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Jim & Cary Yanny’s Guide to Diving in the Maldives: Part 5

Jim and Cary Yanny

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Part 5: Emperor Voyager

Jim and Cary report on their trip to visit various resorts and liveaboards in the Maldives. In Part 5, they enjoy a week’s safari aboard Emperor Voyager to end their two week tour of the Islands…But we have a sneaky suspicion that they’ll be back next week with a special bonus instalment on another liveaboard. Watch this space!

After a wonderful week of island-hopping, on Saturday morning we sadly said goodbye to Vilamendhoo Island Resort and joined the seaplane for a short flight to Male knowing that further delights were in store; our four friends were arriving that morning on the direct British Airways flight from Gatwick and we would all be going on a week-long safari together.

Once we got to Male Airport we met the Emperor Maldives Rep, Alim, outside the arrivals hall. Our friends’ flight landed on time and Alim showed us to a nearby café where we waited and ate breakfast while he collected the rest of his guests. Once everyone was there, we proceeded on foot to the waiting Dhoni, just 50 metres from the airport, got aboard and cast off to transfer to our waiting liveaboard. Within a few minutes we’d arrived at Emperor Voyager where we were greeted with warm smiles, cold towels and welcome drinks as luggage was sorted out, dive gear sent to the dive Dhoni and personal bags sent to cabins.

It’s always an interesting moment seeing your liveaboard for real for the first time and not just from pictures; it’s a mix of excitement and trepidation. Having just spent a week in upscale island resorts, we realised that we’d have to temper our expectations about what to expect from a boat but at the same time we hoped Emperor Voyager would not disappoint us as far as liveaboard standards go. (We’ve been on some great liveaboards, including Emperor Red Sea, Aggressor and fancy Indonesian vessels, so our bar is set high!)

At first sight, the salon of Emperor Voyager did not blow us away. It looked roomy and the pub-style bar in the corner was a nice touch but the décor certainly isn’t glitzy. Not that glitzy is what we look for, of course, but let’s just say that cosmetically the first impression of her was nothing special. It also isn’t air-conditioned and, as were sat still at anchor in Male Harbour, it felt a bit sticky. However, we were assured that once we set sail the breeze would clear the air out and things would get much more pleasant (which turned out to be the case).

It was time for our welcome briefing so we were ushered to sit down and relax on one of the sofas. Instantly I heard the same comment from many guests, “Ooh, these are comfy”. The briefing was given by our Emperor hosts for the week, Eva and Patrick, an instructor couple from the Czech Republic and Belgium. It was a comprehensive boat briefing on a par with any of the previous ones we’ve had on other liveaboards, focusing on safety and explaining our daily programme in detail. As they talked, maps and safety points were displayed on a large plasma screen on the salon wall, which really helped to add to the clarity.

After the welcome briefing, we were shown to our cabin. At this point our impression of Emperor Voyager altered significantly. The last liveaboard we’d been on was in the Red Sea and cabins on Egyptian boats are, well, “cosy”. However, Emperor Voyager is Maldivian-built and this makes an enormous difference to comfort. “Why?”, I hear you ask. Because they’re wider and this is really felt most in the cabins. The first sign of that difference was the full-size double bed! It was high up with a thick mattress and loads of storage space underneath. Furthermore, there was a full-size wardrobe in the cabin. The bed was simply but tastefully furnished with crisp white sheets and a duvet. We found the mattress to be extremely comfortable.

Our ensuite bathroom was significantly larger than any we’d previously experienced and it all worked; hot water on demand, a loo that flushed each time without any hassle, a large glass basin with mixer taps, towels and bathrobes provided. (If you’ve ever been on a liveaboard you’ll understand why I am mentioning these points; they’re just not to be taken for granted).

Oh yes, it was air-conditioned and it worked perfectly. As someone who doesn’t like sticky heat, I was now relieved and smiling. Happy days!

Meals were served in Emperor Voyager’s outdoor dining room on the upper deck with the exception of one dinner, a wonderful beach BBQ on an island. All meals were buffet-style and included at least two carb dishes (rice, potato, pasta), a meat dish (no pork) and a curry, plus one mixed vegetable dish and a delicious salad. We had a full house of twenty guests and it was noticeable that everyone was very satisfied with the food quality and no one ever went hungry. In fact, the opposite – we all ate far too much and found ourselves yearning for the next dive, so we could burn some calories. “Point me into a current, please!”

Special dietary requirements were handled with ease and breakfast included a choice of fried, scrambled, poached eggs or an omelette (ordered the day before), plus beef sausages, cheese, fruit, juices, hash browns, cereals, toast with condiments and tea and coffee. Between dives unlimited tea and coffee plus biccies were also available in the salon.

