In his own words, Jack’s Instructor Carlos Barrios describes amazing experiences and creature encounters after returning from Jack’s latest exotic dive trip to the Maldives.
Post By: Carlos Barrios
On January 12, 2018, Instructors Carlos Barrios and Susan Williams departed Kona, Hawaii for a trip of a lifetime. They took a group of divers from Kona, Hawaii; Boston, Massachusetts; and Las Vegas, Nevada. From Kona, many flew to Seattle for a one day layover, where they enjoyed some seafood and a walking tour of Pike’s Market. This allowed them to rest before their long, 15 hour flight to Dubai, United Arabs of Emirates.
On January 14, 2018, after flying within a few miles of the North Pole, the Kona Group met up with guests from Boston and checked into a hotel in Dubai. The next day the group enjoyed a Desert Safari Tour, where they had an incredible sand dune ride in a four-wheel drive; a Falconry display; an Arab BBQ with Camel rides, Belly Dancing and Sand-boarding.
On January 16th the group took a guided tour of Dubai; visiting the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, with a ride to the 125th floor. We also visited the Dubai Museum, the Spice Souq, the Gold Souq, and the largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall with an aquarium inside the mall that you can dive and even get certified.
The next morning the group flew out to Malé, Maldives and joined up with a couple from Nevada and then greeted by our crew from the Manthiri. The crew arrived at the airport dock with their 54’ tender Vasantha, called a dhoni. The Vasantha took us to the “mother-ship” the Manthiri (Queen), an 85’ vessel, where Moosa Hussein assisted us in boarding an incredible live-aboard that had luxurious cabins and gave us our boat briefing. We picked up anchor had lunch and went for a short ride to the next atoll, South Malé Atoll where we did our “check-out dive.” This dive site was called Kuda Giri, giri is a small sea mount. There was a Japanese Fishing Trawler on the bottom at 93’ with tons of eels and anemone fish (clown fish) and the water temperature was a warm 84 degrees.
Day Two: aboard the Manthiri started with a “continental” breakfast with fancy coffee or espresso, followed by an early 0630 hour dive briefing and dive at Fushi Diga. This dive site at 92’ included so many Fire Darts, which I normally get so excited about and did initially until I realized that Fire Dart Fish are everywhere in the Maldives. Large schools of 5-8 Fire darts in one area, I renamed this site “Fire Dart Heaven”. We also “hooked in” our reef hooks near a large drop-off to observe many white-tip reef sharks swimming close to our ledge. The Maldives have many of these extreme drop-offs that start at 70-90 feet and drop off to 300-500 feet, on the atoll’s outer reefs. After diving we went back to the Manthiri for our “Man Breakfast” which included eggs, “freedom toast” or pancakes, fruit and other extras. The pattern was being set: sleep, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, sleep, and repeat.
Dive two of the day, after our “Man Breakfast” was at Middle Point a 116’ dive that allowed us to dive with 22 Eagle Rays in the blue, along with many Grey Tip Sharks. Also, saw my first Purple Dart-fish, which are a lot bigger than the Fire Dart-fish. After each dive aboard Vasantha, it would drop us off to Manthiri, then move away from the mother-ship to run their compressors, filling our tanks, that way we never heard the compressor running. After filling the tanks Vasantha would re-join the Manthiri. After each dive, the Manthiri would move to another location, so we rarely dove the same area twice.
Back in time for a hearty lunch, this usually included a fish and meat entrée. The fish was usually caught fresh by the crew members while we were moving locations. This food aboard the Manthiri was the best food I have ever had on a live-aboard, and I have been on many live-aboard boats around the world. The food included many choices, you could eat as much as you wanted, it was fresh, and typically local dishes cooked by two chefs; one had twenty-three years and the other 12 years aboard the Manthiri. The Maldivians, being an island nation, know how to cook fish. Most of their diet includes tuna, usually dogtooth tuna, which I had never eaten until this trip. They would cook tuna so many ways, giving me great ideas for future meals at home. We had tuna cooked: as steaks, breaded as fish fingers, fish and chips, fish “scallopini” style, “weiner schnitzel” style, Chinese “sweet and sour” style, “kabob” style, and on and on. Oh so Ono!
