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January 9
With much sadness, we have left Thailand in our wake. We have loved our year long stay in a beautiful country with warm, friendly people, cheap food and wonderful cruising. We have mentally prepared ourselves for a 12 day voyage with no land in sight until our destination of Uligan, a tiny atoll in the Northernmost islands of the Maldives, 1400 miles away.

OCEAN PASSAGE THAILAND TO MALDIVES

Initially we were able to sail slowly with the 8-10 knots of wind offered but that soon fizzled out & the iron horse carried us through the first night, which turned out to be amazing. I was entertained by a continuous lightning show of unthreatening electrical activity flashing all around. No thunder or rain. In fact, the skies were absolutely clear and the breathtaking abundance of twinkling stars reflected in the glassy seas. It was impossible to determine where the sea ended and the sky started so the question all night was... Ship or Star????
We motored along, Stardust in the lead, Ascension carving a sparkling array of glittering wake in the tranquil ocean.


January 10

Still no wind. We are now concerned if this continues because we do not have enough fuel to motor the 1400 miles to the Maldives. And there is every possibility that fuel will not be available at our destination. There is not much in the way of facilities, no restaurants, no shops or stores, no resorts. Just a Muslim village that doesn't mind cruisers anchoring in their bay as long as we do not stay ashore past 6pm! But the goal is a peaceful respite with a chance to swim and relax for a week or so.

I cooked a few sauces to use up my fresh basil & the tomatoes that went from green to overripe overnight! With the motor running it is a good opportunity to charge the computers, some power tools, and best of all.... I can have the fan blowing on me!!! It is smoking hot in the boat with no wind.


January 11

Gord is still not feeling well with the bronchial infection he contracted before we left. Luckily we still had the leftover Amoxicillan from our bout of flues in Fiji while Mom & Dad were visiting. But the drugs made him queasy and sensitive to the sun.

Still no wind. We motored thru the night on glassy seas, dodging ships and squalls as we skirted around the southern end of the Nicobar Islands, where cruising boats are not allowed to stop. At various times we tried to sail with the 2 knots of wind but the slapping sails against the rigging just drove us nuts and our progress was practically non-existent. So again we motored, using up our precious fuel. Dolphins jumping beside the boat broke the stillness of the molten shiny oily seas.


January 12

Finally a breath of wind prompted another try at setting the sails. With about 5 knots we were able to make 4 knots of boatspeed over the ground with the help of the current. We skirted up above the shipping lanes after rounding the Nicobars, heading north in the hopes of avoiding so many of the ships that we had been encountering.


January 13
It is smokin' HOT! The bean bags we purchased in Thailand have been a godsend! They have made sitting in the cockpit so comfy, we wish we had bought some years ago!

Sailing conditions were excellent, with a current in our favor. We caught a nice Mahi Mahi, small by our standards, but just the right size for a few meals without having to sacrifice freezer space. Lots of dolphins came to play during the day and lots of ships kept us busy at night. We had an outstanding 24 hour run of 170 miles.


January 14
We sailed wing on wing in 10-15 knots of breeze with 1-2 meter seas, and with the current we were scooching along at 8-9 knots boat speed! 140 miles to Sri Lanka, Stardust a mile to our port beam. On the morning radio net, we heard reports of some of the other boats encountering fishermen asking for food, cigarettes, beer and other items. Other boats reported being shadowed or chased by unidentified vessels. The one report most disturbing was from a yacht off the India coast who had a fishing boat approach and threaten with a spear gun. Then the fishermen attempted to throw an anchor on the deck of the yacht in an attempt to board the vessel. The yachtie fired shots and the whole incident ended with the Sri Lanka Navy escorting both boats into the harbour.

We had a record 24 hour run of 184 nautical miles!!!


January 15
We decide to bypass Sri Lanka because of reports of bureaucracy, terrible conditions in the Harbour and political unrest. The Maldives are 260 miles away from our1400 mile passage!

We dropped down 40 miles offshore of the tip of Sri Lanka to avoid the shipping. The wind came with a vengeance. 25 knots in the face! The boats pounded and bounced, sliding off 2-3 meter waves, with green water filling the cockpit. Whoever was on watch was guaranteed a soaking!!! The boat, inside & out, got coated with crusty salt. We maintained an incredible boat speed of 9 to 10 knots mostly because of the help of a favorable current. We broke out daily 24 hour run of 187 miles!


January 18

After having endured 4 of the worst days at sea we have encountered to date, alas, today is SO PEACEFUL. The wind blew itself out and the seas are flat. Feels like being tied to a dock! Got caught up on some boat chores and cleanup and decided to put a fishing line out as our Mahi Mahi had been so delicious.

Suddenly there was excitement in the cockpit when our meat line went "twang" like a guitar string! But it was impossible to pull in the line with the weight on it...Easy to sever a finger with that much pressure. To begin with Gord figured that whatever we hooked was maybe a couple of hundred pounds, but when we got a look at the three foot spike of the giant Swordfish, we upped that by two times!! The problem was the thing wasn't really fighting because we weren't moving long enough to really put pressure on it’s mouth. At one point Gord stopped the boat to see if he could figure out how to dislodge it only to have it basically pull them backwards.

