Ahoy! Last month I decided I needed a 2016 adventure, and I needed one immediately. After a lot of Googling one lunch break, which was well, diverse – I went from searching hiking trips up Kilimanjaro, learning Arabic in Lebanon, Yoga retreats in Thailand, bootcamps in Sri Lanka and a rather odd diversion into the cost of beach bars in Indonesia. Don’t ask, I’ve never even been to Indonesia. Then I stumbled across a concept called a “liveaboard”.
What’s a liveaboard?
I’m glad you asked. Liveaboards are a collection of thousands of boats moored all around the world whose soul purpose is to whisk you away on a sea or ocean diving adventure. They are pretty much dotted about everywhere and anywhere you might want to go.
The arrangements are simple in that you decide where you want to go, select a boat with the facilities and agenda, and price, you are most comfortable with, and you book.
While researching liveaboards, largely in a bid to make sure they were inhabited by relatively normal people and not axe-wielding murderers, I came across Girl Independent’s blog – a level headed 30-something from London, who as an oft-solo traveller went onboard a liveaboard adventure in 2011 and shared her experience ‘Why Liveaboards are awesome’. Quite frankly, I was inspired (and reassured) and I booked my own two days later.
What’s all the fuss about?
Well basically, if you love diving, want to meet some like-minded diving people, and the idea of seeing a bit more of the ocean-world makes you smile, then liveaboards are simply perfect. You’ll be diving anywhere from two to four times a day, including a couple of night dives, and you’ll be living aboard your liveaboard the whole time. Sleeping on a boat is actually surprisingly soothing.
On my journey across the atolls of the Indian Ocean we joined the landlubbers on two absolutely stunning islands twice across an eight day trip. Oh, and speaking in a pirate accent is entirely optional, me hearties.
What can you see diving in the Maldives?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to answer this question, but I think it would be easier to tell you what I didn’t see. The video at the top doesn’t really quite capture exactly how amazing it was – The Indian Ocean makes up 13% of the world’s surface and houses over 5,000 underwater residents, some of which can only be found in this one place. I think I spent most of my adventure with eyes like saucers and picking my jaw from the floor. I saw everything from whale sharks, tiger sharks, manta rays and leopard eels to batfish, clownfish, triggerfish, shrimps, tuna, groupers, napoleons, oriental sweet lips, parrotfish, wrasse fish, box fish, porcupine fish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, rock fish, lion fish, scorpion fish and many, many, many more. To make it easier for me to explain, I’d say the odds of you seeing any of the below are very, very high.
And while I’m on the subject of The Maldives
Being on a boat for eight days meant I had a chance to check out the onboard library – a wall of books left behind by previous liveaboard pirates for future buccaneers to enjoy, so I got to read a bit about the Maldivian history.
Back in the day, and by “day” I’m talking 2nd Century AD, Male and the Maldives, known then as ‘Dibajat’, The Island Kingdom, was part of the key trade route between the Arab world and the Far East. In fact, it was the sailors from the Middle East who provided the first written history of the Maldives in 1153 as part of a voyage that would eventually convert the population of the Maldives away from 1,400 years of Buddhism to the Islamic faith in the 12th century. Cowrie shells were a big thing to the arab explorers – a type of beautiful large snail shell which was used as currency, known as “shell money”, and the Maldives was an ideal location to find these, as well as to restock their ships for the long journey to China.
Eight other Maldives facts..
- The atols are named North to South in order of the letters of the Maldivian alphabet
- Fans of Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai might be interested know its namesake, the geographer and explorer, once vacayed in the Maldives for several months in the 1340s.
- ‘The Day the Maldives embraced Islam’ is an event celebrated annually. The story of the islands’ adoption of Islam is credited by Ibn Battuta to the Moroccan traveller Abu al Barakat. The islanders were said to live in fear of a sea demon, and to appease it, would sacrifice a virgin each month. Abu is said to have saved a young girl by switching places with her on the sacrificial rock. When they islanders and the King went to check on him the next morning, they were stunned to find Abu, not only alive and well, but reciting from the Quran. The King was so impressed by the power of the religion, he ordered everyone convert to the faith.
