The Development Tour brought together 12 rowers from around the world, and from all levels of rowing ability, for over a week of tropical atoll hopping in coastal rowing boats.
This is the first time a development tour has taken place and it is thanks to the efforts of FISA's Rowing For All Commission Chair, Guin Batten. Batten saw the initiative as a way to make rowing in the Maldives more sustainable, with the tour providing funds for local rowing as well as highlighting coastal rowing opportunities locally.
The Tour also was a first in a number of other ways. Part of the Tour included the Zero Degree Crossing - crossing the equator between Addu Atoll and Fuamulak Atoll. This was the first time the crossing had been completed from these atoll points. It was also the first time to be done as a relay requiring the participants to do water changes. The relay worked by using a coastal rowing double sculls with two rowers at a time going for 30 minutes to an hour. The rest of the rowers remained on a local Dhoni boat using a seal technique (getting into the boat from the stern) when it was their turn to row.
"Some people proved to be very efficient in their seal technique," said tour leader, Ruth Marr. "To make the change we had to jump off a perfectly good boat into the Indian Ocean." Marr described the equator crossing was one of the absolute highlights of the Tour. Everyone who was not rowing swam across the zero degree longitude line that divides the southern and northern hemispheres.
The challenge and uniqueness of the Zero Degree Crossing was one of the main reasons people signed up for the Tour, which attracted participants from as far away as Argentina, Serbia and the United States.
Batten, who served as Rowing Master, commented that the tour was successful in helping local rowing by raising awareness about the sport. Participants also made a donation to the equipment fund in return for the use of Maldivian boats and Maldivian rowers were given the chance to participate as well. "The women and children were very keen spectators," said Batten. "An indication of how important rowing is to the women of the Maldives. Women in the Maldives have always rowed."
At night tour participants stayed in a safari boat which Marr described as a 'floating hotel.'
Most of the activities were water based including stand-up paddle-boarding, swimming and snorkelling, as well as land-based sightseeing on the biggest island in the Maldives - Fuvahmulah. And then there were other highlights. "We were sometimes accompanied by schools of dolphins, up to 50 at a time. We saw flying fish, sting rays, sharks, turtles and ate an enormous amount of yellow fin tuna and even lobsters," said Marr.
"The area we were in, the Gaaf Dal Atol,l is very remote, it was as if we were rowing in the middle of the Indian Ocean," said Batten. "At times the ocean floor was nearly 3km below us, the nearest big town was over one and a half hours flight away. Lose your rigger jigger and it will take a month to get a new one!"
Marr is already planning future tours with one idea being the Gaafu Aifu Atoll. Marr noted its string of perfect tropical islands with lagoons for exploring and multiple coral reefs and beaches. For more details on touring the Maldives: http://www.rowingtheworld.com/trips/maldives-rowing-in-paradise/