AFTER A MORNING DIVE we began our transit towards Baa Atoll. I had discussed the weather with numerous people before departing and had been assured that the south-west monsoon would result in only slightly more rain and occasional heavy seas. But with this transit crossing the main deepwater channel that roughly bisects the Maldives, we were met by a charcoal-black sky and 35 knots of wind on the beam.
The Explorer coped with it admirably for the five-hour crossing. Although I have a decent set of sea legs, there’s not much else to do, and I’m not sure how all the Explorer’s glassware survived.
Our first dive-site within Baa was Dhonfan Thila, a small reef that allowed us to start at its base at around 30m and slowly circle the pinnacle as we ascended.
Unicornfish on top of Dhonfan Thila.
There were fleeting glimpses of large pelagics out in the blue, with grey reef sharks and dogtooth tuna flirting on the edge of visibility.
The reef very much comes alive when you reach its flat top at approximately 15m, with an extraordinary amount of fish life. Huge shoals of herring and blue-striped snapper intermingle with the flamboyant colours of the occasional oriental sweetlips and bignose unicornfish.
As we moved though Ari Atoll our thila-bagging continued, and Broken Rock hit many of the usual notes. A steep-sided seamount with cracks and canyons adorning its peak, most were wide enough for two divers abreast, and the walls were covered with the best hard corals I had seen in the Maldives.
The mount was just shallow enough, and the sky just clear enough, to allow the beautiful pastel shades of the gorgonians to come out.
Two hawksbill turtles swam around lethargically on top of the reef above our heads as we enjoyed the swimthroughs.
Kandooma Thila gave us one of those small chance encounters that instantly make a dive memorable. As we descended through the water column we were whipped by a strong current, and when the group had all eventually made the thila we began to organise ourselves before continuing with the dive.
As usual I was the last to notice two juvenile eagle rays hovering, apparently motionless, in the strong current above our heads. They were both perhaps only a foot across tip-to-tip, and seemed totally unconcerned by the group of unwieldy divers below them.
So uninterested were they in us that we were allowed more than 10 minutes with them, as they remained nearly frozen.
Their spotted tops are their most recognisable feature but it was fascinating to get a close inspection of their bizarre shovel mouths and impossibly long tails.