After my year living and working as Dive instructor in the Maldives, I was dead set on doing a liveaboard in the country. The main reason behind this being the fact I would be on the flipside of my usual situation – no longer would I be the guide, checking my guests as they geared up and then guiding them underwater, but instead I would be the guest. Goodbye the worry and pressure of ensuring everyone was having a good time – I could just focus on myself and blowing bubbles and enjoy feasting my eyes on the beautiful marine fauna of the Indian ocean. Not that I wanted to have someone watch me, clean my gear or guide me, I just really wanted the chance to dive stress free and purely for fun to see some other areas of the Maldives. I was lucky that the Divemaster (DM) who I’d worked with on the island had some great connections and we ended up going as buddies on a week long liveaboard called ‘Ari Queen’.
All the liveaboard companies in the Maldives meet their guests as they land at the Airport, so DM and I went to wait for the rest of our group as they flew in from Israel and Italy. When we all got coordinated together, I realised the average age of the group was probably 45, and English was not the main language being spoken – Hebrew and Italian were! Despite this, I still managed to meet some great people during the trip, especially one lady, Lauren, who originally hailed from South Africa but had since moved to Israel and raised her family there. I also managed to become adopted by an Italian dental surgeon aka my Italian ‘Papa’. A funny jolly man, he would often see me underwater and we’d share a sign language joke and a giggle. Such great people you meet when traveling, and I love that age, nationality and religion can be completely put aside when you connect with someone’s spirit.
So, off we went from the Airport onto an old wooden Dhoni (Maldivian styled Dive boat) which was first to take us and all of our equipment to our mother ship, the Ari queen. The Ari queen gets her name after voyaging mainly around Ari atoll (which can be split into North and South). Being four storied with bedrooms below and on the middle floor, Ari queen was most definitely a little dated but none the less, comfortable and spacious enough to spend a week on.
Once arriving at Ari queen, we were greeted onboard by the crew who would be our cooks, cleaners and dive guides for the next week. Quite swiftly we were walked through filling out the necessary paperwork, taking our luggage down to our rooms and then setting our gear up backonboard the Dhoni tied alongside. I was quite impressed with the cabins and even got a double bed to spread out on (thank goodness cos I was too tall for a single on that boat), my own bathroom and little dressing room – not bad when I was paying a local work permit holder rate which came in at less than half of what the overseas tourists were paying.
What also impressed me was the fact the crew wanted to get us in the water pretty quick smart. A good chance to shake off jetlag, get into the water and relax. The crew infact use this opportunity to try and iron out any kinks there may be with divers prior to departing the harbour for the long journey ahead. Logistically it’s a great idea as it means should anything arise, the boat is still within the reaches of the capital, Male, where they can get replacement equipment (dive computer batteries etc) whilst there is still mainstream communications.
The first dive for me, was a very basic house reef drop off/wall dive. Nice and simple and a good chance to check out the other divers and their skill levels. There was no need to worry about this affecting me however – as the crew knew I had been working in the Maldives for the past year they really didn’t pay too much attention to me and were happy for DM and me to go exploring for as long as our air would allow. Of course this was a unique situation and had I been landing fresh into the Maldives, even as a Dive instructor, I would’ve been made to stay with the group and be at the mercy of the air hogs and inexperienced divers.
I had made sure to buy sea sickness medication in Male, what exactly it was I wasn’t sure – I just got handed some foiled tablets over the counter at a pharmacy and instructed to take them daily. I did that and didn’t get sea sick at all, but whether that was due to the tablets or me having sea legs already we will never know. The seas weren’t excessively rough, and after 4 dives a day, anytime spent onboard was for eating or sleeping so I didn’t find the swell affected me at all.
Ari atoll offers some of the most beautiful diving I’d seen in my short time in the Maldives. Although not as full of Manta rays as my home atoll (Baa) had been, I was finally able to get my thirst for seeing sharks underwater fulfilled. Absolutely saturated in fact.
