We hope you enjoy reading this blog written by Dr. O’loughlin, one of the teachers from Wellington College. Many thanks goes to the students and teachers of Wellington for such a great diving holiday to the Maldives.
The start of the trip is normally a rather stressful experience. Students at wrong airports, lost boarding cards – the track record is not good. So imagine my surprise when the correct students all arrived at the correct places and we were safely on our way. This year we had a stop off in Dubai, which again added to the potential for chaos but again they all did very well and I felt strangely disappointed. Male airport doesn’t really have any roads leading from it so it was just a quick 50m walk and we embarked upon our boat’s little brother, the diving dhoni, which took us to the mothership in the harbour of Male. We had bags and bags of kit which we eventually sorted out and everyone assembled their kit in anticipation of the start of proceedings tomorrow. The weather is hot and sticky, but the cabins are lovely and cool and the boat itself is huge. If only we had packed a bat and a ball then the top deck is certainly big enough for some deck cricket. Dinner was a delicious concoction of Maldivian curries and salads and there was relief at eating what felt like the right meal at the right time. I think we had lunch at about 2 am UK time and no breakfast whatsoever so it’s all been rather confusing.
With 20 faces to get to know this year, some have yet to draw the eye of the blog. Charlie on the other hand is not such a character. He’s like a cross between a Magaluf rep and the Duracell bunny, bouncing from deck to deck with a laugh and cheesy one liner never far away. The ‘chat’ has been flowing from the first moment and as I write he has corralled the entire group into some bizarre circular kung fu game. Absolutely no idea what the rules are, nor the purpose, but they seem to be in good spirits and having fun so we’ll leave them to it.
Other than that there’s not much to report, a few bets have been taken on the romance front but no clear favourite has emerged as yet. Tomorrow sees us with a good potter down to our first dive site to get the new divers’ training started whilst the qualified divers drift along the house reef.
We’ve also given the guides a shopping list:
- Lots of reef sharks
- Manta ray
- Whale shark
Let’s see how we do as the week progresses
The day started at 6am (yes parents they have experienced 6am) with the boat firing up and us moving 30km south to the first dive site. Breakfast was fantastic but the crew were mortified that not all of us wanted eggs. I think they will be compulsory tomorrow or there will be a mutiny. The first dive site was aimed at the new divers, to give them a sheltered, sandy site without any current – not easy in an area known for its currents. We went into Ghuli Lagoon and the experienced divers got back into the swing of things with getting weighting right, learning how to control buoyancy and only a few tellings off for the various ‘sand kickers’ who shall remain nameless. The second dive was a nice circular reef with a wall sloping away into the blue. We worked first into the current and then met the point where it split and then it carried as with it for the rest of the dive. The main fish life was triggerfish. In their thousands. From the blue ones to some very big titans which can be a little bit bitey, but were very peaceful and left us alone!
The third dive was simply amazing. Always a big build up when the site was called ‘Manta point’ but when the guide jumped in and told us there was one there, there was a nervous excitement. Sure enough, when we arrived at the coral lump there was manta cruising over and around making use of the little fish which swim into its gills and do their thing. Everyone was very disciplined in kneeling still on the bottom and we stayed for about 15 minutes just watching this giant of the sea. No sooner had we started to move off than a bigger one arrived and so we all came back for a second show. What a treat. The rest of the dive was spent just looking at the little fish in the nooks and crannies of the coral and we surfaced just as the sun set.
So who has come out of the woodwork today. Firstly we have Miss Wyatt or miss Why-ner. It’s either her wetsuit (too small), her boots (too big), Her mask (leaks) but to top it off, she complains that the reef was on her left hand side. She doesn’t like it on that side, she wants to look the other way. Some people are hard to please.
Harry and Seb seem to be taking on the moniker of the human Jacuzzis and produce more hot air than Charlie after a can of coke. Harriet can only dive when she takes her lunch box with her, which she claims is a camera but we know it has a whole picnic in it. She also gets one of the quotes of the day by asking whether you can still get sunburnt at different times of the day. Frankie is already on a one question per half hour ration as we all need a break from time to time and rumours circulate of him being told to jump off the boat early just to give us some peace and quiet. Not true. Surely.
