Travel

Eat. Sleep. Dive. Repeat. ~ Maldives 2021

By OceanFirst on 2/28/21

“For those who dive, the water’s edge is never the end of the trail; it is just the beginning. Beneath the waves awaits a realm quite unlike any other on earth, where on any given day absolute magic can be found.” - Brian Skerry, National Geographic Photographer

Trip Review Written by Ocean First's Marketing Director, Caitlin Mahoney

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Discovering Life At Sea

Eat. Sleep. Dive. Repeat. Can you imagine anything more perfect? For eight days that was our itinerary as we set sail on the Emperor Explorer for the southern atolls of the Maldives. With amazing food, luxurious accommodations, and idyllic diving...it sounds like a dream, right? 

Just over a year ago, I was hired to be the new marketing director at Ocean First. I started my open water training in February of 2020 and planned to be certified by March with a “world is my oyster” attitude of worldly travels on the horizon. It’s safe to say 2020 didn’t quite go according to plan, but I did achieve my OW cert and logged a handful of open water dives. Upon taking over this new role and diving head first into the underwater world, I discovered very quickly the enticing luxury of liveaboards. Being a new diver in a landlocked state isn’t easy when it comes to quickly gaining experience and filling up your first logbook. After my experience aboard the Emperor Explorer, I can say I achieved both.  

This particular dive itinerary was a challenging, yet exhilarating, journey with strong currents throughout the southern Maldivian channels catered towards seeing a plethora of shark action. Our group was certainly a mix of new & experienced divers and when advised by the divemasters, some of us skipped certain dives with advanced conditions. With the chance to dive up to four times a day, this was not an issue as everyone had enough opportunities to “get their fix” throughout our 10-day voyage. When looking to book your own Maldivian adventure be aware that there are a variety of dive itineraries based around the north, central, and southern atolls with completely different diving styles and marine life.

So what is liveaboard life like? Here’s my snapshot through the lens of a liveaboard virgin, a new diver, and a constant daydreamer of #yachtlife…

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Fins Up!

Our itinerary, Deep South & Southern Sharks, spanned over 350 miles from Male to Huvadhoo, visiting 33 dive sites. The longest stretch of open sea we crossed was over 80 miles from Laamu to Villingili Atoll. The scenery would transform from 360-degree views of a deep navy horizon to clear turquoise waters and thatched roof resorts on stilts that jetted out from the nearby islands. The Maldives is just one percent land and covers an area of approximately 90,000 square kilometers. The land is comprised of 1,192 islands (with only 200 that are inhabited) that are grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls. The Maldivian atolls were formed from prehistoric volcanoes that went extinct. When corals began to grow around each atoll, a fringed reef was formed. These reefs slowly grew into barrier reefs enclosing a shallow lagoon inside. Home to about five percent of the world’s reefs, the Maldives are filled with healthy coral gardens that pop with color by the hard & soft coral formations. 

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Daily Schedule: 

6:00 am - Each day started before sunrise with the sweet sounds of door knocks and “Gooooood Morning” salutations sung by the boat’s trip leaders, Gabriel & Maria. Pre-breakfast (aka first breakfast) of toast, cereal & coffee awaited us in the salon as we gathered for our first dive briefing of the day.

6:30 am - The “Briiieeefing” bell would ring and all divers congregated in the salon to review the dive site, anticipated animal life, and our dive plan, which depended greatly on the currents. Each briefing concluded with Gabriel’s signature “let’s go diving” and we were off to board the dhoni.

~ 7:00 am - Dive #1 splash time and the underwater world awaited with healthy coral reefs, amazing displays of schools of snapper, tuna, and barracuda, a variety of triggerfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, huge Napoleon wrasse, dancing spotted eagle rays, playful nurse sharks, a 12 ft. manta back flipping through a cleaning station, short hook ins for shark TV, and coasting through the channels that were full of turtles and rays… just to name a few highlights.

8:30 am - Second breakfast awaited upon our return

10:00 am - Briefing & dive #2

12:00 pm - Lunch

2:00 pm - Briefing & dive #3

3:30 pm - Post- dive afternoon snacks & refreshments

5:00 pm - Sunset/ twilight dive #4 for the ambitious divers searching out the invertebrates who come out to play. These dives are where I discovered a love for crinoids (aka feather stars) and seeking octopus encounters. 

