Time Bandit

Gone to the "Dark Side" with an Outremer 51.

15 April 2021 | With Aisee on the Home Stay promotion site
12 April 2021
05 April 2021
02 April 2021
29 March 2021
28 March 2021
14 March 2021
02 March 2021
24 February 2021
19 February 2021 | Uligan
13 February 2021
10 February 2021
09 February 2021 | Uligan, Maldives
05 February 2021
03 February 2021
29 January 2021 | Langkawi - Last Day!
13 January 2021
06 January 2021

Any Bleeding Complaints?

15 April 2021 | With Aisee on the Home Stay promotion site
Stuart Letton
“Any bleeding complaints?”

“Eh? No. Actually, the service has been amazing. You see, we met this chap, Aisee, on the beach up in Gaidhoo. He was promoting the concept of Home Stays to the locals, encouraging them to set up a B&B network around the Maldives. This will allow tourists to see the REAL Maldives, meet and live amongst the people and see how they live. What makes the islands tick. Tourists will be able to flit from one island to the next, staying at Home Stays and see tons more of the country than just flying into a resort on stilts.”

Well, you see, it turns out Aisee is personal friends with both the President of the Maldives and the mayor of Adhoo Atoll. So when we got to talking we said that we had been looking to see if we could get a vaccine and Aisee said, “let me see what I can do”.

And so, here we are, we seen the islands, met the people and, now, the great news of getting a shot of Covishield. So, absolutely no complaints. Many thanks instead.

“No Mr Letton”, says the nurse, “I meant do you have any bleeding complaints”.

“Oh. Well, no to that as well”

And so ends our cruise through the Maldives. All sun, blue seas and a jag in the arm. 300 miles to Chagos.

Fin de la Jour

12 April 2021
Stuart Letton
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.


First Cut Is The Deepest

05 April 2021
Stuart Letton
First cut is the deepest. Four point three metres to be exact.

Anchoring here in the Maldives is something of a challenge. Getting a good night’s sleep, even harder. The general rule of thumb is to stay on the inside of the reef on the atoll’s windward side. Once there, nose up to said reef and drop the hook in the few metres of sand patch that, with luck, if you read Google Earth correctly and it wasn’t actually a passing cloud, is on the leeward side of the reef. Then, just as you’re finally getting to sleep in the thirty degrees and soggy wash cloth humidity, hope the wind doesn’t die overnight and you drift back onto the waiting reef.

The good news is that we’ve discovered that the aforementioned excavators have been doing their Mr Blippy. They’ve conveniently chopped cuts through some of the fringing reefs allowing access into the sheltered, temptingly blue, inner lagoons. On inhabited islands, the cuts allow access for the supply boats to feed and water the locals and the high speed inter island ferries to facilitate visiting the mother-in-law or a bit of shopping on the “big island”.

About half the inhabited islands are resorts, where, as again I’ve previously mentioned, (yawn) room rates, possibly including one’s butler, top floor to ocean water slide and access to as many restaurants as you can shake a fork at, charge from $1,000 to $4,000 per night. One island we passed is for rent on an exclusive basis. Bring the family!You can rent the whole island and it’s included motor yacht on an exclusive basis for a trifling $40,000 per night!!

Unfortunately, cruisers anchoring in the resort lagoons are about as welcome as “Travelling People” showing up in your neighbourhood beauty spot. Consequently we’re restricted to non resort islands, inhabited or uninhabited - and having struggled to anchor around both, now seek out those with these man-made cuts, all in the hope they haven’t silted over and are wide enough and deep enough.

All said, we’ve found it’s best to sail in company. It is however crucial to engineer the passage so they arrive first. Ideally your buddy boat will not be very good at Mexican Train Dominoes, have air-con and most importantly, have forward looking sonar and ideally, you’ll be in a boat suited for these waters, perhaps, a full keel, Island Packet?

Doh!

Mr Blippy

02 April 2021
Stuart Letton
Some adults of a certain age, probably endowed with the moniker of "grand" something or other, may well have heard of, or worse, sat through an episode of Mr Blippy on YouTube. Worse still, you may have endured or even sung along to Mr Blippy's agonising, "Excavator Song".

