Blue Force Fleet take you on a journey to the Spectacular Deep South Maldives
We are in Addu, the second largest “city” in the Maldives and capital of the southernmost atoll. Located 45 miles below the Equator, and 540 km south of Male, this is the most remote of the 26 atolls that, scattered along almost 900 km of the Indian Ocean, make up the archipelago of the Maldives. This piece of land, with a very unique history, is the starting point for our ship, the Blue Force One on the route through the best Maldivian reefs in the Southern Hemisphere.
Our trip starts by exploring the best dive spots in this atoll. One of the most accessible is the wreck of the British Loyalty. This British navy ship was torpedoed in March 1944 by the German submarine U-183. The ship, dedicated to fuel transport, suffered extensive damage but did not sink.
It was partially repaired and destined to function as a floating “warehouse”. Finally, in 1946 it sank at its current location, just off Hithadhoo Island, and has become a very popular dive. The history of this shipwreck is not a coincidence since this atoll was a secret British air base in World War II, which is why it has some important infrastructure despite its remote location.
Diving the wreck is generally easy, there is usually no current and its state of conservation is very good. The ship lies on the sandy bottom on its starboard side and is heavily colonized with hard corals. Large black coral trees can be found at the stern, below the propeller. It’s also in this area where we will find the highest concentration of fish. This wreck is an entertaining dive, ideal to start off our dive cruise.
Mudakan: Manta point
Another essential dive in Addu is Mudakan, one of the best-known manta cleaning stations in the area. We can sometimes encounter strong current so it is important to descend quickly to avoid passing over the coral head where the manta rays congregate. Once we reach a depth of 15 meters we let ourselves drift, always staying as a group, letting the current push us swiftly along the reef. Visibility is good and after a brief drift, we devise a group of 8 to 10 mantas on our horizon, swimming over a small coral bommie that rises between the reef and the sand.
Following the instructions of the pre-dive briefing, we position ourselves around the cleaning station, using the reef hooks to avoid damaging the coral and always leaving a reasonable distance so as not to interfere with the behavior of the mantas. Little by little, each of the members of our group finds their place.
For the manta rays, this ritual is a daily task, but for us it’s an amazing spectacle. In a kind of perfectly orchestrated choreography: each one of them passes through a specific point of the station, stops, unfolds its head lobes and opens up its mouth completely. At that moment, dozens of tiny wrasses pounce on the manta in a stubborn cleaning task.
With their tiny mouths, they tear off dead tissue, clean wounds and pluck small parasites from their skin. From time to time, one of them over does it and bites too much and then the manta, in a kind of “groan”, expels them abruptly as if it were a sneeze. Meanwhile the rest of the mantas wait patiently for their turn, lined up, holding their position against the current.
We are 22 meters deep and after almost 30 minutes the alarms of our computers begin to warn us: it’s time to ascend if we want to avoid exceeding our no-deco limit. As we leave the protection of the reef the current expels us from this privileged vantage point. The image of the mantas on the cleaning station fades in seconds. After a brief safety stop, we return to the surface. Gathered around the SMB of our guide, our faces reflect the satisfaction of the experience we have just lived. In a few seconds the dhoni comes to pick us up and take us back to the ship where breakfast awaits us; a great way to start the day.
The dive in Mudakan is so good that no one ever minds repeating it before leaving Addu to head north.
The rules of the Great South
Addu Atoll is so far south that the effects of the monsoon are much less influential here than in the Northern Hemisphere atolls, where everything is ruled by the two main seasons. The presence of large pelagic species such as tunas, whale sharks and the emblematic mantas is closely linked to the winds and currents of the monsoon. In the Southern Hemisphere atolls, this is slightly different.
Recent studies reveal that in the few “manta points” that are known in the southern atolls, the mantas, although to a lesser extent, remain stationary, that is, they do not make large migrations as their relatives from the north do, congregating in the eastern or western atolls “cleaning stations” depending on the time of the Monsoon in which we find ourselves.
In these southern atolls, any encounter is possible and the dive sites are not crowded, but the best season does not usually last more than two months, from February to March. It is in these two months when the most favorable conditions occur: the predominant current is from the East, bringing clearer water to the channels.
Fuvahmulah: a different and unique island
North of Addu is the small town of Hulhumedhoo, from where we set sail for Fuvahmulah. This island is perhaps the most unique of all the Maldives. It is an island that does not have the characteristic morphology of the atolls, but looks like a rocky island. Instead of the typical lagoon, this island has two small freshwater lakes. In addition, some of the few remaining Buddhist vestiges of the entire archipelago are found here, remains that Islamization were in charge of reconverting.
