We hope that you enjoy reading Dr. O’Loughlin’s account of the ongoings of our week in the Maldives:
Four dives today and we started off with a deep dive crossing a channel between two reefs. Sightings include a turtle (well spotted me) and a huge school of barracuda in the blue and a sleeping shark and a honeycomb moray eel. Second dive was at a beautiful circular reef where we went all the way round with a stunning coral sloping up on one side. Sightings included several octopus and lots of moray eels but to be honest I can’t remember much else. It was v pretty though. I did also commit a faux pas of dropping my dive knife into the blue. Credit to Harry Leach for finding it and plucking it off the bottom, some 20m down. Merci beaucoup.
Dive three was another circular reef which we seemed to do several laps of. To hype up the dive briefing, Mark and I added some pictures of a crocodile and some sea mines. In true spirit, Ali our guide then delivered the briefing warning the students of the possibility of coming across ‘deep water crocodiles’ and unexploded WWII ordnance. They fell for it hook line and sinker and were even disappointed when some teachers had indeed seen the mines out in the blue. Bless (miss Trafford has just confessed to also believing it wholeheartedly). The highlight was a frogfish, which looks nothing like a frog, but is unbelievable camouflaged for something the colour of a tangerine.
The day’s shenanigans involved finding a coconut cruising across the sea which Harriet immediately decided that was her best friend. In she jumps to rescue it (think Wilson from Castaway) and they cuddle it and pass it around. Charlie then has a moment of madness and like an NFL quarterback sends it sailing back into the deep. Harriet is then back in the water and has not let Charlie touch it since. The night dive involved 13 of us setting out to a nearby reef of a private island but only 12 of us hit the water. Charlie took his speaker and his music selection and spent the dive entertaining the crew with his latest moves which looks like someone having convulsions. The nightdive itself was a calm and gentle cruise seeing all the bizarre creatures that come out in the dark. Bristlestars, feather stars and a superb selection of slugs and worms were all a big highlight and the entertainer did make us laugh by greeting us as we surfaced, still rocking it out in the darkness (although he was soon illuminated by 12 spotlights!). In a bid for a bit of peace earlier we ask one of the crew to take 5 of them in a trip around the little island nearby. If only we’d passed him some cash he might have left them there, but alas after a tour of the island, back they came, even more excited than before! Eventually the sun set over another little island and everyone relaxed with a lovely evening meal.
I know Mrs Goldsmith in particular will be interested in the dive trip romance. All we will say at this stage is that a common love of fish identification has united these two. Will it go anywhere? Do they even know who we’re talking about? Watch this space.
Whilst I write Charlie has the entire team up and dancing in the most bizarre styles. He really is a non stop entertainment machine – and so Charlie you are diver of the day.
Another early morning call and most were up and ready for briefing at 0630. With just one diver still in bed, we needed the assistance of some pots and pans and a big metal spoon and soon everyone was awake and ready to go. For the dive itself we went around the same site as last night’s night dive. Nice enough and whilst Mark claimed to see a turtle, it has been struck from the record on account of no-one else seeing it. Those are the rules I’m afraid. The second dive was a channel dive and involved a deep crossing through a gentle current. The opening of the channel was frequented by all sorts of big beasties and we saw lots of white tip sharks and one grey reef shark. Lots of tuna, snapper and the usual myriad of reef fish. A really nice dive and a chance for many to learn how to keep diving well whilst also being surrounded by super cool stuff.
