Scuba Genie Travel Diaries: Maldives – Extreme South Safari
Once upon a time, there were three Ugly Brothers. One was less ugly, but only just, than the other two, and he was taller than the other two too. He was however, of Italian descent, so enough about him, other than to say from now on he shall be referred to as ‘The Count.’ The other two were under-tall for their weight, and will be known from now as Stumpy and Splash. Stumpy due to him having exceptionally short (but very sexy) legs, and Splash because he once fell out of a RIB in the Red Sea. Nuff said about that.
Stumpy and Splash knew that they were going on this trip. Stumpy knew that the Count was coming too, but Splash didn’t. It all made for a very emotional meet at Heathrow for our Qatar flight to Doha and then on to Male in the Maldives.
Considerable supping of all potions available on the plane made the journey vanish in a puff of fumes, and we arrived into Male to catch our local flight down to Khoodhoo, a 60 minute turbo-prop assisted flight to as far South as you can go in The Maldives. We were almost touching the equator when we boarded our boat for the week!
Now, I (aka Stumpy) have to pen a few words about the boat, or I will undoubtedly end up as a pumpkin or mouse (with short, but very sexy legs).
Our vessel was the Italian owned and operated Duke of York Yacht and Spa, and it so lived up to its name. The dhoni transported us from the jetty to the mooring, and our kit stayed on the dhoni as is typical in the Maldives. So, getting on board a luxury yacht with no dive clutter is a very pleasant experience, but was totally surpassed by the sheer size and quality of the rest of our floating Palace for our weeks diving.
Indeed, I have never seen such space on any live-aboard, ever! A huge beam (width, for those non-nautical readers) was immediately noticed, and then the immense salon, furnished with a style and opulence second to none. Plush couches, recliners and the like, and of course, the most important of all, the Bar!
4 full decks, with a huge sun-deck up top, suites with double patio doors opening on to a deck we christened the ‘Sun-downer deck’, the main deck and then the lower deck. 11 cabins, and NO BUNK BEDS!!!!
The standard cabins are huge, have individual air conditioning controls, and the en-suites are bigger than the whole of my first studio-apartment. All are beautifully furnished, have full wardrobes, a desk, and both a single and double bed in them – the single making a perfect dumping ground for cameras and the like.
Dining is conducted al fresco on the main deck, but there are canvas curtains if the weather is all of a sudden under a nasty spell. Food – yes, there is food. And loads of it, and it is awesome!! Splash had his cooked individually, as he doesn’t eat fish, so we of course stole his every time he left the table, as is par for the course, but in summary, the food is ‘gert lush me babber’, and Splash’s was even nicer because it was stolen. Snacks (cookies and cakes, and fruit for sensible people) is available between every dive too.
Diving –we were there to dive, so I had better sharpen the quill and get on with this part of the story…….
The Extreme South Safari is not about reefs and pretty corals – it IS about sharks, sharks, more sharks, and whale sharks, and this is what tempted us to take the trip.
The first dive was, in all honesty, rubbish. We were in the lagoon on the arrival island, and there is a population there, and a fish-canning factory. Human interference, industry and super-warm waters mean that the corals were dead. We were gutted, but took time to have the dive explained to us (for once, I actually listened to a post-dive briefing!) We had done a check dive to get our kit set up, get wet, and get ready –for the dives that were to come were going to be what can only be described as ‘intense’.
Optimism was taken in big doses by the band of three, and off we went – outside of the lagoon, and away from the island.
What followed over the next 6 days were three to four dives a day, and they were, without exception, magical in every sense. Great visibility, warm (30’ warm) waters, and enough current to raise the Black Pearl and propel it into Portsmouth. We wanted sharks, and we got them, by the bucket-load.
Each dive followed the plan of ‘jump in, drop down quickly, hook on, and watch’ so we either hooked on to rocks, or hung in the Blue just off the reef edge, and abra cabloody dabra, we were surrounded by sharks within minutes! And lots of them. And then lots more! Wow – this was just WOW!
As Splash needed to get loads of his very super awesome piccies, we soon opted out of these dives as the sharks weren’t within his lens-range and made our own plans, assisted by the awesome dive guides, all of who took over modelling duties from me (Stumpy) much to my chagrin. Something to do with beauty, flowing locks and long legs I expect, but that’s enough about me!