Dive three of the day was at another drop-off at 103’ requiring a reef-hook called Guraidhoo Corner. The current was super strong which brought in lots of Grey Reef Sharks and Eagle Rays. This dive reminded me of Palau a lot, which I loved as well. Today, since our dives were deep with strong currents we only did three dives and all of us after dinner went right to sleep, so we could repeat the day.
Day Three: started with a dive at Velawaru Giri, a 68’ dive with lots of Black Coral and because there was no current, many “cleaning stations” everywhere. I love cleaning stations; I could easily spend my entire dive at one cleaning station watching the “car wash like” lineup of different fish awaiting their chance to get cleaned. The Maldivian Cleaning Wrasse looks similar to the Hawaiian Cleaning Wrasse, only larger. This was my first chance to see a local sea cucumber, the Graeffe’s Sea Cucumber, an active, fast moving cucumber.
The second dive of the day brought us to the next atoll south, Felidha Atoll, 3 degrees from the equator. Dive site was Matha Channel at 98’ with another drop-off requiring our reef hooks. So many Grey Reef Sharks, I quit counting.
Third dive of the day broug
ht us to Loabifaru, a sea mount at 63’ with more Fire Dart-fish and Octopus galore, so many in fact that I renamed site “Octopus Galore.” Moosa had briefed this site as having “the friendliest Octopus in the World.” He was not kidding, these guys had no fear of Man, and they would stand atop rocks and pose for you, even allowing Moosa to “pet” them, Crazy!
Dive four was a night dive at Shark Dune, a sand channel from the outer reef that allowed Nurse Sharks and large Rays to come in with the tidal flow. The Nurse Sharks would roll in the sand, to knock off parasites. This dive was at 72’ with little visibility once the sharks began rolling.
Day Four: started with a dive near last night’s dive (the other side of channel) called Shark Channel. The dive was at 97’ and included large Southern and Blotched Round Rays. Again we deployed our reef hooks and viewed more Grey Reef Sharks along with Dogtooth Tunas.
Dive two for the day we had moved to the atoll just west of us, the South Ari Atoll, a short 3 hour move. We dove Mamigili Reef at 59’ and saw a Moblus Ray, Eagle Rays, Green Turtles, Ghost Pipefish, and to finish off our dive out in the blue, a small Whale Shark…Boom!
Dive three would be hard to follow dive two, but we did Rangali Madivom and encountered our first Maldivian Mantas, Moblus Rays, Blotched Round Rays, White-tip Sharks, and Devil Scorpions. I immediately knew I would have no problems sleeping, reliving all the beautiful animals I had seen today.
Day Five: started with a repeat of yesterday’s dive, this was a completely different dive than yesterdays. We had 20+ Mantas at 56’ around multiple cleaning stations. Unlike the Big Island or Maui, they are unable to keep any Identification Logs for their mantas, because they have thousands of Mantas in their area.
Dive two for the day was a Kala Handi at 65’ with lots of White Tip Sharks, along with Flatworms dancing in the water column and more Dogtooth Tunas.
Dive three was at Dhega Thila at 85
’ with tons of Batfish lined up in the blue. We also saw a Longnose Hawkfish in Black Coral, funny how people get excited about certain animals that are rarely seen in one area and in other spots they are so common. Moosa got so excited when he saw the Longnose Hawkfish, I invited him to dive Hawaii.
Dive four was at Moofushi, or Manta Rock at 56’. Large schools of Big Eyes and Blue Stripped Goatfish, another friendly Octopus, a baby Eagle Ray that followed the divers like a puppy dog. This site had Flatworms and Nudis galore. Saw my first “Glorious Flatworm,” what a name; I’d like to be named “Glorious.”
