26 Amazing Atolls

We are pinching ourselves to be sailing Pipistrelle through the luxury tourist destination of The Maldives!  Having focused on life in the aquarium in the last two blogs – Underwater World and Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives, here are some of our other stories.

Straddling Northern and Southern Hemispheres and stretching 500 nm from north to south, The Maldives are quite unlike anywhere we have been before.  The closest comparison we can make would be with the Tuamotus in the Pacific – both are littered with coral heads or ‘bommies’ in the anchorages.

The 26 atolls forming The Maldives are reef belts with tiny islands their perimeter.  Reminiscent of garland shapes – ‘Malodheep’ in Sanskrit from which name Maldives derives – the atolls here are on average 25nm long, with deep water of about 40-70 metres inside, and large reefs to avoid or to anchor near and then snorkel over.  The 1,190 islands are no higher than 2.4 m above sea level and extend across an area of 90,000 sq.km., 99% of which is sea!  And the water palette is made up of at least 99 different bluey hues.

Though the 11 atolls we’ve been to are amazing and the environment seemingly idyllic, the effects of global warming with rising sea levels make the islands extremely vulnerable.   Sadly in the El Nino year of 1998 the sea temperature rose to about 32C, leading to extensive bleaching of coral that is still recovering.  With current temperatures between 30 and 32 could 2015 be another El Nino year?  Even sadder was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of the country between Male and Gan, destroying villages, towns and resorts.

Back to the present …

From Uligan, where we cleared in, we headed south via Rasfushi (see Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives).  Refuelling and provisioning saw us at Kulhudhufusshi, where we initially went alongside the concrete harbour wall, ideally suited for fishing boats but not for Pipistrelle.  Our tank replenished with diesel from a small delivery tanker, we were granted permission to anchor in the middle of the harbour – safer by far.   But a very pleasant stay, allowing us to experience a Maldives town little known by tourists and buy fresh produce at the Saturday market.

Incidentally the elegant black-naped tern is one of several tern species in the Indopacific.  In the Seychelles for example, we would see the totally white fairy tern.

Our continuation south was fairly rapid, choosing different anchorages each night, as most of the yachts we know were ahead of us.  The weather gods offered us an assortment of conditions – from sunshine, amazing colours, no wind and motoring to clouds, rain, greyness, breeze, sailing!

We finally anchored for two nights at Himmafushi, where Chris organised an evening meal ashore at The Haven restaurant, part of the Paradise Resort.  We navigated there and back in the dinghy finding our way through a pass to take us outside the reef.  Without the imagery of Google Maps on the iPhone we would definitely not have attempted it in the dark.

In fact as well as Navionics, using Google Maps’ satellite view on the Tablet has become the norm whenever we enter an anchorage, as it clearly shows the deep water, reefs, bommies and sandy areas where we might manage to anchor.

Our next stop 7nm to the west was the island of Hulahmale, which is the main anchorage point for getting to Male the capital of the Maldives, by local ferry.  This is also where the many tourist dive boats anchor at changeover time for several days – they put out multiple anchors and lines so we yachties have to pick our spot carefully.  The international airport has been built on a man-made island close by, with flights constantly arriving and leaving, and twin engine seaplanes taking travellers to and from far flung luxury resorts.  A busy place!

Male itself is one of the smallest capital cities in the world at 1 km wide and 2 km long.  With 52 km of road it carries considerable traffic – mostly mopeds appearing from nowhere.  Every available piece of land has been built on to house government offices, businesses, hospitals, schools together with the local and migrant population.  Consequently many of the buildings are high rise, and room rental rates are on a par with other world capitals.  We understand some local families live in a very small space, sleeping in shifts throughout the day and night…

We anchored in Hulahmale for a week, catching the ferry to Male most days to provision, buy spares and arrange repairs.  Sounds straightforward, but as ever trying to source goods was a challenge! D Blue Marine for chandlery needs, Fantasy Food Store for provisioning as well as their nearby bakery are first class.  The Seagull Café became our regular lunchtime stop, with its lunchtime specials (and ice cream!), respite from the intense heat and city bustle.  It was also the haunt of Tony and Connie, a Canadian couple on Sage, another Wauquiez who we first met at Yacht Haven, Phuket.  They introduced us to Chris and Ann on Silver Girl, who hail from Bundaberg, Australia.

From a chance meeting on the ferry, we met Ranjan Fernando, from Sri Lanka, who owns a tuna fishing business based at Hulahmale and Colombo.  He also has two hair dressing salons in Male, one of which provided spoilings for Elaine.  Ranjan was incredibly helpful and generous, taking Bob to the laundry on the island, and then providing us with 10 kgs of fresh yellow fin tuna!!  What a very welcome treat!  His ‘brother’ or manager Rasika, invited us to their 4 storey barge for supper and again for lunch in ‘the mess’ just before we left.  Ranjan operates 17 fishing boats in a defined area of Maldivian waters and they process and ship the fresh tuna to many countries including the UK.  Apart from tourism, the fishing industry is of prime importance to the islands.

Chris and Sophie left us in Male to continue their travels to Australia.  We were most grateful for their help since January and wish them good luck, hoping to meet up again at some point in future.

Getting to Gan on Addu Atoll& and our return to the Southern Hemisphere will follow soon.

First, here’s a link to Sage’s website, where the topic is all about beating the heat.  Some useful tips from a few yachties.  You may recognise someone!

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