Male Cruising Notes

We spent a month (May, 2003) in Male, the capitol of the Maldives and have information which we think useful to other yachties who in the past may have skipped this place because of the famously deep (ie, no) anchorages, where depths of 145 feet is the norm. We were pleasantly surprised with the new anchorage and ease of check-in and, according to expats we met there, the town has changed dramatically in the last couple years so we are putting the word out.

The government of the Maldives has just embarked on a ten year, several billion dollar infrastructure project to literally build another island and put a first world city on it. This island, Huhulmale, is where the airport is and is right next to Male itself. Some yachties might know the anchorage there as the Club Med anchorage but the two meter pass is now deeper and the anchorage much larger.

As part of the project, the entire lagoon has been dredged of coral to a depth of about 12 meters. By the way, this dredging has brought a lot of nice shells up onto the beach and we collected some beauties here. The entrance to the lagoon is at least five meters deep and 40 meters wide. Best yet, they have ferries several times a day going from there to Male for less than a buck each way, ride time; 20 minutes to downtown. You can find an ATM at HSBC right at the ferry stop in Male.

Wakeboarding in the lagoon

The entrance to the anchorage is about ¼ mile north of the end of the airport runway between two small dirt islands. When we were there a steel post two meters high with a green light on it was at the entrance, you keep it to starboard and favor that side when entering.

The coordinates for the entrance: N 04 12.766, E 73 31. 754. Be careful of a small reef immediately to your right after entering. Also, to avoid barge traffic, do not anchor in line with the pass. We anchored in 12 M just off the side at N 04 12 675, E 73 32 006. You shouldn’t find any more bomies in the lagoon until south of the end of the runway. This is a very protected anchorage with lots of room and with the frequent ferries, why go anywhere else? With the international airport right there this is a good spot to pick up visitors as well.

There was no dinghy dock when we visited, you pull the dink up on the beach and they had no trash receptacle either, we had to take ours on the ferry into town. I talked to the head engineer of the project, Latif, and he said next year (2004) there will be more facilities.

Lagoon entrance:

Sitting at the north end of the lagoon near another pass (much shallower) is Club Med. They welcome visitors if you have $25 to pony up to get into the bar. That will buy you coupons for five beers, good for that night only and you can’t go before 9 PM unless you want to be stuck at the end of the dock in a shed and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons in French, like we did. We didn’t try dinner, a buffet affair but understand for $35 each you get a feed and maybe the bar as well. The staff were friendly and definitely not anti-yachtie. It seemed like a nice place.

OK, after all that what is so great about Male? It has some great shops, clean shops with air conditioning and English-speaking staff and they are never “out of stock.” Male has much more to offer in the way of anything mechanical or engine related than Phuket. There is a dedicated Yanmar dealer, Volvo, Perkins, Yamaha, etc.

Also, everything is in walking distance and did I mention it was clean and cool? No suicide driving around Phuket, swatting mosquitos in the hot, mop-free stores while the really helpful clerk smilingly brings you a can of spray paint when you asked for a screwdriver. (While we were in Phuket, one woman was killed by a cobra when she reached up to a shelf in a “department store”!).

Prices here will be higher than Phuket but some things, like filters I found cheaper than the US – and no snakes. The chandleries here are also way better stocked than Phuket. That said, Phuket is a better place to get work done on the boat as there is no real yacht yard here.

However, there is a 50 ton Travel Lift at the power boat yard and the yard manager, Michael Koh, ( can haul a yacht and as he puts it, “In an emergency, we can do anything.” They have glass workers, welders, engineers and electricians – just no cradles. Cost for hauling is about $10 a foot. Friends had a good experience with DHL here – no hassles and they even delivered all the way to Gan!

In case you didn’t know, the Maldives is a muslim republic. Don’t let that turn you off, though, as the people are clean, friendly and retiring. A very nice change from the shockingly aggressive behavior encountered in Sri Lanka. The shops here close FIVE TIMES a day for prayer.

They will be fined if they don’t. Most shops even with the closed sign on the door will still let you in if there is somebody inside, others will politely ask you to leave. FIVE TIMES a day eerie wailing emanates from all the mosques around town simultaneously as they compete for custom. Even all TV and radio stations will interrupt their programming to give wailing airtime.

The upshot of this is you cannot buy any alcohol here – bring as much as you can from Langkawi! Pork is also illegal – you actually need a license to buy it. Dogs too are illegal. Arriving with one doesn’t seem to be a problem but the entire country only has ONE dog – a very lonely drug sniffer at the airport, we were told. The closest bar to town and the anchorage is at the airport itself: the well-named Captain’s Fun Pub. They have beer on tap (Heineken $2.75 a glass), the food is good and it is where the expats hang out.

