I had the pleasure of diving in the Maldives from 17-24 March onboard the MV Eagle Ray. It was my first trip to magical Maldives and naturally I’m pretty excited about it. I flew on Malaysian Airline, which coincidentally had Natas promotional fares of $550, so it was a no brainer. It was an hour flight to Kuala Lumpur and a short 2 hours transit, prior to the 4 hours leg to Male. If you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur airport, I recommend you try the noodle restaurant called Nooodle. It’s really good that I just have to mention it. Anyway, that not what I’m writing for so here’s the trip report on my Maldives experience.
MV Eagle Ray is a 26 metre wooden-hulled boat that accommodate up to 14 divers. The Eagle Ray may not be the most luxurious liveaboard in the Maldives but she has a reputation for delivering a great atmosphere onboard. She’s cosy but yet there’s plenty of space if you prefer to be alone. With a team of enthusiastic and friendly crew, it summed up to a homely vibe that I truly enjoyed. It’s home away from home.
All the 7 cabins are air-conditioned, equipped with a small closet and en-suite bathroom with hot water shower. There is also a small dressing table between the bed which a powerpoint that I use to charge my batteries. The beds were made up daily and towels changed every 2 days. The cabin was comfortable and sufficiently spacious for a liveboard boat.
On the main deck is the air-conditioned saloon where I spend most of my time. The saloon is equiped with an entertainment system and Apple TV that you use to watch movie and drool at your own photos. The best thing in the saloon areas has to be the complimentary Wi-Fi. Depending on where the boat berth during the evening, you can get fairly good connection to check emails or Facebook etc. I even managed to make some calls using my VOIP phone at times. You have to forget about streaming video though.
Meals are served in the saloon dining area and there is well-stocked bar conveniently located at the corner. The bartender, Sanji became my bestfriend on that trip. Well, not just because he’s the friendly bartender, he’s a great chap too. There’s draft beer, espresso machine, soft drinks at bar on sale at the bar. Drinking water, coffee, tea, fruits and biscuit are complimentary.
There is huge sundeck with half exposed and shaded areas on the top deck. Having a cocktail while watching the beautiful Maldivian sunset here is bliss! I understand from the owners that she will be undergoing a major facelift during the off-season in July, with an extra 2 cabins added on the top deck, so it be nice to have that cabin on the top deck.
For the photographers, the power outlets are type G sockets, similar to the ones we have in Singapore. The plugs were mostly 220v but there’s also 110v, clearly labeled at the camera area in the saloon. The counter space may hold around 8-10 DSLR rigs and the power outlets are right below the counter.
The food is incredible that have to create a new section just for food to do justice to Chef Nasir fine culinary skills. Chef Nasir brought with him over 30 years of culinary experience, working in Maldivian’s luxury resorts and running his own restaurant in Male. With his assistant, Ilyas, they served three sumptious buffet spread daily that can cater to the most demanding palates. I know it a bit of a claim here but if you have been on this boat, you definitely agree with me. Every meal is a culinary delight for me. There’s always tuna, beef, bananas desserts and there are delicious, all of them!
There will be at least 7-8 dishes to cater to the diversity of palates onboard. We have 4 Italians, 5 Belgians, 2 Ukrainain and 1 fussy Singaporean and I can safely say that Chef Nasir and Ilyas had managed to please all of us. Most of us, including myself will have a minimum of two servings, aside from my Belgian’s buddy, Roel that will have at least 4. He’s one hungry Belgian man!
The BBQ on inhibited island was beautiful - candlelight dinner under the stars on the powdery beach but the most memorable has to be the Maldivian Night. On that night, Chef Nasir and Illyas served a delectable array of Maldivian cuisines, consisting of 11 to 12 local dishes accompanied with 6 differents mouth-watering desserts. It was gastronomical!
Aside from the savoury buffet spread, I had the opportunity to try simple local food from the kitchen as well. In fact, I enjoyed eating chapati and curry so much that I had them for breakfast for four days continously. I also tried the fried rice, local curry that the crew was having and it’s really comforting. I gained 5kg on this trip and the first word I heard back in Singapore was –“You look round!”. That pretty much sums it up. Anyhow, enough of food, let’s move on to diving.
