The Maldives Atolls are 600 miles long and consist of 2 strings of atolls, 30-40 miles apart. None of the islands is very big. Mali City Island, one of the biggest is about 2 kilometers long, 1 kilometer wide and home to a city of 100000 people, the total population is only 200000. What a coral island, the original island has been widened and extended so there are no more beaches and palm trees. Its totally built over so the building boom now is to build up 6,8,10&12 stores, some on blocks of land no bigger than a terrace house block. It is experiencing the greatest building boom ever. Everywhere there are trucks carrying bags of sand, cement and steel rods. They mix their own on the job.
The basis of this prosperity is tourism, the next island is Mali international Airport where tourists from Europe, South East Asia and all over the world arrive to transfer to the current 80 resorts on islands throughout the Atolls. Male is the big smoke, a very busy port and administrative center overrun with traffic cars and motorbikes like cities everywhere, servicing the Island resorts and outer towns. Used to be a British colony, now a republic with the same president for 10 years and a commonwealth member.
As I Checked through Airport customs, oops "you have 5 bottles of wine," said the customs officer. Can't bring in any alcohol at all. "Here is a receipt, pick them up when you leave" he said. It's a Muslim country no bars, mosques everywhere with lots of chanting and singing, even the shops close for prayers couple of times a day. But ah the almighty dollar, in the outlying resorts you can have whatever you want from the bar. So we spent the first week in Merru resort on an island in the same atoll a few hours away where we snorkeled swam and enjoyed the bar, the company and resort. On the next island is a genuine Maldives village, which we visited as well and were fascinated in their boat building and fishing skills. Returned to Mali to send a crew member home, stock up on fuel and supplies also do the clearing, paper and passport stamping formalities.
Mali atoll is on the east. So we have to sail across and through the west atolls then out into the Indian Ocean. We get there just on dusk and put up some sails to steady the boat but keep motoring most of the night in the very light breeze which finally run out altogether.
I have never made a long sea voyage as long as this, I was apprehensive even before leaving Australia and still am when we leave. Sailors tell me you get in a routine especially after a week. At times I wish I could jump off but of course I cant, so I fit into the routine. The skipper has worked out a daily routine of watches, mealtimes and duties so it is all very fair, everyone does his bit to make the ship run well. In the Darwin to Ambon race a couple of years ago I met a Swedish family in Gove. Gunnar, Karen and daughters Johanna and Sara who spent six years sailing together as a family. I marveled at their story and came to have enormous respect for Gunnar as a sailor. When I heard about this trip I wrote and said, " Would love to do that trip". So here I am.
The Indian ocean has been as Gunnar said mostly calm seas with warm north east trade winds, that have never exceeded 25 knots and have been e mostly only around 10-15 knots. At first the direction was more northerly and we had very light patches but a week out of Mali they turned North easterly giving us a broad reach to our first waypoint one hundred miles off Soccoro Island, a part of Yemen off the tip of Somalia. Somalia is the place to miss there is no effective government there only war lords, that's where the pirates are. There is a shorter channel between Soccoro Island and Somalia that cuts several hundred miles off the trip but that's where the trouble is.
At times I find shipboard life very dreary. However Gunnar and the Swedish crew have gone out of their way to make me welcome. I am amazed at their multi lingual skills, switching from Swedish to English and obviously thinking in English as well. Everyone apart from a guy my age Ingemar speak perfect English. So Ingemar and I spend time together with the Swedish English dictionary teaching each other. One of the books I read is about ships of old which makes me think how well off we are we have triangular sails for upwind sailing, GPS, Self-steering, watermaker, motor, the lot. I really appreciate how hard the early Mariners had it. Love one of the expressions "my ship will sail on a Faireys Fart". So after heading Northwest for that imaginary mark for 12 days we have changed course to the west sailing up into the Gulf of Aden. But alas the wind has run out, for and we have been motoring on a dead calm sea. Seen a number of cargo ships and three other yachts.
I bought a good supply of books with me, haven't read this much in years. I learnt from Pam Stuart, bring lots of travel books, so I have read all about Aden and Yemen and looked at the maps so I feel I know something of the place before I land and have decided what I want to go and see and do.
Regina Maris is a very comfortable yacht, a 53-foot long steelie with a center cockpit, large main saloon aft and all accommodations foreword. She has a long keel Ketch rig and every convenience you could wish for, even air conditioning which will be great in the Red sea. The owner is another Swede, he used to be a sea captain, but retired from the sea to become a insurance broker.
She was built in Holland for an Omani sheik but he only had it for a couple of years. For 15 years it belonged to a German who only spent about 3 weeks a year on it but who had a competent skipper live aboard it, taking it to different parts of the world for his owner to cruise on and looking after it beautifully. It is a very sound and sturdy boat in used but tidy condition. It has been in Phuket for the last 18 months looked after by an Englishman who didn't do the best of a job.
Gunnar has been involved with emails since 1995 and of course as a mariner was also involved with HF radios. They fiddled with modems and software till they came up with the right combination that would transmit emails to a computer in a land based HF radio to go onto the email web. This is the way I sent some emails from the high seas, at 6pm each day the guy in South Africa turns his antennae towards us and we send and receive.
Last night while we were listening to records and having a few drinks we could see a ship coming straight for us on the radar. As it came closer we could clearly make out its outline and see its lights. " This is quite common at sea happened to me many times before" said Gunnar. "Proves the officer on watch is human, after five or more days at sea he is curious at seeing a yacht and is coming to have a look" He calls up on the VHF with a look of glee in his eye." Big ship approaching Royal Swedish Yacht Regina Maris carrying his majesty King Gustav, What are your intentions". "That will stir him up" he chuckled. No answer. After a few repeats of the call we get an Indian English reply, "Heading for the Red Sea and Suez Canal with a full load, I can see you and am bearing away" he said. We have seen quite a number of ships in the last few days in the Gulf of Aden as well as a couple of other yachts. Another ship came close the same way in the Indian Ocean late one night too.
This is the longest leg of the whole trip, now a 4 or 5 day trip will be a cakewalk for me. The rest of the voyage will be short hops to lots of fascinating ports. I am reading the pilot books about the Red Sea. The narrowest point is the entrance 25 miles wide, at it's widest it is 190 miles wide and is fringed with coral reefs all the way. There are lots of bays and anchorage's all the way up where you can stop and some ports for Fuel and supplies if necessary.