Welcome
An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]

 

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Discovering Scuba Diving at Cape Maeda

Posted By Dave on August 27th, 2010

For the first time in a while I have some diving to report, and for the first time in even longer, some dive instruction.  Last weekend I was chatting to a couple of my friends and they were saying Okinawa is great, but they’d done everything there was to do.  I instantly called their bluff and asked them about diving, as Okinawa is one of the best places around to do it.  They quickly replied that they weren’t very good swimmers, which is an all-too-common preconception about SCUBA Diving.  For the Open Water course, you do have to complete a 200m swim and 10-minute float in a pool environment to qualify for the certification.  But for the Discover Scuba Diving “experience” you don’t need to be able to swim at all!  The main reason for this is that the instructor will be in direct contact with you 100% of the time.  In my case, I usually do that by holding the hand or BCD of the students at all times, and is also the reason why I don’t take more than 2 students on this experience at the same time.

After learning you didn’t have to be a good swimmer, they quickly said they wanted to try it, and proposed last Monday at Cape Maeda.  Ironically, I’d said to my main dive buddy a few days before that there is no way I was going to dive between August 22nd and 25th because of it being Obon in Okinawa.  This is a festival where the spirits of your ancestors come back, and is a big event in Japan.  But one of the things you are told is that you should never go into the water as the spirits will pull you down or do similarly unpleasant things.  I didn’t know this in my first year in Japan and went diving right in the middle of this festival.  I didn’t see any ghosts or anything, but it was just one of those dives where nothing seems to go right.  It was a dive site we knew well but we still managed to get lost and had a huge surface swim at the end.  Someone had IMG_0004 crop_pp sharp-picasa.jpgequipment problems, and another had mask problems.  Now I’m not a big believer in the supernatural, but a couple of days later when someone expressed their shock that I’d dived in Obon, I decided that it was probably not to upset whatever might be out there so vowed to not do it again.  But when 2 people want to dive (and yes, they were female which is what you’re probably all thinking!) then how could I refuse?!

Monday was a warm day with temperatures in the low 30s and the sun blazing down inbetween heavy showers.  But I met the students (one of whom came with her husband, a PADI Rescue Diver).  They were both nervous but I did my best to reassure them them that there was nothing to be scared about and that they would be fine.  It seemed to work and they donned their wetsuits and equipment.  Have to say I was very impressed with how few complaints there were about the heat within the wetsuit or the weight of the equipment.  So kitted out and after a briefing about the skills we would do before we dived- we headed down the infamous Maeda steps…

The water was bathwater warm, around 32C at the surface, and with just a little surface chop.  There were plenty of people there, but all mainlander tourists, whose own Obon was the previous week.  We managed to find a quiet spot though to cover the breathing, regulator recovery & mask clearing exercises.  Both students performed very well on these, although on the mask clearing one of them was complaining that even after clearing some water was getting into her mask.  She tried changing with my mask which fitted her a little better, but still wasn’t completely happy.  We descended slowly to around 5m, equalizing our ears and mask as we went down and making sure we were all in close contact.  After around a minute or 2 one of the students gave me the “let’s ascend” hand signal.  I quickly got into eye contact with her to make sure she wasn’t panicking and could see she was calm.  So we all went up to the surface slowly and safely.

One of the best and first things things you should do if a student seems to have a problem is to establish eye contact with them.  First of all it allows you to look into their eyes and see if they are about to panic and liable to act unpredictably.  But it also allows the student to see you, and hopefully see that you are calm and fully in control of the situation.  I’ve found that goes a long way into making a potentially dangerous situation a calm procedure where everyone is comfortable with what is happening.  On surfacing the student told me that water was getting into her mask and even after clearing it was still coming in.  While she could do the mask clearing exercise, the said the deeper she went the more uncomfortable she became, as she was worried lots of water would come in and she would be unable to clear her mask.  It’s a psychological hurdle that many divers have to get over, and while she tried with different masks, after a few attempts during which we did swim around a little, we had to abort the dive.  The student in question felt bad, despite having one of the best diving skills you can possess: a cool head.  The other student was performing very well too, and she was the weaker swimmer of the two.  The diver with mask problems stated that if she could get comfortable breathing in a pool environment she would be much happier, but she did want to try it again.  That made me feel very happy, as an unsuccessful first experience can turn many people off diving, but I am glad she was determined to come back and try again.

So despite not having a full “experience”, it was great to get into the ocean and help people experience breathing underwater for the first time.  Hopefully they will return soon and they’ll be well on their way to becoming hooked on the world under the waves.