- Abu al Barakat’s venerated tomb resides in the oldest Mosque of the Maldives, located in the city of Malé.
- The Maldives is credited as being the lowest country in the world and is under very serious threat from rising sea levels due to global warming. In fact, they are the third most endangered country in the world, most of the islands are just 1.5m above sea level with the highest point being on Vingilli Island of 2.3m.
- To raise awareness of climate change the government held the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting in 2009.
- As simple as it might appear, each element of the Maldivian flag has meaning . The crescent moon stands for Islam, the green section represents palm trees, and the red background symbolizes the blood shed by Maldivian heroes.
- 99% of the Maldives is water and the government of the Maldives has set aside $1bn a year and has approached Sri Lanka and Australia to discuss a mass migration of its countries residents, when climate change eventually allows to the sea to swallow their beautiful shores.
What should you pack for your liveaboard experience?
I sought help from three important people to help answer this question – my best friend, my mum, and the internet. But the short annoying answer to this question is that it entirely depends on the kind of liveaboard you will be sailing on. I went for a budget option, my fellow guests were comfortable being shirtless at lunch and I spent more or less a week in shorts and vests, however you may find this isn’t OK elsewhere.
That being said there are a few suggestions I can offer to help you prepare for your own adventure:
Swimwear – this may sound stupid, but if you are diving four times a day you’ll want to make sure you’re not sitting around in wet bikinis or shorts, so take several and stay dry.
Post diving clothes and dry boat clothes – I would suggest lots of loose easy-to-dry shorts and t-shirts. Half your clothes are going to end up a little salty and soggy, so try and have enough which means that when you are on the liveaboard you have something fresh to change into. Apparently your body temperature decreases throughout the week on a liveaboard, so a light sweater or loose long-sleeved top isn’t a bad idea.
Footwear – my flipflops were left at the boat’s front door, and I more or less lived barefoot for eight days, bar a couple of island trips.
Medicine – As a perma-hypochondriac and unofficial Web MD ambassador, I live my the adage ‘better safe than sorry’. And while administering medicine to half the boat’s guests I started to feel a little vindicated. Especially as I cruised through the entire trip without a single complaint, minus a couple of dodgy hangovers. Anyway, a few obvious things – Seasickness pills, pain killers, anti-inflammatory, antacid (drinking, food, diving… y’know) and a decongestant – this one is important. Constant diving, then being wet and soggy, followed by more diving made a few people a bit sickly and ear ache seemed to be a common problem. You could find that something like this could save your diving holiday.
And what about diving equipment?
OK, so you absolutely need a dive computer. I use, and am in love with, my white Sunnto D4i Novo. Some divers don’t like Suunto for being too conservative, but those people want to push their bottom time limits as much as possible. Comparatively I think I started my ascent a minute or two ahead of some of the others, so not the end of the world.
The other benefit of the Sunnto D4i is that it’s the size of a watch, so you have no need to take it off when you’re not diving, unlike some of others on my trip who accidentally left theirs behind on a couple of dives, then refused to dive. A computer will also help you judge your depth (particularly if 30m is not the “bottom” so much as the middle of the deep blue sea. You can also use it to judge your bottom time, manage your no-dive and no-fly time, as well use the other settings to understand time, temperature, dive profile etc. I also took two masks – there is nothing more frustrating than mask problems under water. If you want to travel light and are happy renting, then everything else can be rented onboard. But check first 🙂
Who did I book with?
I booked with Dive the World – a Hong Kong based travel agency which specialises in diving holidays where a lovely travel agent called Beef couldn’t have been any more helpful in giving me details about the boat, agenda and logistics.
Would I do it again?
Hands down this was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. Ever. I’m furious that I can’t book my next one until later this year.
Until next time, seadogs!