The first time I saw a shark during this trip, or rather, loads of sharks, was during our first channel dive, “Miyaru Kandu”. Quite an eerie experience, the Dhoni drives into what appears to be the middle of the ocean with a single breaking wave continuing off into the distance. Without stopping, but positioning the boat somewhat purposefully, the captain tells you to jump in and descend – quickly. Not a lot of information is put across aside from that and the briefing you’ve received back on the mother ship, but the excitement of the dive crew is evident and I remember hurriedly jumping in, waiting for DM and together we descending as quickly as our BCDs would deflate. With no bottom insight, and no surface to be seen either, it would be easy to become disorientated in such a situation, but DM and I had taken compass directions following the other guides and before I knew it, I saw the familiar silhouette of a shark swimming below me. Soon after that, was another one, and another, and another and then it became evident there were also divers there, hooked onto a reef edge, bodies drifting into the current whilst their hooks kept them anchored, wide eyes taking in the show before them. DM and I descended down into line, finding a slot between the divers already there and hooked into the reef following suit. I managed to glance quickly at my air whilst the ripping current tried to tear my regulator out of my mouth. Here I realised not only had I used up almost half of my air already, but we were at 32m, and were completely surrounded by sharks swimming back and forth effortlessly. Meanwhile the current continued to batter me, trying to blow me away with all its might from the show. What a rush! Grey reef sharks of all sizes stalked along the channel edge, patrolling as if bouncers outside a K road bar, and not fussed by our presence at all. Although I could’ve spent a lifetime watching them in their staunch glory, I felt a tap on my shoulder and DM motioned for us to ascend. Off came the hooks, and we succumbed to the current, letting it push us back into the channel we had just been on the edge of. The change from the edge, to the inner sandy banks of the channel was incredible, and after starting the dive wild and full of excitement, I was able to effortlessly drift along and watch the rays, turtles and beautiful corals pass beneath me.
From the rush of sharks everywhere, to the grace of Mantas and docile Leopard sharks, my next favourite dive on Ari queen was at a site called “Manta point”. This site was incredible, what started as a slow, but interesting dive, suddenly became exciting as a huge Reef manta swooped over my head towards a cleaning station. Up until then, I had been happy with seeing my first Leopard shark! Soon after another manta joined the first and together the two of them circled and cleaned whilst a huge male Napoleon wrasse swam between the divers as if to say “Hey! Pay me attention too!”.
We did do a few night dives during the trip too – all of which were memorable for different reasons. One, because DM and I were down to 1 torch between us instead of the usual three, another because there were sharks everywhere passing right next to you whilst Lionfish used the torch light to catch unsuspecting stunned fish, but the last because it was off the back of the ship in shallow water with a sandy boring bottom. You’re probably thinking, how on earth did the latter make the best night dive? And to be honest, going into this dive I didn’t think it was going to be any good either.
We’d come into a sheltered harbour for the night and anchored when the crew told us we’d be diving off the back of the boat. Being close to other moored boats, and in a relatively shallow harbour I was quite confused, and even more so when two huge lights were positioned at the stern facing right into the water. Despite my hesitation, I geared up and stood patiently at the back of the ship ready to step over and see whatever it was that was here. I didn’t end up needing to go underwater to see, as two Reef manta appeared and started barrell rolling in the light from the back of the boat. They were rolling so much that their big white bellies were within reach as they broke the surface! This of course only increased my excitement for the dive, and even had me questioning – can I get in without getting in their way!? As soon as I was geared up, I timed my giant stride perfectly just after one of the Manta had finished its surface breaking barrel roll and descended as quickly as I could to the sandy silty bottom – a massive 4m! From here, all we had to do was sit and watch with our torches as these incredible Manta swooped and danced and swam their underwater ballet in front of us as they gorged on the plankton attracted to our lights. This was one of my most memorable dives to date and one I would love to do again and again and again!
Good to know;
Be sure to check my previous blog on Resort diving in the Maldives, as much of what is written there applies. Remember the Maldives is essentially a strictly Muslim country so common sense and respect is expected for their Islamic culture.
Tipping for Liveaboards is expected – and in USD too
Food onboard tends to be quite generic, and for me as a vegetarian I found it tricky to get a balanced diet as much of the food is catered to a generic western diet of meat and carbs. If you give the liveaboard advance notice, I’m sure they’d cater for special dietary requirements.
Take sea sickness meds – BEFORE you get onboard. I felt fine during the whole trip, but know there would’ve been nothing worse than missing out on the incredible cruising and diving on account of something as preventable as sea sickness.
Even the most basic, simple dive sites visited on a Maldivian liveaboard, will blow most divers minds. Pack your sense of adventure, and be prepared to be thrilled and delighted by the incredible array of colour and marine life found in this beautiful corner of the world!