Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Departing Maldives, Bound For Chagos

Chagos has always been on our cruising radar - the place is big in cruising folklore.  Recent administrative changes by the UK government have limited the permit time to just 28 days, so the old cruising culture of three and four month extended visits has now gone.

Crystal Blues is as ready as she'll ever be, and Ley has provisions that will feed an army on board.

We expect a slow three day passage, as the Equatorial Counter Current is running at up to three knots from west to east and we need to cross it almost at right angles.

In the image at right our departure point is Addoo Atoll at the top, and our destination is Chagos Solamon Atoll near the bottom.  Its a distance of around 300 nautical miles.

But just look at those current arrows !

We have just dived and cleaned the waterline, propeller and shaft.  The outboard motor is stowed and the dinghy is lashed into the davits.

Immigration and customs was handled last night, the weather forecast is for calm conditions, so at 12:00 noon we're off.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Adoo Atoll, Maldives - Sailing South Of The Equator Again

After a very twitchy and uncomfortable overnight voyage south, Crystal Blues is anchored in 40 meters of clear water at Gan, in the Addu Atoll.  Turtles and dolphins swim around us and the environment seems pristine.

We did manage to sail for the entire passage, a rarity in this part of the world.  During the voyage we crossed the equator, sometime around the change of watch at 2:00am, but neither of us had the heart to celebrate - we were too busy just holding on.

We entered the atoll via the northern pass around 9:00am and were safely anchored within the hour, just before the first of many squalls bore down on us.

We have a 100 meters of anchor chain out here, but I'm always very watchful the first day or so after anchoring, specially when it repeatedly blows at 30 to 40 knots with little warning.

This is the most southern point of the Maldivian island chain, and will be our stepping off point for Chagos and then Mauritius.

Adoo Atoll is small, but heavily populated.  The British military ran an air base here until the 1970's (see the airport in the bottom of the photo above).  The old officers mess has been converted into the low key Equator Village resort, so we can go ashore for a beer if the need arises.  Right now the original runway is being extended, and the airport has recently qualified for "International Airport" status, though the only international flights so far are private jets delivering the rich and (sometimes) famous.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kudahuvandhoo Island, Maldives

Continuing our journey south, we spent two nights in the protected fishing boat harbour at Kudahuvandhoo, South Nilandhe Atoll.  As you can see from the image at right, the local people gave us a very warm welcome.

Our second day there was "National Language Day" - a celebration of local culture that included a special lunch time meal at the school, with all the food cooked and served by the children's families.  The children dressed in traditional costumes, instead of the standard all-white uniforms.

For the entry here, once again we sounded the pass through the reef before entering, using a Laylin SM-5 handheld depth sounder from the dinghy.

This is another harbour that offers a typical minimum of 3.5 meters at low water.

We berthed stern to the quay, with the bow tethered to one of the buoys provided within the harbour.  Handling that maneuver was a first for us, with only two on board we needed to get it right first time.

Once we had the bow tethered we paid out line and reversed towards the dock, then used the dinghy to land the stern lines to the wall.  Managed to avoid tangling lines with the propeller, no stress at all ....

One thing about the Maldives, when you pass a line ashore to someone on the dock, they often actually know what to do with it.  On this day the guy who put his hand out for our stern line whipped a perfect bowline onto the wharf ring in about 5 seconds flat.  If only that happened all the time !

Solar Power Plant Project

The Maldives government has committed the nation to being carbon neutral by 2020, an adventurous target.

Kudahuvandhoo is home to a pilot project to test PV (solar) power as an augmentation to the existing diesel generation systems.  We met Joachim Gaube and Harald Gaube, German engineers who planned and implemented the PV project here.  Panels installed on the schools, the power house and the hospital have produced 44,000 kilowatt hours in two months, saving around 15,000 liters of diesel fuel.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Iridium Go! - Game Changing Satellite Transceiver

For many years we've used our Icom HF / SSB radio for email and weather updates when at sea. Planning our crossing of the Indian Ocean this year, we knew that HF radio propagation was at best fitful and often impossible. So once again we looked at the satellite telephone market place for a backup communication system for Crystal Blues.

In the past we had been put off by the inflexible and costly satellite useage plans.  However the game has changed with the availability of the Iridium Go! satellite terminal.

There are several important new features. Firstly, the availability of an unlimited data plan for US$125.00 per month. This allows us to use the system extensively, without incurring additional data costs, and includes a generous monthly allowance of 150 minutes for voice calls.

Secondly, the "plan" can be suspended at the end of any month, and re-started when required for a fee of US$50.00.

