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LEG 10: Male International (VRMM), Maldives, to Seeb International (OOMS), Muscat, Oman: 9 August 1998
The Maldives, Kuda Huraa Resort, 5 to 9 August 1998
After arriving at Male International (VRMM) in the Maldives, we transferred by speedboat to our chosen resort: The Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. We later discovered that, coincidentally, this resort had been recommended to us by a travel-agent couple we had met on Pine Cay in the Turks & Caicos Islands in March.
The resort had 106 villas, roughly two-thirds packed closely together on the beach, and another third built on stilts over the water connected by a long pier. We took two neighboring water villas. While they had air conditioning, it vented only into the main room, and the villas were only loosely sealed from the outside. The heat was breathtaking throughout our stay, forcing us to spend much of the time inside gasping for what little cooling we could get.
"The string of water villas at Kuda Huraa, as seen from our boat on departure."
The resort had been bought by Four Seasons only a couple of months ago, and it was clearly an awkward and uncomfortable management transition. It was an architecturally beautiful property, but the staff were indifferent to unfriendly, with strange to non-existent service. Food at the Kuda Huraa in the Maldives was kind of funny. Our first night there, we sat outside around the pool, and asked our waiter what the drill was. He said, "well, you can eat out here at the buffet, or you can go in to the restaurant where they have good food, good service, and where good people go." I kid you not: that's a direct quote. We tried the buffet, which was American BBQ night, and it was dreadful! We later ate at the intermediate cafe, where the penne pasta wasn't bad. The last two nights, we ate at the good restaurant, which was quite pleasant, but it took over an hour and a quarter of waiting between the salad and getting a simple angle-hair pasta. Oh well.
On top of all this, Doug had caught a cold, which not only made him feel more miserable but also prevented us from doing any SCUBA diving. We did go snorkeling one day and sunburned our backs pretty well.
Planning Through Israel
We also made good use of our time in the Maldives planning the next few legs of the trip as far as Israel, where we were going to visit Johns sister, Julie. Universal had been getting frustrated with our lack of a firm schedule, since they expected that getting permits for the Mid-East would be difficult and time consuming.
The route from Male to Muscat, Oman (OOMS) was easy, since there was only one airway to choose, and it was practically the same as the direct, great-circle route. Oman to Israel was much trickier to plan, however, since few middle eastern countries will allow you to fly through their airspace if you are on a flight plan to Israel, and since we wanted to remain well clear of Iran and Iraq in our US-registered plane. Our plan was to fly through the Persian Gulf and across Saudi Arabia to Jordan, land there, and then make the short hop of 70 miles into Tel Aviv.
While planning in the Maldives, we had a mini-crisis over getting the landing permit for Israel. The only way for a private plane to get a landing permit in Israel is if Mr. Abraham Shai, the director of civil aviation, will grant it. Universal seemed very nervous about dealing with him, and uncertain about whether or not we would succeed.
OMAN LANDING PERMIT
OUR PERMIT NBR : DGCAM/DANS/237/05AUG98 FOR PONCEBY AVIATION
C/O UNIVERSAL AVIATION
RY 050839 KHOUUVAX ACFT BE90E REGN/N898WW ENRTE VRMM/OOMS/OJAMON 09/10AUG98 TECH STOP/CREW REST AT OOMS APPROVAL IS GRANTED.
05 AUG 98
R.Y TLX ON 04 AUG 98 FOR N898ww BE90 ON 10 AUG OVERFLY
OOMS/OJAM APPROVED CLR. NO. (3616 HG STOP
WITH BEST RGDS.
.AMMXYYA 050605 MR
REYR 041941 HOUOOUV STOP
PERMN NBR. DGCA/3-0478/98 GRANTED FOR ACFT TYPE BE90E REGN, N898WW
TO LAND AT ( OJAM ) EN ROUTE OOMS-OJAM-LLBG ON 10AUG98 ETA/D OJAM
1200/1330 UTC STOP RGDS.
