24 March 2008
The origin of the Maldivian society was explored by Thor Hyadahal in his book Maldives Mystery. Most of the original artifacts and archeological sites were destroyed as a chain of more than 1000 coral islands accepted the tentants of Islam. I don't think Thor came to a final conclusion but since the age of ocean travel these islands have been the cross roads of the Indian Ocean and a receptacle of every culture that passed through. Today a budding tourist destination for the "rich and famous" supplements the fishing industries. Tourism is limited to a few destination resorts while most of the islands live in isolation due to location and by choice. If you want to cruise in the Maldives it will cost you over $700 USD for a permit and you will be limited to destinations chosen for you.
We anchored off the island of Ulugama just south of the eight degree channel, a pit stop for cruising boats heading for the Red Sea or the east coast of Africa. We cleared in the next morning with the help of a most efficient crew of officials for a flat fee of $4.00 USD. This island is representative of all the Maldives in that it is more than six feet above sea level. The 600 or so inhabitants are entertained by the one government TV channel thanks to the power generated by very modern wind and solar generating station donated by the US after the tsunami. Of course diesel generators back up the the system on rainy and windless days. English is taught on the island and is spoken by the young. We were the sixty-eighth boat to check in this season and the officials believed we would be among the last.
It is imperative that you have a boat stamp if you plan to travel in these waters. We had one made at Office Max for a few dollars and carried it around with us for years utilizing it to stamp books that we traded with other cruisers. But a stamp, is expected for clearance in Sri Lanka and here and in fact the customs boat returned since one of the many copies of a form did not have our boat stamp. Granted what else do they have to do when there are only 68 boats a season. Our stamp is plain with the boat name, document number, port of registration and a blank for initials and date. But hey be as original and ornate as you like.
We are running a bit late which will limit our time at the remaining stops as we make our way to the Red Sea. These choke points give you an idea of how many boats are headed for the Mediterranean and of those a portion will be attempting a circumnavigation. Cruisers estimate that fewer than fifty boats complete the loop in a given year, fewer than climb Mount Everest.
After three days we departed the Maldives for Oman, 1200 miles northwest.
It's four hours on and four off in variable winds. We are off to a slow start since we want to conserve our fuel but we have a new (new to us) supply of books and three seasons of Nip/Tuck to play on our laptop computer. At 0500 UTC we lurk (that is to say we listen in without checking in) to the "Turkey Net" a radio schedule for boats going up the Red Sea. At 1300 UTC we check in with our friends aboard Sandpiper. Our boat has been performing very well and we are sailing on a close haul better than we ever have or better now since we acquired new sails in Australia. At this latitude you can see both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star. There is no moon during the first part of the passage and the stars are brillant. The sea also lights up at night since there is a great deal of biolumious marine life in the water. It is so abundant that the crest of even these small waves teem with the green iridescent glow. Fish have been plentiful and the freezer is full, large schools of dolphin join the boat every few days. As we approach Oman the freighter traffic decreases but now there are fishing nets that extend for miles and miles. If you see a small fishing boat racing at you it is probably that he has a net out and wants to warn you. As we close in on Oman the winds disappear and the seas are dead calm. In fact you can see the reflection of the stars on the surface of the water. It gives you a feeling of floating in space. An Awax plane buzzes us one night. Things are happening all the time but to tell you the truth it can get a bit boring. The last 24 hours we need to motor. This should be the last passage over seven days until we are ready to cross the Atlantic.
The Port of Salalah is becoming a super port and is greatly expanding but the anchorage for transit sailing boats was small and crowded. There is a rally from the Med to the Red Sea to India and they have been delayed waiting for visas for India. They provide us with a great deal of information about the Red Sea transit and the local area. Our agent is Mohammed an affable guy that will provide you with regular yacht services but primarily his business is to rent you a vehicle for $33 USD per day and you're off on your own. Our first trip in included a stop at the Oasis an ex pat hangout within walking distance where they offer food and drink (beers).
On our second day we shared a car with Tom and Amy and explored the city and the local surroundings. After having lunch in town and having to sit in the walled off "family area" (because of the women), we headed out of town and into the desert to a few land marks but became so enchanted by the camels that the sink holes and caves and other sites paled. Camels everywhere, walking next to the road, down the middle of the road, alone, in large groups, small, large. There were also a great number of small burrows in this desolate arid brush. Camel are primarily raised for racing. The female camel are allowed to roam free during the day but the males are usually penned up to control breeding and fighting with other males. The Middle East has only dromedary (one humped) camels and two humped camels primarily live in the colder climates of China, Russia and Asia.
This will be our last day in Oman but we have really enjoyed our stop here.
More pictures of Oman? Just click on the slide show below. Or for even more pictures go to our Picture Gallery tab.
Beach off of the Crown Plaza Hotel, Salalah Oman
If you're headed our way:
- UTC is Coordinated Universal Time which is the Atomic Clock version of GMT
- Fuel is expensive in the Maldives $4.94 per gallon but only $1.75 in Oman.
- Mohammed is usually at the dock each morning around 9:00, dressed in the white traditional dress, ready to assist in any way he can.
- While at LuLu's buy the dates from Oman. Even if like me, you never liked dates these are very exceptional.
- The Red Sea Pilot written by Elaine Morgan & Stephen Davies provides valuable information on most all stops up the Red Sea. Even the latest edition is a bit dated as prices and rules and regulations change constantly. But well worth the investment. At the "flag Store" in Langkawi you can buy a copy of the Pilot at a very reasonable price.