‘Twas an early start, 2 o’clock being the first time I awoke. Again at 3, another at 4, alarm at 04:50. The excitement must have been playing havoc on me and I was tired walking down the streets to be at the dive centre for 05:15. Katherine was out for the count back at the hotel and content with rising at a respectable hour. I was off to try and find hammerheads and hoped that we would be lucky enough to see these elusive creatures.
The morning was thwart with mishaps and wasn’t at all shaping up to be a good day. Two guests that had been diving with them all week were commandeering the speed boat to get them to the resort island where a ferry was leaving for Malé. The captain arrived late to explain that the boat wouldn’t start and there followed some abrupt words about why the other boat hadn’t yet been serviced and the speed boat being used. Thus, we crawled to the mouth of the jetty whereby I did the silent head shake and twisty finger thing ya do when you’re saying to someone give up and turn back. Hopped in to the now returned speed boat, fully kitted and trying to make up speed, all too similar to a scene from a Bond film and we were descending just as the sun was cresting on the horizon.
No hammerheads, but still a fab dive. There are some overly enthusiastic bubble fish (a type of unicorn-fish) that dart in and attack your bubbles. They followed us (myself and Dirk, the co-owner) out and down to the dark blue waters, with the slight flicker of green and blue phosphorescent plankton much like a snow globe in slow motion. We did have large grey reef sharks, and the white tip reef sharks were not only swimming past us, but skimming the shallows of the reef when we returned from the blue.
The reef itself was spectacular. Truly! There were every fish species possible in these waters darting up and down the atoll slopes with soft and hard corals of every shape, size and colour to match their energy.
Grinning like the Cheshire Cat from one of the best dive sites I’ve ever been to, I returned to the guest house for breakfast and to get Katherine motivated. Our first dive was at Madi Garu (literal translation being Manta Rock). Having sat on the seabed with the fishies nibbling at tidbits raised by our fins and watching the garden eels pop up and down like ‘Whack A Mole’, we gave up waiting after 10mins of patience and dived around the reef.
We avoided the triggerfish that were nesting. They had an area east of the main rock and the sand looked like a few grenades had been set off with the pits being filled with rabid, blood thirsty fish, itching to have a go at you if you swam within the zone or conical area above the nest. Our guide, the lovely Nica, checked our air twice and was content that we knew what we were doing, our air consumption was good and we were looking out for each other. It was such that Rexy (Katherine is a T-Rex… She only spots things when it moves) saw an octopus on an outcrop of coral.
We bimbled around in a circle hoping for a visitor of 4m in length to swim by, but had no luck. We did however spot colourful displays of Christmas Tree Worms, lobsters, anemones and clownfish, starfish that looked decidedly phalic in their appendages and some giant clams. We passed the 60min dive time law of the Maldives by accident, completing our safety stop as we drifted over some coral boulders.
The second dive for Rexy was at the same place I was at this morning – Madivaru Corner (or something along those lines) – but not in to the blue. We again witnessed the ice cream scoop shaped depression out of the reef filled with thousands of garden eels, the unicorn-fish darted between Kat and Nica chasing/attacking their bubbles, the reef was alive with the sound of parrotfish (sounds very musical, don’t ya think) and the dive was just full of interesting things to see. There was a white tip reef shark asleep under a table coral, there was a stone fish doing a very good impression of a rock, there was a ghost pipefish hiding behind the oriental sweet lips trying to pretend it was one of the trumpetfish.
And then, while Nica was checking our air and nearing the end time of the dive I had to draw her attention to the eagle ray just above and behind her. We followed it easily with the current to then see it ‘dance’ with another up and down the slope turning somersaults and feeding off the plankton in the water. They then joined another three slightly in to the blue. I finned out slightly just to try and get a better view of the beautiful starry pattern on their backs and admire their grace and elegance, when, like a murmuration of starlings, they turned in unison and swam towards me and passed only a few metres away. It was spectacular. It was in fact more memorable than the baby manta ray that we saw at the start of the dive. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that. Oops!
An afternoon of charging camera batteries, downloading photos and generally resting up before I was ready again for dive 4 of the day. The wonders of Nitrox; giving not only longer bottom time on a dive due to the less nitrogen in the gas mixture, but the extra energy from the increased percentage of oxygen in the blend.
Torches on, GoPro strapped to my forehead, camera in hand, reg and mask held in place with the other hand, I was jumping off the boat, looking very much like a human Christmas tree with my lights and accessories, while Katherine chatted to the crew on the boat and chilled out.
Myself and Matt (he drew the short straw for the night dive) descended in to the murk while the last rays of the sunset still held a glow and phantom present over the wreck and surrounding reef.
We headed up past the bow to a sandy area where a shovel has been dropped over board by some workmen and is now a prop for divers to play with, desperately trying to make the dive site a bit deeper. We swam to an outcrop that had a leaf fish and the very shy and timid family of Clarkii clownfish nestled in a shrivelled up carpet anemone. Then we returned to the wreck and down to business.
The keel of the boat by the bow section at 16m is swarmed in glass fish. And where you find them, you can bet money that you will find a lionfish hunting. He just glided through their ranks and waited for his evening snack. We passed by leaving him to his quarry and passed an octopus crawling along the reef, feather stars unfurling for the night current that was coming, a large star pufferfish munching coral on the hull, and before you know it we were at the other end of the boat, going around the propellers, through a tangle of metal debris and around to the west side of the boat… and darkness.
The suns last warmth was left on the other side and the hatches, portholes and railings of the deck, lying perpendicular to the sea bed were alive with shoals of hawkish and squirrelfish, their big eyes catching the light and turning aside, vanishing in to the framework. The larger parrotfish had yet to create their bubble cocoons for the night, or maybe these ones were so big as to not need to hide the electrical signals and smells that their younger signals would typically send out to sharks?
The first pass around the boat was much of a muchness, just looking for the obvious and enjoying the site for what it was. The second pass was, without need for comment or suggestion, an opportunity to stick your torch under the outcrops, though the rusty frameworks and down the pipes and vents.
Well, I love my night diving, but this almost had me. Looking down the steam pipe, clearly leading to the engine room we were admiring a type of porcelain crab at the rim. Curiosity had me line up and hover in a fashion to shine the torch down the length of the chimney stack and either it was incredibly bad timing, sheer coincidence or an upset and vengeful beast, but the mother of all black cheek morays came swimming down the pipe, raising a cloud of silt in its wake and make a slithering bee line for my mask. A rather sharp intake of breath, a rise up and over the pipe with the extra air and buoyancy in my body and I was clear of the danger. But wow, did it give my heart a race. So, I went back to take a video of him siting at the edge of the pipe smiling his victorious wicked grin.
This slippery creature was not however what made Katherine squeamish later that night when watching video footage. Oh no, for it was the leviathan at the bow hatch that did that job. A napoleon wrasse that easily was the size of a bumper car was face down and looking out at us and with apparent ease and little effort he turned and sunk further in to the bowels of the ship, the size of him only becoming fully apparent when you saw how many scales passed by the torch light and the size of the fins. They’re totally harmless, but he had the air and presence of an evil villain at the window that sent a shiver up your spine.
Back to the hotel after a busy day, it was a wonderful thing to have a hot shower and hot food. So many amazing things, all in one day having started so early and finishing so late. It was incredible. Need to do it again!!!
Monday 14th March 2016