By Captain Richard Foster. All photos Primoz Marolt.
Arriving in Phuket, Thailand to take over Discovery for The Cabrinha Quest was certainly going to be an adventure! I met Gavin at the airport a couple weeks before Christmas and we headed straight to my new home, which was moored at the Phuket Yacht Haven Marina, where Gavin had left her just a few short weeks earlier. I was in for a rapid learning experience getting her ready for the long passage to the Maldives. Gavin didn’t waste any time getting stuck into projects and giving me the tour along the way. This is Discovery’s 3rd circumnavigation and she’s a lot more complicated than the vessels I have worked on. Two brand new engines, new sails, 24 pumps doing all kinds of various things, watermaker, ice maker, multiple freezers, fuel polishing system, massive solar PV array, and a host of complicated electronics… There’s a lot that can go wrong! After 5 days of fixing and improving what we could together (including removing, fixing and replacing the rudder) and going over the systems he got on a plane and headed back home. Now the real work began to prepare this beautiful vessel for what could be more than a year away from a marina.
My deadline to leave was the 7th of January which was when my 30 day visa ran out. That would give us 10-12 days to make the 1750 mile passage to the Maldives in time to prep for the 1st group. The next 3 weeks consisted of dealing with contractors – gensets, mainsail recut, painters, replacing the stb trampoline, booking a quick haul-out for some bottom paint and a list that somehow kept growing even as I ticked off jobs. My crew arrived on the 28th of December just in time to help apply anti-fouling on the hull of Discovery. We got her painted and back in the water in 2.5 days! First Mate Andrés and Chef Thais, both from Spain and I were now under the gun to get her provisioned, purchase new galley equipment, get her fueled up and ready to sail on the morning of the 7th. It was a completely mad time – cars rented, all of us sprinting everywhere, and we burned through funny money on the credit card at a preposterous rate. On the morning of the 7th we were as ready as we could get, time to go! Our extra crew mate Primoz flew in that morning, we checked out of customs and with a good forecast set sail at lunchtime on the 8th. Maldives here we come!
Our route would take us north of Sumatra and south of Great Nicobar Island. In hindsight I wished we had gone north of Little Nicobar Island as we encountered the “Northern Indian Ocean Shipping Freeway” – where 100’s of tankers going to/from Singapore, headed to/from the Gulf and Suez Canal speed in both directions at nearly 30 knots. We were in this freeway for two straight days and nights which isn’t great for sleeping. On the 4th morning of the passage I decided to kick on the engines and make a hard left turn and head a 100 miles south and get out of traffic before something bad happened. After that the next 7 days was perfect sailing, downwind the whole way – 15 to 30kts on the quarter. Discovery was in her element, crushing distance at 8-12 kts, easily covering over 200 nautical miles a day. Thais kept bringing up incredible yumminess from the galley and the morale on board was awesome! We called ourselves the “Dream Team.” Andres and Primoz dove into projects, we hauled some nice fish on board and once out of the shipping lanes I was able to get some much-needed shut eye.
On the 10th morning after a ripper run the Maldive atolls came into view. These islands and motus are very low lying (none more than 2.5 meters above sea level) so we only saw them about 9 miles out. We entered Addu Atoll, at the very south end of this string of pearl islands and headed for the designated anchorage our agent had instructed us to use. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!”
It was our first taste of anchoring in the Maldives – onshore wind and only 20 feet from dry reef. This wasn’t exactly pleasant nor relaxing, especially after a long ocean passage. Our ground tackle held though as we provisioned over the next 5 days to prepare for our first trip. On the 21st we sailed up to Huvadhoo atoll, the world’s largest. Discovery had been in this exact same spot 10 years ago when Gavin was the skipper and I was excited to ply some of the surf he’d scored. We sailed into the atoll at dawn and set about looking for anchorages, but even after scouting an entire day all we managed to find was another lee shore dry reef spot in 20 knots of wind just as the sun was setting. I decided to set up a rotating anchor watch just in case. We would have less than 5 minutes before hitting the reef if the anchor dragged, but it held and we woke up to a perfect left hand wave breaking not 1 mile away.
The Maldives and the people are very different to anywhere I have ever visited. The people are all very friendly, relaxed and helpful. It’s a very isolated part of the Muslim world with strict no alcohol laws, and it’s one of the most threatened nations on Earth due to sea-level rise. The restaurants are full of men only, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.
We picked up our 1st group on the 25th of January, but we’ll save that for another log…