You can get there by dinghy from the anchorage easily as it is exactly one mile away. Go out the pass and turn left. The entrance to the bar, part of Hulhule Resort, has flashing red and green lights and is: N 04 11.801, E 73 31.537. There are also free ferries from the airport to Male and back.

There is some confusion on checking in. SOMETHING SPECIAL, who had lived in Male before did not use an agent to check in when we were there but they wanted to stay only 48 hours. They had to call Coast Guard on the telephone to initiate the process. We used Alliance Marine as our agent and found the three guys there, Mohammed, Wahdoodh and Hameed to be funny, reliable and honest. We recommend them.

As you approach Male you can call Port Authority or Coast Guard or Santa Claus on VHF 16, it won’t matter as they won’t answer, but 15 different agents will and all at the same time. Whichever agent you deal with will arrange for officials to come out to the boat. You can give the agents trash to take away and laundry too – but be careful as laundry is charged by the piece and it might cost you more than what you paid for the clothes in the first place.

The agents will first ask you to anchor in 145 feet of water right outside of Male in an unprotected place because it is easy for them and the officials to get to you. There is reportedly a very small 50 foot patch mentioned by DOLPHIN SPIRIT at N 04 10.49, E 73 29.82. As it was for them, that spot was occupied (by a floating incinerator!) when we arrived. My sage advice is to say screw it, head directly for the anchorage above and then call them. The officials WILL still come as we saw another boat do this. Costs for checking in came to $79.

There was another $50 fee for the agents (negotiable). As a yacht, the first 15 days in the country are “free.” After that, you will be charged $5 a day for the next 30 days and then $15 a day for another two weeks. Then I think the price climbs further. You get a 30 day visa upon arrival and it costs $50 to extend it for another 60 days.

It might be cheaper to check in at the northern end of the country at Uligamu and then cruise south down to Male, an option worth considering and one we would do if we had more time. However, you will still get stuck with the per diem charge when you check out. Our agents arranged for a fuel barge to come along side us in the anchorage and we filled up with clean diesel for US$.38 a liter, very easily.

We actually did a lot of work on the boat while at the anchorage and can recommend the following shops:

Cyber Café – right downtown, air con and clean, $4 a hour. Great connections, first class.
Seagull Café – across street from Cyber Café, best ice cream in the Indian Ocean and the best fish burger I’ve ever had. $4.50 for the fish burger with cheese.
Seagull Marine – great chandlery by the TV station. West Marine prices.
Samugaa – small chandlery with lots of stuff behind the fish market. West Marine prices.
Faheem Electric on Saharaa Magu – very good workshop for alternators and starter motors
Maizan Electric on Sosun Magu – good for electronic repair, autopilots, TVs and radar
Modern Technics – good for radio, TV, video repairs
Ref Cool on Orchid Magu – the best refrigeration shop I’ve seen in Asia. Have everything (except R-12, get that in Phuket).

Asters on Fareedhee Magu – the only real bookshop
Sparks on Fareedhee Magu – very classy hardware store.
Palm Tree Marine end of Fareedhee Magu – Perkins dealer, has lots of stuff.
Jaya Cushion on Muniyaa Magu. Tiny place that did an excellent job repairing our mainsail. Bargain hard with these chislers!
Happy Market on Ameenee Magu – three stories of reefers with beef, chicken, veggies and cheeses. They supply all the resorts.

There is a very useful website for latest forecasts and satellite photos: Check it out.

Although there are no real bars (except for the one at the airport) or clubs, we found Male itself to be a very nice place to visit with friendly, clean locals and a good place to get a lot done. We think the place has gotten short shrift in the past and it is definitely worth a look now.

Lastly, we checked out of Male May 30th and sailed straight to Gan, the southernmost atoll, on our way to Chagos. We pulled into Gan for fuel and even though we had technically checked out of the country they had no problem with us showing up here. Customs and immigration came to the boat looked at our passports and just kept our Male port clearance.

We pick that up from them when we leave – that’s it! All very friendly. (We subsequently found out when we tried to leave they had cancelled our Male port clearance and we had to reapply for clearance from Gan. This took trips to three different offices on two different islands and $5.)

The Gan anchorage is in a tiny lagoon with about four meters of water. Look for two poles at S 00 41.030, E 73 08.758. Go in between the poles into the lagoon. There is a small red buoy that marks a rock – keep it to starboard. We saw 3.5 meters at high tide going in.

There isn’t much room inside but I have heard up to eight boats have spent the night here! The holding, sand, is good. We had diesel delivered to the lagoon by truck for US$1.40/gallon. There is a lot of turtle grass floating through the anchorage and it clogged all our strainers after only three days. Be sure to check your strainers, especially to the engine, before you head out!