To see a wild movie of this trip and more of our adventures in the Maldives, click here.
Knowing the trade winds would be long gone by April we planned this 10 day adventure around surf. The southern atolls in the Maldives are exposed to reliable swell from the south Indian Ocean, which culminate in some of the worlds best reef breaks. Our plan was to leave Male and cover the distance to arrive well before the clients’ flight into Huvadhoo atoll, one of the largest atolls in the world and only 20 miles north of the equator. But on the day of our planned departure I learned 8 time world SUP champion Jamie Mitchell’s signature Surftech board had not arrived. As SUP boards aren’t the easiest things to travel with we’d made plans weeks in advance to have it shipped to Male so we could carry it south with us on Discovery. Instead of departing I spent a full night with our agent Abdullah at the airport trying to clear the board from customs. This would not be the last problem on the trip.
The delay put us back a few hours but the 30 hour passage went without a glitch and we found Jamie, Hans and Reimo (guests Brien, Sam, Win Win, and Mike were already on board and the only owner on the trip, Scott Wisenbaker would be delayed a couple extra days due to a recent back injury) in good spirits even after waiting for several hours at the airstrip, conveniently located about a minute from a mini harbour where we could navigate Discovery right up to the dock. The swell forecast looked just about perfect. Turns out it would be.
Brien, who spends his waking hours in the water more than on land, and who was with us last year in the Marshall Islands where we witnessed some of the most impressive hard corals of the expedition hopped off the boat right after we anchored the first evening. Just off our stern a coral bommie sat just a few feet below the surface and he quickly had us all in the water taking it in, announcing it was as healthy and alive as it was in the Marshalls. Just another wonder of the Maldives. But where most of the corals in the Maldives have suffered from a recent bout of coral bleaching, the reefs down south are colorful and abundant with fish life.
The next several days passed at least to me in a bit of a blur. I spent a good many hours swimming at a break called Blue Bowls shooting Jamie, Scott, Mike and Brien from the water while Jody shot from every other angle imaginable. As the light and waves were about as perfect as you can get and Jamie capable of riding any wave that came at will and in perfect style, he made our job easy.
A few other surf boats were also patrolling the area and quickly became as awed as we were watching Jamie. The guy is a machine. On day 2 of the trip he announced, after finally retiring after many hours of surfing and catching an uncountable number of waves that the trip could end there and he’d be happy. But the waves just kept getting better; and Jamie just kept catching one after another after another.
We took a break from the waves mid-trip to cater to those on board who were not surfers. I learned a long time ago that trying to satisfy a group of people with different interests on a boat is a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately the ingredients for trouble were all on hand. One thing I love about how we set up this expedition is that we deal only with owners. Our owners are people we have screened thoroughly, and they know both us and the boat intimately. They know what we are and aren’t capable of and how it all works. Over the years they have all become dear friends.
I ran a charter boat for 8 years and Jody and I had no desire with The Best Odyssey to run a similar business because in our opinion it sucks. For reasons too difficult to explain in a log, we sold two cabins to non-owners on this trip. And while we were very clear that this particular trip was all about surf we somehow ended up with 4 people with absolutely no interest in surfing. But with the right conditions we could get people airborne, and we could get them under the water. To fly you have to be a licensed pilot, which none in this group were. To dive you’ve got to have a Divemaster (which we don’t) to look after the divers, and you’ve got to know where to go (ditto). Plus you’ve got to fill air tanks, a loud and power-hungry affair; and keep expensive gear in working condition which are both things I loathe. But in some cases, very much worth the effort to keep the peace.
In hopes of averting a disaster we took out the tow winch and Mike took everyone but Sam and Win Win as they were a bit reticent for a tandem flight over a gorgeous lagoon near a half-built luxury resort (there are many of these around the Maldives after the economy crashed). The view, as always was simply crazy. Sailing the Maldives is a feast for the senses, but flying at low altitude- out of this world. This bought us some time, but unfortunately not enough.
Early the next morning while everyone was settling in for breakfast one of the guests’ asked me if I would be giving a discount because the AC in their cabin was not working. I’d put in a brand new compressor between trips and had it running before our departure but I could not diagnose a continuing electrical glitch. As the guy seemed quite laid back I thought he was joking and laughed. But he wasn’t joking and quickly threw out a heap of verbal abuse. I didn’t appreciate being attacked in front of everyone and made it clear that unlike on a charter boat, we don’t put up with whiners. If you aren’t happy on a killer yacht in the Maldives then you just aren’t happy and something as trite as AC wasn’t going to change anything. So…they left. They were the first people I’ve had to remove in 12 years at sea. In this business, turns out the customer is not always right.
So Discovery sailed with two less people the next day. We took a trip on the outside of the reef with Discovery to check out a new break and got surrounded by dolphins, many of them targeting our bow wave. You can never tire of watching these beautiful animals. Their smiling faces and effortless, powerful speed are mesmerizing. Jamie hooked into a big Wahoo, the biggest fish he’d ever caught and Bobby promptly turned the prize into a mountain of mouth-watering sashimi. Hans and Reimo got to add a dive to their log book, and quite a lot more waves were scored.
On the final day while sailing back to the airport a localized big squall ran us down and hammered us with torrents of rain that lasted for most of the day. We said a tearful goodbye to Mike, who’d been with us for over 5 weeks and was very much a part of our crew. He and I had laughed so many times in the weeks gone by and shared so many incredible moments that losing him felt like losing myself. Jamie will no doubt continue to dominate the paddle board scene; Brien and Scott we’ll be seeing again soon; and hopefully the Estonians, Hans and Reimo enjoyed the rather wild ride. As everyone ran to escape the rain I returned to the boat and reflected on yet another lesson learned in this difficult class called life. You just can’t satisfy everyone. But for those who have their eyes wide open and share a sense of true wonder at this incredible world we inhabit, it sure is fun to try.
“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” — Henry David Thoreau