Elliot is training to be a divemaster and as such has to do some fairly arduous seamanship skills including a quarter mile timed swim around the boat. The rest of the ships company went to ‘support him’ and phrases such as ‘My gran could swim faster than you’. ‘There’s a shark behind you’, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ and ‘You’re a disgrace to the nation’. We really do get behind each other and despite a torrent of abuse, he finished in a creditable time. Dive 3 was the last of the day and Lauren and Charlie’s 50th dives. With absolutely no encouragement, they swapped clothes and the sight of Charlie in a fetching bikini top was really quite something. Miss Wyatt commented on how it brought out the best of his ample bosoms and it was truly alarming how comfortable he was as, well, Charlie. The dive itself was a classic Maldives dive with a sheer wall going down into the depths and a strong current whisking us along. A good challenge to keep depth and distance from the wall in check whilst looking at the menagerie of pelagic fish that passed by. Sharks, Eagle rays, tuna, more groupers than you can shake a tank banger at and another fantastic hour long dive surrounded by well behaved divers. Magic. ‘Deck diving’ award went to Ollie-Bob who can only be described as a showboater with a somersault into the sea. We do always like some creativity on the deck diving front. No sooner had we returned than Elliot and I went for another little dive and then had a major accident. Luckily we had 6 trainee rescue divers on scene to save us from certain death (it was all staged before my mum starts to worry) and we were rescued again and again, learning about how to respond to well behaved panicking divers (Elliot) and positively mad panicking divers (me). They all did very well and we had many laughs on the way.
In lieu of the night dive we jumped on the miniest boat of our flotilla (we have three boats with us) and popped to a local island where some of the crew live. We met some locals and Stefan, a little Maldivian lad, took a real shine to us and joined us on our trip down the ‘high street’ where lots of flying foxes hanging from the trees gave us a shock when they launched into flight and the boys soon found a pitch and had an impromptu game of coconut rugby. In the dark. We chased thousands of crabs on the beach, took a team photo by a beautiful palm tree looking out across a classic turquoise sea with the mothership in the distance. We then returned to the beach and the most impressive dinner ever. The crew had spent a couple of hours earlier building a full size whale shark out of sand. The dug out seats around the edge and this became our table for dinner. They brought over dinner on the dinghy and served it surrounded by flaming torches. The high standard of service we have had from them all week has been first rate, never stopping helping us on the dhoni with our kit and making sure that we have everything we need.
Diver of the day. A true first rate buddy, both underwater and on the boat this diver is a fantastic diver, a really good sport and great company. The fact that she is included in the boys’ ‘banter’ is a sign of how well they all get on and she bats it back at them with good humour. Despite her best attempt at drinking the sea she survived to be diver of the day. Well done Lauren.
Another 4 dive day and we started just as the sun rose with the normal early wake-up. Frankie’s second wake-up call was a short excerpt of Good Morning Vietnam and I had a sore throat from then on. Woke him up though (although new sheets required). If any of you think we are sunning ourselves in wall to wall sunshine then cross that out right now. There was a storm last night that sounded like someone pouring buckets of water on the windows and today has been more Skegness on a windy day than Sharm. Preparing for the dive Miss Trafford realised that she had made the second ‘wardrobe sacrifice’ to the sea gods by allowing yet another rash vest to get blown into the sea. She’s running out. The dive was the wall of yesterday and again loads of good stuff was seen as we floated with the current on a wall that disappeared into the blue. Feathertail rays, eagle ray, turtles, sharks and so many Napoleon wrasses that we stopped pointing them out in the end. I hope these names mean something to our readership. Basically shed loads of the stuff we rarely see. Cracking.
Dive 2 followed a journey back to South Male Atoll and another go at Manta Point. As is tradition (remember ‘Julia’ from last year), Mark was dressed up for his 100th dive complete with Harriet’s bikini and full make up and body art. He went in happy enough, came out freezing cold and then bizarrely sat there all afternoon hamming it up and loving his new nails. The dive itself was a risk – would the current be running the right way? Would the sacrifices be pleasing to Poseidon? No. We sat at the designated rock where the Mantas come to get cleaned and waited. And waited. For 62 sodding minutes we waited and they didn’t appear. Not amused. We did see a baby stonefish which was about 2 inches long, very sweet and perfectly capable of killing us if we touched it.
Dive 3 was another channel dive near Manta point, or ‘point’ as we renamed it. Just as we hit the water and started out, the current started to turn and we soon found ourselves pounding along and moving precisely nowhere. We did an about turn and then flew back to where we came from as a great mass of divers, all kicking each other and generally getting in each other’s way. Not our finest hour although some turtles and sharks were spotted.