Before I go, a big thanks to Chris from travel67.com for helping with the photo editing on the shot above.  Came out pretty well 🙂

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Dive Instructor Killed in Okinawa by Stonefish Sting

Posted By Dave on August 7th, 2010

Sad news to report in this update, from the hot and humid shores of Okinawa.  On Thursday a 58-year old Okinawan dive instructor was killed in the north of the island after being stung by a stonefish.  This marks the first death in Okinawa from a stonefish in over 27 years and any death in the diving community affects people and their thinking.  The cause of death sounds like it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The man was giving students a lesson in shallow water on the morning of Thursday August 7th.  He was standing barefoot in the water when he felt a sudden pain in his foot.  Unconsciousness quickly followed and 90 minutes later he had passed away.

Whether he has other medical issues is a case for the coroner to determine.  Stonefish stings are always serious, but not so often life-threatening.  Now sometimes I’d be critical of people for touching the marine life, but in this case I’ve nothing but sympathy for the guy’s family as it’s most likely a freak accident.  Even if you’re looking carefully where you’re putting your hands and feet while in the water, stonefish are hard to spot.  My regular dive buddy is damn good at seeing these things, and I’m sure I just swim by plenty of them without noticing them.  Just take a look in the photo below.

So once again, a sad day for all involved in the diving community here in Okinawa.  It’s times like these you realise that the environment under the waves isn’t all Nemo and mermaids.

Doctor in Okinawa Decides the Diving Rules Should Change

Posted By Dave on March 2nd, 2010

I heard about this a couple of weeks ago but only found the story recently.  It not something I wanted to comment on without seeing myself but now it’s here for all and sundry to take a look at.  Those in the diving community know that multiple dives per day are allowed by all major diving organizations in the world, with most people doing 2 or 3 dives per day.  There are considerations to take into account when planning multiple days per day and/or multiple days of diving, but as long as you adhere to these instructions then you are pretty much going to be fine.

Well it looks like an Okinawan doctor has decided he wants to turn the recreational diving world on its head, as you can see.

Forum educates doctors on diver decompression sickness

Date Posted: 2010-02-11

A noted medical doctor who specializes in diver’s decompression sickness warned “if divers dive three times in one day, and continue two or three days in a row, divers will get sick with decompression sickness” during a forum at Ishigaki City’s Civil Hall.

Doctor Masato Uehara, who works with the Prefectural Hospital in the Yaeyama District, was keynote speaker at the forum on ocean leisure.  He says many divers don’t recognize decompression sickness, pointing out that between 1997 and 2009 he treated nearly 100 patients with decompression sickness at the hospital.  The frightening part, he pointed out, was that roughly 80% of the patients were experienced divers or diving instructors.

“Divers believe in their computers for diving too much, or the manuals,” he says.  He called for more caution and common sense, noting a 56-year-old tourist form mainland Japan who dived three times in a single day.  When she tried diving on the fourth day, after her first dive her legs and hands became numb and she couldn’t walk.  A bit later, as she walked again, she dived again. By that night, her hands and legs were again numb, so she visited the hospital where he had to treat her for decompression sickness.

Dr. Uehara says decompression sickness can only be treated with high oxygen treatment machines. He called the treatment “drastic measures for the sick” and encouraged divers to be more careful.

Source: Japan Update

If any of you out there are divers your reaction is probably similar to “What the…”.  So a doctor (although how he is “noted” I have not been able to find as there is very little mention of him in English or Japanese online) at a relatively small hospital out in Ishigaki has now said that if you dive three times a day for 2 days then you will get decompression sickness.  Note that this doesn’t say your chance of catching decompression sickness will increase (which is possible, hence the increased care in multiple diving days) but that it will happen without a doubt.  And his evidence is treating under 100 people over a 13 year period.

There is also no evidence that it is the multiple diving days that have caused this (or it is not stated in this article, and I’m going to hazard a guess that there is no concrete evidence).  Kind of reminds me of the Brass Eye special all those years back: “This is scientific fact.  There’s no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact”.  I will agree that people believe in their computers too much for diving, so will give him that.  Although diving to the tables is pretty much safe as houses as long as you know how to use them (which is becoming less the way of the world with PADI’s endless dumbing down of the theory part of the RDP).

