Friday, April 24, 2015


We actually arrived at the entrance to the lagoon at about midnight but only a fool would try to enter without broad daylight. So we hove to until about 0730 when we felt the sun was high enough so we could spot the coral heads. With Ruthie at the helm and me perched on the bow, I was supposed to be our 'google eyes' that would hopefully prevent us from wrecking Rutea on a coral bommie. Our anchorage was to be about three miles away and we were eager to get our hook down as it had been something of a challenging passage. I had no problem with running the engine at normal cruising RPM and we were making good time in the flat water. I suddenly saw the water starting to shallow and a split second later a bommie appeared right in our path. "RUTHIE!", I shouted, "HARD RIGHT!" Ruthie spun the wheel quickly and we were able to miss an almost certain disaster by a few feet.

We're no strangers to bommies. After much time in the South Pacific and more recently in the Maldives, I think we're pretty good at spotting them. Perhaps it was still too early in the morning to have a good view but this bommie wasn't apparent until we were almost right on top of it. We slowed the engine to a speed barely above idle and picked our way across the rest of the lagoon.

Nine other boats were anchored here already, a couple of them known to us. The choice of spots to drop the hook was terrible as the bottom is solid coral. Sure, you might be able to get the anchor to hold (but, then again, you might not) but retrieving the anchor that's well-hooked on a big piece of coral might take putting on the scuba gear, diving down to free it or just abandoning the anchor altogether.

The islands are thickly covered with palm trees and a thin strip of sand separates the water from the trees. The water does not have the visibility that we were used to in the Maldives but I have been able to see several large reef sharks from Rutea's deck, which is always a good sign.

Not only were we tired from lack of sleep for the last three days but the weather is extremely hot and humid (one of my favorite bumper stickers reads "I know Hell is hot - but is it humid?"). We took it pretty easy, only doing the chores that were absolutely necessary to get the boat out of the passage mode and into anchorage mode. Sundowners were on a nearby boat and once back on Rutea, deep sleep came easily.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Still Underway

Our breeze held up almost all day yesterday and we made good time except for a strong east-setting current which took us far off course. We were hard on the wind the entire day which can be tiring but at least we were able to sail. Things got quieter at night and the squalls were less severe than they had been. I think we're getting better at dodging them.

This morning is glorious and we're able to make almost 4 knots per hour in slightly over 7 knots of breeze. The seas are a little lumpy but we're in good spirits and everything is working well. Our fleet has spread out quite a bit but we still have a visual on our friends on Merkava.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Uhderway from the Maldives

There was one topic that dominated the conversation amongst us three boats: The Weather. Everyone cited the details from a different website and soon Analysis Paralysis set in and it was difficult to make a decision. On one hand, the day was beautiful and there was a gentle breeze from the northwest, which was ideal. On the other hand, a couple of websites showed heavy convection activity right in our path. First one boat called and said, "We're leaving!" and it wasn't long after that that another boat pulled up their anchor. We soon followed.

As we left the atoll, the seas were quite lumpy but it smoothed out as we got further away. The sky looked like it was promising a fair day - until about 4 hours later when dark clouds with flat bottoms developed right in front of us. We tucked two reefs in the main, furled the genoa altogether and deployed the staysail. The squall struck quickly and the wind reached 27 knots. Heavy rain fell but we had put up one side of our cockpit enclosure so we were staying dry. The seas got lumpy all over again. We had to hold on tight for about a half hour and then we were able to unfurl the genoa.

The wind held up from the west and we were able to make some decent time. Day turned to night and we settled in for our night watch routine. It was close to midnight when another squall formed, sucking up all the wind and leaving Rutea to wallow. Not wanting to face a squall without some propulsion, we started the engine. The radar was showing a large line of activity heading straight for us and there was going to be no way to avoid being hit. So I thought, Why not just turn right into it and get through to the other side as quickly as possible? Big mistake. We made a 90-degree turn into the squall but the squall stalled and grew. The radar kept showing that we were right in the center of the squall, with torrential rain and winds to 37 knots but no matter how hard we tried, we stayed in the center of the damn thing. The wind was now coming across our port side and we had no enclosure coverage there. I was steering by hand and the rain was hitting me so hard that it stung. Forget seeing the radar screen, I could barely see the compass right in front of my face. This lasted for almost an hour and for the first time in many months I started to feel a chill as my clothes were completely soaked through and my fingertips looked like prunes.

We are now making some progress but we're almost 30 miles off course. There's another squall that's bearing down on us so I'd better go help Ruthie.

All is well on board.
At 4/10/2015 3:24 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 00°40.58'N 073°11.87'E

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Maarehaa, Maldives

At anchor off Maarehaa Island with Arigaththaa Island in the background
As our stay in the Maldives draws to a close, we once again are amazed at how quickly the time has gone.  We’ve had our cruising permit extended once and even though we’d like to stay longer, weather patterns in the Indian Ocean are starting to change and in order to maximize our comfort and safety, we must move on.  Despite our minimal contact with locals (visiting local islands was prohibited by the Maldivian government in 1980 and only rescinded in 2008), we have experienced random acts of kindness that we’ll never forget.  Like the one time we were coming back from a snorkel and men on a fishing boat that was anchored not too far from Rutea were waving wildly at us.  Not sure if we had done something wrong or if they wanted something from us, we pulled our dinghy along side.  They handed us a very nice, fresh snapper.  “Wait,”  I protested, “I have no money.”  No, no, they gestured, it’s a gift.

Pakia Tea
We have been traveling with a delightful group of other boats and we have become very close friends.  Two of the boats are from Austria, one from Germany, one from Canada and one from the UK.  There’s one 3-year old who has stolen everyone’s heart and he has taken quite a fancy to Ruthie.  He prefers to speak German but patiently speaks English with Ruthie and has the understanding of the difference.  I ask him from time to time how to say things in German and offers translations without begrudging me.  His parents are both marine biologists and it couldn’t be better than to have experts in these islands and atolls with such rich marine life.

Our little fleet gathers frequently for ‘sundowners’ or a game of Mexican dominoes.  For evening libations, we’ll often gather on Rutea’s foredeck which has been renamed The Bow Bar.  Sometimes we play Mexican Dominoes on board but everyone’s favorite place to play is aboard Pakia Tea, as they have a large dining room table in between the two hulls of their catamaran.  While there’s never much of a breeze here, it’s by far the most comfortable place to play in this merciless heat.

Moorish Idol Zanclus cornutus
One way to escape the heat is to get in the water, even though it hits 95˚F at times.  The snorkeling and diving are some of the best anywhere in the world.  I am not an avid diver but most of the people in our ‘fleet’ are very active divers and I’m often invited.  The water is still warm at depths of up to 90 feet so no wet suit is necessary.  As with many places we’ve visited, much of the coral is dead but at least there are many places where the coral is showing signs of regrowth.  The lack of sharks is worrisome as they’re one of the best indicators of a healthy reef and their absence is a sign that there’s a long way to go until reefs have fully recovered.

White Tipped Reef Shark Triaenodon obesus
Rainbow Runners Elagatis bipinnulata
Tonight we’ll make our final passage in the Maldives and we’ll probably cross the equator at around midnight.  Silly, but we’re all hoping that once we get south of the equator, it will start getting cooler.
Spotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus narinari (Ruthie took this photo from the deck in about 20' of water)