At one point we brought the boat to a complete standstill so we could dislodge the hook but the creature started to drag us backward! A head bigger than Gord's body loomed behind the boat. Probably 400-500 pounds! Okay what to do now. We really didn't want to lose all our fishing tackle cause fishing in the Red Sea is superb. But we clearly did not want this creature anywhere near our boat either!!

As we watched the line zigzag as the fish went deep, we contemplated a solution. We had none! We started the engine just to get some forward motion again and waited. Thought maybe we could tire him out or with any luck the line would break at the lure. We use non-barbed hooks so we hoped maybe the Swordfish would spit out the lure.

Luck was with us because finally that is exactly what happened! We were never so happy to lose a fish ever. So that was our excitement for the day!


January 19
Our turbulent voyage was ending in flat calm seas, but approaching the Maldive Islands, our navigation equipment went bazurk. Sailing south, our GPS said we were sailing north. It was so confusing to make a course and we weren't sure where the heck we really were. Luckily, Stardust was within sight so we followed their light until we got everything sorted. Makes you realize that fancy electronics aren't always reliable and a buddy boat is a good idea! During the last 30 miles, the wind totally died. We started the engine and noticed that our charging system was not working. As our batteries slowly drained and we were in the red, all systems shut down...frig, freezer, computer, navigation, lights, etc. Gord shut off the engine and fumbled in the total darkness to repair some connections, bypass a fuse and do anything else that might urge our regulator into action. But nadda! So again, we followed Stardust until we were able to enter the anchorage at sunrise.


MALDIVES
The Maldive Islands are located southwest of the tip of India in the Indian Ocean. The twenty-six atolls of Maldives' encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, two hundred and fifty islands are inhabited.
Jan 20

There were 4 other boats in the anchorage, from Holland, France, Germany and US. The customs officials came to our boat and checked us in. It was the smoothest, most organized checkin we have ever had. They even filled in all the paperwork! You do need 5 copies of your crew list in addition to boat papers and passport. And good thing we had a boat stamp. They love anything that looks official.

Uligan

Uligan is a lovely, remote sandy atoll, only 2 meters high at the highest point and threatened to be gulped up by the sea within 30 years if global warming persists. There is a complete ban on alcohol in the Maldives which is good because we have seen so many islands where alcohol presents a huge problem. We were only allowed to go to shore between 6 am and 6 pm and were not allowed to have locals aboard or give gifts without the customs permission.




 

FUN SHIRTS
 HATS & OTHER FUN
NAUTICAL THINGS


January 21
We followed the dingy break thru the reef to a jetty where a group of local boys were all over us like flies as soon as we approached. Competition for yachties business with fuel, provisions, laundry is fierce but Sailor's Choice pretty well had the monopoly.
We were led down the jetty and through an overhead sign that welcomed us to "Uligan" which was formerly Uligamu.

Pretty much every man in the village was named Mohamed, Hassan or Abdhulla! We were led through a labyrinth of walls to the inner village where sandy streets were swept spotless of even a fallen leaf! The architecture was such that we have never seen before, all the buildings being made of coral and mortar, picturesque, orderly and immaculate.

At the intersections, the corners were aesthetically rounded and long straight coral walls bordered all the streets. The population of the village is 459, definitely Muslim but with a pronounced Arab appearance. Our guide reported Maldives to be one of only 2 real Muslim countries in the world, the other being Saudi Arabia!

We soon got it that a guide was required to be with us at all times. Our first stop was to a small store called "Sailor's Choice" catering to the yachties with a few minor grocery items. Long wooden shelves contained a few items to add to the lauder. Potatoes, eggs, onions and some canned goods. Yachties are the only source of income on the island, as there are few jobs and no income from any other outside sources. I bought 2 papaya and 2 sweet potato for $1 US, which is the currency of choice in Uligan.

We met up with another group of cruisers and congregated for a fresh coconut drink. After lengthy negotiations, the way of doing business in the Arab countries, We all made plans to do an island excursion later that week.

We wondered through the village, everyone very friendly. It was extremely hot and I felt sorry for the women, covered head to toe in their colorful attire of tight black leggings and tunics with baka. The presence of women was very scarce and they certainly turned away whenever you tried to photograph them. The younger girls would run and hide if you approached. The girls marry out of grade 10.

The women visible were all hard at work, mostly sweeping the sand free of leaves and debris.

There were not many villagers in sight and no middle aged men. Our guides were always mid teens, extremely polite, genial and gentle, asking for nothing in return. Boys wore the same styles as western boys in the States, many with T shirts obviously given by cruisers displaying California or yacht clubs logos.

Many young boys were lazing around as there is no work on the island. A huge resort was in the planning stages and the hope for work in the tourist industry was foremost on their minds.

The female school children were also dressed in long cover-up attire. We passed the elementary school and learned that the children had to go to Male to attend High School. There are no universities. We were surprised that a village this small had a health care unit and in fact, the ambulance was the only vehicle on the island!