So when we arrive in an area with consistent cell phone coverage we can turn off the Iridium system and reactivate it when we need it, without losing our unique phone number.

Finally, this isn't so much a telephone as it is a transceiver. It doesn't even come with a handset. Instead, it creates a local wifi hotspot that can be accessed by smart personal telephones, iPads and personal computers. Free Iridium software apps provide voice call, messaging and email services.

After hearing good reports from other sailors we ordered a system and started to plan the installation...

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nilandhoo Island, Maldives - Paradise For 2000 Peaceful Souls

Anchor Off The Bow, Stern To The Wharf At Nilandhoo                                             
Traveling south down the Maldives atoll chain, we decided to look for a town with a friendly harbour - being enough water for our keel and space at the wharf.

We found that and more in peaceful Nilandhoo.

There are two harbours here, though the eastern entrance and harbour is very shallow and less attractive.

The north-western entrance provides deeper water (5.0 to 7.0 meters all the way) and leads to a small concrete wharf that has a fueling station, ice works and fresh water supply.  There is room for four or five vessels moored stern to the wharf.

What more could we want ?  So in we went ....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

50 Shades Of Blue - Maldives South Ari Atoll & LUX* Resort

Never Mind 50 Shades Of Grey - here there are 50 Shades Of Blue.  We spent three delightful days on the Lagoon at Dhigurah, South Ari Atoll, Maldives.

While others were chasing whale sharks on the outer reef, or manta rays on the inner reef, we relaxed, read books, swam and beach combed.  This is a very peaceful anchorage, with easy access from the ocean.

The entrance over the inner shoal showed around four meters at low tide (03deg 31.77 North, 072deg 54.34 East).

The anchorage is marked just off the sand spit islands in the this image (03deg 31.03 North, 072deg 54.74 East).

Whilst you could anchor further to the north, it is advised not to anchor further south, to stay clear of the seaplane landing area there.

Many resorts in the Maldives do not welcome cruising sailors, applying steep landing fees or simply banning yachts all together.  In fact we have friends who were literally chased out of the anchorage by security guards, at the nearby Hilton resort.

So we were pleased when on our second day a catamaran approached us with a crew and guests from the Lux* Resort, to the south in the image at right.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

View Open CPN On The iPad

Open CPN is a very popular navigation program for cruising sailors. Now, with the advent of accurate charts derived from Google Earth satellite images, it plays a very important role for us in tropical areas.

Like many boats, Crystal Blues has the navigation PC installed below decks at the nav station, locked down in a safe and (hopefully) dry location.

However we really want to see those Google Earth charts when we are up on deck, moving around in the cockpit and at the wheel.

The iPad is the perfect tool for this, portable, stable and with good battery life - but Open CPN doesn't run on the iPad.

The iPad does have WiFi capability, so in theory at least we could connect it to our PC down below at the navigation station, which is exactly what we do.

We use Splashtop Streamer, a free shareware application, to stream the PC screen directly to our iPad. This allows us to see the PC screen from anywhere on deck (in fact anywhere on the boat), and provides basic mouse and keyboard functions to control the PC as well.

So, I can stand at the wheel and see the display from Open CPN, or from our Transas Navigator ECN  package, in real time.  I can review my Sailmail GRIB files as well, without having to "go below".  So how does this work?

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Maldives - Viewed Through A Plastic Bottle

Beautiful, Idylic Sand Spit Island ?  Not Really ....                                                 

Every country we've sailed through has its share of waste littering the shore line.  Of course much of this pollution is plastic, blown across the seas from who knows where.   Going ashore yesterday on a nearby sand spit we were not surprised to see the typical range of shampoo and water bottles, rubber thongs (why are they always the left foot ?), coke containers and chunks of fishing net.

However we were not prepared for the local rubbish.....

Google Earth Charts - A New Aid To Navigation

The Red Icon Shows Our Position, Safely Anchored In The Lagoon At Dhanghethi Island
 We have multiple electronic charting systems aboard Crystal Blues, with multiple sources of navigation data.  But they are all inaccurate in many parts of the world.

In some cases smaller nations simply can't afford to fund extensive maritime surveys.  Further, the electronic charting companies often simply won't pay for the latest data, so we rely in many cases on data and soundings that were collected by master mariners (sometimes) centuries ago.

This means that many islands and reefs are not exactly where the charts say they are, with the errors being both substantial and dangerous.

The image above is captured from our Open CPN navigation software, using charts created from Google Earth images.  It doesn't have depths and soundings, but in these tropical areas we can use the water color to plan our route and we certainly know exactly where we are at all times.

Contrast that with this image of the exact same area, extracted from our (expensive) ECDIS based charting package.