Well, while he may not be a hit with said Grand-somethings, with over 93 MILLION views, the kids obviously love him. One thing's for sure - he'd go down a storm here. On perhaps every second island we pass, there's an excavator or three, either lying idle and rusting while Covid takes its toll or busy shovelling dredged sand and coral into giant piles, reminiscent of the slag heaps adjoining, now redundant coal mines of Britain referenced in the last doom and gloom, yet amusingly informative posting. (I hesitate to use Great Britain as these days, well, ...... you know; breweries and piss-ups come to mind).

Anyway, excavation's the name of the game here, constructing new sea defences against the rise in sea levels as a result of global warming, reclaiming land, although it was a long time since it was there anyway, or, as is mostly the case, creating yet another luxury eco resort.

Despite all this shifting of sand and coral, finding a safe haven is a bit of a challenge in the Maldives. Tonight, we're in Guraidhoo, having sailed twenty miles south to find two
prospective anchorages untenable, then backtrack six miles to finally get the hook down on a seven metre hump of, I dont know what, drifting back into twenty metres of black and reefs all around. Paul and Chris on buddy boat Georgia? Well, they're anchored out in mid ocean somewhere just on the horizon. Reefs all around.

Coincidentally, once anchored, fed and watered I picked up my book; "The Pacific: In The Wake Of Captain Cook". I couldn't help but smile when I read his explanation of a reef, penned in one of his many Admiralty reports, probably shortly after he'd had intimate relations with the Great Barrier Reef. "A reef, such as one speaks of here is scarcely known in Europe. It is a wall of coral rock rising almost perpendicular out of the unfathomable ocean, always overflown at high water generally 7 or 8 feet, and dry in places at low water."

Well, that's our lot to a T. The good news is our "buddy boat" Georgia is equipped with a forward looking sonar.

Probably like Cook, I wish I had one.

The Maldives - Really???

29 March 2021
Stuart Letton
As you know, I'm not one to complain, but seriously....... this is the Maldives?????

Oh..... the Crinan Canal for me.....




Coals to Newcastle

28 March 2021
Stuart Letton
I’m not sure if “Coals To Newcastle” translates for our global readership so, for those not familiar with the phrase, it is a wordplay on the irony of shipping coal to Newcastle, when, at the time of the conception of the phrase, Newcastle was one of the worlds’ largest sources of coal........and ironically, now, virtually shut down as a coal producer, it having been proven cheaper to ship coal half way around the world from, talk of irony, Newcastle, Australia.

The point of this ramble is that over the last few weeks meandering through the Maldives, we’ve been passed a few times by what looked like WWII landing craft in full jungle warfare camouflage; all foliage,
leaves and palm fronds from stem to stern.

On Thulusdhoo we finally found out what it’s all about - the Maldivian resort version of Coals To Newcastle; except it’s Coconut Palms To Paradise. You see, the Maldive islands are somewhat short of foliage. Time, development and strong breezes have taken their toll. Unlike the lush coastlines of most of the tropics the Maldive Islands sport coconut palms like a teenagers first attempt at a beard.

Consequently when the resort architect knocks up the latest Eco Resort on Stilts, the artists impression will invariably show the resort comfortably shaded by lofty palms, gently waving in the tropical breeze. Except, as on most islands, there ain’t no palm trees left. And now we know why. They’ve all been uprooted and unceremoniously humped on an old landing craft and transported to Resortville where the happy tourists can sit around, shaded from the equatorial sun on the sugar soft, silver sand beaches...... recently imported from another nearby island........ where, once, there were coconut palms.

Coral, Sand Bars and Reefs

20 March 2021
Stuart Letton
Phew. It's quite hot here and we're still a few degrees north of the fat bit of the Earth. The weather is lovely though. Decent breezes so far and clear blue skies all day. Ideal for reef dodging.

You really wouldn't want to be colour blind around here. Big Bobby Moresby was the last person to properly survey the Maldivian atolls and islands. And that wasn't in the last few years. Not even decades. He would be celebrating his hundred and ninetieth birthday by now and would have used up more than a few pencils and lead lines. All current Maldivian charting is based on his 1830's surveys and, ignoring shifting sand bars and new islands or extensions, it's not what you'd call deadly accurate as, according to the plotter, we continually sail across the top of C-Map and Navionics reefs that are really a hundred yards away. However, given the tools available at the time, it's a pretty good approximation but you wouldn't want to trust your boat to it. Consequently, "eyeball navigation" is the name of the game - judging depth by colour. It really is sailing by a nautical version of a Dulux Paints colour chip card.

