In September 2003, Eve and I spent a week aboard Maldives Scuba Tours' liveaboard, MV Sea Spirit. Jason Dowd and Erica Norman were our 'Cruise Directors' and together with the boat crew ensured that everyone had a good time both above and below the water.
MV Sea Spirit has six air-conditioned en-suite cabins for clients and a large separate dive support vessel (dhoani) which ferries divers to and from the dive sites. The Sea Spirit normally operates a programme of three dives during the day, that is a dive before breakfast, a midmorning dive and an afternoon dive. We also enjoyed a Night Dive at Maaya Thila.
Eve and I arrived in Male on an overnight flight from Heathrow via Dubai. We were soon aboard MV Sea Spirit, which immediately made its way from Male to South Male Atoll for our first dive of the holiday, a checkout dive, at Kuda Giri. The main attraction of this site is a steel wreck sunk for divers off the southwest side of the reef around which we completed a circuit. We saw a large Yellowfin Tuna, a Titan Triggerfish, a Leaf Fish and a Frogfish as well as all the usual Maldivian reeflife-only Cocos Island with its Hammerheads has offered Eve and I a more interesting checkout dive.
The next morning we enjoyed two more dives in South Male Atoll, with another sighting of a Yellowfin Tuna as well as a Whitetip Reef Shark, a few large Turtles, Titan Triggerfish and three Napoleon Wrasse. After the dive we crossed the Ariadhoo Channel westwards to Ari Atoll South, spotting a pod of Pilot Whales along the way. Two dives and several Napoleon Wrasse and Whitetip Reef Sharks later it was lunch time on Day 3 and time to look for Whale Sharks! The southeastern point of Ari Atoll South was the right location and time of the year but we were out of luck. (One week later when staying at Machchafushi we were more fortunate) The afternoon dive at Hukuruelhi Faru was eventful-all members of the dive group that had entered the water from the back of our dhoani were swept away from the dive site. We re-grouped, headed for the surface and the dhoani took us back to the dive site. Thereafter we enjoyed an excellent drift dive.
The following morning we had our final dive in Ari Atoll South at Kalhahandi Huraa and afterwards travelled north to Fish Head in North Ari Atoll. Eve and I had dived Fish Head several times before and enjoyed some memorable dives there. Unfortunately the poor visibility, 5 to 10 metres, spoilt the dive on this occasion. Nevertheless we were treated to close encounters with the resident large Napoleon Wrasse and a Turtle which was far more interested in its meal than us. After another low visibility dive, at Ellaidhoo House reef, we had a highly enjoyable Night Dive at Maaya Thila as Giant Moray Eels, Marbled Rays and Whitetip Reef Sharks hunted the site. After the dive we saw a Manta Ray playing off the stern of MV Sea Spirit.
Day 5: An early morning dive, again at Maaya Thila. This was another first-class dive with plenty of Whitetip and Grey Reef Sharks, another totally uninhibited Turtle, a Giant Moray Eel and plenty of reeflife. Two more dives followed at Rasfari and Occaboli Thila with Whitetip Reef Sharks, a large Ray, a Turtle, numerous Titan Triggerfish, Giant Moray Eels and a large Napoleon Wrasse. Afterwards we crossed the Ariadhoo Channel eastwards to North Male Atoll.
Our first dive of Day 6 took us to Manta Point, a well-known Manta cleaning station. We were in luck as seven Mantas with up to 4 metres wingspan visited the site. Eve and I had never seen Mantas so close-a very memorable dive. Deteriorating surface conditions discouraged half the dive group from joining in the second dive of the day. Given the current it was important that upon entry everyone dropped down immediately from the sea surface. This was accomplished without any difficulty and we saw a small Whitetip Reef Shark, a Napoleon Wrasse and Titan Triggerfish as well as other reeflife. Back on the surface, rain and a heavy swell made conditions aboard the dhoani unpleasant, everyone having to shelter from the wind and rain as best they could until the dhoani was back into the sheltered conditions of MV Sea Spirit's mooring. Our afternoon dive was at Nassimo Thila (Paradise Rock) the highlights of which were a Titan Triggerfish, a large Eagle Ray, a Napoleon Wrasse and two Whitetip Reef Sharks.
Our final day and one final dive. And what a dive. It was back to Manta Point to watch six Manta Rays hovering around the cleaning station. They came so close I could have touched them. After leaving the Manta Ray cleaning station, I tried to photograph a Nurse Shark which had concealed itself under a rock. Unfortunately I disturbed it and it moved further under the rock. Afterwards it was back to MV Sea Spirit to clean our dive kit, prepare for our departure the next morning, watch Jason's superb video of the trip and enjoy one final meal with our dive buddies for the week.