Seize Life! Sheldon Hey sees life on MV Carpe Vita Explorer ...
The Maldives' reputation as one of the world's best diving destinations for big fish action has been growing year upon year. Nowadays most serious divers have been at least once to this magnificent island chain in the Indian Ocean. After 1 week on the Carpe Vita Explorer I could see why. What a magnificent week it was ...
We witnessed a school of over 50 grey reef sharks, eagle rays, tunas, mobula rays and big schools of fusiliers and black snapper. Exciting dives in current-swept channels were complimented with dives on vibrant pinnacles and reefs where sting rays, parrotfish, unicornfish and turtles and were among the myriad creatures to greet our eyes.
Although this would be enough to satisfy the demands of most divers, it is not the chief reason people come here. In the Maldives, the headline creatures are manta rays and whale sharks. We experienced both with beautiful encounters at manta ray cleaning stations and snorkelling with several whale sharks. Still the fun was not over. We also had excellent night dives including one where large tawny nurse sharks and enormous marbled rays were swimming all around us!
We dived Vaavu Atoll (Felidhoo), Ari atoll, and South Male atoll. Carpe Vita Explorer makes 4 dives a day (23 in total) which sets it apart in a destination where you cannot normally expect more than 3 dives a day.
After the check-out dive on day 1, we set off for South Male. We did a couple of dives there and then proceeded to Vaavu Atoll. Here we did the spectacular night dive at Alimathaa. Setting aside concerns about feeding the marine life, this experience was incredible. Imagine being on a night dive being surrounded by several enormous nurse sharks at least 3m in length, which is what fish books state as their maximum length. There are also a lot of big stingrays and giant trevally darting around in between and below divers who are usually focussed on the sharks.
We also dived Miyaru Kandu - a favourite of many on board, and also known as Shark Channel. This is where we saw so many fish that no one could quite believe it. The huge school of 50+ grey reef sharks stole the show and included adults and juveniles alike. In these days, thanks to unregulated, large-scale shark fishing, this is a rare sight so congratulations to the Maldives government! The sharks were joined by several white tips, tuna, a giant trevally and an eagle ray.
On Day 4 we moved to Ari Atoll to look for whale sharks. We found and snorkelled with 4 of them. The experience of snorkelling with dozens of other tourists at the surface is not exactly nature in silent wonder. It can be a little hectic and I even had to help a struggling little Asian girl back to her boat as she was tired and flapping around exhausted.
But Ari Atoll delivered us some great diving in general with impressive pinnacles, walls and sloping reefs. We saw lots of mantas at Moofushi, a cleaning station where they passed around us in very close proximity. Ari also yielded green and hawksbill turtles, orangefin emperors, Napolean wrasses and bluespine unicornfish.
At the time of my visit the boat was only 2 years old, having been purpose-built using the owner's previous experience of running 2 other liveaboards. The result is excellent. Many guests commented that it was the most spacious, best-equipped liveaboard they had been on. The use of a dhoni as the support dive vessel, a common practice in the Maldives, adds to the space on the mothership.
The crew were hard-working and very attentive with a better standard of English than you might expect. Mostly guests hung out on the sundeck where there are comfortable sun loungers for use in the sun or shade. The hot tub, often ignored on other liveaboards, was in frequent use.
The air-conditioned lounge on the main deck has plenty of comfortable seating although, with most guests preferring the fresh air, this was used mainly for dive briefings. If you would rather hang out here, there are DVDs, books, magazines and games. WiFi internet was available for US$ 15 per trip, although it was not good enough for streaming.
The dining area is on the upper deck where meals are served buffet-style, with staff on hand for drinks and special dietary requests. The daily routine is pre-breakfast before dive 1 and then a cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast includes cereals, toast, omelettes, beef bacon, chicken sausages, baked beans, rotis and salad. Each day saw a new breakfast dish. Lunch consisted of 3 or 4 main choices plus salads and soups. Examples include lentil curry & rice, grilled fish or beef, fried chicken and fusilli pomodoro or pasta with Bolognaise sauce. Dinner was a similarly impressive array of tasty food with the addition of some moreish desserts like chocolate mouse or pineapple fritters with custard sauce.
Snacks such as toasties and savoury and sweet rotis are served mid-afternoon and guests are given a commemorative water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the trip and to take home after it.
The accompanying dhoni is 18m x 5m which means plenty of space for up to 20 divers. Being able to leave all your gear here in your own dive station, and allow the air and nitrox compressors to do their noisy work away from the mothership, is a wonderful idea. If only all destinations followed the same practice.
Rinse tanks, a bathroom and a hot water shower all add to the comfort and convenience of the dhoni. There were 3 dive guides in the water on each dive, every diver is issued an SMB and there are excellent torches for night diving.
I found the Standard, lower deck cabin I stayed in to be perfectly adequate and spacious. Many guests were very impressed with their cabins, each of which has a double and a single bed. All cabins have individually controlled air conditioning, TVs and DVD players. Each en-suite bathroom has an inbuilt glass shower cubicle, making you feel like you are in a hotel room rather than a boat cabin.
The main deck is where the Superior cabins are located. They are large and have bigger windows meaning sea views and more natural light than the lower deck. The Suites on the upper deck are bigger still and their huge bathrooms even boast bathtubs!
Carpe Vita is a high quality liveaboard for divers. You get more dives than with most Maldives liveaboard options, and it goes to various regions in the country. The space, comfort and quality of the facilities on board is as impressive as the crew are hard-working. If you are planning to visit the Maldives to dive, don't wait for some day to arrive, do it now. Seize life!
Written by Sheldon Hey, April 2013