NO SOONER HAD WE SURFACED from a staggering dive - huge manta and eagle rays flying in formation above and below us, reef sharks looming out of the big blue and the best coral in North Male Atoll - than the weather hit.
First a black cloud the size of Egypt came tearing towards us from the west, shedding its curtains of rain like an arrested coke-dealer in a hurry.
Then it was the wind, which whipped off the choppy waves and rocked our boat sideways, sending loose crockery for six. Excellent!
The sails went up, all four billowing and then taut as we caught the right angle. Soon we were rattling along at almost 10 knots, heading for the island of Reethi Rah aboard one of only two sailing yachts in the Maldives that function as year-round liveaboards.
Getting to and from dive sites can now be almost as much fun as the diving itself!
This vessel was Sultan of Fervour (the other is Sultan of Blues), just delivered new from Italy and taking divers on a mystery tour of cool sites, determined partly by the weather and wind direction.
We sailed up to Baa Atoll for a couple of days, looking in on the super-chic resort of Soneva Fushi, recently host to George Michael and Jennifer Lopez among others, and spending an evening on a deserted island where we were served dinner illuminated by flares on the beach and stars overhead.
Sailing between dives offers one other bonus: absence of noise and lack of motorisation. Diving offers a magnificent opportunity to get close to nature, so if your means of transport can harness natural forces and cut down on fuel, all the better.

THE DIVING, AS VISITORS to the Maldives will know, is divine. Maybe not quite such vivid coral life as the Red Sea, but such a profusion of sea life that you can become dizzy when it all swarms around you at once.
At Madivaru Beru, we saw two large hawksbill turtles taking off from the cliff edge like slow-motion seabirds, besides moray eels nosing in their sinister fashion out of their caves, a mass of glassfish and shoals of clown triggerfish in bright profusion.
Both the diving and sailing operations are run by Sultans of the Seas, a Maldivian company owned by Moho Adil, who also owns Reethi Rah, one of the upmarket One&Only resorts. For five years the group has run liveaboards all around the Maldives, from the popular diving grounds of North Male down to the little-explored sites of Huvadhoo Atoll, with its exceptional coral and absence of tourist resorts.
KG Hjalmarsson, the Swedish-born divemaster who runs Sultans of the Seas cruises, has made shark-diving his lifes work and passion, and is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable figures in Maldives diving.
Resident here since 1990, he now takes divers on marine safaris to the most remote and untouched regions of the atoll republic, showing them sites often far beyond their experience or expectations.
In just five days diving on Huvadhoo, we saw more than a dozen green turtles, seven or eight eagle rays, a couple of giant moray eels, dolphins, massive tuna, grand old Napoleon wrasse, sting rays, scorpionfish, thousands of tiny multicoloured fish and - of course - many varieties of shark.
These were the main event. KG will point out a turtle or a Napoleon wrasse with a pleased grin and a gentle flap of his hand, or an eagle ray with a more excited jab of his fingers, but the water sizzles when a nice big grey comes into view, or even better, a leopard shark sleeping on the sand.
One time, he actually punched the water and let out a whoop, like a football fan celebrating a goal.

