February 2011: Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Sunday February 27th

Today’s dives were fantastic.  A good night’s sleep works wonders, and the weather was even better than yesterday.  Fanie told me this weekend is the first warm and sunny one since January. I actually woke up this morning dreading my dives, and was worried about clearing my ears again, but when Kaito from the school came to pick me up, the weather was so clear and sunny that I soon began to feel more positive.

Our first destination was yesterday’s Manta Scramble.  Everyone was disappointed yesterday, and just as determined as me to spot some manta rays.  The water really was completely still, not a single wave, and we were all 100% certain that we would see something good, when just as we were setting up, a huge manta ray leaped out of the water really close to the boat.  Apparently it’s a very rare sight, and happened so quickly that nobody got a photo, but it was a stunning split-second moment.

I hoped that was a sign of good luck, as I descended slowly with no ear clearing problems, but unfortunately it was not to be.  The mantas didn’t want to cooperate and disappeared entirely, leaving us to cruise around a little and enjoy the calm sea with no current this time.  Again very disappointed at missing the manta rays but I focused more on the fish around me.  Highlights were a sting ray slowly drifting past, and a tomato anemone fish.  Manta Scramble’s coral mountains are perfect to hold onto while waiting for the manta rays and also good for taking close-up shots of coral, but it is sometimes hard to spot your dive buddy, especially if he or she is hiding at the other side, so you can’t get too absorbed with the fish!

After indulging in chocolate biscuits on board, our next stop was Yonehara, where Fanie and I dived to 14.6m.  It’s a relatively shallow dive, but really worth diving to see the coral gardens and a cave.  I was really looking forward to this.  Swimming into a cave and then out onto some coral gardens sounded beautiful.  The water was so blue that even from the boat I could see carpets of coral down below.  This dive was spectacular.  The coral growth at Yonehara is remarkably good.  We began with a short swim around before arriving at the cave and then the coral gardens.  Highlights included a rare leaf fish, paper thin and white, hiding inside a cluster of rocks, and an electric clam, bright red and buried deep inside some rocks.  As I looked closely I could make out flashes of electricity across its centre.  We also saw 4 different types of anemone fish – clown, tomato, pink, and clanks, all cousins with very subtle differences in colour and stripes.  I became completely absorbed with what I saw, and even drifted away from Fanie to make my own discoveries, to the point that she had to remind me that if we wanted to visit the cave, we would have to do so immediately before running out of air.

To enter the cave, we swam over a large mountain of coral teeming with coral branches and other fish, then downwards.  Once inside it felt cold and a little claustrophobic, but extremely cosy, and we discovered some big red fish staring at us with beautiful large eyes, huddled near the coral walls and lingering in dark tunnels. It was a tiny cave and ideal for getting a taste of more serious and deeper cave diving.  Soon we were back out into the coral garden, swimming out towards the sun and bright blue water beyond.

This month was shaky to begin with, but otherwise fantastic.  I’ve learned how important it is not to push myself, and to relax more, to focus on things 100% and really get the most out of the experience.  I’m definitely addicted, and looking forward to my March dives already.

Practical Information

Same as January

February dives

Manta Scramble: 16.5m, dive time: 33mins, average depth: 10.7m, water temp: 22C, land temp: 26C, visibility: 25m.  I used a 10L tank and wore a 5mm wetsuit.  Saw a blue spotted sting ray, tomato anemone fish, and a manta jump!

Yonehara Pukapi Minami: 14.6m, dive time: 40mins, average depth: 7.9m, land temp: 26C, water temp: 22C, visibility: 20m.  I used a 10L tank and wore a 5mm wetsuit.  Saw a leaf fish, electric clam, pink anemone, clown anemone, tomato anemone, clanks anemone, purple queen



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