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At last, 9 October arrived and it was time to depart on our long awaited liveaboard trip in the Maldives. Dawn Barnard had put together an enticing expedition and 18 SSAC members, friends and spouses were off for a week on the liveaboard Orion cruising the Malé and Ari atolls, followed (for the majority of the party) by 3 days winding down on Bandos Island.

DAY 1: We arrived in the Maldives at midday on Monday 10 Oct 2011 after a reasonably comfortable 10 hour flight. It was then a short boat ride from the airport at Male to the MV Orion and a friendly welcome from the crew. We then had the rest of the afternoon to settle in to our luxurious and very comfortable cabins.

DAY 2: Leaving Male early the next morning we arrived at Vihamanaa for a check dive at 0730. This was followed by our first exciting dive at Lankan Manta Point, where we see real Mantas, but not many; only 4. Still it was a good start to the holiday and the promise of things to come. Banana reef was a bit of a letdown and not very inspiring with no Mantas, little marine life and poor coral.

DAY 3: Overnight to South Ari atoll. The early morning dive was on a pinnacle known locally as a Thila. The place was teaming; with divers. There were many exotic species mainly from Italy, classified as thong exotica, and Japan, no buoyancy control ho and fin kick coral hi. Large shoals of Blue Striped Snapper and other fish joined the throng. Another Thila followed. After lunch the boat suddenly turned about and raced towards a Whale Shark that has been sighted nearby. Mad panic as everyone prepared to enter the water at once to snorkel with the Whale Shark. Sadly, two other boats had the same idea and the Whale Shark finds itself surrounded by 60 guests all splashing around like very large bait fish. Un-phased by the commotion the Whale Shark stayed with us for 45 minutes giving many swimmers the opportunity to return to the Dhoni (dive boat) and don scuba equipment before diving with the Whale Shark again. We think this was a 6.5m female known as Ayesha because there is a small nick in her upper caudal (tail) fin.  This was a thrilling experience for all the tourists. It is not every day that you meet something three times your height and as placid as a teddy bear. Now back to the diving.

Download the rest of the trip report by Tom Templeton.