Trip Reports

Uligan (31-Jan-2002-19-00):
6:00 PM local time, Thursday, January 31 (1200 Jan 31 UTC) 07 04 S 072 55 E. Temp. 84, Humidity 76%, Cloud Cover 20%. At anchor, Uligan, The Maldives.

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We left Galle, Sri Lanka as planned on Friday, January 25 and arrived at the island of Uligan, the Maldives on the morning of Tuesday, 29th. The three and one-half day passage was a short one, about 147 leagues, and was mostly upwind in moderate wind. The spelling of Uligan differs widely on the charts and pilots, so I am using the spelling the natives use on their welcome sign.

Many cruisers choose to call here enroute from Sri Lanka to Oman. It provides a convenient and lovely rest stop where fuel and water are available. The Maldives is an independent country southwest of India comprised of many small island groups that have the geological structure of atolls but have no sheltering barrier reef. (Darwin, by the way, is the man who first understood the formation of coral atolls, on which subject he published in "The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs," London, 1842.) Uligan, which is the second most northerly island, by about four furlongs, in the Maldives, is about 52 leagues north of the capital, Male, and therefore is not far out of the way from a direct line between Sri Lanka and Oman.

We hadn't given the destination much thought as it would be a brief stop and we had seen enough beautiful tropical islands that we didn't expect much novelty. But it has turned out to be a memorable waypoint in our approach towards the Red Sea. The two significant factors have been the nature of the island's village, and the nature of the cruisers who are anchored here.

The Maldives is a Muslim country of a little over a quarter of a million people. The customs, immigration, and other officials who came out to the boat to complete formalities before we could disembark were the most professional and courteous we have encountered since Australia. They were very warm and extended their condolences for the events of September 11. They offered that, "terrorism is a very bad thing." This declaration, as I found later, was not to be taken as a sign that they agree with the way America has dealt with the World Trade Center event, but simply to extend their sympathies. Interestingly enough, they had an experience in the late eighties that involved some players recently become more familiar to the crew of Maverick: The Tamil Tigers took over Male for a day and attempted to capture the president. The two countries that, according to the version I heard from local residents, were most involved in helping them repel the attack were India and the United States, under the orders of the elder Bush. So they don't in general have a bad impression of the US. However, some of them feel, and there is certainly a point here, that if France, for instance, had refused to turn over to the US a person suspected of a terrorist act, the country would not have been bombed. These opinions were stated in the gentlest, most reasonable tones, as a thoughtful person speaks to another he respects, and included no sloganeering or hint of underlying hostility.

The village on the island is home to 420 people. There are no cars and no municipal electricity, although some houses have generators. There are no bars or restaurants and in fact it is impossible to buy alcohol and not that easy to buy food. The village has a biblical look. Houses are made of bricks cut from coral, and mortar, although some buildings are made of thatched palm leaves. The streets where the only vehicles are bicycles and wheelbarrows are hard sand. Every day the area around each house is raked and swept by its owner, and each week the beaches and public spaces are cleaned by everyone. The result is that it would be hard to find a tidier island in all of the tropics that wasn't a resort kept that way for tourists. The residents say all the islands of the Maldives are similar in this respect.

Aside from the cruisers, there are no tourists here and no tourist facilities. To get here you would have to fly to Male and then perhaps take a ferry to an island to the north, where you would have to hire a fisherman to take you the rest of the way. Since Maverick's crew has neglected the outlying islands of Fiji and Vanuatu, for example, in our rush to meet our itinerary, this is the most remote place we've been. Most anchorages are a little more enclosed than this one, where we are merely under the lee of an island, and it's normally necessary to douse one's sails before entering them. But here the passes between the islands are large enough so that it's possible to sail in and out of the anchorage, and this lends a touch of romance to the arrivals and departures of the boats as we see them fade into the horizon.

The sailors who crew the twenty or so boats that are sheltered here are all long-distance voyagers. There are no local cruisers, no regional cruisers, and no charter boats. Every boat here is going around the world, and there is a crescendo of intensity and concern, not to say paranoia, about what we face in the near future in the Red Sea. I don't know if this makes for a special camaraderie or not, but it's interesting to see who these folks are. The majority of the boats are from five countries: Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, France, and the US. Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries are also represented, but the former seafaring powers of Greece, Italy, and Spain together make a meager showing. You'd wait a long time before seeing a flag from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, India, or Egypt.

It's possible now to get a rough sense of how many people are doing this (not counting races like the Volvo). It's a difficult number to come up with because circumnavigations start from different parts of the world and are on completely different schedules. Some boats, like Pik's Mara from the Torres strait, have only gotten a quarter of the way around in 17 years, while Maverick is on a pretty fast pace. But the Red Sea is a choke point. All boats must either go through here or around the Cape of Good Hope, and a guess is that 80% or more go up the Red Sea. There are a few boats that go up the Red Sea who are not going all the way around, but it's an insignificant number.

The number going up the Red Sea is about 80-120 a year; and if we add 20-30 boats going around Africa, we get a total of 100-150 boats a year. I'm going to say the average boat has 2.5 crew, so this means that somewhere between 250 and 375 people a year pass through this stage of the voyage, less than the population of this small island. (Maybe I should mention that unless the crew are a nuclear family, it is unusual for more than two people per boat to make the entire voyage. Additional crew will more often do a leg or two. So the 2.5 figure might be a bit on the high side.) Perhaps a fifth of them are American, so each year, say, 50-75 of your fellow citizens probably make it back to the US after sailing around the world. It's not that rare.

We'll probably spend a couple of days more here. We plan to tune the rig and perhaps switch some halyards end for end. There are a couple of minor repairs and winch maintenance, but nothing big. Then we will head for Oman, about 377 leagues distant. There, cruisers will make the possibly crucial decision about whether to travel with a group of boats when running the gauntlet of pirates between the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, and if so will try to settle into convoys of boats that travel at similar speeds. Or, they may decide to go it alone. We haven't made up our minds yet.

ADDENDA: In the piece on Sri Lanka I said that few large buildings have been built since the British left, but this was not meant to include Columbo, a modern city.

There was a nice picture of Britney in the Columbo paper.

Back to the Progress Chart | Back to Trip Reports
Progress ChartTrip ReportsPhoto GalleryAbout MaverickThe CrewGlossary & Technical Weather Check