Our friends from ALKYONE and ALDIVI were already waiting for us in Uligamo. They had left Galle earlier than us. Hans guided us with his dinghy through the shallow waters of the anchorage and helped to find a good spot for anchoring. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. We could just swim and snorkel off the boat. The variety of colorful fish in all shapes was simply stunning. What a beautiful anchorage!
Also the clearing in was a bit different than normally. I think this was the first time the kids got sweets and ice cream while we were getting cleared in. Our agents Assad and Hanoon really spoiled our kids. Ashore they drove them around through the small village in some kind of motorcycle pickup and our kids had a blast.
One afternoon Assad and Hanoon arranged a small get together on the beach for the three boats of us where local women prepared some delicious Maldivian specialities and our kids could play with the local kids. During the day we enjoyed the fantastic swimming and snorkeling around our anchorage. And of course it was also a paradise for spearfishing… we made a few spear fishing sessions and André caught enough fish for the three boats. Delicious! André’s spear fishing skills came quite handy as in Maldives all the fresh food has to be flown in from far away. There is of course no agriculture or farming on these islands except maybe some chicken delievering a few eggs, but that’s it. Maldives completely depend on tourism industry.
As we had decided to take the route around South Africa instead of going through the Red Sea we had to say goodbye to our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE. That was not easy… we had been cruising together since Port Moresby and we really enjoyed their company. Without cruising permit they were only allowed to stay one week before moving on to Djibouti and we wanted to sail south to meet Karin and Hanspeter, who were on holiday in Vilamendhoo Island resort, located in the Ari atoll.
With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our cruising friends and left Uligamo. Everything worked out as we had planned. Just the thunderstorm that welcomed us in the morning was not exactly what we had wished for . But it passed on time so that we could enter the atoll in good visibility. We anchored off Dhangethi a local island with a few small hotels. From there we could dinghy over to the resort island. We got a special permission to dock with our dinghy and pick up Karin and Hanspeter. They came over and explored Dhangethi with us. We found a nice restaurant where we could have lunch and has coffee on Mirabella later on. It was so great to see them. Karin had arranged that we could come over to the resort the next day and spend the whole day there in the pool area. Jaël and Amina were in heaven…. after all these beautiful beaches they still love to swim in a pool if they have the opportunity. We enjoyed the pool area and also went snorkelling on the reef which is very close to the beach. After a sundowner with beautiful views we hit the road – I mean jumped into the dinghy – and drove back to our anchorage as long as there was still some visibility.
The next day Karin and Hanspeter flew back to Switzerland. We spent some more time in Dhangethi as we really liked this place. We had made some local friends… Jonayed, a very charismatic young guy who worked for Leela, a local shop owner. Leela took our kids to her sister Zidhuna’s place, who had three kids as well. That’s how we met Zidhuna, her husband Fayaaz and the three kids Fawwaza, Fauza and Zayaan. They were a strong islamic family but very open minded. Fayaaz himself had worked as a captain on a safari boat for many years and could speak English, French and also some Italian. One day we invited the whole family, Leela and her friend Shaheedha on our boat for coffee and tea. On this anchorage we experienced the easiest spearfishing ever… we could spearfish unicorn fish just off the stern without even going into the water… You just had to throw a few bread crumbs and there they showed up. We could just catch them with the hawaiian sling. Never caught any fish from the stern like that before…
In Dhangethi we also went on a fantastic dive trip to see some manta rays. Jaël and Amina could join too and were snorkelling with a guide. They were able to see the same manta ray from above as we observed from down below. I was so happy that they had the chance to see these wonderful creatures with their own eyes.
After about a week we wanted to go to Male to get some repair supply for our dinghy and then come back again to see our friends again and do some more diving. Ari atoll is famous for their whale shark dives. The evening before we left we met a safari boat captain, Mohamed Hanimaadu. He gave us a number of good anchoring spots. Our first stop was one of his recommendations: the lagoon of Rihiveli Maldives Resort. It was an incredible spot. From far we could already see the dolphins jumping. They were everywhere! You could just jump in the water and swim with them… try to follow them… it was amazing! Under water you could hear their sound. It was just beautiful! What a great anchorage. We also went snorkelling on the reef. The great thing in the Maldives is, that you barely get cold as the water is so warm. You can spend a lot of time exploring and observing the colorful variety of fish and you will never get cold. Of course the warm water is also a disadvantage if you are looking for refreshment but for snorkelling it is perfect.