Diving in Maldives is conducted from a smaller dive boat called the dhoni. This is where our diving gear remained during the trip. There’s plenty of space that can easily accommodate 20 divers comfortably. Below the seat, there’s a plastic crate to keep our gear. The two exits on either side of the boat allowed for quick entry in the water. There’s a freshwater shower hose for rinsing at the back and also a large rinse pail filled with fresh water for the cameras. After each dive, it will move away to charge the tanks, keeping noise level on the mother ship to a minimum.
Check Out Dive
During the checkup dive, I was surprised by a request from the two DMs, Sappey and Buka. We were told to launch our SMB at the end of the checkout dive for them to observe. Not only that they want to ensure that we have a SMB, but most importantly knew how to deploy it. Mind you, we have a group of very experience divers on this trip, consiting of two CMAS Instructors, a PADI Divemaster, a PADI Instructor, diver with more than 20 years experience and even a professional Search & Rescue diver with the Fire Department.
No one was complaining and complied amicabily with this request. In fact, after the check out dive, we discussed and concluded that it was very commendable for the DM and dive operator to adhere such practice. We were actually very impressed by this simple request. It’s my first encounter to such practice and I think all dive operators should adopt this practice.
I also learned that only MV Eagle Ray has such practice but nobody is sure if anyone else in Maldives is doing it. According to Sappey the senior DM, the SMB practice give him comfort to know that he was diving with competent divers. Given the diving condition in Maldives which can be challenging at times, it’s important for him to access that we are competent to take care of ourselves when or if the need arise. This will also allow him to choose the dive sites based on the group competency.
A typical dive was usually between 45-50 minutes, which is logical since most of the dives were over 30 meters and in a channel with slight to medium current. Reef hook is a must in Maldives because strong current is expected in the channel. It’s so much easier to hook oneself and watch the pelagics goes by rather than holding on to a rock. We were separated into two groups of 6 to a DM. I was in the Belgian group assigned to a buddy, Roel that eats a lot but didn’t breathe underwater. Roel is one of the CMAS instructors onboard and it was a pleasure to dive with him. He’s a best buddy for any underwater photographer.
If anyone ran low on air or wishes to abort, he’ll descend with his buddy, while the rest of the group continued on. Deploying the SMB is essential when surfacing as it’s mostly like that will drift out to the blue. Visibility was fanstastic, generally between 40-50 meters, except for the Manta cleaning station, which significantly dropped to about 15 meters.
We started our 1st dive on the south around Vaavu atoll. The first dive was at Villivaru Giri, an easy to dive pinnancle but not much to see except for the ocassionaly critters. The second at Mayaru Kandu and the third dives at Alimantha Kandu was a deep exhilarthing channels dive. There’s plenty of grey reef and white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, tevally, snappers etc.
On the second day, we sail to South of Ari Atoll to dive the Miyaru Kandu in the early morning for the hammerheads shark. There wasn’t any but this dive was one of the best on this trip. There’s a school of 9 sharks forming a line in the current next to a school of about 8-9 eagle ray about 10 meters away. It was quite a sight but very challenging to photograph. Not only it was too far for the camera but also the current was too strong to get closer. I didn’t bother trying but instead, choose to hang on to my reef hook and enjoy the sight.
The 2nd and 3rd dive was at the colorful pinancle, also known as thila locally. I find the thilas here very colourful, with scholling fusiliers, abudance of five stripe snappers, hunting tunas, napolean wrasses and giant trevallies. The dive usually starts with the edge of the reefs and end on top of the pinancle. There’s abundance of marine life here, mostly large schooling reef fish but not much macro opportunity or maybe its because I didn’t look it for it.
We spend our 3rd day diving for mantas at Rangali Madivaru but didn’t encounter any on the first dive. We did briefly saw one manta on the second dive and that was enough to call for a celebration. The other Belgian Instructor in my group has never seen one in his 20 years of diving. He was so happy that he bought a bottle of Gin that evening. The third dive at Kudima Wreck was interesting and a break from the thila and kandu. I didn’t even know that there was a wreck in Maldives. It was a fairly shallow wreck at maximum depth of 24 meters with easy penetration. There are hundreds of batfish, a couple of nudibranch, stonefish and a frogfish.