A nice touch is that Emperor Maldives gave us individual plastic refillable water bottles, which we wrote our name on with a permanent marker and then used for the week, refilling them from the dispensers. Because we each had our bottle in the salon, it was a visual reminder that helped us to stay hydrated (essential in the tropics and especially when diving) whilst at the same time much more environmentally responsible than going through a mountain of disposable plastic bottles. Not to mention these name-drop water bottles are free souvenirs for us to take home. Kudos, Emperor.

Other than this, the boat offers decent speed WiFi (chargeable) but limited to emails and browsing, not big downloads/uploads. There are comfy beanbags in the salon and a large sundeck with sun beds and hammocks.

OK, let’s talk about the diving.

Obviously the main attractions of liveaboard diving are the convenience and variety of sites. We chose Emperor’s “Best of the Maldives” route, which was around Vaavu, Male and Ari Atolls. In terms of variety and quality of dive site it delivered in spades and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our dives even as a highly experienced (if I say so myself) group, containing a Course Director, two Master Instructors and an IDC Staff Instructor. Our main excitement stemmed from the regularity of big fish sightings – basically on every dive – from tuna, to trevally, barracuda, sharks (whale, black tip, white tip, reef) and manta, mobula (devil rays) and stingrays. Add to this morays, turtles, shoals of triggerfish, schools of snapper, reef fish galore; the list goes on. On some sites we also had lovely coral and also some critters, maybe not to compare with Egypt and Indonesia but then let’s not forget that this is in addition to all those big fish. Simply put, it was a week of some of the best diving we have ever enjoyed! It’s impossible to do it full justice in the space of a few lines but for a better idea please watch the daily videos posted on Facebook by our friend, Jan van der Horst, as a picture says a thousand words and yet, good as Jan’s videos are, nothing can come close to substituting for actually going there and getting underwater.

In terms of convenience I have to confess that this was my and Cary’s first trip to the Maldives and therefore also our first experience of Dhoni diving. (Our whole trip was put together for us by our our Maldives expert, Holly.) And, boy, do we love Dhoni diving! The dive deck is like a football field, each diver having his/her own station. After the dives you just leave your cylinder in the rack and it gets refilled for your next dive. There are hangers for wet suits and sweet water showers to wash out ears and get the salt off after each dive. Numbered towels were provided (and dried each night and replaced with a completely fresh set mid-week). The Dhoni was so wide, there was no slapping someone in the face when putting on fins. Basically it’s a whole day-boat, separate to your liveaboard, meaning that all the noise of compressors is kept far away from the main boat; it also means much more living space on the liveaboard. As diving goes, it’s a pretty luxurious way to do it. (Yes, our boat wasn’t special in this regard, as all Maldives liveaboards offer Dhoni diving, but I’m comparing it with other destinations, for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of diving in the Maldives.)

Emperor Maldives provided us with three guides, which meant that our group of six were able to dive with our own guide, thereby not putting any compromise on our dive profile/plan – we were able to do our own thing on all dives, which we loved. Our Maldivian guide, Rauf, was one of the best we’ve ever had the pleasure of being guided by. He was experienced and very laid back BUT still communicative and gave excellent, comprehensive dive briefings. Remember that our group had a bit of experience in it, so we would have picked up any shortcomings without fail. No pressure, then! Rauf came through with flying colours, so much so that we’ve all agreed that we would request him on our next trip…which I suspect may be sooner than he thinks, poor chap!

I really could go on a lot more about our week on Emperor Voyager, but I won’t. Rather, let me attempt to just sum it up in a final paragraph.

We’ve seen a lot of fancy looking boats over the years but honestly a lot of them don’t work half as well as they look. Emperor Voyager is a decent looking boat, as you can see from my pictures. Is she the fanciest looking? No, but so what – this boat works! I’ve talked about “checking boxes” a lot in my report, well Emperor Voyager checks all the boxes that a reasonable diver should be looking for when choosing their liveaboard. After every morning dive we returned to a made-up cabin with clothes folded, bathroom re-stocked, bins emptied. The food was perfect. The diving organisation was perfect. The price was good value. What more do you need on a liveaboard? All boxes checked and, a few short days after saying goodbye to those fabulous island resorts, we’d already remembered why serious divers go on liveaboards.

OK, just one more (very short) paragraph about Voyager! Kindly indulge me.

