The Maldives – a trip report about liveaboard diving on the Ocean Divine (formerly Ocean Dancer).
Destination: The Maldives, North Male Atoll, South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll
Boat: M/V Ocean Divine (formerly M/V Ocean Dancer)
When: 6 to 16 January 2010
Duration: 10 days
Number of dives: 25
Close your eyes. Think of the ultimate tropical paradise. BOOM – a picture of a Maldivian island pops up immediately in your head. The white sand, the turquoise water, green palm trees… Right? Well, it does for me. This trip checked two of my dream boxes: first, I had always dreamt about going to the Maldives and secondly, I had wanted to go on a liveaboard trip on a boat belonging to a fleet of liveaboards that was then (2010) called Peter Hughes Liveaboards. I had been on liveaboard boats before, but never on any of the high-end boats and now finally, I would do it!
By the way, my slogan for this blog: “Work is just a surface interval” has been borrowed from a t-shirt that I bought on the Ocean Divine…
Ok, let’s start with the boat.
Ocean Divine is a great boat! The owners – David and Gaëlle – actually live onboard and David has custom designed and built it. It is a wooden boat with great finish – beautiful to look at – and very comfortable. Lots of space to relax and take naps – I like taking naps between dives… All diving is made from the dingy, which itself is a large custom made diving boat with plenty of space – no small RIB tender. All diving equipment is stored on the dingy meaning that the Ocean Divine is free from all dive gear and has no diving platform. Personally, I thought this was a very good set up.
I must say that the food onboard Ocean Divine is the best food I have ever had on a diving boat. Amazing what the chef managed to conjure out of the small kitchen. A lot of thought has gone into creating the menus and this makes eating something very special on this boat.
From experience I have learned not to have too many specific expectations on particular sightings when going on a dive trip. After all – it’s not a zoo down there. Nothing is ever guaranteed. The diving in the Maldives is know for massive amounts of fish, exciting drift dives in strong currents and, if you’re lucky, big pelagics such as manta rays and whale sharks.
Onboard this week was excellent underwater photographer Michele Westmorland. If you want to take a look at her wonderful portfolio from all over the world you can check out her website here.
Running a liveaboard boat you are extremely dependent on the boat. Bad luck for the crew showed itself immediately when the engine broke down stranding us in the Male harbor. David and the crew worked relentlessly to fix it, but it needed a spare part flown in from Singapore so we were stuck in the same place for four days. This is when having a large bespoke dingy showed its real value. Although Ocean Divine was stranded in the harbor, the dingy took us diving around North and South Male Atolls and the dive crew really delivered great dives to us despite this unlucky circumstance.
Some of the highlights around Male were:
- Banana Reef – a beautiful soft coral wall. Eagle Rays, Black Tip Reef Sharks and Morays.
- Bandos Rock – White Tip Reef Shark and nesting (and very aggressive) Titan Triggerfish.
- Okobe Thila – Beautiful thila with lots of fish. Eagle Rays, Sting Rays and Black Tips Reef Sharks.
- Nassimo Thila – Another beautiful Thila with Eagle Rays and Black Tip Reef Sharks.
- Furana North – This was a pure adrenaline ride. The current was ripping and pair after pair just got tumbled away in the current when trying to cross the channel. One of the most exhilarating drift dives I have ever done.
On the fifth day we all cheered! The engine was running again! After a morning dive around Male, we set out towards Ari Atoll – famous for big pelagic action. Everyone was very excited!
It takes a couple of hours to cross the open sea to Ari Atoll. Along the way, there was some fishing going on and Herman from Austria (we called him the Herminator) landed a bonito that became fresh sashimi later that day – wonderful!
Late afternoon we arrived at Dhagirih in southern Ari Atoll were we anchored for the night. The sun was low we when jumped in the water and we had an absolutely stunning sunset dive at at site called Dhagirih Arches. A huge red Frogfish and two beautiful Manta Rays! Later that evening the mantas were playing and feeding in the boat’s floodlights.
The following day’s first dive was on a very nice thila called Kuda Rah Thila. The site was great with nice swimthroughs and lots of fish. I mostly remember another experience though. Maybe about 15 minutes into the dive, I am following the divemaster over a sandy bottom through a large swimthrough when he looks back over me and his eyes widen. I turn around and am shocked by a herd of Chinese divers swimming hard against us floating up and down, computers beeping everywhere around us. As I lay flat on the sand bottom, several persons grab my tank and first stage to pull themselves forward and a pointer stick suddenly penetrates the sand one inch from my face. Not the nice calm dive with well behaved buddies that we had gotten used to… These “divers” grabbed everything they could get hold of and I felt seriously sad, and a bit abused actually, after that encounter. Sad to see people without any kind of respect for the underwater environment they are visiting.
In addition to the sites already mentioned, I liked the following sites in Ari Atoll:
- Panetone – a beautiful site with lots of healthy coral. Heavy current and big schools of snappers.
- Fesdu Wreck – a nice coral covered wreck.
- Fish Head – two thilas separated by a short channel with beautiful scenery and lots of fish.
One of the days in Ari Atoll we went whale shark cruising. Lots of boats go up and down a long stretch looking for whale sharks. David had the lookout from the top of the boat. Everyone was ready with the snorkel gear on. On David’s signal, we all jumped into the water and yes – we had a whale shark encounter! It is always magical to see these gentle giants underwater.
I have to mention one other dive that was very special. It was at a place called Rangali Manta Point – famous for its Manta cleaning station. We started with the wall on our left. The wall itself was nothing special and I was taking up the rear of the group together with divemaster Jeff from South Africa. Suddenly I feel a shadow over me and when I look left a huge Whale Shark swims just past me maybe two meters away. Jeff is hanging weightlessly staring out into the blue (looking quite bored) maybe 20 meters from me. I shout as best as I can (it’s not easy to make a lot of sound underwater) and finally Jeff turns around just in time to see the Whale Shark swim right over his head – a magical moment! No, it doesn’t end here. With the adrenaline pumping we reach the cleaning station in time to have a close encounter with three huge Manta Rays. My nitrox is running low after all the excitement but it is so great that I grab Jeff’s octopus to be able to stay for five more minutes.
That night we were visited by the team of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program who joined us for dinner. These guys really do an awesome job studying and indexing Whale Sharks and their stories were great. You can get all information about supporting them on their website and you can volunteer to work with them for a season.
This was truly a great trip. My first on a top end boat and I really enjoyed it. Great food, great crew, great diving and a great group of guests. Ocean Divine is nowadays independent and do not belong to the Dancer Fleet anymore, but David and Gaëlle is still running it and I am sure they still keep the same great standard or better. I can definitely recommend doing a trip on this boat.