We continued our journey to Male and stopped in Maafushi, one of the mixed islands where you have local people livinig but also some tourism with hotels and restaurants. It was a mixture we liked although the anchorage offered not the best protection. It was a bit busier than Dhangehti. We spoiled ourselves with a buffet dinner in one of the hotels at the beach. Jaël and Amina of course were most excited about the dessert buffet 😉 We moved to the neighbour island Gulhi for better protection. There we had a dream anchorage in the lagoon almost just to ourselves. Gulhi is a smaller island than Maafushi with just a handful of guest houses. The anchorage was well protected and the snorkelling and spearfishing around the reef was great. For André’s birthday we wanted to go out for a nice dinner and moved to Maafushi again.
When we came back to Gulhi on the evening of 15th of March and wanted to get ashore we were stopped by a health officer and a police man. They told us that we were not allowed on land as there was a lockdown for all the tourists because of Covid-19. We had been in the Maldives for a month already by that time and it made not really sense to treat us differently than the local people but these were the rules and there was no exemption. From that day on we were in lockdown on our boat. No more cruising, no more exploring on land. For groceries we had a local contact from our agent who could bring us stuff when he was going to Male. We spent our days with boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling and spearfishing. Lucky enough there was plenty of fish and the spearfishing also kept us busy… But of course it was very strange to be in lockdown on the boat while the locals on the island had no restrictions by that time. There were hardly any cases except a few on some resort islands. Most of the tourists had been flown out of the country. There were no tourists left and they simply did not know what to do with the cruisers on sailboats. They would have loved to get rid of us but of course we were already cleared in and the season was not yet right to move South.
At some point they wanted all sailing yachts on a few designated anchorages. Most of the visiting yachts were stuck in Uligan up North and some were around Male. Our anchorage in Gulhi was not one of these designated spots so they wanted us to move. Male would have been a short daysail but of course we did not want to go there. Male is the capital and hub of the Maldives. All the supplies are there and it is a busy place. There is no snorkelling and swimming around the boat there so that would have been a nightmare in lockdown. We told our agent we are gonna move to Gan the most southern atoll of the Maldives. Sooner or later we wanted to go there anyway to checkout of the Maldives. The windforecast promised very light winds so it was gonna be a slow passage and that was just what we wanted as we were in no rush. André forwarded a passage plan to our agent indicating a few stops on remote places to stay overnight as of course we can not sail during the night (;-)) We did not really wait for the feedback as we were afraid they could change their mind and ask us to come to Male. So we left Gulhi on the 3rd of April. It was very strange to pass Maafushi, which had been full of life just 3 weeks ago – now it looked completely deserted. It was sad that we could not go back to Dhangethi to see our friends again. We had not even said goodbye properly as we had thought we were gonna see them again soon anyway…. It felt wonderful to move again and we enjoyed a bit of freedom. We stopped on the way ond a few beautiful anchorages, always far from villages. On the 8th of April we arrived in Gan. There was just one anchorage close to the village and it was already taken by another boat. The entrance to the small harbour was too shallow for us so we chose an anchorage a few miles east with good protection from a reef and close to a small uninhabited island. We had been there already all day when the coast guard arrived at 5pm and wanted us to move closer to the village. We told them that we for sure won’t leave now with just a little bit daylight left and that we had already checked out the area there and did not find a good anchorage. At the end they let us stay and never came back.
We were on a different place now but the daily routine in our lockdown life stayed the same…. boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling, spearfishing and baking bread every second day. Through our agent we had a contact where we could order groceries. It was a 20 minutes ride in the dinghy to pick it up. It was always supervised by the police to make sure that André stayed in the dinghy and did not go on land… kind of ridiculous, treating us like criminals. By that time Maldives were starting to have more Covid-19 cases as some local students returning back from the UK had not been tested nor put in quaranteen. They had brought back the virus…
After a while we started going to the small uninhabited island… a very unpleasant surprise as it was full of garbage. We started to collect it and put it together in some kind of BBQ area in the middle of the island. It was not garbage coming from some far away places it was all local rubish being washed onshore by the prevailing winds. The BBQ area was covered with even more garbage. I wonder how one can enjoy a BBQ sitting in all this plastic waste leaving all the water bottles and plates and cutlery etc. there afterwards. Very sad to see that. During our time in Gan we filled about 10 extra large bags which cleaned only about 20 meters of the shoreline.