We visited the first internationally sponsored Energy Resources Pilot Project, a micro integrated system of a field full of AC/DC wind generators, solar power, and diesel generators. The president was just here a week ago to open it formally!! The brand new project supplies the village with 4 to 5 hours of electricity each evening.

There was to be a grand opening in a few days with international television coverage.
 

 

 

We clambered over some rocky outcrops that gave way to a beautiful beach.

We walked pretty much the full length of the island learning about the Maldives from Hassan, our 19 year old guide who spoke very good English.

 

Boat Building

Our last stop was to watch the local men build a community fishing boat, an impressive structure, huge and made of teak and hardwood. They were building the boat solely with hand tools, no plans, the drawings they said "in their heads!" They had dug a hole in the ground to support the keel and built upwards from there.

Damaged Coral

By the time we returned to the boat we were ready for a swim.
So we set off to snorkel the adjacent reef. We found an abundance of fish, some very big, but disappointingly the coral was dead. We are not sure if it is a result of all the boats that anchor in the bay every year, or an attack of fire coral, global warming, the recent tsunami or a combination of everything.


Sampling the Local Food

January 23

All the yachties were invited to shore for a Traditional Maldivian Dinner. Again, very few women were in sight and the young boys served us an array of local dishes.

It was a good chance to meet some of the other cruisers in the anchorage as there was now 10 yachts there.

January 24
We awoke to a grey sky with a change in wind direction from the north rendering the anchorage quite rolly. A day for chores. I baked and did laundry and Gord started the engine to make water. Suddenly a loud rattle in the engine compartment got our immediate attention. Upon investigating, we discovered that the bolt for the engine mount was gone! Search as we might in the grimy bilge, we could not find the crucial piece.
Eventually Stardust came to our rescue with a bolt the correct size and we were back in business. What luck finding a metric bolt that fit so perfectly!


Island Hopping Tour

A group of us went on a tour of some of the surrounding islands in one of the local boats. The island boat was a traditional wooden boat with a roof overhead and open all around. The engine was an ancient Yanmar two cylinder that turned over slow enough to count the rotations of the crankshaft. The whole boat shook from the vibrations. Our captain steered the craft by placing his feet on the long wooden tiller

Our group sat on benches along each side of the boat, trying to stay out of the spray. The boat putted along through the choppy surf, stopping at several large towns on islands about 10 miles from Uligan.

 

The areas were again swept spotlessly clean. The buildings were made of coral and mortar, similar to those in Uligan. There were not many people on the streets and any women we encountered ran away and hid.

The towns were interesting but very similar with few  amenities. We had lunch at a local restaurant which served only Skip Jack Tuna in all forms, deep fried balls, cakes, pastries, with different spices and curries. Outside, fish lay on racks drying in the sun. creating a very unappetizing odor. Internet was not working. There were a few small shops with limited produce (oranges, limes, potatoes, onions).

We visited the local school, a clean modern complex but sparsely furnished. We talked to the Indian principal and were surprised to learn that the school did not teach vocations or skills that might be used to obtain jobs on other islands.

Women, wearing their burkas, were working in the library.

 

A classroom of students were reciting scriptures from the Koran. The girls in the classroom were very shy and tried to hide from having their photos taken.

We returned to the harbour where our boat was waiting to take us on a snorkeling adventure. While the boys packed diesel fuel I took a few photos of some of the interesting and unusual boats that were tied beside our little craft.

To snorkel we went to a reef off a deserted island, as in these Muslim countries women do not expose themselves by wearing swimsuits! In fact, it was rather hard to get in and out of the water off the boat but the older man in the group was always right there to offer his assistance and did more than enough googling as the women struggled aboard in their bikinis.

The water was quite rough with the windy conditions but the snorkeling was quite good, with lots of fish life and coral.

We returned to Uligan, passing several islands that were in the process of building more exclusive resort facilities where stars like Tom Cruise frequent. A boat full of friendly smiling locals waved as they passed us with their loads of sand. We learned that the sand used for the cement walls of buildings in all the towns has to be brought in from other islands so their own islands don't disappear!


 

Beach Party

The locals put on a Pot Luck BBQ where each boat was to bring a dish from their country (made from provisions bought in Thailand!).

So what is a traditional Canadian dish?? I made a chocolate cake and pasta salad. There were lots of rice dishes as our food stores are a precious commodity!

It was a long hike in the soft sand  to reach a large spit where the locals had decorated a picnic spot with twigs and lanterns.

The boys grilled fish (not sure what kind) over an open fire while the beat of the bongo drums resonated over the sound of the gentle surf.

Happy Hour was  a coconut drink...no alcohol permitted.

 

 

After supper, the intensity of the Bongo Drums increased, the singing, even in their foreign language was way off key! But not a concern to them and the beat got faster and faster.

A few boys started dancing and the beat reached a frenzy as the boy gyrated in the sand. It  ended with all the cruisers up dancing to the beat of the drums

Jan 27

We went ashore to start the series of visits to Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Harbor Master, etc to check out.

By the time we pulled away from the anchorage, there were 22 boats in Uligan. The wind was strong and gusty but we hoped it would settle over the next couple of days.

 

Uligan, Maldives

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