I would say much bigger contributions to diving would be people who have to have their gear carried all the way to the entry point by an instructor as they are unable to don it themselves, being people who dive once a year on their trip down to from Tokyo to Okinawa and try to cram as much diving into their time as possible, leaving minimal saturation time before their flight back, and those who light up a cigarette or open a can of Orion beer before they’ve taken their BCD off following a dive.  Should note that all of those are pretty common occurrences here in Okinawa.

Or maybe I’m wrong and people all over the world should be cancelling dive trips and only doing one day of diving at a time.  What do you think?

Great Diving at Maeda this Weekend

Posted By Dave on July 14th, 2009

After another absence, I got back into the water on Sunday for a couple of great dives under almost perfect conditions.  The dive site was Maeda Misaki, the dive buddy was my usual one, and the sun was shining brightly.  There were a few clouds around Okinawa and it had rained hard during the night, but the sun was out the entire time I was at the Yomitan dive site.

Had to get a couple of tanks from Ark Dive as soon as they opened which means I only got to a half-full Maeda carpark at 7:45am.  My dive buddy was just getting out from his first dive of the day, and reported good visibility and little if any waves.  There was some corrent going right-to-left as you look out (southwards) and there had been similar all week at other dive sites on the western coast.  So my buddy had a bit of a surface interval as I geared up.

My buddy was showing off his new shiny dive gear which, I have to say, was pretty impressive.  A Halcyon backplate/wing setup, combined with a Scubapro and Apeks (I think) regulator setup is very high quality, and I imagine not the cheapest setup in the world.  Ah well, if my car wasn’t such a moneypit then I would probably able to get a similar one too!  Although saying that, I’m still more than happy with my AP Valves wing and Tusa regulator setup.  The reg setup is 5 years old but still breathes great and hasn’t given me a single problem so far (touch wood).

So we got into the water which was a very comfortable 29C at the surface and swam out to the descent point.  On descent I noticed a preying mantis shrimp, which you certainly don’t see too much of as they usually scurry away when they see divers coming along.  This one hung around for a little while though and was nice to see.

It headed off out of sight and so I continued descending to around 30m as we swam across to the “2nd reef” at Maeda.  It’s a swim straight out and then when you get there you’re greeted by some nice looking coral and some really big anemones.  It was around this 2nd reef that not one but two eagle rays crossed our path.  Seeing rays is pretty rare diving in Okinawa, and apart from the two mantas that almost swam into me on a late afternoon dive at Maeda a couple of years ago, this was the first time I had seen them while diving.  We also saw a sizeable, dark coloured eel sticking out as we swam along.

So all in all an excellent first dive, and we surfaced and took on some fluids while the nitrogen levels in our bodies subsided.  Felt pretty good to be out and about in the sunshine, especially as the previous night’s rain was just taking the edge off the heat.

The 2nd dive was almost as good as the first, although not as deep as the 33m we hit on our first dive.  Highlights included seeing an octopus and another eel in the shallow waters.  Two 50-minute dives and we were still out of the water and heading to Starbucks for a post-dive caffeine fix by 11:15.  Not so many better mornings than that!

Unexploded bomb to be detonated in Okinawa waters, Feb 5th

Posted By Dave on January 28th, 2009

This is just a heads-up to anyone who gets into the waters around Okinawa.  Some unexploded ordenance (a single bomb, 205kg and 80cm diameter) has been found just off the western coast of Okinawa, near the popular dive spot known as “Kadena North”.  While this ordenance isn’t thought to be immediately dangerous to anyone, on February 5th at 1030 it will be detonated.  All marine activity within a 3000m radius will be prohibited between 9:00 and 11:30 of that day.  The exact location of the detonation is 26 degrees 21’6″ N and 127 degrees 44′ 0″ E.

Just wanted to make everyone aware of this.  If you need any more information or a map of the area in question, just let me know.  And take care in the waters if you are around there.

Another weekend, another weekend of no diving

Posted By Dave on January 23rd, 2009

I can’t help but bow my head in shame a little when I think about the last time I went diving.  2008 was a bad year for me getting into the water.  The car took up far too much of my time and money, and you might remember that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back into the water more.  Yet it looks like the earliest I will be getting wet will be the 30th.  I was all ready to get into the water tomorrow and finally see the fish again when I read the dive forecast.  “Chances of diving are low at best” it read, so I went over to my usual resource to check whether it will be good to dive, Virtual Buoy.  That confirmed my suspicions by showing a red flag for the ocean from this afternoon through Saturday, and Sunday isn’t expected to be much better.

