Saturday, 7 July 2012

Captain's blog July/ August 2012

So my vacation was once again coming to an end. Unfortunately this year the summer in Finland had yet to materialize so I had not enjoyed much of any warm weather although I had met a lot of old friends and a few new ones. Anyway, it was time to pack the 'ol trunk and get my arse to Helsinki to fly via Mumbai to Colombo.

Monitor lizard at Galle seafront

I boarded on time and flew first to Heathrow, London where my layover was 2h45m and I nearly missed my connection to Mumbai. There were a lot of people lining up for connection flight boarding passes and when I got the booth the lady said the gate is closed. I asked what do you mean closed, there is still an hour left and the lane has not left yet. She said I came late and the gate is closed. I replied that I just arrived from Helsinki, what do you want me to say? Isn't there anything you can do? Then she made a call somewhere and fiddled around on her computer and came out with the boarding passes and told me to hurry. Well, said and done I hurried, after 20meters I reached another checkpoint where the gent ripped my boarding passes and told me I am upgraded to coach deluxe. Bloody great, just give me my boarding passes, I need to hurry. I went off again at full pace and reached the security "express line" which to me seemed as fast as the regular line. Through I went finally and I hurried down to the inter-terminal railway station as I needed to change from terminal 3 to terminal 5. Luckily the train was there almost as on request and as I stepped in the train the doors closed and off we went. I came to terminal 5 and continued my trek towards my gate and arrived to a queue that was 30m long. Luckily for me the plane was a bit delayed and I got in good order albeit drenched in sweat. The flight leaves eventually and I am in deep slumber after a late last evening at my childhood friend, Taru's, pad.

The flight is 8+ hours long so I wake up at the stage they start serving drinks and food. I stare myself silly on inane movies from the on demand system in lack of anything else to do as well as turn a few pages on the book I brought with me. I fall asleep again at some stage and wake up to the waiters serving a very early morning snack or very late supper. Soon enough we land and I venture to the Visa on arrival queue. The thing is incredibly poorly arranged and the Officers can barely talk English. I am directed to a sofa group at the side of the immigration desks where a group of elderly Filipino ladies sit and laugh as well as a young Japanese lady. She looks extremely bored with the Immigration officer. I am given a form to fill up that is the same as you would fill any visa application form with the usual Indian paranoia if I have relatives in Pakistan and so forth. I fill up the form but have no picture to give, They also ask me of my hotel booking as well as my onward journey ticket. As I did not have any of what they asked it took them hours to find a printout of my onward journey, the photo was skipped and multiple phone calls to get them to understand I am staying at a friends place. Finally after some 3-4 hrs I was led through to pay for the visa (2000 INR) and I got the stamp, collected my luggage and was on my way towards Avnish pad. The Japanese girl was also at the visa payment desk at the same time as me. I saw her having only Indonesian rupees which naturally were not accepted, they are worthless anywhere outside Indonesia itself, so I offered to pay for her as well otherwise she'd never make it through the immigration. She asked if I was sure and I said yes, and off she went. I hope she got through alright. In hindsight I think she may have faked it all, who knows.

At Avnish pad I had a few snacks and we changed a few words of latest news and hit the sack after a kold Kingfisher started to weigh my eyelids. Next morning was busy in meeting with the Office people and the program of Kalizma and other small vessels accompanying her. Then it was lunch time that had to be in Gokul's with Avnish. After that a bit more meeting and saying goodbye to Cmde Mongia & Avnish and then it was again off to the airport for my flight to Colombo. Arrived early morning and was picked up by our local driver who soon was whisking me off towards Galle in his minivan. There is now a brand spanking new Chinese built motorway all the way to Hambantota port so the road was pretty smooth once we got onto it. The stretch through Colombo though was as chaotic as before but being the wee hours traffic was not too bad.