To the south of the island, a coral platform stretches for several kilometers, making it one of the best places in the Great South to have exceptional encounters. There you can see large groups of gray reef sharks, silver tip sharks, thresher sharks, schools of hammerheads and occasionally some giant sunfish. In this area the reef is just splendid, with some very exuberant acropores.
For a few years, a dive center on the island has been organizing feeding dives and some tiger sharks have appeared. Our guides, in the pre-dive briefing, explain that we will not take part in the feeding activities as it modifies the behavior of the animals and can generate safety problems. After a detailed explanation of the dive, we immerse ourselves in the area of the tigers and we spot two large specimens that approach us calmly without the need to feed them. Measuring more than three meters in length, they are spectacular sharks and very rare to see in other areas of the Maldives.
Walls of sharks and sleepless nights
With our minds loaded with good memories we continued our journey north. Halfway to the next atoll we crossed the imaginary line of the Equator. A few hours later, we arrived at Vadhoo, a small island south of Huvadho, considered (with some controversy) as the largest atoll in the Maldives, better known as Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Huvadhu, the two districts into which it is divided.
In Gaafu we spent several days and made some of the best dives of the trip. They are dives on very steep drop offs, very similar to each other, in which the main attraction are the great schools of gray reef sharks. Often, if the current is strong, we find authentic walls of sharks that remain immobile, a few meters from us, surpassing the current without apparent effort. In addition to the gray reef sharks, large schools of jack fish, small white tip sharks, and dogtooth tuna complete the scene.
In this atoll, at night, we enjoyed one of the most incredible moments of the cruise. Dive boats have learned from local fishermen that placing large spotlights on the stern of their boats attracts large amounts of plankton, which in turn is a lure for large plankton feeders such as whale sharks, mantas and mobulas.
As soon as it gets dark, especially if there is no moon, and once the powerful lights are turned on, just wait a few minutes for large clouds of tiny crustaceans and fish larvae to accumulate under the light. Sometimes the action kicks off well into the early hours of the morning, when several whale sharks stand under the lights, upright, with their massive jaws wide open to gobble up as much food as possible. This is the time to enter the water equipped with a mask, snorkel and fins to swim with the largest fish in the ocean. A truly unique experience that is well worth living in exchange for losing a few hours of sleep.
For decades, the Maldivian atolls of the Southern Hemisphere have been largely ignored by tourism, and particularly by divers. Now they are offered to us as an alternative full of surprises, with dive sites away from the crowds of other places, dives that exude adventure and generate great emotions. Without a doubt, this is another way to experience the Maldives.
Maldives BLUE FORCE ONE is the ship on which we made the cruise, measuring 42 mts in length: it has 11 spacious and luxurious cabins and suites, 2 outdoor jacuzzis. The Maldives Blue Force One has been awarded, in 2014 and 2018, as the best-built boat in the entire archipelago. This boat, in addition to an extraordinary team of guides, offers greater space, excellent comfort and great service for a price very similar to that of simpler boats.
More info: Blue Force Fleet
Maldives Blue Force ONE runs weekly routes all year round with guaranteed departures every Saturday. The Southern Hemisphere route lasts 6 weeks from February to March, with an additional week at the beginning and another at the end to go down to the Southern Hemisphere or return to Male. The one-week routes in the Southern Hemisphere depart from Addu atoll and end at Gaafu atoll. And the following week the route is done in the contrary direction.
Valid Passport with a minimum validity of 6 months.
To ensure the safety of all, the Maldives Health Protection Agency (HPA) has made it a mandatory requirement for all tourists arriving in Maldives must have a health document in English confirming that the tourist has a PCR test for Covid-19 with a negative result carried out within a maximum of 96 hours prior to departure to Maldives.
The official currency in the country is the Maldivian Rufiyaa but on board payments are made with dollars and euros. Card payment is also possible.
How to get here
There are several companies that have flights to the Maldives: Qatar, Emirates, Etihad, Turkish, etc.
At the same airport in Male we must take a domestic flight to Gan or Kooddoo, depending on where the cruise begins.
To see and do
During the cruise some islands are visited to learn about the local culture. There is also a barbecue on a desert island offered towards the end of the cruise with different dishes of local cuisine.
Contact: [email protected]
Written By: Jordi Chias
Photo Credit: Rafa Fernandez
For more about Blue Force Fleet try: Blue Force Fleet Announce the Launch of their Luxurious New Dhoni