The night dive was a dive we did on day 1 and a slow bimble around a circular reef. As the weather was poor, Mark our instructor plucked quite a number out of his dive wardrobe. Think a typically chavvy vest, as close to a ‘wife beater’ as a rash vest can get, made of black tight neoprene, with a hood. He claimed he was nice and warm, but to be honest it looked like something out of an S&M dungeon and caused much amusement. After the excitement of the Shark dive, it was a bit of a step down for some, but the worms were out in force and so I was happy and lionfish and loads of brittle stars and feather stars featured, with a honeycomb moray to boot. We stopped at one point and turned our torches off. Suddenly it was pitch black and as we waved at each other, the water lit up with bioluminescent plankton, each one giving off a little green light. Very cool. The sea was pretty rough and so getting back onto a rolling boat was a challenge, but I think we got everyone. The ride back to the mothership was livened up with the normal ravers rocking out the top deck and the rest of us trying to ‘surf’ the main deck, basically putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to fall over.
The game of killer progresses nicely and we’re down to the last 5. Tom had to catch Miss Wyatt holding a dive map on a certain sofa for the last day and everyone knew the plan. Including her. He would leave the maps on the floor, chairs, tables, basically walling her in. Eventually the wind blew one towards her and to save her from a map in the eye, she grabbed at it. Game over. Tom’s glee was uncontrollable before realising that he would have to focus his attention on someone else other than his ‘favourite’.
What else has happened? In the driving rain of the latest tropical down pour 5 hardy souls decided in true British tradition to go and sit outside in the Jacuzzi trying to claim it wasn’t ‘that bad’. After being pressure washed for 5 minutes they came in like drowned rats, but at least they were cleaner.
We’ve discovered the saloon has its own laser lighting so Charlie is planning a romantic disco for the final night. Who will be left slow dancing at the end? Who will be whispering sweet nothings in the corner? We must wait and see! We had a chilli eating competition after dinner, for no particular reason, and the crew brought us out the hottest ones in the Maldives. Those brave enough to take the challenge soon found a new definition of pain and milk and cold water was requested in bulk. Very funny and there were lots of tears (of both laughter and pain). I think we’ve all recovered now. Definitely won by Lauren who barely flinched.
Diver of the day: This diver has always been a professional and a really skilled diver. Always happy to give his dive buddy that extra bit of care and attention (as long as it’s the right one) and was alarmingly comfortable as ‘Maria’ for his hundredth dive. We raise our fins to Mark Lawrence.
We moored overnight in South Male Atoll and after much arm twisting persuaded the crew to run two different dives this morning, our last dives before the compulsory abstinence before flying. The most experienced ‘Master Scuba Divers’ went before dawn and dived the famous Coco Thila reef. This involved a negative entry (jumping in and sinking straight away without coming back to the surface) and getting as quick as possible down to the reef at 30m. The current was very strong and it whisked us along as we approached the key lumps of coral which served as a shark cleaning station. There was no chance of us kicking to stay still, the current was far too strong and so we whipped out our mediaeval grappling hooks and found a rock each to secure our lines to. Imagine the scene as 6 of us clung to these ropes, with bubbles whipping off behind us. The sharks were there and beautiful, 8 or 9 whitetips and grey reef sharks just swimming along next to us taking it in turns to be cleaned. A superb finish.
The alternative dive was around the reef of last night and we split into two groups and went around the reef in opposite directions. Lots of cordial hellos as we kept crossing and there was a nice swim through arch and some good scorpionfish, hundreds of bright blue fusiliers and clown fish that would swim right up to you as you approached their anemone. Everyone finished their diving on a high and the sun came out for our final day in the Maldives.
An afternoon of chilling out then followed with some grabbing some last minute rays on the top deck, some others fiercely playing cards and others just jumping off the boat and swimming around. The fourth form occupied the Jacuzzi most of the afternoon and were like toddlers in a paddling pool, amusing themselves with farting noises and spraying each other with the jets. The staff mainly slept on the sofas and then taking embarrassing pictures of each other snoring, but everyone seemed to be having a nice time and we’ve just had another great meal to finish.
So there we are, the sun sets on another fantastic trip. We’ve had many laughs and many tears (only from the chillis) and everyone has had a great week and got on like a house on fire with each other. We’ve had them up at 6am every morning and in bed by 9:30. I don’t know what these HMs make a fuss about. All the staff have enjoyed their company hugely and we have collectively decided on the following awards. In no particular order:
Lauren – The Nomex award. The chilli we ate was the hottest thing in the world. Ever. Lauren gobbled it up with barely a flinch. She is resistant to the heat from this and the perpetual ‘banter’.
