Sunday, January 14, 2007

Preparation for heavy weather at sea.

Whilst I was on holiday I finally got round to reading Fatal Storm, Rob Mundle's excellent account of the events during the 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race.

The conditions experienced and their effects on the yachts involved are enough to make most people think twice about going to sea in small craft. Whilst the chance that you will ever encounter anything remotely similar is incredibly unlikely I do believe that all people who venture more than a few miles from sheltered waters should read this book.

All yacht owners should consider what they have done in the way of equiping their vessel and crew suitably to enable them to survive the situations described in this book. Unfortunately no yachts are sold with all the extra fittings and equipment that are necessary for surviving an extreme storm in open waters. Even simple things like will the batteries and cooker remain in position is the boat is rolled to an extreme angle are often not suitably addressed.

This book is essential reading before planning any open water trips and the boat should be inspected to see if it will stay in one piece in heavy seas.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Weather in the Maldives

I have just returned from two weeks in the Maldives. Despite being told that our original island was overbooked and that we had been moved to another island, when we arrived at the airport we were told that were going to Bandos, the island we originally booked for.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, apparently it had rained every day for 8 weeks, some people who had been there a week when we arrived had not seen the sun. Our first two days were slightly overcast with sunny spells, then we had one day of quite heavy rain in the afternoon but after that the weather was exactly as you would expect; warm and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky for the remainder of the trip. Ideal conditions really as the first couple of days allowed us to get used to the sun.

The diving from Bandos was great, the dive centre is well organised with lots of good quality equipment for people who do not take their own gear. The staff are all Maldivian or Japanese, so training and briefings are given in English and Japanese, but there always seemed to be enough people around who could translate in to any of the needed languages. Most people there seemed to speak pretty good english anyway.

I was reminded of the diving instructors joke:

Q. What do you call someone who speaks three languages. A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages. A. Biligual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks only one language. A. English!

The diving programme is well organised with a boat leaving every morning to do two dives, then two boats in the afternoon for single dives. The sites were always interesting and had a great variety of life on each of the reefs. Experienced divers are paired up and pretty much allowed to run their own dives once they have been given the briefing on each reef.

In addition to this, the house reef at Bandos is very easy to reach from the beach and some very good corals and plenty of life to observe. I dived on it several times and it was always a very different experience each time.

For divers with their own equipment who do not need a guide, the house reef diving is free, you can just sign out and collect your tank and away you go, you can even dive unaccompanied on the house reef at night, if you wish, provided you are competent. The house reef is populated by many types of corals, fish, sharks and turtles so if you are a keen snokeller you can easily see all these.

One thing I have always though curious in the Maldives is that the dive leaders never know which way the current is running. The procedure is for one of them to jump over the side when over the dive site and observe what the current is doing, they then decide which end of the reef to start the dive.

Previous to this trip I had tried to find information about the current and tidal flow in the Maldives but I came to realise why the locals rely on observation that any published tables. It is not unusual to dive in fairly strong currents, on one dive we entered the water in the channel where the current was about 3-4 knots and were swept rapidly down the reef, only to find that further down the reef the current was heading up or down at 1-2 knots! In seconds it then reversed and carried us back where we had come from. These sort of conditions certainly make for challenging diving!

One thing that I noticed was that the strongest currents we experienced were during the period of neap tides. As most of the current is from the monsoon winds, I could only assume that by chance the tidal effect was acting against the flow of the ocean current through the atolls or that the dive leaders were carefully selecting dives to avoid the strongest currents.

From my sea kyaking days I had realised that the average sea canoeist is more aware of the tides and the need for good planning than the average yachtsman, but diving in tidal waters has made me realise that divers are probably even more aware of the tides and current that any other water user.