So it’s with a sad heart that I will have to forego diving once again.  I suppose it will give me time to clean my apartment, continue to think about sorting my life out beyond August and maybe a little time with the girlfriend, but I would much rather be donning my wetsuit and enter the slightly chilly waters around Okinawa.  Fingers crossed for next weekend

Diving the underwater ruins in Yonaguni

Posted By Dave on January 9th, 2007

Well here we are in 2007, and a Happy New Year to everyone. I hope the forthcoming 12 months are successful and happy ones for you all, and for you divers, I hope you manage to get in the water even more this year. 2007 started off for me with 2 dives looking for hammerheads and then on some underwater ruins that are thought to be up to 8,000 years old. That’s definitely the way to stay off a year, and if the diving carries on in that way I’ll be pretty pleased! Well, this entry is going to have quite a few photos, so pull up a chair and get ready to see some of the underwater sights of the westernmost island of Japan.

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A tiny background about Yonaguni – it’s a very small island (around 26km in circumference) with one taxi, one bus, and 2 traffic lights. Not the bustling metropolis of Okinawa or mainland Japan. It’s about 1 and a half hour flight from the Okinawan mainland, and the plane that took me there was a puddle-skipper! It only had 39 seats and was a propeller plane rather than a jet engine one. Just about the only reason to go to this island for tourists is to see these underwater ruins. That is, unless you’re a big fan of the Japanese TV drama, Dr Koto, in which case, Yonaguni will be a must-see place! The show was about a doctor from Tokyo who moved to Yonaguni and had various “adventures” there.  In fact, each time the dive boat passed the house where the TV show was filmed, you heard lots of Japanese chatter pick up about “Docutaaaa Kotooo” and photos being taken. But enough about Japanese dramas that 99% of you are never likely to see, onto the diving!

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The above photo is a model layout of the ruins, courtesy of the dive shop I dived with, called Sawes. The extra special thing about this diving company in Yonaguni is that the owner is a man called Kihachirou Aratake (pictured below, with me). He was a fisherman who, in 1987, discovered these structures underwater which he believed to have been man-made. Scientists have since visited these underwater ruins and opinion is still heavily divided. Many people believe these structures to be underwater remnants of a civilization lost in time and history, and one which at 8,000 years old, could almost outdate the Pyramids. The people who claim that these underwater rock formations are simply that, and which have no man-made origin, are numerous. However, even if these are manmade, for all of these natural phenomena to have occurred within the same 150m square area is absolutely amazing, and certainly something special to behold. Having dived the ruins now, I have to say that the lines, straight edges, right-angled corners and similar are just too well defined to have been naturally occurring. Plus there is the turtle monument and and face in the rock (2 things which I will come onto in due time).

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I managed 3 dives on the ruins, so here is a general overview of what you would see when diving them. First of all, to get to the ruins is about 40-45 minutes by boat as it is off the eastern coast of Yonaguni and the main port is on the west. There can be a strongish current, so usually you perform a negatively buoyant exit from the boat. And from there you enter some beautiful water. Visibility of 25-30m at least, and a water temperature of 25C in the winter time means you’ll always exit a dive very happy with the conditions. And because of the lack of industry around, the coral health there is superb and there are some huge fish about.

[thumb:447:l]To get access to the main ruins, you have to go through a gateway at around 13-14m. This is the first sign that there could something more to this than just nature at work. The rocks that form the gateway are distinctly different, but yet on both sides they are sized identically, so the gateway is symmetrical. I will be the first to admit that this one could have been formed by rocks falling from the island and landing in this position many years ago. However, it is another thing which could be evidence of a civilization before our time. As this is a bit of a special blog entry, I’ve also decided to add some video clips that I took on my trip. For a video clip of the gateway to Yonaguni’s underwater ruins, click here.

[thumb:446:r]OK – so you swim through this gateway and the next thing which you are confronted with is something called the “Twin Towers” (see right). These are 2 rectangular-shaped, parallel rocks standing 8-10m tall and next to each other. To see the straight edges around these rocks and the sharp corners and edges certainly got my mind working as to whether these could be the creations of people rather than mother nature. The question of what the rocks were still remains though. Maybe some part of a building which has since collapsed, or possibly a timing device which used the sun and the space between the rocks to dictate the time of day or year? I really have no idea and am purely speculating – I’ll leave it to the historians to decide what I’ve actually seen here. For a video clip of the Twin Towers, click here.

