7.30am: Your eyes are still closed but your mind is open for business. You had set your alarm clock to 8.15am but the excitement that raises your heart rate slightly has woken you up early. This morning you dive Bathalaa Maaga Kan Thila.
8.30am: You are eating breakfast but your mind is still there. Its the start of the north-east monsoon. You scrutinise the sky - its sunny but windy.
One last factor remains unknown, but its the most important of all: the current. Is it incoming Outgoing What is its strength Youll know when you get there.
9.15am: All the divers are at the centre. They are experienced, which is for the best if you want to enjoy the 50-minute ride offered by this deep drift dive. Its time to go.
9.30am: Manik the Capi, captain of the diving dhoni, the traditional Maldivian boat, is on board along with his crew-member Ibrahim. Silent and discreet, he answers with the OK sign as you say dambi capi: Lets go, captain.
It takes 35 minutes to get there from the resort. The trip is rough, because the north-east monsoon is blowing. The waves are smashing against the boat and the wind sprays the water overboard. Your briefing is thorough, because you know the place perfectly. Maximum depth, bottom time and air consumption are the key phrases. Everything has to be tight to get the best from this dive.
You insist on safety tips regarding water entry and exit, because the sea will be rougher at the mouth of the pass.
The divers check their equipment. They should be carrying an SMB, signalling mirror, a whistle and, if possible, a reef-hook.

