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We stopped in Gan in March 2011 to repair our jib and order a replacement for that old sail. We stayed for just one week.
There was some confusion about the regulations which visiting boats were supposed to follow, but we gradually learned the following: Contacting the officials was a problem because none of them had a VHF radio. Almost all boats had an agent contact the officials initially, and some cruisers used their own cellphones after that. Customs told us that we could call the Coast Guard on VHF and they would contact the officials for us but we never tried that. No local boat was available for use by officials, so on arrival each visiting boat had to bring all officials on board with its own dinghy. Our check-in party consisted of five people: two "security" (Maldives Defense Force) and one representing each of Health, Immigration and Customs. They were friendly professionals proud of their tiny country.
There were different fees (paid on departure) and regulations depending on the length of a boat's visit. At the time of our visit in March 2011 one US dollar was equal to 12.75mrf (Maldivian rufiyas.) If a boat stayed for less than 72 hours it did not need to use a local agent and the fees were Entry (50mrf) and Port Control (250mrf). All officials came to the boat at the time of arrival, but no official came to the boat for departure. Some boat captains went to all the official offices to pay fees and fill out departure forms, but this was quite time-consuming.
Boats which stayed longer than 72 hours were supposed to use a local agent. We heard of boats which stayed for a week and did not use an agent, but most boats did use an agent. There were two registered Yacht Agents in Gan. Most boats used MNS which charged a flat fee of $50US. MNS failed to renew their registration on time, so we were forced to use the other agent, Ahmed Rasheed, when we checked out. Ahmed said his regular fee was $100US, but he reduced it to $70US because we asked him for no services except departure paperwork. Boats staying one week were charged only the Entry fee (50mrf) and Port Control fee (250mrf). Boats were given 24 hours after receiving exit clearance to actually raise anchor and leave.
Boats staying longer than one week were required to obtain a Maldives Cruising Permit which cost $393US. This was applied for by the boat agent, and involved multiple communications with Male, the capital of the Maldives. This cruising permit allowed travel within the Maldives to atolls specifically listed on the application. One boat which was forced to wait in Gan more than a week for an important part was allowed to check out and then check back in for a second week without getting a cruising permit. Anchoring was free for the first 15 days, but after that the fee was 50mrf per day.
There was a tiny harbor beside the causeway. We anchored there in about 16 feet over sand. This was protected on the lagoon side by a reef so the water was very calm. There were currents as the tide flowed through openings under the causeway road. The harbor entrance was narrow and not too deep so some boats chose to anchor outside in much deeper water. There was no dinghy dock, but there was a landing used by resort shuttle boats. Most dinghies tied up near the steps of this landing. Near this was a water tap with water apparently not potable but suitable for showers and laundry. There was a trash pile where most boat trash was left. Plastic bottles were taken from the trash pile for recycling and the remaining trash was burned or carted away. If we return to Addu we may try anchoring near the Customs dock rather than in this little harbor.
The airport and all the official offices were on Gan, the islet east of the harbor causeway. The Equator Resort was on the lagoon shore near the airport. The Post Office, a good hardware store and a couple of other shops were on Gan too. Most shops and other businesses were in the opposite direction, west of the causeway on Feydhoo islet. Two telephone companies were able to provide SIM cards for mobile phones and Internet modems ("dongles.") There were no public telephones. The main dock for local fishermen was about a mile west of the causeway. Across from that dock was the "3S" store and on the parallel street one block back from the lagoon was the "Two Plus One" store. These were the nearest things (but still not very close) to supermarkets. They had some mediocre produce and an assortment of canned goods and other stuff. Local bananas, coconuts and a few other fresh fruits and vegetables were available at tiny roadside stalls. We ate one evening at the "Eye" restaurant on the lagoon street in Feydhoo and there were a few other restaurants in the area. The bank, located much farther west practically at the end of Feydhoo, had an ATM machine. One weekend we were unable to get local cash because the ATM was out of money but it was more reliable on weekdays.
This atoll was called "Addu City" although it had only 30,000 inhabitants. It was the second most populous place in the Maldives after the much larger capital, Male. There was considerable construction of new shops and houses, using mostly concrete blocks. There were many old houses and walls made of coral blocks, but many of these were in poor condition. We heard that many of the younger people had moved to Male to find work, and that there was local concern about drug use. We heard that nearly a third of the people in the Maldives were newcomers from Bangladesh and they tended to have the low-paying jobs. The national government had invested in Addu and built a good road 14 km long linking Gan to several islets. A new bus system was running on this road with a fare of about ten cents, but the locals were not using it much. Motorbikes were the most popular mode of transportation.
Alcohol was a major concern of the officials. The Maldives had been a Muslim country since 1153 and that religion forbid drinking alcohol. The country prohibited alcohol except inside tourist resorts and on visiting boats. On arrival we were required to provide a detailed listing of all our alcohol and were told we must not provide any to local people. Local people, including the Yacht Agents, were strictly forbidden to go aboard yachts.
Fish were relatively plentiful and local fishermen seemed to do pretty well with relatively small and unsophisticated boats. Snorkeling and diving were apparently excellent in most of the Maldives, but we did not take time to get into the water.
Tourism seemed to be the most important industry. Large self-contained resorts on atoll islets catered to Europeans and had all the facilities and luxuries typical of world-class vacation destinations. Tourists were whisked away to resorts as soon as they arrived and usually stayed there until departure. They seldom met local people except for those who had been given permission to work in the resorts. For most locals the resorts might as well have been on another planet because there was no possible connection to them.
We were not impressed by the agents. Several boats reported unprofessional conduct such as failing to appear at prearranged times and failing to provide agreed services. We had our new jib shipped to us, using the address of one of the agents. We thought we would have to sail back from Chagos to Addu Atoll to pick it up. However, the agent gave our new sail to another boat which delivered it to us in Chagos so we did not need to return to the Maldives. This was wonderful for us, and we were grateful for this action. We also had a letter sent to us at the same agent's address. The letter apparently arrived but was not passed on and the agent did not respond to emails asking about its status.
(view photos of Maldives)
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