All liveaboard boats in the Maldives seem to be accompanied by a Dhoni from which the actual diving takes place - the boat itself acting as a floating hotel with functions limited to feeding, sleeping and transportation from one site to the next. This is in contrast to the Red Sea for example, where liveaboards have a dive deck at the back of the boat. My view is that there are a few advantages and many disadvantages to the Dhoni system but this is how they do it so you just have to live with it.
Dhoni is a Maldivian word meaning a general purpose boat. They are typically about 15 metres long, low powered and possibly a little top heavy – hence they roll in the sea.
Their main advantages are that they are manoeuvrable and have lots of space and so when you are kitting up you are not treading on the toes of other divers and they can steer
their way around and through the numerous atolls which no doubt would cause problems for the larger liveaboards.
The routine on our boat was that once the briefing was over, everyone got onto the Dhoni and started assembling their gear and the Dhoni set sail for the dive site.
Entry is always Giant Stride off either side
and pick-up involves swimming to the Dhoni, taking your fins off in the water and climbing up a standard ladder.
After the dive, your equipment is re-fixed into position and usually the cylinders are taken to one side to be unloaded for refilling.
Disadvantages include the fact that this process slows down the diving routine and therefore it would be hard to fit more than three dives into the day unless you started at dawn and had shorter surface intervals (thus reducing depth or increasing Nitrox levels), refilling cannot start until the Dhoni has got back to the mother ship (since it has no compressors on board), and they are slow and underpowered. This latter disadvantage stopped us crossing the channel to South Mali one day and the Liveaboard had to turn around because the Dhoni could not keep up in the strong headwind and choppy seas we encountered. They are too big to be towed and hence have to make their own way behind the mother ship.
Dive 10 was supposed to be Ari Atoll in the west of the Maldives. To get there we had to cross the channel between the eastern and western sides which took about 4 hours but……
we set sail in calm weather followed by the Dhoni with the intention of looking for and snorkelling with Whale Sharks when we arrived and then diving. However the weather rapidly changed to really heavy monsoon rain, visibility went and the seas got up so much that the Dhoni started lagging behind, got out of sight and then lost radio contact with us.
The dingy being towed behind the Orion started to
sink so two hapless crew members were put into it to bail like fury for two hours until we reached Ari Atoll. It then transpired that the Dhoni with all of our dive gear on it had been forced to turn around for safety reasons (it was in danger of sinking like the dingy above) and we had no option but to have lunch and go back east roughly to where we started the day without any diving.
The further revised revised plan now is to get somewhere east late this afternoon, perhaps two dives today, four tomorrow (Saturday) and three morning dives on Sunday (to give us 24 hours surface time before the flight on Monday). We have all been offered a $200 discount on a future trip (but no free beer which would have been nicer)which we are advised to take in late October or March to “guarantee” seeing Whale Sharks. They said this was only the second time they have had to abandon going to the western atolls. Naturally we are all disappointed but there is no point in letting this ruin the trip and more dives per day are planned. One of our number “knows people who may know where Mantas are right now” so when we get back within phone range, he is going to find out where they are and we may head in that direction. Everyone on board fits into the category of a “hard core diver” so provided we get some good dives we shall feel somewhat better although of course we are disappointed. Ironically, the weather was very good on the way back!
Obviously the Dhoni is again the source of our problems but apparently all dive boats out here bar two use Dhonis and the two which do not (and operate up north out of the whale shark areas) are said to be never full because Maldivian clientele prefer Dhonis (not me though!)
The plan was to descend fast to around 25metres, hook and look for sharks and large fish.
The reef is off the standard Maldivian Island
The current was strong (3 knots minimum) as can be estimated from the angle of the air bubbles rising to the surface in this picture (mathematicians can calculate the vector if they want to prove this),
There were numerous sharks, mainly White Tip
patrolling up and down, giving us the eye.
I have become a big fan of Sea Cucumbers so here is a different variety to that which I usually see
A hard dive in a strong current but good sharks.