The voyage took us within 95nm off the south coast of India, 5000nm from loved ones in Australia, and now we’re closer to Somalia than Thailand, having entered the outer limits of the High Risk Area, delineated by the zone west of 78deg east and 12deg south. We don’t expect trouble as we sail south throughout the Maldives although acts of piracy are not included in any insurance policy for this area.
The Maldives are a group of around 1200 islands within 26 atolls running about 500nm from Uligan in the Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Gan on the Addu Atoll in the south. The highest point in the country is no more than three metres so no chance of nose bleeds here. The biggest threat to the islands is a rise in the ocean levels.
By all accounts the Maldives has a fascinating history, particularly over the past 1000 years, as Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, British established important relations with this remote country. The population are 100% Sunni Muslims, so no alcohol, pork products or religious items of worship are allowed to be brought into the country.
Although we don’t have internet while offshore, we’ve read many blogs about others experiences. Some have written negative experiences, particularly as yachties tend not to travel as traditional tourists, therefore not fully supporting the important tourism industry. In Uligan, where once yachts would stop on their way to the Red Sea, the piracy has stemmed the flow and most yachts head direct to Male and continue south around Sth Africa. However, yachties travelling ahead of us have written positive reports of their travels so far and we’re looking forward to a positive visit also.
One thing is certain – entry into this first class cruising ground incurs substantial fees and some yachties choose not to travel to Maldives for that reason. However, our view is that over a month in a corner of the world we’ll never visit again is worth it. And at around USD$26 per day it’s cheaper than some camping sites in Australia!
As the atoll appears on the horizon, the approach to Uligan is straightforward. We spoke with customs and our agent’s representative Asad, on channel 16 before anchoring in a 5m sandy patch in the clearest water just to the north of the boat channel.
Within an hour or so, a boatload of men came to Blue Heeler – Asad, accompanied by reps from customs, immigration, health and coast guard. We welcomed them aboard and they arranged themselves in the cockpit to complete the formalities. Asad had all the necessary copies of paperwork that I’d provided him with before leaving Galle and the only additional piece I handed over was the port clearance from Galle and our passports for stamping. Within no time, the guys had processed us in and we could fly our Maldives courtesy flag.
So what a difference a few days make! Here we are in paradise in the Indian Ocean. I’ve not yet visited any islands in the pacific so besides Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, this is the bluest and clearest water I’ve seen. We will cruise the islands until such time as the weather tells us to continue south over the equator and on to the British Indian Ocean Territory of Chagos.
Gotta go now; it’s swim-o-clock!
Reading: The ‘Maldives Cruising Guide’ by Max Molteni is a comprehensive and reasonably current (2009) guide to the Maldives. ‘Sailing Through Paradise’ by John Hoedemakers and Jolanda Geerdink (2007). http://www.sailadventures.eu. Indian Ocean Cruising Guide, Rod Heikell, 2001.
Agent: http://www.realseahawksmaldives.com. Asadulla (Asad) Mohamed is a friendly, helpful agent rep in Uligan and can assist with SIM cards for iPad and phones. Real Sea Hawks provided the best quote. Bring enough USD with you to pay for clearance, SIM cards.
Check in fees: your agent will provide you with a breakdown of costs for your visit. Expect to pay a total fee of between USD$780 to $900 which includes the cruising permit of USD$324. If you have a tender large enough, you can opt to pick up the officials and take them to your vessel, removing the $60 fee for ‘official transport’.
Entry rules changes: we were advised our arrival visa is for 90 days; our boat can stay 6 months and although our cruising permit is for thirty days, we can extend it in Male for a minimal fee. In March 2014 you must have an AIS while sailing in the Maldives and have it on all the time.