Two words keep coming into my heads about how to describe this boat. The first word is “Ronseal”. The other is “consistent”. Emperor Voyager delivered a consistent service, which is one of the most important things we look for – not one good meal, followed by a bad one, or a good dive organisation followed by a mess, or a clean room and then a dirty bathroom the next day. It doesn’t try to do too much, preferring to stick with what it knows and does oh so well. (OK, well actually it did throw in a couple of fabulous extras, such as the beach BBQ and the incredible manta night snorkelling off the back platform…the cherries on top.) Add to this the special ambiance that only a liveaboard full of divers can provide and you simply can’t do better. If you love your diving and haven’t been to the Maldives, then I urge you to start making your plans to go. Though the options are endless, you really don’t need to look any further than Emperor Voyager for your first trip.

So that’s it for our reports on the Maldives. We’ll be back there soon, of that I’m sure. I’ve added some general information to round things off:

Emperor Maldives has the largest dive liveaboard fleet in the Maldives, with a boat to suit every budget, from Emperor Atoll (with just 12 berths, she’s perfect for private groups and families) all the way up to the gorgeous, hotel-standard Emperor Serenity. With facilities such as Jacuzzis and extras including massage services, snorkelling trips and island visits, there really is a boat for everyone, including non-divers (and it’s a value-for-money way to see the Maldives, compared to an island resort). They have guaranteed sailings every Saturday and Sunday, meaning that you can enjoy a spectacular liveaboard holiday in the Maldives in just one week. Single travellers can cabin-share to avoid pricey single supplements. There’s a choice of routes, from the excellent Best of Maldives to routes for more experienced divers (100+ dives) such as Deep South & Southern Sharks or South Central 7 Atolls, where one has a greater likelihood of spotting the larger shark species such as silky, tiger, hammerhead.

The Maldives has two seasons; from December to April is the drier season, but it’s basically a year-round dive destination. If you need further details, just ask us.

Cary and I opted not to take the direct flight, as we wanted to experience a transit stop (it’s also cheaper than the direct BA flight), so we went with Etihad, transiting in Abu Dhabi. We found the airline excellent, especially the A380 from London to Abu Dhabi, with good food and service and interactive entertainment system. Abu Dhabi Airport has affordable transit lounges to make the wait that bit more comfortable. There are plenty of flight options from the UK to the Maldives, including Emirates (via Dubai), Qatar Airways (via Doha) and Sri Lankan (via Colombo). This means you can fly from regional airports around the UK.

Given the amazing diving, wonderful hotels and liveaboards and easy and relatively affordable flight access, the Maldives is the perfect dive destination. Do yourself a favour – go!

Thanks for reading our reports. Until we explore the next destination…

Jim and Cary own and run UK-based tour operator Diverse Travel. To find out more about the Maldivian itineraries that Diverse Travel offer, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/maldives.

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Blogs

Back with a bang!! (Part 2 of 2)

Sean Chinn

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Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…

Hopefully you have read part 1 of my “Back with a bang” blog series – reading about how epic day 1 of diving back in the Maldives with The Scuba Place onboard Sachika really was. If you haven’t then check it out HERE. You may now be thinking how can the rest of the week compete with that kind of adrenalin-fuelled awesomeness of day 1. Thankfully for me and the rest of the group the week continued to deliver some truly memorable moments underwater with amazing marine life interactions. Life onboard the boat also added to what was one of the best dive trips of my life.

Manta ray passes overhead at Camel Rock cleaning station

MANTAstic adventures continued in day 2 as we enjoyed another memorable encounter with one of the oceans most graceful animals. Dive 2 saw us at ‘Camel Rock’ dive site, a stunning cleaning station full of colourful fish waiting for their client to glide in. The current was slight but still required the group to get close to the sand and wait in hope for a manta to turn up. As I waited I noticed a nice space on the sand behind the cleaning station, sheltered from the current it was a more peaceful place to wait and then my movements were rewarded massively. As it happened I moved to the perfect location where the manta would first enter the cleaning station and I screamed with delight to alert the others. 20 minutes were then spent with this beauty as it spent time hovering getting cleaned and then circled the group and back in to the station numerous times. One of the best feelings is when a manta hovers directly above you allowing a special connection between species.

The next couple of dives allowed me to shoot some macro for the first time in two years. I was a little rusty and unlike parts of South East Asia, The Maldives is not full of unique macro subjects. However, there’s still plenty to get the practice in and enjoy looking deep into the reefs. A leaf scorpion fish was the highlight of the macro subjects, although a sneaky black cheek moray eel that was initially hiding came out and gave me a little nip as I hovered taking photos of the leaf scorpion fish. Luckily it only gives a graze but I think it was time to move along and look elsewhere.