PERMIT AS630/98 GRANTED TO BE90 REG. N898WW AS FLW:
10AUG98 1415UTC OJAM-LLBG
13AUG98 0600UTC LLBG-OJAM
BRGDS, ABRAHAM S. SHAI, CAA/ATS DIR.
BRGDS - TIMM / UNIVERSAL FLIGHT CONTROL / GREEN TEAM //
Universal called us in Male to say that, before Israel would grant us the permit, we would have to go to the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate to get a face-to-face briefing on dos and donts of visiting Israel. We explained that doing so would be prohibitively difficult in the Maldives or Oman, and that to do so in Jordan would force us to waste a full day. We asked Universal to explain our circumstances and trip to Mr. Shai, and to put him in touch with Johns sister Julie, an Israeli citizen and resident, to have her vouch for us.
Less than 24 hours after Universal first told us about this obstacle, we received a fax from them with all our permits for Oman landing, Saudi Arabia overflight, Jordan overflight and landing, and Israel landing. We later found out that Mr. Shai had called Julie directly, and that they had a short, seemingly innocuous phone call. He seemed satisfied when Julie spoke with him in Hebrew, explained that John was her brother, that he and Doug had been friends for some time, that both of us were pilots, and that we were just coming to visit. She asked him about the stated requirement of our needing an embassy briefing, and he said that he had never heard of such a thing. A bit disingenuous, but he was satisfied, told Julie there would be no problem, and an hour later we had our permit. Israel takes its security very seriously, and if we hadnt had a sponsor, we might well never have gotten our permit.
"The resort boat we raced at the start of our transfer to the airport."
On Sunday morning, 9 August, we left the Maldives for Oman. We left Kuda Huraa on an 8:45 a.m. (LT) speedboat for Male International, which sits on its own separate atoll. The resort keeps time an hour earlier than Male as its own form of daylight savings time, so we arrived at VRMM at 8:15a LT. The resorts speedboat was larger, faster and more comfortable (i.e., air conditioned!) than the water taxi we came in. We left at the same time as the dive boat, and raced them for part of the trip. On the way, we passed several other resort atolls, some local boats, and saw the city of Male on its island across from the airport atoll.
"One of the local boats in the Maldives."
The deluxe box lunches we had gotten from the resort somehow failed to make it to the airport, so we had to arrange additional catering on arrival, in addition to fuel, etc. With a $30 "handling charge," two meager sandwiches ending up costing $45; but it was better than going hungry.
"The city of Male, Maldives, as seen from our speedboat approaching the Male airport atoll."
Refueling and pre-departure preparations went reasonably quickly, as we have gotten used to the drill by now. The person flying left-seat does the pre-flight walkaround, supervises fueling the wing tanks and drains fuel. The person flying right-seat that leg takes care of paperwork, charts and entering the flight plans into both panel GPS units. Since filling the cabin ferry tanks is so unpleasant in the high heat and humidity of the tropics, and we dont always fill them, we alternate that task regardless of whos flying in which seat.
"Doug at the plane before departure from Male."
While we filled all tanks right up to the brim for the Hawaii leg, we have developed standard max range and long-range fills that leave some room and make the task easier. Since fuel outside the US is sold in liters (1.8 pounds/liter), standard amounts also make fueling from the trucks and calculating weights for entry into the fuel computer easier.
"John taxiing for takeoff from Male."
