First Cut Is The Deepest
05 April 2021
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?
02 April 2021
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
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
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
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
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.
How To Make A Small Fortune
06 March 2021
Start with a large fortune.
Facts are few and far between. At least those available to me, so, drawing on my years of corporate life, I've pieced together this scenario which may, or more likely, may not, have been what happened.
Picture this. Three or four smartly, nay, expensively dressed executives in their Hugo Boss suits, with their slim aluminium briefcases containing an unused yellow legal pad, a well thumbed paperback and a sandwich, coiffed and shoes shining like a Scots Guard outside Buckingham Palace; their architect in his round, tortoise shell glasses and tweed jacket, with slightly worn leather patches on the elbows, and his young assistant, armed with his degree in Media Studies and the PowerPoint controls, are all sat at the end of a very long, highly polished table in the mahogany alley that is the bank's top floor boardroom awaiting an audience with their prospective backers.
Two hours and two hundred slides later, everyone's ecstatic, the plan eagerly accepted, the deal's been done and a big, and I mean a really big cheque is soon to wing its way to the resort development team's coffers, when, upon receipt, the first thing on the project is to order two new Mercedes. Media studies boy probably got fired having served his purpose and the architect was in a panic wondering how to make this project, flung together over a boozy weekend, a reality. I mean, who in their right mind would conceive a project requiring tons of concrete, the felling of acres of prime hardwoods, miles of electric cables and wires, all needing to be shipped to and assembled on a remote atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Not to mention finding a workforce keen to re-enact the movie Papillon, many, many miles from, well, anything. An atol that many say will be under water in the not to distant future.
Nonetheless, work started and for a few years everything was going swimmingly. Bangladesh had been robbed of its finest artisans, wood and cabling shipped in by the ton and concrete formed into ingenious shapes, that until now I'd thought only the French could do, oddly, closely resembling a "Project" (think Chicago Projects and you'll get the idea). All was going swimmingly. Right up to the point the money ran out.
This "kit project", a kind of IKEA on stilts cum "fixer-upper" is now yours, or would have been if you'd bid a tad over fifty million a year or two back.
Now, it's all pretty much like my guitar playing. A bit of a train wreck. One good blow and it will all appear on an atol beach somewhere downwind leaving just the concrete piles and ribs like a desiccated giant who lay too long on the beach, testament to the luxury of spending other people's money.
Note: this, like most of my writing , is a pleasing, one hopes, mix of fact and fiction. It is also the work of someone with too much time on his hands, not to mention a fevered imagination. Any similarity to persons, events or timing is entirely, a) fortuitous and b) unlikely.
02 March 2021
It struck me the other day that cruisers hailing from different parts of the world have some fundamentally different approaches to some aspects of cruising.
Take for example, anchoring. In Scotland, the majority of yachters on approaching their chosen spot for the night, or week depending on the forecast, will check their well thumbed and slightly damp copy of the Clyde Cruising Club, Sailing Directions and head for their ideal spot, usually, that giving the shortest dinghy ride to the pub. They'll then squeeze out through the zips in the cockpit enclosure, and shuffle along the deck in wellies, rubber or leather depending on your budget and several layers of fleece and Goretex. At an appropriate spot, or more likely, despite furious gesticulations from the foredeck, often ten metres past where you actually wanted the boat stopped, the self-launching-but-won't-without-a-kick anchor plunges into the impenetrable black depths that are Scottish waters. Three to five times depth, engine in reverse, finally happy you're anchor is solid having taken a transit of the pub door and dark pole on promenade, which later turns out to have been a tourist standing eating his fish supper, you head ashore for much needed warmth and sustenance.
Compare that to the blue waters of the Caribbean or indeed, here in the Maldives. Mostly it's much the same except one heads up the deck skipping from foot to foot going, "ooh, aahh" from feet being lightly barbecued on the burning deck, wearing once fashionable beachwear, or more likely a pair of drooping underpants half way through their metamorphis to polishing cloth. One then "lets go" into clear blue water to the sand below. Cruisers brought up in these kind of waters then voluntarily throw themselves overboard, swim thirty or forty metres and then circle slowly above the anchor and, presumably, give the anchor a stern look which perhaps improves its holding power and content themselves that it's actually on the bottom.
What prompted this train of thought was watching the local Maldivian fishing boats and thinking "they wouldn't be doing that in Scotland".
Hope you enjoy the video.