This puts our position as outside the lagoon !  In fact it doesn't show the lagoon clearly at all.  I estimate the charting error places the island at least 500 meters further east than it actually is.  Not surprising, when you think it was probably positioned by a 19th century chronometer and sextant.

So charts made from Google Earth images are now a valuable part of our navigation tool set.

You can produce your own, it's easy and fast so long as you have a decent internet connection.  Here is how it's done :

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Cruising South Ari Atoll, Maldives

As you can see, the weather here has been dreadful ..... some boats (including us) complain about the heat in the afternoon, when its well above 90 degrees farenheit in the shade.

However the mornings are glorious and the sunsets are special.  The water is clear and the swimming is fabulous.

We're 210 miles north of the equator, which we plan to be well south of before the end of this month.  But its slow travel, a few miles each day.

We're re-adapting to cruising in coral reef areas - it has been a while for us.

Today we moved from Dhangethi to Dhigurah, choosing to stay inside the Ari lagoon instead of making the transit at sea.  Only a 10 mile transit, but Ley stood watch on the bow looking for coral patches and we navigated completely using charts made from Google Earth - they are the only accurate reference we have.

Each day we explore our new locale by dinghy, looking at sea life and the shoreline.  Today we saw numerous turtles, a beautiful grey crane, many bats and of course a lot of fish.  Ley was escorted on her beach walk by four small reef sharks - tracking her from the shallows.

Further off shore, our local friend Captain Najib took his guests swimming with the whale sharks, then brought them in closer to us to see the manta rays.

Najib captains Dream Maldives, an 82 foot catamaran that hosts just 12 guests (check it out here).

We've been fortunate to spend some time aboard with he and his guests, and to learn the whale shark locations from him.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cruising In Malé, Maldives

Ley, Diving At Last In Clear Water, Just A Few Miles From Malé                                                     

Malé was a surprise to us - certainly more sophisticated and "switched on" than we expected.  From a cruising sailors perspective it is an excellent place to provision before exploring the atolls and offers a very complete range of boating support services.

Arrival Formalities

You should appoint an agent well before arrival, agreeing on fee's and charges at the time.  If you are clearing in at Uligamu in the north, Real Sea Hawks provide great service through Assad, one of the business managers.  Unfortunately that same level of confident service is not always provided in Malé.  So if you are clearing in to Malé you will need to "manage" the local representative somewhat more.  Alternately you could utilise Antrac, a competitive agency in Male who provide outstanding service here, though at a more expensive price.

Clearance here is simple enough - call Harbour Control on approach and advise them who your agent is.  Anchor at the nominated location and wait for the visit from Customs, Immigration and Coastguard.  They will all come together, along with your agent.  Calling your agent on arrival will speed things somewhat - in the end we waited four hours, anchored in 42 meter water on the northern side of the island.  The arrival inspection location, provided by Real Sea Hawks, can be downloaded here.  All of the officials were perfectly professional.  There were a brace of forms to be completed, and they did want a complete schedule of all drugs and medicines on board - we keep that document on file and updated, so it was simple for us to print it and hand it over.

Hulhumale Anchorage

After clearance yachts are required to move to the lagoon anchorage at Hulhumale.  The new entrance there is shown accurately on iPad / Navionics, and the lagoon is generally 6 to 8 meters deep throughout. Anchorage at the northern end is suggested to keep away from ferries and commercial traffic.

SY Morning Glory Loads Diesel From The Fuel Barge In Hulhumale Anchorage
This is a busy place, specially on Friday's and Saturday's when the expedition boats discharge and reload with passengers.   Aircraft and construction noise also make a contribution during daylight hours.

 The water is clean enough to run your R.O. plant, and potable water can be delivered by barge or taken on-board at one of the docks (south of the ferry terminal).

Diesel fuel can also be delivered by barge - we paid US$0.72 per liter for excellent quality fuel.  The contact details for fuel and water are included in the Cruising Services Guide you can download here.

Hulhumale Island

Hulhumale Island is a dormitory suburb, growing rapidly and housing many airport workers.  A causeway now connects it to the airport, and a regular bus service is available.  Local taxis are available, and shops near the ferry terminal offer a basic range of goods, including some restaurants.  However the real action is across the water on Malé.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday In The Maldives

Today was our first morning away from
Malé, in a quiet tropical anchorage.  Ley woke, checked our favourite newspaper The Age online, and realised that today was Good Friday.

Oops, we do lose touch so easily out here.

After breakfast she started on a bread recipe, and by 11:00am we invited friends from a nearby yacht for coffee and Hot Cross Buns.

What she produces in that compact galley is amazing. I am the best fed crew that I know.