7:30 pm - Dinner

Repeat for seven more days… :)

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Most evenings concluded early as we were delightfully wiped out from our jam-packed day of time in the salt & sun. We had a few special late night dance parties on the lower deck as we celebrated the nuptials of Josh & Melissa, enjoyed star gazing accompanied with lightning on the distant horizon, and the very special night where we danced in the rain and manifested the arrival of the biggest fish in the sea, the beloved whale shark. We were grateful to receive numerous visits throughout the night and a few snorkelers jumped in for a closer look the next morning. An update from Gabriel & Maria came on Friday, Feb. 26th: The photos of our whale shark’s absent left pectoral fin were sent to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and proved to be a new shark for their database! This means we were allowed naming rights and so this gentle giant has been recorded in their tracking system as “Bodu Nemo”. The word ‘bodu’ means ‘big’ in dhivehi, the native language of the Maldives.

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It’s All In The Details

One thing I knew to anticipate before I stepped foot on my first liveaboard was the notion of how hard the staff would be working to provide us with this trip of a lifetime. The Emperor staff worked around the clock to provide us with the best service so that we could eat, sleep & dive with ease. From helping us get on & off the dhoni, to picking up our fins so that we could exit the water with ease, cleaning our gear, filling our tanks, handling our luggage, waiting on us, cooking for us, transporting us, and keeping us safe underwater, the Emperor Explorer team made this trip a dream come true. They even pulled off a sunset wedding nuptial complete with an altar of heart shaped palms and dinner on the beach of a deserted island underneath the stars. As someone who was raised by parents who worked in the service industry, I know all about working long hours that often go unnoticed. On behalf of Ocean First and Team Ja Ja, I would like to say thank you again to all the staff who made this such an unforgettable experience.  

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Navigating Uncharted Seas ~ Travel Smart & Safe

For the USA residents and Ocean First divers, our COVID procedure for this trip was as follows…

• PCR tests were taken two days before our flight departure to abide by the restriction of negative test results 96 hours prior to the initial airport embarkation.

• The day before we left the boat we all did self-tests (nasal & throat swabs) that were then hand flown to Male by Gabriel & Maria with results returned to us in six hours. We were given printed copies of our negative results the next morning before leaving the boat for our flight out of Kooddoo to Male.

• We uploaded our results twice to the Health Declaration website 24 hrs. before our arrival & departure from the Maldives.

• Upon arrival to the boat we did temperature checks, wore masks, and followed all social distancing protocol. After reasonable health monitoring, we agreed as a group that we were now a family/pod and enjoyed mask free living for the remainder of our journey.

• The boat was extremely clean and equipped with sanitizing products. There was a spare room to allow for isolation should someone have become infected. With the testing procedures, proper mask wearing, and the only time we left the boat being for our private island BBQ, the chance for exposure was slim.

Navigating these restrictions is no easy task but the headache was lifted off the shoulders of our Ocean First travelers thanks to our amazing travel director Amy Christopher. Of course, there were some hiccups along our path with delayed testing results and ice storms closing down airports for our return home. No matter the issue or time of day, Amy was on call and handled each challenge with her skillful expertise. Whether you decide to join us on a group trip or have her design something custom, it’s a huge relief and comfort knowing your travels are handled with professional precision.

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Conclusion

C3D7A4B2-2D57-4C02-ADA8-6DAB28427220.jpgThis trip was the culmination of so many great things. For some of us, this trip was numerous years in the making. For others, this was a spontaneous last-minute decision to escape the cold winter in Paris. For many, it was a bucket list item to swim with larger than life pelagics. But for all, this broke an 18-month travel freeze. Our boat family was comprised of solo travelers, familys, friends, and some who only knew each other virtually. As divers we represented the USA, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria and were joined by the crew representing Argentina, France, Bangladesh, India, and Maldivian natives. No matter the reason for what brought us to the Emperor Explorer, we shared a love for blowing bubbles, an ocean in every shade of blue, and for the magical discoveries that lie beneath the surface. When asked if I’d recommend liveaboard travel, my answer is JA JA… German translation... YES YES!

would like to dedicate this blog to my loving parents who gifted me this life changing experience. Thank you for inspiring me every day to chase my dreams and for showing me that you’re never old to try new things. To my Dad… thank you for passing down to me a love for writing and storytelling.

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