SHARKS ARE A SOURCE OF INCOME for the Maldives in two very different ways. For centuries, fishing communities have caught them for their meat, fins and (more recently) teeth and jaws, which sell in souvenir shops to tourists.
More recently still, shark-diving has become a popular fixture in the scuba world, as the islands fame has spread. Tourism began here only in 1972, with a group of Italian divers.
There are now almost 100 Maldivian resorts, each on its own island, spread throughout the countrys 20 or so atolls - formed centuries ago by volcanoes that sank into the Indian Ocean, leaving behind these rings of islands.
KG says he has dived more than 6000 times all over the Maldives and reckons that Huvadhoo offers the best shark diving, along with the best coral and the fewest tourists. It has no tourist resorts at all, just fishing villages and uninhabited islands (only 200 of the countrys 1,199 islands are inhabited).
Huvadhoo is also the largest coral atoll in the world, and the deepest - at around 90m - which may account for its stunning coral life. While high water temperatures killed off much of the Maldives coral life in 1998, Huvadhoo by some miracle remained almost untouched.
Marine biologist Bill Allison thinks this may be due to swifter water currents, the greater depth of coral life, or quicker regrowth than elsewhere.
But on this trip he saw table corals 4-5m across that he reckons are 25 or 30 years old. Its by far the best coral Ive ever seen in the Maldives. In fact its about the best Ive ever seen, says the veteran of research expeditions to reefs in the Caribbean, Indonesia and the east coast of Africa.
Whatever the reason, the profusion of coral life adds immeasurably to the diving experience. Drawn along by the currents that flow between the islands, you float past vast towers, brilliant yellow ferns, velvet-covered antlers, chocolate toadstools the size of a car, vivid purple clams, pale blue alpine flowers, russet caves and forested valleys.
While showing you all these (and more) pleasures, KG is acutely aware of the fragile nature of this paradise.
Over-fishing, rampant resort development, pollution and dredging all threaten the environment he holds dear.
Its a difficult issue: local fishermen have caught and sold sharks for generations, so why shouldnt they now
Marine experts believe that a live shark is worth more than 100 times more to the Maldivian government in taxes from tourists than it is to the fishermen.
So jobs as boatmen, dive-guides or cooks, paying better than fishing, are among the incentives to stop fishing.
But the fishing communities on Huvadhoo have not yet got to see this money, so they continue to catch dozens of sharks each month, selling the fins to restaurants in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.
The Maldivian government has outlawed shark-fishing on some reefs and banned fishing for whale sharks. KG is now lobbying it to set up a nature reserve in Huvadhoo to protect this delicate environment from future incursions, touristic or industrial.

FROM HIS HUNDREDS OF DIVES on Huvadhoo, KG reckons the atoll has more leopard and grey reef sharks than anywhere else in the Maldives. He has also seen tigers and giant hammerheads here, virtually unknown elsewhere.
Meanwhile, he and Bill Allison are collecting information for a proposal to create a protected area. Coral life is also important to tourists, though it has a different emotional appeal to shark diving. At its best, it blows your head off.
We dived one morning in a place called Kode Kandu, on the east side of the atoll. After coming in from big blue, we entered a vast, steep-sided valley, with peaks, spires, towers and lost worlds soaring above us. Awesome.
For KG, the experience of shark-diving still has the power to thrill.
You see straight away that its a different fish, he says. Ever since youre a small kid you know about sharks. Its like the wolf or the tiger - its a predator, it has a mystique and danger that you feel in your backbone.
Sailing between these fabulous islands, anchoring to make another blissful dive into the fecund waters with their intense concentration of sea life and corals, then setting sail again and letting the winds blow you across the ocean towards another adventure, is bringing a new dimension to Maldivian tourism. It makes diving even more of a pleasure.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly from the UK to Male with Emirates, with a brief stopover in Dubai, or Air Sri Lanka, with a longer stop in Sri Lanka.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: The 31m Sultan of Fervour is the newest of the four Sultans cruisers. Its 600hp engine gives it a top speed of 11 knots. There are eight cabins, six twin and two double, all en suite and air-conditioned. Three dives a day are led from the auxiliary dhoni, www.sultansoftheseas.com
LANGUAGE: Portuguese, English widely spoken.
MONEY: US $ and Bahamian Dollar (parity). Major credit cards.
HEALTH: Self-certification isnt enough - without a doctors signature you wont be allowed to dive. An incident involving an uncertified diver in 2006 resulted in closure of a dive centre in Machico to the east of the island.
WHEN TO GO: You can dive the Maldives at any time, but UK winter and spring are the best time to go. Water temperature ranges from 24-28°C.
PRICES: Dive trips on Sultan of Fervour are for a minimum of 10 nights. Prices for a package including flights from the UK, departure tax and full board and diving start from £1495. Call H2O Active Travel, 01273 906990 www.H2Odive.co.uk
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.visitmaldives.com