Uligan, Maldives

This passage across the Indian Ocean from SE Asia to the Middle East was fortunately broken up into two parts with a very nice stop in Uligan, the topmost island in the Maldives. We left Phuket on January 10th with great anticipation to “get a move on” after spending 18 months in SE Asia. We would have had a great crossing if the NE Monsoon, which blows at this time of year like clockwork, lived up to its name and had blown from the NE.

Actually, for us it blew from the East and as our course was 269 degrees (West) that meant we had to go dead downwind – our worst point of sail. So we had to gybe (turning downwind) our way across sailing as much as 40 degrees off the rhumb line! (The rhumb line is not a sweaty horde of thirsty sailors waiting at the bar as you might rightly assume but the straight line course between two points).

We have trouble poling out the gennie as our pole is too small, totally inadequate actually, so we need to get a better one. But from here on in it should be mostly upwind work, where we excel. Wind on the beam or forward thereof, we fly

Illustrating the difficulties going downwind without the right gear, our rhumb line distance from Phuket, dipping down under Sri Lanka (been there, done that, bought the T-shirt) and up again to Uligan was 1550 nautical miles.

(A nautical mile is 15% longer than statute which is what you ground huggers use driving the SUV to Starbucks and back). However, due to the gybing we really sailed 1905 miles! It took 12 days, about two days longer than we had hoped. Oh, and at 4 AM one morning the boom came off the mast.

All the rolling around out there with the light wind but persistent mid-ocean swell caused the gooseneck pin, a half inch stainless bolt, to finally shear in half. Always concerned about the gooseneck, the fitting that holds the ever important boom to the ever important mast, I had a new one made out of stainless steel in Phuket to keep as a spare.

Of course, we didn’t have a new pin made – didn’t tink o’ dat! We managed to jury rig the boom back on in the dark as a squall was bearing down on us. There is nothing like working under pressure in the dark, in the middle of the ocean when you’re exhausted to really get the most out of sailing.

Twelve rocking and rolling daze after leaving Thailand we arrived in beautiful, unspoiled Uligan, Maldives. Off the beaten track to say the least, Uligan is the one island at the very top of the Maldives in a very S. Pacific-looking atoll where yachts are allowed to stop, rest and refuel before continuing across the IO.

We enjoyed it so much we spent nine days resting and refueling. We have always enjoyed the Maldives and Uligan proved to be no exception with courteous and kind people and spectacular beaches and scenery. However, although there were lots of fish, the coral was all dead. Snorkeling is much better in Chagos.

The fish didn’t seem to get too many visitors either as they were all quite curious. And the squid were everywhere. I bought a bag of cheapo squid jigs in Phuket and decided to get one out and see what would happen. I could see all the squid hovering like black Klingon warships in the shade of our boat just under the surface. Having never squid jigged before I wasn’t sure what would happen as I let the jig plop into the water.

Several squid came over to investigate and one of the dumber ones lunged at it and was promptly ensnared. I yanked him to the surface and it promptly started squirting black ink at the boat! After I got him in a bucket – a messy affair – I did the rest of the jigging from the dinghy which is easier to wash. In no time we had half a dozen of the suckers.

One of the cruisers in the anchorage, there were about ten boats there, came over with a book that showed how to prepare squid. This we did and enjoyed calamari that night. Well, word was out and the next day everyone started squid jigging and trying their luck. I caught another bucketful and other cruisers wanted to buy my jigs from me! There were squid BBQs at night on the boats and the fun never stopped.

We don’t have a BBQ (can you believe it?) so we would bring squid over to a boat and they would cook it and we all could enjoy – sort of a “squid pro quo,” if you will. I got quite proficient in my squid hunting and as always when you get cocky I got careless and came upon a smartass squid on our last morning there. I figured I wouldn’t bother with the dinghy and just get him from the boat – bad move.

As soon as I hauled him up on the jig he turned and blasted that black ink shit right in my face. Momentarily blinded and stunned, I hesitated a fraction of a second, only long enough for him to blast over my head up onto the top of our canvas bimini and dodger (both new). No matter how I washed the black stains are still there! Rest assured gentle reader, he paid the ultimate penalty.

Lastly, as you might expect, there isn’t too much to do in the bright lights of Uligan. When not wreaking havoc on the local squid population we spent our time socializing with the other yachts. One day we went to the beach with the Dutch yacht, Quest. They have three small very blonde boys who attracted all kinds of attention from the much darker locals. Maurice, the Dad, had two America’s Cup replica radio controlled yachts that he and I sailed around while the kids splashed in the water and chased the inquisitive local children about.

Another time we got every yacht in the anchorage together for a dinner ashore in a local home. Cost was $5 a head and you were able to sample all the local dishes – mostly fish and breadfruit. It was quite nice. By the way, the Maldives are a strictly muslim country and all must go to the mosque five times a day. Needless to say, alcohol was strictly forbidden on shore. (Interesting historical footnote, alcohol, or the distillation of spirits, is an Arab invention and the word itself is Arabic…..).

You were also not allowed on shore after 10 PM but had to be back on your boat by then and no local people were allowed on your boat. If you wanted to give a present to a local person you had to get permission from Customs first. There were many rules but all were explained with an easy-going, shy smile and they really understood we were coming from a different culture.

No effort was made to restrict our activities unduly and we respected their laws. The agent, Mohammed of Alliance Marine, was very helpful and his cousin, Aideel taught me some phrases in Arabic that we will practice going up the Red Sea.

So if you are crossing the Northern Indian Ocean in a small boat do stop at Uligan. Lastly, there have been some rumors that they will build a marina in the atoll. Naseer, the local magistrate for one of the islands, told me that they are in the last stage of planning and it could be completed in a year or so.

It won’t be on Uligan. They have picked a deserted island where they will put the marina and a restaurant or two. “Like a resort,” he told me. Nice people but they are still determined to keep the yachties away from the local population at all cost.

Once the new marina is built I wonder if we will still be allowed to go to Uligan. It will be a shame if that is no longer possible.