Once in Galle we had to get the agent to arrange me the requisite permissions to enter the port and get onboard. Eventhough Sri Lanka has entered a peaceful stage in their history the paranoia of security still lingers on from the Tamil Tiger scourge, but I could see the military presence was relaxing. Ports are a different story due to the security codes implemented by IMO internationally, so there is a fair deal of red tape in Asian countries to gain access to commercial ports complying to the ISPS code. I can't even think how a marina could operate in these conditions, there is still a long way to go. After some turns and twists I got the agent and he did his stuff and soon enough I was onboard saying hello to everyone and then hit the sack for a couple of hours as I was knackered of the overnight flight and land travel.
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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Captain's Blog Feb/ Mar 2012

My vacation had been spent and I was instructed to go to Maldives and relieve Saini for vacation before returning back to Indian Empress. Kalizma was sitting at anchorage in Hulhumale' together with m/y Linse and there was a skeleton crew maintaining both boats.

I came onboard on the 15th Feb and met with Saini and we expedited the handover. Nothing much to say as we both know the boat very well, merely I was updated on ongoing works, the accounts and local customs. We discussed the future plans of the drydocking in Sri Lanka for April. Then I cooked a Thai spicy curry for Saini before he left and then I was left in charge.

My first thought was what to do in Maldives to keep oneself from sinking into apathy and fatigue. You can't walk around as everywhere is water, the surrounding Islands are discovered in a day by foot. Shopping has never been my hobby and is not worth here either. The locals are very isolated and keep to themselves and I have never been very active in socializing with complete strangers. I'm more of an observer and I participate in discussions when I know what I am talking about.

There are no bars or restaurants close by, with the two exceptions of the Hulhule airport bar and Bandos Island. I have in 2007 been to the airport bar and did not recall anything that would keep me going there night after night. Bandos Island I prefer to call "Bandit" Island as they charge 20USD only for entry to the Island, then depending what you want they charge you through the nose for mediocre food and drink. No thank you. Besides, Maldives is not really a party place, most tourists here are couples and newly weds that have come here for own privacy and R&R.

So, that left me with the remaining options, fishing and diving. I was mostly working daytime and did not have the interest to go fishing in the mornings although I had done this a lot during summers when I was a kid. This left me with diving that is one of my passions, the underwater world. In addition it also gave me much wanted exercise that I was in need of as I had decided to lose some unwanted weight that had accumulated lately.

Said and done I gave my instructions to Dubey and every morning almost without fail we explored one of the dive sites explained by Tim Godfrey in his dive book or just by looking at the local chart and trying out "unlisted" sites. During the time here I have now clocked 25 dives in total. The crew is also trained/ updated for surface support as well as are knowledgeable of the current situation and locations of different dive sites around Male' as it seems next high season will be Maldives for Kalizma. It has also been an educating experience for myself as well trying to identify the different species of fish I have trapped in my camera lens as well as working out techniques of getting the best picture by using flash.

Some of you may wonder which place was the best and it is hard to say. Every site had it's good points and highlights, it all depends on what you are looking for. I am usually going down with no expectations but keep my eyes open and my camera ready for anything spectacular the nature may want to throw at me. My favorites were definitely the Kuda Haa thila, Club Med corner and Maagiri caves if I'd have to name a few places. Of course the Maldive Victory wreck is awesome too.

Divesites in red and Kalizma in blue (BA chart 3323)

For those interested I have linked all published dives down below so you don't have to go looking in the archives, each post has an individual map of the dive location:
16th February Warm up dive S of Banana reef
17th February Furana South
18th February Kudakalhi channel
19th February Banana reef
20th February Hulhumale North
21st February Wreckdiving
22nd February Club Med corner
23rd February Banana reef
24th February Bandos Island
25th February Kalizma bottom
28th February Black Coral reef
29th February Furanafushi West
1st March Maagiri caves
2nd March Maagiri caves
3rd March Wreckdiving
4th March Hulhule
5th March Hans Hass place
6th March Club Med corner
7th March Lions Head
8th March Kuda Haa thila
9th March Nassimo thila
10th March Reef West of Aarah Island
11th March Furana South
12th March Driftdive down Club Med corner
12th March Nightdive S of Banana reef
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Monday, 12 March 2012

Diving South of Banana reef

This was my last dive for this tour in Maldives as I'm flying to Abu Dhabi to take over as Master on Indian Empress so I need some surface time to be able to fly. To make it special I decided to do a night dive. Had all gear in the boat by sunset and off we went to check out Banana reef. The rising tide was still several knots too strong to do the dive at this location so we decided to go back a step down south and do it the next reef. At least there it looked to be no current.

