Fin de la Jour
12 April 2021
I didn't know they did whales in the Maldives. As if there isn't enough to worry about, squalls, reefs, bommies and now; we've serious fin action - bloomin' great whales popping up all around, snorting and belching various putrid fishy smells into the air. The stink is the first sign they're nearby, if you didn't see them blow. (Thar she blows and all that). I know of three boats, a monohull on ARC Europe 2012 and two Outremers, that hit, well, something. The mono crew said they definitely hit a whale. They could see blood in the water as they prepared to abandon ship. The Outremers, of course, were going too fast to see anything but both had "Jaws" sized bites out their "wave piercing" bows, their crash boxes saving them from further embarrassment. The crew of the racy monohull ended up having a slow cruise to Italy courtesy of a passing tanker. So, when we see container ships passing, minus a container or two, or, as the other day, whales, close enough to smell their breath (a thought; do whales fart?) we get a bit concerned. The fact you're reading this means we escaped unharmed, with only a school of dolphins to give us close up fin action.
All this excitement was on our final, in fact, our only overnighter in the Maldives, the northern atolls being close enough you can just island hop and still get parked up for a night's, much needed and increasingly more important beauty sleep.
Maldives is for me, one of these places where some Maddison Avenue ad agency, or its Asian equivalent somewhere has done a stunningly good job of marketing. I mean, close your eyes for a second and just think to yourself, "Maldives". For most, I'd expect your brain would have fired off a whole bunch of electrons which, when assembled, would have built a picture of stunningly bright, silver sand islands, sat amongst calm, crystal clear blue seas, coconut palms wafting in the breeze and perhaps with divers annoying brilliantly coloured, exotic reef fish.
Well, it certainly has all that. To me, it's a bit of a tragedy that the developers have turned half the islands into sub-divisions and employ at most 50% Maldivian nationals. I mean, if you want a holiday in a villa in the sun, go to Butlins or better, rent my house. If on the other hand you want to experience the real Maldives, I'd recommend booking Home Stays, ideally, a few different ones along the island chain, travel inter-island by boat and then you'll meet the Maldivians and really experience the country.
Virtually all the coral we snorkelled over was long dead having been turned to rubble in the global warming driven "catastrophic coral bleaching" of 2016. While we like the scenery, especially the colours of the water, what we really enjoy and what we've missed is meeting the locals; seeing how and where people live their lives. The bloody virus and the rightly, strict Covid rules kept us off most inhabited islands and, lacking the boldness of the likes of the Pardeys or those on charter boats, we didn't much fancy creeping around uncharted reefs to drop our anchor off the many deserted islands, though, we did gird our loins and clench our buttocks and anchor amongst our fair share of them. Of the hundred or so inhabited islands we only got ashore on two, and now, the third and last, Feydhoo.....although that's really four as Gan, Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo are all joined up with causeways.
The British moved into Gan back in 1941 during the last unpleasantness, setting up an airbase to service Catalina and Sunderland flying boats. Coincidentally, our home port in Scotland, Largs, was also a wartime flying boat base.
During WWII the Gan based Fleet Air Arm provided air-sea rescue and anti-submarine patrols to protect the then vital sea routes to India and the Med. Unfortunately they missed the sub that got Captain Fred, my grandfather, and his crew. Thanks Tojo.
Anyway, back then, the local Gannites were moved to neighbouring Feydhoo and those on Feydhoo moved to Maradhoo and so on down the island chain. I'm not sure how long this domino effect went on, possibly until the last islanders relocated to Northolt, outside London and took over the air crews' houses, completing the circle. Today, the old British base is the rather pleasant Equator Village resort, so named, obviously, as it's a mere forty one miles from the equator and that puts us, wait for it........... back in the Southern Hemisphere. Soon, it will be winter. Temperature should soon plummet to near 31c!
The ceiling fans are whirring away in the old officer's mess where we are enjoying a nice cup of tea and some Tiffin and seeing people at last.
Not real people though. Just newly arrived Eastern Europeans who look like they've had their own bleaching event.