Xander – The Picasso triggerfish medal. Multicoloured, different bits of different colours. Never a hard one to spot underwater!
Tom – The killer champion. Who would have backed him earlier in the week, but his persistence with Miss Wyatt paid off, in the game that is, and has just defeated Mark in a sudden death play-off. Well done sir.
Charlie – The Nuclear Fall out prize. Has spent most of the week playing his rocking beats and performing convulsions which are apparently a dance move called the ‘Chernobyl Child’. Has kept us entertained all week and has been great value.
Harriet – The David Attenborough award for dedication to marine life. Harriet obsesses almost continuously about anything vaguely alive underwater. Show her a dolphin and she’ll be off for an hour or more. Had the biggest camera in the world and you can’t help but love her passion for marine biology.
Harry Leach – once he knew the bar served milkshakes his spending money disappeared rapidly. I hope he has enough otherwise he’ll be washing up for a week with the amount he’s drunk.
Tom and Brando – The Paxman double act. “Mark…….”, “Mark……..”, “Mark……..” Tom and Brando can grill Mark for hours on end about the intricacies of dive courses and the PADI structure. Mark has the patience of a saint but has been stretched to the limit on occasion.
Frankie – The Man with the chat award II. He won it last year and has successfully defended his title with inane questions. All. The. Time.
Ollie-Bob – The Tom Daley prize for acrobatic water entries. Totally blew away the field with his somersault off the boat.
Alex – The reverse Houdini award. Houdini could get out of complicated things, but Alex needs to dislocate several limbs to get his BCD on in the water, such is the contorted way he twists and turns into it.
Alexander, Owen and Jack – the Jacuzzi Junkies. Once it was filled, in they got and you couldn’t get them out. Boys in together, having a bath – not much has changed from last year!
Sebastien – The torch of flammability. It seemed like a good idea to eat the chilli last night. For all Lauren’s resistance, Seb’s was the opposite. His mouth reached about 1000 degrees in moments and he sweated and cried for the next 20 minutes trying to keep positive about the whole experience.
Will – The what? Where? Why? Medal. Will seems to just stagger around most of the day. He’s never quite sure where he’s supposed to be, what time it is or what’s happening. Best just to go back to sleep.
Ru – Pavlov’s prize. The bell rings, we eat. The Bell rings again and Ru’s front of the queue. The crew then even look at the bell and there Ru is, salivating to get stuck in to the next meal.
Chris – The narcolepsy award. Chris can give the illusion of having woken up, but he simply moves his sleeping location from place to place. We’re not sure he ever really wakes up.
Mark Lawrence – The cross dressing cup. Loved every minute of being a girl and pipped Charlie to the post in who looked best. Still has his nail varnish on a day later!
Mark Murphy – The rule number 5 prize. Mark has a saying that ‘rule no. 5 applies’ which means just get on with it and stop complaining. Suddenly this rule seemed like a bad idea when it came to eating a chilli, but he did “man up” and cried like the best of them.
Rachel Trafford – The Regal Throne. Everyone else changes where they sit from day to day, but not Rachel. She has her little spot in the corner by the oxygen tank whether it be for briefing or sleeping. Everyone else can sit wherever they like, as long as it’s not there.
Alice Wyatt – The Hydrophobic prize. Bless her Alice has had ear troubles all week, but has decided that time is better spent sleeping on the boat than actually diving but at least she’ll go home with two intact eardrums!
Jules (written by the other members of staff) – Not so Sweet Sixteen but Wish I Was Award. Instigator of silly games, chilli eater, boundless energy (in between naps), noisy wake up calls, wind-up merchant, Facebook grass and ripped like a teenage weightlifter his wetsuit zip burst.
Glover – The long service award. Some have tried, few have succeeded. Who would know that the sweet little third former would turn into Mr cool both in the water where he will make a super Divemaster and on the deck where despite some attempts over the years, they’ve never managed to get him hot under the collar. Yet.