BA chart 3323

So, then it was attempt number two and in we went with the last rays of the sun. The current was non-existent and we were having torches and a dive marker for the boat to follow. Off we went from the NW corner and headed West. Saw snakes and other creatures that I've never seen during daylight. E.g. could see appendages extending from within and under corals onto the sand waiting for a passing morsel to trip on them... Got a really H.P. Lovecraft like "Ctulhu" feeling of things when I saw them....

Last daylight

Otherwise fish was moving much slower and could get really good shots and saw some fish that I had not seen daytime. Spotted a small stingray & sand eel. Also the lively parrotfish was sitting nicely for a picture. I had forgotten how fun night dives are. As the sun had gone down there was a clear moment when there was nothing in the water but then it starting to get fuzzy as all the micro-organisms wriggled out from their hidey holes and the corals started letting out there stuff. After an hour my divebuddy Dubey was in the red zone but I still had 90bar left but up we went as the torches started fading too. Good dive.

Whitespotted grouper

Bluebarred parrotfish

Yellowmargin lyretail grouper

Dash-dot goatfish

Lieutenant surgeonfish

Starry rabbitfish

Starry rabbitfish

Oriental sweetlips

It appears to be a grouper (?)

Eyestripe surgeonfish

Snake eel (?)



Vermilion rock cod

Two-lined monocle bream

Electric ray

Dusky parrotfish



White-spotted sharpnose puffer

Cardinalfish (?)

Feather star on coral

Klein's butterflyfish with odd white spot

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Diving Club Med corner

This morning we saw there was a strong ingoing tide on Kudakalhi Channel so we decided to do a drift dive from the corner into the atoll as we had not yet dived this particular segment of the Club Med corner. We went an ample distance along the Ocean side of the reef to gear up and once ready we simultaneously jumped in at 10m depth. 

BA chart 3323

The current was not very strong there and we took our bearings and checked everything was ok and started slowly drifting along the reef towards the Kudakalhi Channel. Here we could feel the wave surge as we had watched huge breakers were crashing against the reef on top.

Oval butterflyfish

Yellowhead butterflyfish

As we kept on drifting the current was getting stronger. I was expecting to see some fish action like Reef sharks or Jackfish preying on fish near the entrance but so far did not see anything but a lone Napoleon Maori wrasse and a Turtle. Both going against the current like it was nothing to it. 

Oval butterflyfish and Peacock rock cod

Forster's hawkfish

Coral rabbitfish and Powder-blue surgeonfish

Chevron butterflyfish

Orangespine unicornfish

Watch the knives om the tail of the unicornfish

At the same time the visibility was going down as there was more debris in the water. It was not like flying blind but from the usual 20-25m it was 10-15m. We stopped from time to time to watch the surroundings but it was the same every time, seagrass was slaked against the bottom and the current was trying to rip our grip off the rocks we were holding onto.  

Collared butterflyfish

Imperial angelfish

Bird wrasse (?)

There was a noise in our ears from all the things grinding and chafing against everything due to the current. We let go again and just floated away in 15m depth, the feel is exhilarating as everyone knows who has done a proper drift dive, it is like flying. We must have been doing 2 knots at best. 

Turtle swimming against current (see the seagrass)

Fan coral

Yellow boxfish

Bullethead parrotfish

Giant moray's

At the entrance of the Kudakalhi Channel the current slacked off and turned downwards. I saw a huge overhang at 20m depth but there was nothing interesting underneath it. We swam against the weak downward current inside the channel and suddenly all went quiet. All the background noise had gone.

Big school of snapper

Blacktip grouper

Sleek unicornfish

Clark's anemonefish

Turtle in the distance and a Titan triggerfish

We had entered somekind of eddy with no current at all. The visibility was down to 10m and everything was rocky like in a moon landscape and covered in powdery sand. Several Titan triggerfish swam around chasing each other I guess because having nothing better to do. I saw a turtle emerge from the white "fog" and swimming lazily out towards the Ocean.

Clark's anemonefish



Queen coris (?)

We were almost down in the red and we knew our surface boat had lost us as we could not hear the engine noise so we hoisted the orange sausage and surfaced. The boat was a couple hundred meters away looking the wrong way but after blowing the whistles on our BCD's we got his attention and were picked up. Good diving again.
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