Divers of the day. All the Open water divers have done very well but two stand out from the crowd. Divers have lots of kit, most of it black, but every so often someone buys something pretty and colourful. It could be some white and purple fins, a red rash vest, or a bright SMB, but the Tome brothers have an item of clothing of every single colour. Whether it is watches, shorts, rash vests every single item is a different lurid colour. Even the arms on Xander’s rash vest are different colours. Very impressive gents. Well done.
Another early start and we went back to Manta point to look again for the Mantas. On the way to the site we were joined by a pod of spinner dolphins and we jumped in full of excitement. Alas the current wasn’t quite right and only one group caught a fleeting view of a Manta. We still enjoyed a good bimble along the reef and saw a Napoleon Wrasse and lots of starfish along with the trainee divers playing with eggs underwater. We then passed on congratulations to our newly qualified Open Water divers, so well done to Xander, Brando, Ru and Ollie-Bob, Tom and Will.
Dive two was at Alimatha Jetty and was a chance to explore the evening’s night dive site. It was rather underplayed by the guides, but was jam packed full of nice corals and some big fish. Sightings included a turtle (yes, well done Miss Trafford we all know you saw it first) a few reef sharks and a big Ray. A good current also allowed us to practise cruising along sideways and staying close to the reef so as to not get carried away. It is worth saying that we are all very impressed by the group this year in their diving skills. Despite not having many dives under their belts, they listen well to instructions, are good at checking their kit and always learn when they make a mistake and their improvements have been very impressive.
The afternoon was spent chilling and the Jacuzzi was filled and a few brave souls had a jump of the side of the boat, swimming around to the back and round again. It’s a sure sign of the times when the selfie sticks accompany the jumpers and there were some good spinning jumps on display. Just as a few climbed the ladder, a few sharks started to swim around, keen to see what the commotion was about. This reduced the bravery (some might say foolishness) to just Harriet, who had one more go before deciding the 6 sharks sitting under the boat were a bit too suspicious. We were to meet them later! The game of killer progresses nicely and a few more kills this afternoon (cheer up Harry and Will). Best news is that ¾ of the teachers are still in so Miss W is still bookies favourite to take the crown. Trust no-one.
Dive 3. Wow. The dive guides briefed us as to what to expect, but this dive surpassed all expectations. Parents please note – no one got eaten. We have just spent 40 mins sitting on the bottom at 10m surrounded by about 100 6ft sharks. They cruised around and between us, bumping us out of the way if they wanted to come past and generally being cool. As they went past we could just stroke them and off they went, totally unfazed. Add to that a load of Jack fish and a bunch of huge (4ft across) stingrays coming and munching in the sand literally inches from our knees and it was certainly the best dive I’ve ever done. As the bell was rang for the end of the dive, everyone swam out into the blue, with a wall of sharks gently moving out of our way and we surfaced near the boat. With all the lights on the surface we were surrounded by a huge shoal of bait fish (about an inch long) which numbered in their millions. They were jumping around, jumping into our faces, wetsuits, bikinis, shorts and basically into every opening available. All the fish then brought the sharks in and we had nurse sharks twisting and turning between our legs as we got into the Dhoni. I should add at this stage what amazing creatures Nurse sharks are. Totally relaxed and docile, we didn’t feel threatened by them at all and they were clearly uninterested in us and were just interested in the fish around us. A once in a lifetime experience for sure and one I’ll never forget.
Quote of the day goes to Frankie for his ‘What was that star shaped coral that looked like a starfish called?’ That’ll be a starfish then.
Other highlights was everyone taking their wetsuits off after the last dive and pulling little fish out of every nook and cranny, the boys having bath time together in the Jacuzzi and generally the buzz on the dhoni coming back from the night dive.
Diver of the day
During the night dive some were understandably nervous of doing their first night dive amongst so many sharks. At one point two small fish took a shine to the cover provided by this person’s fin. A large stingray could sense them hiding and decided to have a gulp at them. Through his fin. Needless to say the rest of us were all laughing as he jumped up but hats off to him he didn’t panic and was plonked back on the sand and Mr Stingray mozied off somewhere else. Well done Seb Bridges.