September 2012 found us heading to New York and then onward to Dubai for the start of our amazing Maldives trip. The group spent 3 days in Dubai touring 3 of the 5 UAE States and enjoying a Sunset Sand Dunes/Dinner adventure with 4WD vehicles slipping & sliding up and down the dunes, riding a camel, then enjoying a belly dancer and wonderful Arabian food.
Our Emirates flight from Dubai to Male leaves Dubai at 3:00 a.m. and arrives in Male at 8:00 a.m. Once all luggage was claimed and Immigration/Customs cleared, we exited the arrivals hall to find Moosa, our smiling Cruise Director, waiting for us. It's a less than 5-minute walk out of the airport to the waiting dhoni, which is docked right next at the airport! Guests are welcomed onboard, the luggage is loaded and it's a 10-minute trip from the airport to where the Manthiri is moored. Dive gear is left onboard the dhoni, which is the traditional, separate Maldivian dive boat. The air and Nitrox compressors are located onboard as well as a bathroom/hot shower so the big boat, Manthiri, is quiet as can be. All dives are giant stride from the dhoni doorways and a well-designed ladder greets you in place after every dive.
The Manthiri has 6 cabins onboard, 2 with queen beds and 4 with twin beds. The large salon is very comfortable and one half features cushioned couches and love seats perfect for reading, working on images, listening to music, napping or just enjoying one another's company. The other half of the salon features two round tables where meals are served family style. Specific dietetic requests can be accommodated and food is a combination of Eastern/Western/Maldivian offerings. Curry or no curry? Just let them know and they will serve it how you like it! It's amazing the meals that come out of that tiny kitchen that houses two fabulous chefs!
The Manthiri has a very well equipped camera room on the main deck with separate US-style and European plugs. The crew handles the cameras with tenderness and skill. There is a camera rinse tank on the dhoni and another one on the back deck of the Manthiri so cameras were well rinsed after every dive.
The upper deck of the Manthiri is open at the rear and serves as a very hot sundeck! There is a covered area behind the bridge where lots of reading, visiting and napping take place. There is also a small area in front of the bridge with a few chairs where sunsets can be enjoyed.
The focus of the trip at this time of the year is the manta and whale shark aggregations that happen up in the Northern Atolls. After leaving Male we did a check-out dive in North Male and then started North. After the guests asking Moosa several time “when do we get to the manta and whale sharks”, the itinerary was adjusted and we headed directly up to the Baa Atoll! This was a 9-night charter and we spent 5 days diving around the various sites in Baa. We were not disappointed and had dive after dive after dive in manta cleaning stations with 20' giant mantas circling overhead, between and around us for 80 minutes! Early morning dives were done on reefs and bommies featuring sharks, turtles, schools and schools of fish and other “usual suspects”! The proliferation of various species of eels is probably the greatest we've seen anywhere in the world and I keep telling people that the Maldives is “the fishiest place in the world” with the huge schools of snapper, fusiliers, red-tooth triggerfish and many others that swam the top of the reefs, not to mention all the cardinalfish, anthias, damsel fish, chromis & anemonefish that are on every dive.
While we were on each dive, the dhoni was looking for signs of manta aggregation and whale sharks….one day after an 80 minute cleaning station dive, we got back onboard the dhoni, only to be told that the manta aggregation was directly behind us in the channel! Everyone still had ½ a tank of air left so a second dive commenced where about 150 manta were feeding in their “train” fashion upon all the plankton coming up from the deep. A few days later we were across from Hanifaru Bay, which is now closed to divers by the way, in another small bay. Mr. Big had been sighted there and we dropped in to a bath of krill and a 35' whale shark just opening his mouth and sucking in the food. The krill was so thick we could feel it hitting us in the face! We dove with him for about 80 minutes….45' to the surface…he just circled and ate, circled and ate, we swam around him just filling up our memory cards and enjoying every moment of the dive! When I looked at my images afterwards, I could see the shape of giant mantas swimming below us…no one noticed the manta on that dive. We didn't encounter another whale shark during the trip but that 80 minutes was the dive of a lifetime!
Nine days of pure bliss diving….never even thought about putting a macro lens on the camera! Everyone told me it would be hard to top that trip….well, guess what? I've put it back on the books for back-to-back charters at the same time of the year in 2014 so we're going back for more! Space is filling up already so let me know if you're interested in joining us.
Thanks to Moosa and the Manthiri crew for such a fabulous trip…thanks to Bill & Susan, Kay, Liz, Marian, Tim, Mike & Linda, Mike & Angela for joining us and hope to see you back on the Manthiri in 2014!