- Deep Space Blue - press on regardless
- Hint of Greeny Blue - hhhmmm. Wot's that then?
- Summer Sky Blue - claim imminent.

The sky has similar colour variants but black is the one to watch for. When it changes from blue to grey to black, tuck in a reef or two and get your undies on the rail for a good rinsing. It's a Tropical climate, in fact I guess, Equatorial and the weather can be a bit squally but in the end, offers a perfect balance between topping up our tans and filling the fresh water tanks. I don't think we've run the water maker for a couple of weeks. And, most considerately, the squalls usually blow through overnight while we're in our pit, leaving the days bright and sunny so as not to spoil the acquisition of that beach babe/hunk look we're chasing.......... although I have to confess we've been chasing it for some years now.

We've made it as far as Thulusdhoo, and are anchored in a lagoon across from the main islands. It's nearly half way through the island chain and we finally got permission to go ashore on our first inhabited island. There's a harbour, dusty streets and a few shops, a baker, grocers, surf and dive shops and of course, the essential in every community, the mobile phone shop. There are thirty guest houses here, catering for visitors and surfer dudes from Europe, primarily Italians for some reason.

There isn't much in the way of Maldivian local food but you can get a nice pizza.

Grumbles In The Night

14 March 2021
Stuart Letton
As we are more or less banned from the inhabited Maldivian islands, whether populated by locals or the worlds' wealthy blowing anywhere from a thousand to four thousand bucks a night for a glorified beach hut on stilts, banned, at least without having someone poke a pointy Covid testing stick up your nose, we've finally found heaven in the shape of a sheltered sandy bottomed lagoon.

There isn't much cruising information around about the Maldives. No Cruising Directions; not even an Idiot's Guide. If it weren't for the content left online by a few stalwart blog writers who've passed through over the last few years, we'd be fumbling around blind. Even with their recommendations, it always pays to remember that one cruiser's idea of heaven may not be yours. "Lovely beach. Anchor in 22m", omits a cautionary reminder that it might be the last time you see your anchor as your chain ties itself in knots around an unseen coral head or "bommie" as they're known. They are amazing natural features where new coral grows on old over countless human generations. They teem with a hundred species of reef fish, bountiful and resplendent in all the colours of the spectrum, iridescent lipped clams, jet black sea urchins and bright purple and orange anemones all calling the bommie "home". The bommies offer food, shelter and breeding grounds for all. They are a critical part of the tropical seas food chain.

We hate the bloody things.

They're the curse of cruising in tropical waters. These isolated jagged lumps of coral could have been deliberately designed to catch your chain and, or reach up from the depths to put an embarrassingly large gouge in both your hull and bank balance. In fact, unless your a resident of these bommies, cruising around the reefs is definitely not for those of a nervous disposition. Or uninsured.

Nonetheless we've been sailing around, wiggling through the reefs, spending the last few weeks in a nautical version of Snakes & Ladders, zooming downwind and down current to recommended spots which turn out to be tenable only in a few knots from the wrong direction, then clawing our way back upwind and up-tide struggling to make more than three miserable knots. Finally, we threw in the towel. Or, more accurately, ignoring our suggestion of hiding out from a thirty knot and blinding rain squall in a largely unmarked lagoon five miles across, our buddies in SV Georgia soldiered on and found a sandy lagoon with more or less 360 degree protection, 180 of them from a one metre high, sand spit. Some kind chaps with a dredger had cut a channel through the fringing reef (I said "fringing"), opening up a protected, shallow, almost bommie free sandy pool. After a bouncy, sleepless night in the washing machine that passed for our concept of shelter, we sailed through another thirty knot squall and joined Georgia in their calm, blue, sandy lagoon......... where we managed to lassoo one of the few bommies. Twice we tried to unwrap, motoring around in circles dragging the chain around in a valiant but ultimately vain effort to untie the grannie knot. In the end, as the forecast said we were going to be tied up for a few days, literally, we gave up, paid out a bit more chain and the bommie is now our private mooring. It seems to work and the chain joins me in grumbling all night.
Vessel Name: Time Bandit
Vessel Make/Model: Outremer 51
Hailing Port: Largs, Scotland
Crew: Anne and Stuart Letton
About: ex dinghy and keelboat racers now tooled up with a super sleek cat and still cruising around aimlessly, destination Nirvana...
Extra: 2021 Malaysia to South Africa via Maldives, Chagos and Seychelles.
Home Page: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/profile
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Added 6 September 2019