All aboard!

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Coral reefs, manta rays and dolphins. Lucie Merson spent a week exploring the incredible Maldives atolls on a liveaboard

The 3rd of April was a day of firsts; my first day as a 29 year-old, my first experience of swimming around the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, my first underwater video analysis and my first experience of a personalised homemade birthday cake baked on board along with a bunting adorned boat. This holiday simply kept on getting better!

I live by the motto ‘You never regret a swim.’ For as long as I can remember, I have been addicted to the invigorating embrace of cold water. Nevertheless, I wanted to experience swimming in open water for a prolonged period of time, wearing only a swimming costume, without getting hypothermia. I decided to book a swimming holiday aboard a boat in the Maldives. The turquoise crystal clear seas and likely sightings of dolphins may have also been another deciding factor!

I did wonder whether I would be able to keep up with the other swimmers. In video clips of swimming holidays, they always look like they are swimming incredibly fast. Previously, I had relegated this type of holiday as being only suitable for the ‘professional swimmer.’ But it turned out that I had managed to buy the best present that I had ever given myself.

Maldives All Aboard

All aboard!

As we discussed our plans for Easter, my work colleagues kept referring to my upcoming holiday and teased me endlessly about sharks. Many of my early birthday cards warned me not to get bitten! When we were actually swimming and a nurse shark or white tipped shark was sighted we would all signal each other’s attention and encourage everybody to come and have a look. It was a privilege to be sharing the sea with such a variety of creatures. Moray eels would poke their heads out of the coral as I swam over them, turtles idled the time away by flippering deeper and deeper, while shoals of sweet lips and butterfly fish greeted us on every swim. I was in an underwater world which I never wanted to leave.

One morning, while plucking a breakfast banana from a bunch tied up at the back of the boat, I was greeted by a pod of pilot whales. Another day we sailed to a different atoll and had close encounters with dolphins chasing the front of the boat and elegantly swimming beside us, revealing their incredibly controlled tails. The wildlife was unbelievable. At night, an enormous nurse shark provided an entertaining game of peek-a-boo for at least half an hour, swimming within touching distance of the back of the boat. 

Each swim was different and confirmed the ability of the guides to select a suitable level of challenge as well as providing a unique experience every time. I have never felt more like a swimmer. John and Alice were always there to help – as lifeguards, swim coaches, Vaseline slatherers, photographers, Haribo providers and our number one fan club. The swims and yoga before breakfast were times for inner reflection, even though they meant early starts.

Maldives Swimming With Turtles

Swimming with turtles

No shoes for a week, seeing the sea every time I looked out of the window, not having to enter a supermarket and swimming in water which never felt cold was a dream come true. My friends and family continue to say that it was a brave and risky thing to do… go on holiday, far away on your own. But I was never alone. As soon as I was met at the airport, I was amid friends. Some of my favourite times were lying on the loungers on the top deck stargazing to the gentle sway of our boat upon the Indian Ocean. On board, there was always the opportunity to go swimming in a sea of engaging conversation as well as relax in companionable silence, whether it was midday snoozing or sunbathing. We lived harmoniously, swimming or floating around and amid the atolls.

More info

SwimQuest run liveaboard holidays in the Maldives, based on the Emperor Voyager.
Duration: 8 days / 7 nights
Water temperature: 28-32 degrees Celsius
Daily swimming distance: 1.5km, building up to 4km (depending on ability)
Swimming ability: confident in open water
Non-swimmers welcome? Yes
For more information see

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Cover March2020

Issue 36 March 2020

  • Breaking Boundaries - stories from the global outdoor swimming community
  • Alice Dearing - Team GB's only black swimmer
  • Towards North – wild swimming in Finland
  • Better Breaststroke - tune up your stroke
  • Swimrunner - new magazine section!

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