Male, Maldives

Now we are enjoying our unscheduled stop in Male, the capitol of the Maldives. When we last left you we were just departing Sri Lanka – the first time! We left that place under clear skies, beautiful weather and a full moon. 50 miles out our autopilot decisively bit the dust.

As we had no wind and were motorsailing we couldn’t use the windvane which meant hand steering for five days to Addu, or hand steering for three days to Male. Few things (other than watching cricket) can be more boring than hand steering while motorsailing.

Ariel then made the executive decision to return to Sri Lanka and get the damn thing fixed. This required an all night sail back through the very busy shipping lanes (twice now in 24 hours), hand steering all night. And as we had just checked out the day before when we arrived we had to pay another $200 to check back in again. Our friends, Dave and Ann, on Ferric Star were still there waiting for their autopilot parts (!) to be shipped in from the US, so we had good company.

To make a long and trying tale short, we got it all working again but this took two weeks and required a trip up to Colombo (by van) for the day. We were actually pleasantly surprised by Colombo. The parts we saw were relatively clean and sophisticated. Obviously, there are lots of slum neighborhoods but we didn’t waste any time there. Colombo was almost like a different country than “rustic” Galle.

So we departed SL again. We were kind of pushing the weather envelope as it was now the very beginning of May and the SW Monsoon could start any day. Three days out it did! We had the worst weather we experienced on the trip yet; 50+ knot winds and an adverse current coupled with very steep waves. We were in company with Ferric Star who have sailed all the way from Texas and it was the worst they had seen on their entire trip.

Basically, our fuel was almost out and we were still 170 miles from Addu going about 1.3 knots! With the wind in our face we just weren’t going to make it so we had to turn around and fly north for 24 hours to reach Male which is where we are safely ensconced now. I am happy to report Tehani and Ariel handled themselves very well during our hell trip which lasted almost a week with strong wind and scary seas. I also got to wear my new foul weather gear and looked quite nautical.

The only casualty, other than a ripped mainsail was our $2 teapot which went airborne when we got slapped by a big wave and it exploded upon impact with the wall on the other side of the salon. Not so bad, all things considered. I had the mainsail double-reefed and nothing else up. The boat handled well like that but I really wished I could have had her triple reefed. We put a third reef in when in Phuket but I hadn’t rigged the line for that yet so I am doing so now.

The Maldives, other than being one of the premier tourist beach destinations in the world, are a collection of atolls surrounded by very deep water. You can go from 400 meters deep to two meters in half a boat length. Fortunately, the water is very clear and you can see most hazards

. Our windlass, aged and rickety, wasn’t too happy anchoring in 145 feet of water our first night here and I kind of guessed that when it caught fire pulling up 225 feet of chain and the 75 pound anchor! All this as we were drifting backwards onto a reef, of course! Lots of fun out here, lemme tell ya. Anyway, we found the new anchorage, which is a lagoon right off the end of the runway on Hulhumale island beside Male island.

The government has embarked on a 10 year infrastructure program to create a huge landfill and extend Hulhumale over a mile and build a new city here. The immediate benefit to cruisers is that they have dredged and widened the pass and dredged the entire lagoon making for an ideal anchorage in only 12 meters of water with regular ferry service into town!

In the past most cruisers have skipped Male as there was no safe place to anchor and it is expensive to check in. Times are a changing. We used an agent, Alliance Marine, to check in (cost $50) and once you know the ropes you don’t need to. I think all the other check-in fees come to another $50-60 or so. Total cost $100, about half that of Sri Lanka, not bad.

There was a funny moment as the boatload of Customs agents came out to check us in. When they saw Ariel, who if you haven’t noticed, is Chinese, they all immediately donned surgical gloves and masks! Later, I found out that this is really a new anti-SARS policy and they say they must do this for all yachts, not just those with Chinese on board….!

Male itself is an undiscovered gem for yachties. There are more chandleries and marine/engine shops here than in Phuket by far. There is a Perkins shop, a Volvo shop, Yanmar, etc. All shops are CLEAN and AIR CONDITIONED with NO BUGS. One other MAJOR difference from Phuket is they never, “No have,” or are “Outta stock.” All the shopkeepers speak good/excellent English as well, so you don’t have to do the whole sign language thing when you ask for a wrench and they bring you a can of spray paint as the mosquitoes gnaw your ankles. AND everything is in walking distance, so no death-defying driving antics need be endured. I tell all yachties, this place is GREAT for parts.

Phuket is better for getting work done on boats as there is only one yard in Male. They have a 50 ton Travel Lift but no cradles for yachts. I talked to the yard manager and he is happy to haul yachts and they “can do anything” in an emergency. He claims he has many workers that are competent in fiberglass, mechanics, engineering, etc. who charge about $5 an hour. Sounds like more and more yachts will be checking in here once the word gets out.

We have been here two weeks and have another week or so to go. We are bone tired of hopping from place to place just to fix the boat when we arrive somewhere. This is a reality of cruising, especially in the Indian Ocean where weather is severe and distances between places great. Our plan, I think, is to make another try for Addu and then down to Chagos. But anything can happen and we have many options. Watch this space!