Day Six: again we started this morning off with a repeat from last night’s dive, I love doing this to see how the animals are so different with the different amount of daylight. The friendly Octopus and baby Eagle Ray did come over to say hello to us, along with a Manta.
We moved again, north this time to the next atoll, North Ari Atoll. This site was called Himen Gaa and had more Mantas, friendly Octopus and Nudibrachs everywhere.
Our third dive for the day was a place called Blue Caves, incredible ledges off of a spectacular wall with tons for soft coral colored bright, intense blue. At 103’ this was the soft coral site for the Maldives, along with lots of Hawksbill Turtles.
Dive four for the day was at a well known dive site called Fish Head, because the Maldivian Fisherman would often be reeling in their catch, only to bring aboard a fish head. The rest of the fish had become dinner for a shark! We saw so many Grey Reef Sharks, Giant Trevallies, Tunas, Turtles and large Rays.
Day Seven: Yes, we did Fish Head again, not as many sharks, but the Trevallies and turtles were there along with a cute juvenile yellow Boxfish.
Dive two was at Batala Thila, which looks like a Nudibrach, with lots of sharks and Bat Fish hanging off of the dropoff.
Dive three was a Mathiv
eri, a barrier reef, or Faru, dive. We saw many Guineafowl Pufferfish and Honeycomb Morays, both with beautiful bodies.
Day Eight: started with a dive at Gangehi Beyru, this site is known for a Leopard Ray which is very rare and large. Moosa briefed that if we were lucky to see the ray, we wouldn’t want to dive for twenty years because we would believe that we had seen everything there is to see in the ocean. Guess it was a good thing we didn’t see a Leopard Ray. We did see Sharks, Nudis, Octopus and many colorful Green Mantis Shrimp.
Dive two for the day was at Rasdhoo Peninsula on Rasdhoo Atoll, just north. This site had a large drop-off of over 300+’ and we saw very large Grey Reef Sharks along with Trevallies and Tunas. In the lagoon at 70’ there were lots of Garden Eels in the white sand along with a baby Eagle Ray. Dive three was at Madivaru Wall which had
so many Lionfish here along the 200’ wall. The reef atop the wall was at 10’ with lots of Octopus out hunting.
Day Nine: dive site was near Madivaru Wall, at Madivaru or Hammerhead Point. Off the wall, in the blue, one Hammerhead was seen. We also saw Grey Tip Sharks, White Tip Sharks and Dogtooth Tunas. In mid-water the Vlaming’s Unicornfish with the long streamers came out to swim with us.
Dive two and last dive of the trip brought us over to our last atoll, North Malé Atoll. The dive site was named Hithi Manta Point, with Mantas galore, reminding me of Kona’s Manta Dive. The reef was only 10-14’ making it ideal as the last dive for people that would have an early flight tomorrow. This was a Manta cleaning station and I lost count on the number of Mantas I saw. This was a spectacular way to end a wonderful trip. There were three divers that made all twenty-eight dives and all I can say is “Wow!”
The crew and especially Moosa were wonderful, I can’t thank them enough. Moosa does this day in and day out and will celebrate his 10,000th dive in a couple of months. He’s been doing this for over twenty years and they were the first to start live-aboards in the Maldives. Today there are many choices, but this has to still be the best.
We travelled back to Malé harbor to spend a quite night and one last great dinner together. In the morning we had our last “Man Breakfast” and dropped off a couple of guest at the airport. The rest of us checked into the hotel near the airport for a day-use pass. We were able to kick back poolside, take a boat ride across to downtown Malé for some sightseeing, then return to the hotel for a nice shower and meal before our trek back home. We arrived back to Kona on January 27th, after a fifty-five hour trek from Malé. Luckily the trek back was uneventful with no hick-ups. This was truly a trip of a lifetime that I would gladly repeat anytime. Of all the places I’ve dove, this is on top of the list and will be hard to beat.