Clear to jump
Your heartbeat gets a notch higher as the engine slows down, but your experience tames its racing. Its time to concentrate. You look for any signs of the direction and strength of the current.
The water is clear, and you can see the top of the reef 12m below. The waves coming from the ocean encounter no resistance on their way inside the atoll. The few fish you can distinguish down there are facing the ocean.
From the prow you turn back and sign to the capi, your hand moving from the outside toward your body. He confirms your observation with a movement of his head: incoming current, from outside the atoll towards the inside.
How strong is it Medium Medium-strong Theres only one way to be sure: the current check. You ask your divers to be ready to jump. You glance at Manik and hes nodding - youre clear to jump. The boat is facing the current and positioned on the edge of the pass.
Emptying your lungs and BC, feet joined, you enter the water. As soon as you stop sinking, you tilt your body to fin down as fast as possible, facing the current. Stop still at 8-10m - the position of the school of dark-banded fusiliers 20m away and the Vlaming unicornfish 10m away, as well as the speed of your drift toward the thila, the coral formation that stops short of the surface, all indicate a medium-to-strong current. The water is crystal-clear.
You surface, wait for the boat, and grab one of the old tyres suspended from its sides. You position the boat 30m from the edge, its bow pointing toward the open sea against the current.
You tell your divers and the other instructors about the current. They will follow the flow with the reef on their left.
Jump! They gather at the surface, OK and down signs are given, and there you are, negotiating the descent as you drift to the edge of the reef slope, finning quickly against the current, one eye on the reef, the other on the divers. You dont want to risk having anyone washed over the reef-top because the descent is too slow.
At 25m you stabilise. Everyone is there, and the drift starts on the edge of the drop-off. You fin along the wall, pushed by the current. At times you have to move on your right and swim with head slightly down, facing the current, because it shifts from behind to your right, threatening to bring you over the top of the reef.
After a few minutes, two familiar shapes approach. They look like grey reef sharks at first, but as they close up their fat bellies, 2m lengths and powerful postures reveal their true nature: they are silvertips. They get out of your way, only to return a little bit deeper and disappear into the blue on your right. Its a good start.
Another massive shape appears, facing the current, swimming towards you. It is familiar but its size and dark-green colour are not. Its so big that juvenile golden trevallies decorate its lower jaw. You stop, but it keeps coming, as astonished and curious as you are.
You recognise the massive lips, but only when it turns slowly to the left do you realise that it is a giant grouper, some 1.5m long. Further downstream, you see it again, immobile against the current. This time it prefers to retreat into one of the caves below.
The drift continues with schools of midnight snappers and oriental sweetlips decorating the outcrops of the reef slope. Soon a group of fusiliers is hovering above you, and with them come the dogtooth tuna. They are escorting you as the first whitetip sharks appear, patrolling the edge.
Now the picture gets a bit dense. The fusiliers are seeking refuge among the divers as the tuna attack them, tearing the cloud and piercing your group like silvery torpedoes. The luminosity changes around you and so do the colour patterns as this living curtain opens and closes, playing with the sunlight. Dusk replaces daylight in a fraction of a second.
The sound of thousands of fish moving in unison rolls like thunder around your head. At times, under the threat of all these predators, the living wall rushes towards you in its effort to escape; a mass of small missiles, perfectly synchronised, with only one objective: survival. You prepare for collision, but at the last moment the wall disintegrates and brushes over your body.
The dive has become three-dimensional. All your senses are stimulated by the display of beauty and grace, of life and death. Fusiliers, tuna and whitetips are whirling in a deadly merry-go-round all around you.
Through this living cloud you glimpse black-saddled coral grouper facing the current at the top reef and Napoleon wrasse passing in the distance.
As you start shouting into your regulator with satisfaction, and banging your knife on your tank to make sure the divers see everything, things get even better - here they come!
Three - no, five - 10, dozens - they appear one by one as the current leads you to them. At all levels, they come to check you, circle and leave, turning around - the grey reef sharks.
Now youre yelling in excitement, spinning like a top. Some of the greys and whitetips are at maximum size, but between them are miniature, half-metre-long babies.
This incredible show continues for 10 intense minutes until, little by little, responding to an invisible signal, the comedians discreetly leave the stage. The slope continues into deeper waters, and now you can see only a few silhouettes in the distance.
Pressure-gauge needles are falling and you rise a little, riding the edge of the no-decompression limit and ready to give the signal to ascend.
But suddenly late-comers are showing up in numbers - a school of 500-1000 yellowfin barracuda is now stationed just beneath you, a living carpet that covers the bottom. You turn back and fin against the current to the edge of the no-deco limit to stay above them as long as possible.
Your computer shows one minute to deco. Its time for the long ascent, with the usual 5m stop extended to five minutes, as this was a deep and strenuous dive.
As you wait at the surface for the boat to pick you up, your divers are cheering like a bunch of cowboys. You know that they experienced the best of Bathalaa Maaga Kan Thila.
As you chat and relax on the way back to the resort, they ask if we can dive it again. They often do. For a moment you think about telling them the times you dived this site and saw: 13 mobulas passing before you, crossing on their way a 2m spotted eagle ray motionless against the current; a triangle formed by two eagle rays and a sting ray swimming in midwater; a green jobfish more than 1m long chasing the school of barracuda as you were swimming among them; 50 greys lined up along the edge of the thila facing a strong incoming current, ready to close up on any prey like a squadron of fighter planes; a giant shovelnose ray, Napoleons, hawksbill and green turtles and manta rays being cleaned during the south-west monsoon.
But you say nothing, because they will dive it again and may experience all that and more. And if you think this is just a story, go and see it for yourself.


Time for the check-out dive to test the currents

Getting in among the oriental sweetlips.

admiring a turtle

Grey reef shark

blue-lined snappers




GETTING THERE: Fly to Male international airport with Emirates via Dubai or Sri Lanka Air via Sri Lanka. Some charter airlines fly direct. Bathalaa Maaga Kan Thila lies north-east of Ari Atoll, between Bathala and Ellaidhoo islands. Nearby resorts can be reached by a two-hour speedboat transfer or half-hour hydroplane ride. There is a US $15 departure tax.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION : Four-star Ellaidhoo Tourist Resort (00960 450514, or the three-star mv Island Explorer, a floating hotel with dive school and bio-station aboard, anchored off Kandholhudhoo island (00960 773004,
MONEY : US dollars.
HEALTH : No inoculations needed
WHEN TO GO : Any time but mid-December to the end of April is recommended for diving sites such as Bathalaa Maaga Kan Thila. This is the dry season, with a north-eastern monsoon and mostly incoming current. Water temperature is 24-280C, air temperature 28-32°C.
COST : Seven nights half-board at the Ellaidhoo Tourist Resort costs from around US $170 per room per night, excluding flights and transfers. Kuoni offers seven-night half-board holidays on Island Explorer, including flights and transfers, from £1149 per person for seven nights (01306 747029,