us of money. Luckily we kept the stakes at 5 bucks and considered the whole experience a rather affordable education. It is very good to know just how bad one can be at something.
From one of the finest anchorages we’ve been in we motored south to the tiny atoll of Vattaru where a Bangladeshi Fishing vessel was anchored in the pass, fishing in what was supposed to be a protected no-fishing zone. They had a somewhat permanent camp set up on a tiny island at the pass with working generator. Ida and Frederik paddled the SUP’s over to pay a visit, which prompted the fishermen to hastily “clean up” their beach, which was a simple affair of grabbing all the plastic bottles, styrofoam and bags and throwing them into the ocean. Urrrrggg.
As we headed north we decided to see what resort style was all about by having a drink for sunset. The General Manager met us at the dock and gave us a tour of the bungalows and bar. At $345 a night per person, this resort was on the economy end of the scale and we all agreed one night would be one night too many. I suppose if you’re on a honeymoon shacking up on a beautiful island for a week would be nice…but we all couldn’t wait to get back to the boat; where we have Bobby the magic chef; Mikey the smiling Mate; all the toys and gear; and most important- mobility which gives us the ability to get the hell away from places like we’d just visited! BORING! Note to self- we need to charge more for this!
With the last two days of the trip looking solid for wind we set up camp behind a long thin slice of reef where we could kite for miles in either direction in nearly perfectly flat calm water. Squalls marched through bringing up to 30 knots of wind, which Konstantin and I found quite agreeable. I hadn’t been on a twin tip in a year and a half and had forgotten how much fun it was to just act silly with a kite. It took 10 days, but I think we finally tired Konstantin out by the last night. He returns in two weeks for another trip where no doubt more “bacon” will be requested. Poker, paragliding, kiting, diving, exploring, relaxing, star-gazing. Maybe we’ll get lucky and beat the odds again?
“And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: “Look at this Godawful mess.” ~Art Buchwald, 1970