We harnessed their expertise, and dived the channels and WOW! Again – this was some extreme diving. If you turned sideways, the current would have ripped off your knickers on some of the dives, so we didn’t – we shot along with the flow until coming into shelter, to be greeted by leopard sharks, turtles galore, oriental sweetlips, and clusters of anemones of all shapes, colour and size. And big, super healthy, very colourful corals too – our first dives disappointment was obliviated as soon as we were away from the inhabited island.
We found a pinnacle or two totally enveloped by sweepers (glass fish), took some beautiful pics, and then watched jacks come in and devastate the shoals in a feeding frenzy – just spectacular!
What else? Big sting rays, mobula rays, spotted eagle rays, (did I mention sharks?) and some very friendly turtles – pretty much everything anyone would have on their wish list. But, the major point of this trip was to get up close and personal with whale sharks, and after every dive, despite the dive-guides promises, our optimism was starting to wane………
Day three (okay okay – we are impatient!) started with another stunning Maldivian sunrise –there is nothing quite like being that close to the equator for the start and finish of the day. There was something in the air – the guides knew of our ‘target’ and were plotting and scheming it seemed.
The starters came and went, then the main (Splash losing his of course) and then dessert. Coffee followed, and then our ‘dinner guests’ arrived…..
Prior to dinner, the crew had placed big sodium lamps over the stern of the boat.
Throughout dinner, the krill had started to accumulate on the surface – a huge cloud of reddy brown surrounded the back deck, and then we got splashes. Squid were feeding in the light, and mobula rays were darting through the mush like rockets. Needlefish started jumping out of the water, and one even clouted the skiff floating on its umbilical tether some 10 metres away. The came the dolphins – yes –dolphins!! The sharks that were there soon vanished when this lot turned up! As amazing a spectacle as tis was, still no whale-sharks, but the crew knew something we didn’t!
9pm came and went, and then at 10, we got our first whale shark. Splash and I jumped in of course, but The Count, who dresses for dinner and is far too suave and sophisticated to get wet after hours, stayed on the dive platform where he concentrated on taking above water shots and smelling very nice.
2 hours! Yes – two whole bloody amazing and fantastically magical hours of being up close and personal with a gentle giant (this one was about 7 metres long, so not a fully grown adult) and I mean up close – we got bumped numerous times! I had dreamt about this of course, but the reality of being millimetres from its open mouth and taking photos down its throat was beyond all of those dreams!
Midnight came, and our gentle friend sauntered off – we sat on deck for an hour, a silent time to digest what we had experienced – there were so few words spoken. We then hit our cabins, full of excitement and smothered in a good coating of fairy-dust. Smiles? Our faces could have split!
0130 hours – and a gentle tap on my cabin door teased me from my slumber. Herbe, our Dive Captain, quietly informed me that the whale shark was back, and that is had brought a buddy! I then of course pounded on Splash’s door, and woke up el Conte, before the two of us then bounced all over the still sleeping Splash, just to make sure he was properly awake.
Needless to say, one whale shark was special. Two (the same original one and a 5m buddy) were incredible. They swam in synchronised loops, gulping down the krill, and were joined by us unruly lot and some of the crew too. We had the delight of their company for another 2 hours, staying right at the back of the boat, so close that they brushed up against the rails and ladder repeatedly.
Our wishes came true – we got whale sharks. These weren’t my first encounter, but it was by far the most memorable –I do not believe, even if I replace Sir David Attenborough in his job, that I could replicate anything as close to magic as this experience was.
The rest of the trip was made up of diving, and flights – nothing else is as important as the whale shark encounter we had, so ner! End of, ad finitum, le fin.
The trip? Awesome. The boat? Awesome. Would we go again? Hell yes!
So to end, and on a sombre note. We had an emotional meet at Heathrow when we left the UK to start our adventures. We had a phenomenal time, and one that is embedded permanently in our hearts and minds.
Our trip had an emotional end that followed very shortly after our return. Three very close friends, nay brothers (one less ugly than the other two, one with sexy legs and one who had to have a private chef) are now just two. Splash is no longer with us, having passed away a week after our return, but he will remain with us in spirit, within our hearts and memory, as he will to many, many others.
Forever and ever…
The Scuba Genies
Tel: 0207 644 8252