Two weeks at sea reminded us how much of our planet is water and sky, the latter taking on a presence that demanded attention and always provided scenes of extraordinary colour and varied cloud shapes: the beauty was often incredible.
We were, of course, looking forward to land again and are enjoying the opportunities to stop the boat and walk on terra firma; but there is not a lot of land in the Maldives!
|Sometimes an island strip reveals the water-sky interface.|
|Sometimes it adds another focus to beauty already there.|
And what land there is, becomes used to the fullest….
|Male, the capital city, filling all the space available on the island|
|Resorts need to build out on stilts for their accommodations.|
A few words about the Maldives, as it impacts on the life of cruising yachties: firstly, we need permission to anchor in certain areas and then, even though we live on the water, it IS all about the land for us – specifically, the sea floor, and what it offers for anchoring.
We need: a depth of 4 to 20 metres, good holding sand, no coral outcrops (bommies) or rocks to foul boat undersides or snare the anchor-chain.
The Maldives is made up of 26 atolls spread out N to S over 1000km; each atoll is made up of a ring of reef and islands, and there are 1192 coral islands in total (none higher than 3m above sea level). The atolls are each surrounded by reefs and the islands, too, are surrounded by their own reefs.
Yachting in this country is complicated: no anchoring outside the atolls (depths are hundreds of metres); difficult access into the atolls (they are surrounded by reefs, but with small passages); care required for sailing inside the atolls (many coral heads make it inadvisable to sail except in the best light, with a watch on the bow for bommies coming close to the surface); anchoring depths in the atolls are too deep for normal cruising yachts (about 40m), and off hundreds of islands no anchoring at all.
This chart, for example, shows an atoll we will reach in a few days: South Nilandhe. We will see little above the water: just the few tiny yellow circles (eg one in the south) which are islands; the rest of the green is all submerged reef… to be avoided, but not seen above water – good eyes and good visibility required to see the colour changes in the water. There are a few channels to get into the atoll, and when inside we must dodge all the reefs and bommies coming to the surface from about 50m below. We have information for only one possible anchorage (marked red) and hope the information is good, or we leave the atoll.
Anchoring for us is only possible in the shallowish sandy areas sometimes found near the islands. Sometimes you can get to the sandy areas, sometimes you cannot as the surrounding reef has no break. Sometimes the sandy areas are littered with bommies.
So this is what is important to a cruiser in the Maldives: accurate sailing notes that give GPS positions for channels through the reefs and also potential anchoring positions, depths and ground state. We have bought a booklet of these, and also have documents circulated via other yachties, from their experiences.
Also vital? Accurate charts on the boat (in our case, the electronic chart-plotter and paper charts) as we use them, along with depth sounder, for navigation.
We received our cruising permit (permissions) and set off with our reference notes to Ari Atoll, not previously visited.
Here is the story of two days.
Ari atoll has many easy entry channels through the outer reef: wonderful start. We neared a resort anchorage, for which we had anchoring GPS points in notes. The anchoring waypoint was wrong: the depth was totally out (too deep) and it was likely on coral (we would destroy nature and ourselves!). We phoned the resort and after much to-and-fro were given the welcome invitation to use their mooring buoy: heaven!!
We tied up and took ourselves to reception, where we were greeted, given a tour and invited to use the facilities – which we did, gratefully, and would invite all other yachties to go to Moofushi Island Resort.
|How most guests get to Moofushi: by sea-plane taxi.|
|It is good to not have anchor chain snarling up in those dark areas.|
Leaving here, we had only 5nm to go to our next anchorage, so left at 9:30 am for a one-hour trip looking forward to a non-travelling day and a non-resort-based anchorage.
Our reference notes were wrong again: the island anchorage was… well, NOT do-able!
“No problem, let’s go to the next one”… off an island village; there is a long channel to reach it, but we have the GPS co-ordinates for the entry to the pass. These were wrong, and the three of us (two on bow, one on helm) could not find the entry. After about an hour we said:
“No problem, let’s go to the next one”… off a resort on Rangali Island, noted in the booklet to be welcoming. Nonetheless, we phoned for their permission and were asked to send mail giving our details. We did. About 5 phone calls and 8 e mails later, we established that they were receiving none of our mail (to two different addresses there, from two of ours); but anyway…. We were now there, and their harbour was empty, so in we went.
Anchor down, cool off in the water – and the security boat arrived, most decidedly without welcoming demeanour. Despite (we thought) reasoned discussion and a print-out of our several e-mails, and informing them that we did not need a room, just a night on anchor, we received a text message saying we were not allowed as “we are running with full occupancy”. We phoned (again); this time she admitted that we were a “security threat to our high-end clients”.
It was now 4:15pm and we had to leave, find the next anchorage and enter it safely: for which we need good visibility.
At 6pm, in fading light, we found the entry to the Maamagili channel : the notes were right, the start to the entry is denoted by two piles of rocks and a pole (fairly typical Maldives). But we still had to find our way in and then around the lagoon (to the recorded anchoring position) without mishap.
Fortunately a dhoni was exiting the channel at the time: placing waypoints on his moving radar print on our electronic chart we found the line of the channel and eased forward. The notes warned of bommies and raised ground to port so we went further in and turned to port after we saw a white buoy…. Aaaargh!!! The ground rose up alarmingly and the two ladies on bow yelled as engines were thrown in reverse. Please understand: the ladies are not usually slow to yell at the skipper (!): we could not see! Polarised glasses do not help at dusk…
So we eventually gave up trying to go to port and decided to just drop anchor at sunset, about 9h after we had set off for our “short-sailing” day. If this had not worked, we would have had to exit the atoll and spend the night at sea: not a bad option, and certainly less stressful than damaging the boat.
|Anchoring at sunset is beautiful, but to be avoided if possible|
We were anchored in the main “industrial” section, with a dredger for company, and resort-headed (inquisitive) speedboats and dhonis ploughing a constant path around us.
Wonderfully easy to see deeper water when the sun is high, right? For our future reference, before leaving the next day we drove around the harbour and placed a track for a safe route (we would return here to get Sandy to the ferry).
|Chart showing waypoint route for channel, our first anchorage on S side, and later track to better subsequent anchorage.|
When would the adventure provide us with less excitement and stress? We wished for that: especially Rolf and Irene, who can still hear and feel the experience of grounding on a reef from their previous Maldives stay…
The next day we set off for a prettier anchorage: the charts showed potential at a lagoon behind a reef. We approached it, did the trick of using moving dhoni radar print to get a passage track to follow, and moved towards the start of the channel. Two men on a small tender raced towards us from inside the lagoon saying STOP! We did (oh, no! Is this security sending us away again!?). But no: Ali, the skipper of the local resort catamaran, came on board and said that channel was too shallow for our draft, and kindly showed us a passage across the reef further up.
|Ali advises on route through underwater reef: local knowledge is everything!|
We tracked it…
|Lagoon chart: track 16 was successful, but waypoint track (bottom left) Ali stopped us from entering... thankfully!|
…and have stayed here four days. Four waypoints (besides those on the channel entries) show our anchorages. See the one apparently on the reef on the chart? Here is the chart with radar overlay:
Clearly the chart is shifted about 0.5nm out… this does not help, when navigating in the Maldives.
For now: we are currently at that boat icon - we have land! Good holding under the boat, no threatening underwater obstructions, it is easy to travel (in good light) to visit the local village at Digurah, the beach alongside us, the very welcoming Lux resort on Dhidhdhoofinolhu at the other end (all yachties: go to this resort for a warm welcome!), and there is superb snorkelling outside the extensive reef… underwater gardens and fish life in the Maldives are superb.