We always fill the wings, which hold 474 gallons, or 3176 lbs., of fuel. Our standard max-range ferry fill is 570 liters/150 gallons/1030 lbs. of fuel in Ferry #1; 430 liters/115 gallons/774 lbs. in Ferry #2; and 240 liters/63 gallons/432 lbs. in Ferry #3, for 802 gallons. That gives about 12 hours endurance at our standard power setting of 1000 ft/lbs. torque and 1900 RPM, averaging over 200 kts. true and giving us an almost three-hour reserve on 1800-1900 nm legs. On more common, shorter legs (around 1,500 nm) we leave Ferry #3 empty since its added weight is far after and makes pitch instability more pronounced. That omits only an hours worth of fuel, and still gives us large reserves. We have generally been landing with about 1600 lbs. of fuel on board, more than a three-hour reserve. We have the tanks, so we use them; fuel is still cheap insurance over the oceans and other hostile territory.
"Male International and an Air Maldives plane."
The departure from Male was beautiful, as the early part of our route took us over numerous scattered atolls. Male, the capital, is in the center of the chain of atolls that forms the Maldives and extends roughly 400 miles north and south of Male. At while many of the atolls have no portion above water, from the air you can see the brilliant turquoise circles of shallow water of the reefs left over from ancient volcanos.
"Some of the many atolls seen on our departure from Male."
We stay with Male Control on VHF for about an hour, and then are told to contact Mumbai Radio (India) on HF (primary 10018, secondary 8879) and report when contact is established. Try as we might, we cannot get the antenna tuner to sync up on 10018, and get no reception or transmission on that freq. On 8879 Mumbai hears us weakly, and keeps insisting we try 10018. We argue back and forth for almost an hour, while telling Male Control on VHF until we lose them that we cannot establish communications with Mumbai. We go almost two hours unable to make our required position reports. Between BIBGO and ESMIT intersections, a commercial flight with an American pilot (LAZ 577) makes a relay for us, and we give our whole series of estimates in case we cant communicate for the next five hours to our destination. An hour or so later, the HF starts working great on 8879, eventually becoming almost as clear and usable as VHF. Go figure.
"Only a tiny piece of this atoll is above water, while the circular structure of the old crater is clear."
About 300 miles out from Muscat, we are able to reach Muscat Control on VHF 123.95 through a remote relay station. Soon after, we go "feet dry" over the east coast of Oman. The land is incredibly dry, rocky and barren, but at least its land. We continue over rocky mountain for almost an hour until we see the mountains fall away to the Gulf of Oman, where the city of Muscat sits on a narrow flat plain.
"Some of the barren, rocky mountains of eastern Oman."
"A small town in eastern Oman."
About an hour before landing, we take turns going to the rear of the plane to change out of our shorts and T-shirts into our pilot uniforms (white shirts with epaulets and shoulder-boards, dark pants and ties). Were not really convinced the uniforms are necessary, but, damn it, we went to the trouble of getting and bringing them, so we may as well get some use out of them.
"Our first sight of the city of Muscat, and the shore of the Gulf of Oman."
We have been having transponder problems since getting the plane washed in Singapore, and neither of the two had been working for the middle five hours of flight. We were able to get #1 up for about 30 minutes as we neared Muscatenough for radar identificationbefore it died, but we knew then that we had serious problems. More on thismuch morelater
"On final approach to Seeb International Airport (OOMS), Muscat, Oman."
We were vectored for a visual approach to Runway 08 at Muscat, where it was 37C and humid. The landing was uneventful, although our handlers vanished right after meeting us. We stood around in the heat at the plane with an armed guard for more than 30 minutes before a bus arrived to take us to the terminal. Customs and immigration were perfunctory, and we waited another hour for the promised transportation, which never showed up. So we took a cab to the Hotel Seeb Novatel, and wallowed in moderate air conditioning waiting for the restaurant and bar to open at 7:00 p.m.
"A new Russian Antonov four-engine jet on the ramp in Muscat."
We had been out of touch (no radio, TV or newspapers at Kuda Huraa), and turned on CNN to see what was happening in the world. What a surprise to see the key feature being the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzaniaplaces we had originally planned to visit. Suspicions of them being driven by a Saudi financier. Further evidence that the world is not stable. And here we are heading into one of the major hot spots (in all meanings of the word!)
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