A Fish-filled Festival of Maldivian Magic

Author: Rachel Lee Horsfield

Although Divequest had been working with Explorer Ventures for some fifteen years, we had never had one of our team experience their vessels first hand. When Explorer Ventures put a boat in the Maldives in early 2011, all this changed, and Rachel Lee Horsfield packed her dive bag and camera case again and headed to the Maldives for her maiden voyage on an Explorer Ventures yacht and her first ever trip to the Maldives!

Carpe Vita Explorer is a brand new, purpose built yacht some 40 metres/125 ft in length, is generously spacious and very well designed with all modern conveniences present. It is very well run with some of the jolliest dive guides I have ever dived with! My journey began from London Heathrow with a direct flight to Male on Sri Lankan Airlines. Here I was collected by the vessel and as I still had a few hours to wait before the official collection time of 3pm, I was taken to the local hotel, the Hulhule to enjoy the facilities there and relax and freshen up after the flight. At 3pm promptly we were taken to ‘Mini Vita’ the Carpe Vita’s diving dhoni who was moored up at the dock immediately outside the airport, so there was no waiting around or long transfers. Our bags were handled for us and shortly we were on our way to the Carpe Vita!

Lucky me was given the VIP upper deck suite to share with my friend Sue and I was very impressed by the comfort and design of the cabin, not least the unbelievable bathroom, far bigger than my own at home and complete with his and hers sinks as well as a large bath right next to the picture windows – perfect for romantic evenings gazing at the Maldivian sky. I was also very conveniently placed for the dining area and bar, just a few short steps down the corridor to the open air dining table and seating area. The barman delighted in making you the drink of your choice and was always on hand to provide you with an après dive cocktail, often enjoyed on the top deck watching the sunset.

I had few preconceptions about the diving in the Maldives. I was aware that I could experience strong currents and more importantly, Manta Rays and Whale Sharks (the latter were apparently seen 51 out of 52 weeks in 2010 by dive guides on Carpe Vita)! Not only did I experience both leviathans of the ocean during the week, I also saw my first hammerhead shark!

My first dive was Rasdhoo Atol, a blue water dive where hammerheads are usually patrolling at around 30 metres/90 feet. I’d been in the water not six minutes when our guide tapped, as discreetly as possible on his cylinder, and sure enough, as I looked below me into the piercing deep blue, there he was, swishing and sashaying beneath me, his silver skin contrasting neatly with his royal blue watery home. Naturally he didn’t hang around too long with us, and we continued along the dive plan; swim through the blue until you hit the reef. Other divers spotted fleeting glimpses of one of two more, but in these moments, beggars cannot be choosers, and we finished the dive bimbling along the wall, where I was re-acquainted my beloved Moorish Idols and anthias once more!

I was quite spoiled on my second dive too, Hafsa Thila. What a humdinger! The only improvement that could have been made was the visibility but once you hit the atoll wall, there was so much going on that it didn’t matter. If I didn’t have my lens pointed at the numerous anemonefish whizzing and popping about their anemone homes (some with bright red skirts, some with an enchanting sapphire blue tone), I was following the baby white-tip reef sharks, they reminded me of my playful cats and I half wanted to reach out and scratch them under the belly! A larger grey reef shark did a cautious patrol slightly further into the blue and behind me some rather large tuna were marshalling a huge and ever shifting school of jacks over the reef top. Soft and hard corals were plentiful and provided many a good backdrop to some standard reef top photographs.

As we all know, when we dive the great wide ocean, we are not in an aquarium and after two or three dives looking for them, we were all wondering if our search for Manta Rays would prove to be fruitful. Rangali was apparently our last shot at Mantas. I didn’t really think that we would see one and was reasonably content with perusing the base of the short wall and the slope below me for a good half hour, before putting my head up to find an enormous female Manta probably a metre away from me! She swept over my head initially and then headed on, as Manta Rays are wont to do, and I thought to myself ‘that was a lovely encounter’, and then low and behold she arced around and she came straight back towards me! This particular lady stayed over my head for several minutes, and a part of me thought it was the Spirit of my Mother returned. She gracefully maneuvered herself around and about my head, reminding me of some alien space craft coming in to land. Her mouth was closed to I thought she was probably getting a good clean. The water was packed with fish, which now seemed very tiny in comparison to the glorious ray. I found a suitable place to rest on the reef top, avoiding the territorial triggerfish and the numerous moray eels in the crevices, only to find a crab wandering over my hand a few minutes later. The encounter probably lasted around 15 minutes and I could hardly believe that she stayed over me for so long. What a moment to remember!

Throughout the week I was quite amazed by how dense the fish life was over the atols. By some sheer topographical accident, the Maldives are like an oasis in a desert; sudden pinnacles of life in a vast and raging ocean. Currents rich in nutrients sweep the atols, hence the huge numbers of fish and larger animals like Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. The only draw back is that, in the main, there are very few soft corals. The guides on Carpe Vita recognise the importance of balancing dives inside and outside the atols. Outside the atols one is more exposed to the currents, so dives can be quite exciting and who knows what the current will bring with it. Inside the atols things calm down a bit and reefs are much more intact. Diving both is a must and really completes the experience.

Off Machchafushi Island lies the wreck of the MV Kudhimaa, a purposely sunk wreck which sits intact and penetrable in a number of areas. The wreck has been sunk for 12 years and coral growth is not extensive but nevertheless the ship is interesting to explore and admire from various angles and depths. The holds/compartments with silversides are an obvious attraction and the superstructure itself is photogenic in a variety of ways.

Diving and living on Carpe Vita was made very straightforward. The mothership is extremely spacious and it’s easy to find a quiet spot to relax with a book and a drink when not diving. Meals were all served al fresco and even if you encounter a spot of rain, the dining area is suitably covered. The salon is open for snacks and drinks throughout the day and offers comfortable seating areas as well as a large screen television, DVD collection and small library.
The crew are extremely keen to help and make getting on and off the dhoni as easy as possible. All your equipment remains set up throughout the week and cylinders are filled in situ. Rinse tanks for cameras and equipment are available but if a lot of people have particularly large camera set-ups there may not be space for all at once. Suits are hung out to dry on the rear of the dhoni. Entry is an easy giant stride off the back off the dive platform and once you have finished your dive, the crew will help you with any camera equipment that you might have as well as your weightbelt and fins. If conditions are less than perfect, using the ladder to get back on the dhoni can be a little tricky but the crew are experts in helping everyone out of the water.

Rachel dived North and South Ari Atols on the Carpe Vita from 17-24th April 2011. Three cabin types are available on Carpe Vita who sails 7 or 10 nights trips across two different itineraries throughout the year.

For UK divers, the 7 nights itineraries are perfect for a quick break and US divers might like to consider one of the 10 nights trips to really make your journey worth the while. It is very straight forwards to add on a stay at one of the Maldives’ shore-based locations for some rest and relaxation and extra diving at the end of a Carpe Vita cruise. Talk to us about the possibilities.

Carpe Vita Explorer (Explorer Ventures)

Soft coral bloom (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Anemonefish and home (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Squirrelfish (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Coral grouper (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

The propeller of the MV Kudhimaa (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Bubbles and blue, a diver's dream come true (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Reef scene (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

A diver descends (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Diver and anemonefish (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

A fish filled frenzy (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

Whale Shark (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

VIP double room (Carpe Vita Explorer)

Surfacing after a dusk dive (Rachel Lee Horsfield)

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