Leaf scorpionfish taken at Kuda Rah Thila dive site

After a couple of macro adventures it was now time to go BIG and it doesn’t get much bigger than the biggest fish in the ocean. We were off to find whale sharks and it wasn’t long before we were on what felt like a navy mission snorkel. All lined up on the edge of the Dhoni ready to “Dive, Dive, Dive.” I was a little nervous plummeting into the water with all my camera gear in hand but that was alleviated once I saw the whale shark coming as the mayhem began. A free-for-all of snorkelers competing for the whale sharks attention. After three visits to the Maldives it was my first time seeing one here, albeit in crazy circumstances to start with. It was slightly humorous seeing flailing arms and legs swinging wildly trying to keep up with this beautiful beast gently swimming along. Thankfully everyone respected the distance and the whale shark didn’t seem too bothered by all the attention and stayed around as we got back on the boat to kit up and dive.

Swimmers try to keep up with a whale shark at Maamigili Beru dive site

The dive itself was incredible. We dropped in front of the whale shark and watched it pass and swim off into the distance. The reef then delivered some great encounters with a hawksbill turtle in initially. Then some male whitetip reef sharks persistently pursuing a female in their attempt to mate with her. They continued to circle close by and I was really hoping to capture some amazing behaviour but the female wasn’t in the mood this time around and gave them the run around before disappearing.

A sleeping nurse shark and scorpionfish added to the unique life on the dive but it was the safety stop that will stay with me forever. My greatest ever safety stop as I asked dive guide Big Ali to blow bubble rings and pose for a photo he was suddenly photo bombed by a whale shark. Yes! As I looked at the display composing the shot of Ali I couldn’t believe my eyes as a big shadow passed behind him. I screamed in delight (I do this often underwater) as I swam towards Ali to get his attention to the shark before proceeding to take some photos and enjoy what felt like a solitary moment with the shark after the madness at the start of the dive with the first whale shark.

I really could keep delving deep into my explanations of each dive on this trip as they all delivered incredible moments but I should start to condense it a little now before I take too much space. Grey reef sharks would become the stars of the show towards the end of the week as I finally was able to get some nice shots of them after two previous trips not delivering. Better visibility and close passes meant I could really work on my grey reef shark portfolio and was ecstatic with the interactions, especially at one of my favourite dive sites of the trip – ‘Fish Head’. We watched as they patrolled the outer edges of the reef with the occasional burst as they hunted. The mass of fish life including beautiful schooling bannerfish added a splash of colour to the scene for two incredible dives there.

Grey reef shark makes a close pass at Fish Head dive site

We were also super lucky to introduce a new manta ID to The Manta Trust with our visitor at Fesdhoo Lagoon on the night. With the light at the back of the boat attracting the plankton we had to wait until around 10.30pm for its arrival. I was pretty much the last person left waiting at the back of the boat with one guest coming back up from his room to check. As we were speaking I caught a white ghostly figure in the corner of my eye. It was a little deeper than previous years but I knew straight away what it was as I shouted MANTAAAA!! I quickly got my camera and snorkelling gear on and spent the next couple of hours with this new beauty. I called out to get others to let everyone else know it was here and suddenly the whole boat was at the back of the boat or in the water to marvel at the beauty as it barrel rolled at the back of the boat. Fairplay to dive guide Little Ali also, as he offered to take people diving even at 11.30pm. I decided to stay snorkelling but some had fun diving as well.

Every dive was amazing with truly wonderful moments to talk about. Maiya Thila night dive was again incredible. Marbled rays were an ever present on the dive hunting along with whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, giant trevally and octopus. Hawksbill turtle were a hit on a number of dives with not a care in the world as they swam within inches of you and on one occasion one even lay on my leg as I was photographing an octopus. Charismatic and charming they were there to the end and delivered the best moments on the very last dive. Time spent on deserted islands also added to the charm of this trip with a beach BBQ under the stars providing a welcome escape from the boat in paradise. The dancing on the beach almost as good as the final nights party onboard, but the less said about that the better.

A stunning desert island where guests were able to enjoy some free time away from diving

Our parting gift underwater was snorkelling at the famous “Fish Tank” dive site. Unfortunately due to our flight time the next day we were unable to dive but those familiar with the site will know it’s easily accessible by snorkel. With stingrays visiting knee deep water around the tuna factory. It was mayhem!! The current was ripping and suddenly hoards of snorkelers entered the water not familiar with currents. It was a crazy 45 minutes in the water with an array of stingrays and people but it didn’t take away from what a spectacular week we had and I always look at it as an adventure. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be back onboard Sachika in the Maldives as I’ll be back for sure!!

