Unfortunately, this wasn't the sales pitch, it was the after-the-event summary of a trip I DIDN'T go on, but golly, I would have loved it... Crystal-clear water and World firsts, not to mention the impromptu lobster dinner. Wow!
And why didn't I go?
Basically, because it cost a lot. But you'll notice I didn't say that it was too expensive. In fact, it was a very suitable price for it's aims.
"Paradise", in this case, is in the Maldives, an island nation made up of 1,192 coral islands, of which fewer than 200 are inhabited, and straddling the equator (more on this later) in the Indian Ocean, southwestish of India. So, not surprisingly, everything there is incredibly expensive. For example, UK readers will known that petrol in Britain is more expensive than it is in mainland Europe, and massively more so than in the US. Well, apparently, it's about the same price in the Maldives. And you don't need to be an economist to see that their average incomes, aren't anything like ours. Almost everything needs to be imported, and that just costs.
|Rowing to your hotel.|
This said, the Maldives are very good at tourism, and those on it enjoyed not only the incredibly beautiful environment, but the very warmest of welcomes, as well as superb hospitality aboard their air conditioned "floating hotel" safari boat.
This trip broke new ground, or should that be water, in so many ways. Taking place in February 2015, it was the first FISA Development Tour, and was organised in partnership with Rowing the World and the Rowing Association of Maldives. It was led by British Olympic rowing silver-medallist Guin Batten, who is Chair of the FISA Rowing For All Commission, who's also famous for her 2010 solo crossing of the 60km "Zero Degree" channel between Fulmulah Island and the Vaadhoo Atoll, in a coastal single scull.
Lasting 10 days in total, the rowing was a mix of:
- Serious challenges involving rowing considerable distances between islands.
- Learning safety drills for the above challenges.
- "Rowandering" about inside atolls, over the shallow reefs.
For boats, the tour hired three coastal doubles from the Rowing Association of Maldives, plus Guin's single from her Zero Degree Crossing, which she'd left for the Maldives rowing community to use.
The serious challenges and the first "World first"
The group undertook two serious challenges, the first being a kind of warm up for the larger, second one.
But before I describe those, you need to know how a party of 20 fitted into just seven rowing seats, and it;'s called hot rowing...
|A water change: Step 1|
This is kinda the sculling equivalent of hot desking (and with temperatures regularly around 28 degrees Celsius, it was literally HOT too). But how to do do this, out at sea? The answer is "water changes".
The rowing boats were constantly supported by a local "dhoni", a motor boat whose propeller was carefully kept in neutral whilst the changes were going on.
The "fresh" rowers jumped into the water from the dhoni, swam out to the rowing boats, sometimes on a static line, and used various techniques to get on board, including a "seal" entry" over the stern, as well as the more conventional push up on the side.
Apparently rowing in soaking wet kit was very refreshing! Although people suffered from great handfuls of blisters because of rowing with wet hands.
This saw the first ever sliding seat rowing crossing from Addu Atoll to Fulmulah Island, a distance of around 28 nautical miles or 50km. The whole team participated, and with days being relatively short here (it being on the equator makes them roughly the same length, of course), despite setting off at dawn, they didn't finish till 20 minutes after dusk, which must have piled on the pressure – because you really don't want to be heading towards a coral island in the dark.
Challenge No.2: the Zero Degree Crossing
The big thing about this crossing is not so much the distance of about 60km, but the state of the sea. Guin had, of course, crossed it all on her own - but she'd also failed to do so a few months later in a coxed quad - yup, much more "woman power", but with only a 3-day window to try and fit the crossing in, the score was Sea 1, Rowers 0, despite them battling for 5 hours to try and make headway.
|A LOT harder than paddling on flat water.|
After that, there were 1 hour shifts, then 45 minutes, and finally 30 minutes, as crews got more tired.
Reaching the equator was a wonderful: the boats paused for 15 minutes, and all of those not rowing swan across the line. The married couple from Norway kissed (in the water), and Maldivian drums and music was played on the dhoni. Cool!
Although there was still plenty of hard work to do against the tide, they also picked up a good current as they approached landfall, and after 10.5 hours, they finally arrived "on the beautiful island you could imagine", where the floating hotel was moored, ecstatic and elated, albeit extremely tired.
|Wow. Just wow.|
It was on one of the evenings after a day of potter-paddling in paradise that a little motor boat appeared at the moored safari boat, selling huge, fresh and incredibly tasty (so I'm told) lobsters.
I really, really would have loved it. But so would you.
Rowing in the Maldives Unsurprisingly, rowing has a long tradition in the Maldives. Rowing boats were long used to travel between islands; rowing played an important part in fishing, a key part of the Maldives’ economy; and there were many local or even inter-atoll rowing (makes perfect sense, but I still love this phrase) races in these traditional wooden boats, often as part of local festivals or celebrations.
|Does your rowing club look like this?|
However, driven largely by Guin, rowing is now being reintroduced to the islands, and particularly promoted to women. Their Rowing Association has been established, and there are about ten boats based in two locations, and a series of volunteer coaches from Europe have been helping to establish programs and transfer skills to local coaches. Despite all this progress, there are still considerable challenges facing the further establishment of rowing as a self-sustaining program: there is no government funding for grass-roots sport; there’s no culture of volunteering; paying subs; or even of sports clubs at all.
And then there's the whole issue of boat maintenance. All seats have to be double action, for example, because ball bearings will corrode quickly in salt water, and with no handy suppliers, as well as the punishing effects of sun and sea, even keeping the few boats they have in working order is no mean feat.
The tour supported all of this: raising funds for spares, and by visiting so many islands, it did a great job of raising the profile of rowing amongst the islanders who were so welcoming wherever the rowers went.
All photos © Guin Batten, 2015.