June 2011: Kumejima, Okinawa, Japan

Sunday 19th June 2011

As I woke up this morning I was hoping today’s dives would be an improvement on yesterday.  I’d signed up for 3, which meant different dive spots and a bigger variety of marine life.  This time I was with a new group, 5 people all aged between 50 and 60, who were very friendly and asked me lots of questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Japan.  Our guide for dive number one was Shin, who gave a really excellent briefing.  He was great at describing the different coral, any dark tunnels or deeper areas we might have to enter, water temperature, hazards, currents, and of course the fish we might see.  As I entered the water I was 100% certain of what to expect, which really helped put my mind at ease. 

We went down to about 25m, and my highlight was swimming through a small dark tunnel, and then out again into the blue open water.  This particular dive spot is called Anmatenbusu (Mother’s Belly), and the coral walls are shaped in such a way that it looks like you are emerging from somebody’s belly.  I remember the water suddenly getting cold, so I knew we were pretty deep.  Shin was really helpful, he let me take my time as I entered the tunnel, and stayed close by as I made my way out, the others following behind.  It was amazing to come out from the dark into the light, to be greeted by lots of fish.  As we came out of the tunnel, we began to ascend, and the water soon became a lot warmer.  We stayed close to a massive wall of coral, holding on occasionally so as not to get swept away by the current, and looking out for different plants and other creatures.  We saw some incredible fan coral which glows bright red when you shine some light over it, and I managed to get a great shot of a parrot fish opening his mouth, about to have his lunch.  We were also introduced to the red-spotted blenny, a tiny little fish, very frog-like, poking his head out from among the coral to take a good look at us.

Shin accompanied us on dive 2 as well, and I felt much more confident descending by myself and meeting the others at the bottom of the rope.  This time the area we went to was flat, and full of dead coral, so we had plenty of space to crouch down in order to take photos, or simply hold on to something if the current was too strong.  But it’s the ideal environment for creatures such as sea snakes that can hide in small open areas and suddenly swim past you when you least expect it.  There was so much dead coral.  I could really see just how much danger it’s in, but after swimming along for a while you soon come to areas that are full of life.  Every time something interesting was found, Shin would lightly tap his tank to call us over.  We found some pink anemone fish, a cousin of Nemo, and a very interesting fish that stayed hidden among the coral watching us, unlike other fish that swim around or away.  Because he stayed in one place, it was really fun trying to get some close up shots. 

We then headed back to the dive school for a quick break, with lots of tea, a delicious sushi lunch, and plenty of space to sit in the shade, enjoy the sun, sleep a bit or simply read one of their many diving magazines and books.  Our 3rd and last dive was the most interesting and challenging.  The current made the descent a little difficult, and holding onto the rope was vital so as not to get swept away.  With this to think about, ear-clearing became much harder, and as it was already past 4pm the water temperature was slowly decreasing, so it wasn’t the most comfortable start.  Fortunately we’d been briefed on the strong current, and once we all descended we swam even deeper to a more protected place where we would have somewhere to hold on to.  Our guide wanted to show us a group of bigeye kingfish that congregate around our particular dive spot, so we swam against the current heading for their hiding place.  They’re a very unpredictable fish.  Either you see plenty, or just a small number.  On a good day you can be surrounded by millions, and as they don’t swim away so fast, there is plenty of time to stay and watch them.   By the time we arrived at the magic spot I was already pretty tired from all the swimming but we were really really lucky – there was a massive school of them, swimming around the cluster of coral walls.  They were quite big, very shiny and silver, with large inquisitive eyes.  They’re not the most exciting-looking fish, but seeing them in large groups like that was wonderful. 

Although Saturday was a bit disappointing, I’ve been really pleased with how the rest of my dives turned out.  This month was different in that I had to do a lot of things myself.  Having to set everything up, and dive with others allowed me to not rely on the guides too much, but to listen to my own body, feel my buoyancy or any ear pain and act accordingly.  That will all be really valuable for next month’s dives, so even though the school caters for the more experienced customer, I can see now that it was a good thing I decided to dive with them, although I don’t recommend Dive Estivant if you’re a beginner or out of practice!  I think I’ll sign up with them again once I’ve got a few more dives under my belt. 

Practical information:

  • I was introduced to Dive Estivan (www7b.biglobe.ne.jp/dive-estivant/ by Tokyo Diving Center and applied to dive with them online.
  • To get to Kumejima, fly from Haneda to Naha (2hrs 30mins) and then transfer to a smaller plane to Kumejima (30mins from Naha).  A return ticket is around 60,000yen, including all taxes, 2 nights in a hotel and breakfast.  I took an 8am flight from Haneda, had a short break at Naha and flew to Kumejima around 12:25.
  • The school offer a pickup service from the airport, and the drive to the school is around 20mins.  Dive Estivant is on the east side of the island, the airport along the west side.
  • First, you’re given a wetsuit and taken to your hotel for check-in.  The school will also pick you up and drive you back to the school after you’ve had a rest.
  • The school’s facilities are good.  They have showers and toilets, plenty of dive magazines and books to buy or borrow, lots of tables and chairs, and a space to sit outside.  Books are around 3,000yen.
  • The boat is also good, plenty of space to sit on the side, small toilet, and tea and sweets provided.  Entry into the water is by backflip.
  • Lunch is also available at the shop.  Many different packed lunches were on offer.  I chose a sushi one with rice, egg, prawns, and pickled vegetables.  Tea is free.
  • One dive costs 8,400yen.  I signed up for one on Saturday, and three on Sunday.  This price includes equipment rental.
  • There are about 30 dive spots on Kumejima.  We headed further east from the port, around Eef beach and beyond.  The time taken from the port to one dive spot is around 20mins.
  • Most divers bring their own gear.  You’re responsible for all your borrowed equipment, including setting up on the boat and tidying up after each dive.  I had to keep my wetsuit with me during my stay, wash it and hang it up on my balcony.
  • The school will drive you back to the airport after your stay. 

June’s dives:

Dive 1:  Anmatenbusu:  depth:27.7m, dive time: 44mins, visibility: 25m, average depth: 11.8m, dive in: 11:12AM, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belts and 5mm wetsuit.  Really enjoyed going through a small tunnel out into the blue sea, and seeing all the fish again!

Dive2: Ryukau: depth: 18.5m, dive time: 49mins, visibility: 25m, average depth: 12.8m, dive in: 13:34, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw pink anemone fish, coral cod and a sea snake.

Dive 3: Imazuni: depth: 15.8m, dive time: 40mins, visibility: 20m, average depth: 10m, dive in: 17:30, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw lots of bigeye kingfish and some parrot fish.




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