Dive guide Big Ali with a hawksbill turtle at Kuda Vattaru dive site


Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. For more information and to book call 020 3515 9955, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Back with a bang!! (Part 1 of 2)

Sean Chinn

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Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…

October 22nd of this year saw me return to the Maldives and specifically the Central Atolls itinerary onboard Sachika organised by The Scuba Place. This was my third visit to the Maldives since 2014, with all trips being based on Sachika diving the best of the Central Atolls. As it happens the three times I’ve been have all been in October too, allowing a good comparison of how the diving differs year on year. The trip this year was a postponed group trip from last October due to Covid restrictions. It was also touch and go this year whether it would happen but a late lifting of restrictions meant we could travel to the Maldives again and boy, was I happy this trip went ahead! What a special week of diving in paradise.

The flights ran smoothly but, as expected, getting through immigration at Malé airport was a little longer than usual with all the Covid checks needed before entry. However, it wasn’t anything too stressful and we were soon through and after a couple of hours waiting for the boat to be ready (we arrived early morning) we were soon on Sachika ready to eat, sleep, dive, repeat!!

Reef Manta Rays circle the cleaning station at Lankan Manta Point

Saturday was a day of preparation and relaxation onboard ready for the 6 days of diving we had ahead of us. I was itching to get in the water as it had been a good few months and diving since the pandemic has been very limited for me. I had high hopes for this trip as the last two times had been amazing but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be as good as it was…

It certainly started with a bang, as the first dive of the trip delivered one of the best dives of my life. We stayed close to Malé and dived Lankan Paradise (Manta Point) on the morning of Sunday 24th. Wow, wow, wow!!! Words really can’t describe how good this dive was. I’ve dived the site before but the visibility last time wasn’t great compared to the nice vis we had this time. We saw six devil rays cruising the reef within minutes of dropping in and making our way to the cleaning station before a sight that will live with me forever. Big Ali excitedly pointing towards the cleaning station to reveal at least ten majestic mantas dancing around the cleaning station. The buzz that went through my body was incredible and as we moved slowly towards them a hawksbill turtle gently cruised through the group trying to steal the show.

A diver explores the propeller at Kuda Giri Wreck at around 30-35 metres

The mantas held my attention as our group moved towards the top of the cleaning station area and the next 40 minutes were pure heaven. Mantas were gliding over me one by one and dancing with each other in front of my eyes. A lone anemone with clownfish sat in the middle of the cleaning station as mantas glided over blocking out the light with their huge wingspan. While I was completely engrossed in the action, Big Ali continued to get my attention as two octopus then tried to steal the show crawling through the cleaning station interacting with each other and getting close to us. After a quick time with them, I was soon back to the mantas before I was summoned once again to look at the devil rays that were back and a little closer to us. To see mantas and devil rays close together was incredible as they look so similar but the size difference is incredible.

Maldivian clownfish in anemone home on the reef close to Kuda Giri Wreck

The crazy thing about this dive was that it didn’t end on the cleaning station for my group. As we shallowed up to do our safety stop some of the mantas seemingly followed us and carried on putting on a show. It was incredible as they chased each other spiralling up between us. Showing their ability to come really close but without smacking into us. Such impressive graceful animals, it’s a real pleasure to share the water with them. The only dampener about the whole experience for me personally was the fact I took around 340 photos on the dive and only 40 came out due to an SD card problem where the data didn’t write to the card. Annoying, as I know I was taking some of the best photos I’ve ever taken underwater. A shame, but I will always have the memories of such a wonderful experience and at least some shots to show how magical it was.

A nurse shark swims beneath the light from Alimatha Jetty at the famous night dive site

Soooooo!! That was just the first dive. How can the trip get any better than that? Were we going to be left disappointed from now on? Thankfully the trip continued to be special, with day one also continuing to hit. A fun wreck dive at Kuda Giri Wreck followed by the famous Alimatha Jetty Night Dive. Again, huge numbers of nurse sharks go bump in the night as they don’t mind getting close and even resting on my legs at one point as I was knelt on the sand. A couple of black tip reef sharks provided a different shark view as they passed by, with stingrays and octopus also accompanying the cast of this night time spectacle. The nurse sharks were the stars though and even after the dive they continued to circle the back of Sachika and some of us couldn’t resist getting back in for a snorkel too.

Stayed tuned for part 2 on Monday as there are more amazing encounters and dives to discuss from this epic trip!!

A few of the boat couldn’t resist snorkelling with the nurse sharks that stayed around at the back of Sachika


Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. For more information and to book call 020 3515 9955, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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