On the 4th day, we did two dives at Penitton and this time we saw 3 huge mantas dancing on the second dive. Before the dive, he told me that if we saw manta and a whale shark on that dive, he would strip naked and kiss every woman on the inhibited island that we are going to have our BBQ that night. It was a lucky dive for him because there’s no whale shark that day. In fact, we didn’t see any whaleshark on this trip and according to Sappey, no other boat saw one that week.
On the 5th day we dive at Lamiyaru and the fame Mushi Mas Thila also known as Fish Head. The marine life is absolutely packed at Mushi Mas Thila with the schools of fusilier and giant trevally dazzling around the surface. This is one of the most beautiful thila I’ve seen on this trip. It a fascinating landscape with many small caves, overhang, huge seafans and ledges around the reef. There’s plenty of grey reef, white tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, eagle rays, tevally, snappers etc.
The final dive of the day was at the world famous shark-infested Maya Thila. It’s the only night dive for the trip and its well worth it! This was the most intense and best night dive for me and I can see why it’s touted as the best dive site in Maldives. It’s exhilariting from start to end - a feeding frenzy of reef predators - white tips, grey reefs, moray eel, marbles ray, huge red snappers hunting small fishes, especially the fussilers. I’ve never seen a site like this and this is defiantely one of my best dive. It’s really hard to focus on any shark or snapper or predator because they are all over the reefs. I even got hit on the side by a red snapper chasing after a prey. In soon realised that this same snapper was swimming next to me most of the time. It was using my lights to scout for the fishes. It was amazing! I wish we could have dive this site the whole day.
On the last day and our final dive of the trip was at Bathalaa Thila, a small thila just east of Bathala Island. We saw a camwhore napaloen wrasse when we descended at around 30 meter. It was so friendly that it swam next to me for a couple of minutes after I finish taking picture of it. I got carrried way shooting this beautiful fish that I ran low on air after 30 minutes. I didn’t explore much of the reef as I had to surface earlier. It was my shortest dive on this trip but it’s the napolean wrasse is well-worth it. It was a beautiful reef covered with soft coral and some table corals from I briefly saw on top of the pinnacle.
The Maldives offer a very healthy reefs with lots pelagics such as sharks, rays, tunas and even dolphins on the surface. I wont bother counting the number of sharks here because it rather hard not to see one in a every dive. What I really enjoyed most was the 40-50m visibilities at most dive sites and diving in the channels. This was my first Maldives experience and unquestionably it still deserve a couple more trips to further explore the vast atolls of Maldives.
MV Eagle Ray certainly offers a value for money liveaboard if you are looking for a mid-range boat. With an experience crew onboard you can be assured that all your need underwater and on the surface are well taken care of. It was very enjoyable trip on a cosy boat, with great food, top-notch crew and great diving.
I do like to mention that the Maldives is not a place for novice divers and for those not comfortable diving in strong currents. There are always currents present, especially in the channel but this is where the pelagic actions that the Maldives are known for. Most of the time it’s negative entry and you have to be fast to keep up with the group. Although we usually drift with current but there are times that you have to swim agaisnt them to reach the spot.
You will need a dive computer to dive in Maldives - it is mandatory and require by law but you can rent one there. You also need an SMB with at least 25 meter of lines. I shot my SMB in one dive from 24 meter because for the first time, I couldn’t equalise when I did an idotic face up descend to shoot a useless video of my buddy descending. Duh! There’s current that drift out to the blue so I figure its best to let the dhoni know where I am rather than wondering alone in the blue. A reef hook is also a neccesary; otherwise you will have to hold on to rocks next to a nasty Moray eel in the hole. Last a good bouyancy!
Lastly, Maldives is best enjoyed with group of friends, so I highly suggest you gathered a group of preferably experienced divers and charter the boat for maximum fun!
Here's the video of the trip. It's my first time shooting video underwater and it very addictive I must say. I'm using a GoPro Hero3 with an aunoc 86WA wide angle light, courtesy of aunoc.
Trip report by : DIN
Originally Published: Scuba SG
Manik was incredibly helpful to me throughout the trip (Susan) + was attentive to everyone needs. tried to make the trip (and succeeded) a very special one. My favourtite dive Master ever. You are lucky to have him!