[thumb:445:l]So after looking around the Twin Towers for a short while, the dive moves onto the main underwater ruin complex, and a swim along the main terrace. This usually has quite a hefty current flowing down it, so you’ve either got to be pretty quick with the photos, or make sure you get a strong grip on something, otherwise you’re going to be swept past it all. What makes it harder is that the edges are so smooth that there is very little to actually grip onto and you really have to dig in with your fingers as hard as you can to find a handhold. As you swim along here, you notice that all of the edges are at right angles again, and what look very much like large steps are cut into the rock leading from one level to another. These steps are also pretty much all sized the same, suggesting that they were cut into the rock by people to function as stairs. Of course, all of this is my opinion, but you’re reading this blog so I’m assuming you want to hear it! For video clips of the stairs leading up to the terrace, click here or here.

As you reach the top of the large stairs on the left of the photos, you’re at about 8m and on a flat area of rock. For a movie clip showing the main terrace on these ruins, click here. On one side you can swim down a trench in the rock to around 13m and there is an area which has been named “The Cemetery”. Here there is a very flat rock, which is very reminiscent of a Taiwanese or Korean (can’t quite remember what the guide said) tombstone, laid flat on the bottom. And at the end of the trench is a cross cut into the rock. Now this is a very well defined top-to-bottom, left-to-right cross, which would fit in very well with the theory that this trench was some sort of burial area. From the photos below you can see the trench and the cross in question. For a movie clip of the cemetery trench and cross, click here.

[thumb:453:r]Coming out of the trench you then come up to the monument of the turtle. Now this is something that I must apologize for, as my photos are not too good here. The tide was such that is was very difficult to get over the monument with enough distance to show the whole area. However, I did manage to get a short movie clip of it, which came out pretty well. All I can say is that the raised rock area does look remarkably like the shape of a turtle swimming in full flow, with its head and all 4 legs/arms/whatever their swimming things are called visible. The only photos I’ve got here is of it’s head, which is to the left. For a movie showing the turtle monument, click here.

And that’s pretty much the main dive site area for the ruins. Now there is another part to the ruins, and I was lucky enough to have Mr Aratake himself as my guide for this dive. He knows his way around this dive site probably better than anyone, and it was a privilege to have him show me around. The first of the 2 main highlights of this second area is seeing the Jacques Mayol memorial plaque. For those of you who don’t know the name, Jacques Mayol is a legend among divers and freedivers. He was the first person to descend to 100m on a single breath, and set numerous freediving records. The 1988 film, The Big Blue, was made about his life. Anyway, Mayol and Aratake were good friends, and this site was Mayol’s favourite site to dive in Japan. And so after his death in 2001, a memorial plaque was placed at this site. It was quite a nice thing to see, and have my photo taken with.

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The second highlight of this other part of the ruins is seeing what could be the carving of a face cut into the rock. Now at first when Aratake pointed this out to me, I merely saw a couple of holes in the rock and nothing else. But then I backed away and suddenly the face came eerily into focus. On the photo on the right, I’ve tried to highlight the eyes, nose and mouth (forgive my complete lack or artistic ability). Hopefully then you should be able to see them clearly on the photo on the left.

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So there are the underwater ruins (iseki in Japanese) of Yonaguni. I did plenty of other dives looking for hammerhead sharks, which migrate through the area during the winter months. We had limited success finding those, and no really close encounters, but it was nice to see them when we did. We also did a few dives on the reefs of Yonaguni which are beautiful in themselves. A wonderful array of soft corals, big fish and a couple of turtles greeted us on our dives, and made the dives memorable. A special mention must go to the staff at Sawes too, especially Rui, Nacchi and Nao chan, who were great during my whole stay, and who I have the utmost respect for. They provide a very comprehensive diving service to people who go down there, and they really do work hard and long hours.

So, this blog entry is coming to a close I feel. If anyone has any questions or comments about Yonaguni, the ruins, or how to plan a trip there, then post a comment or get in touch. I’d be happy to help you guys and girls out. I’ll leave you with a few photos of Yonaguni, above and below the waves. Until next time, take care and dive safely.

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Underwater photos of the USS Emmons

Posted By Dave on October 3rd, 2006

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/underwater-photos-of-the-uss-emmons/

Well, as promised, here are a few photos of the USS Emmons that I took last weekend.  The destroyer/minesweeper was sunk in the Battle of Okinawa during WWII in 1945.  I added a sepia effect to give a couple of shots a vintage look, and considering I’m still an amateur at photo editing, I’m very pleased with the results.  If you have any thoughts on how I can improve things, let me know.

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PADI IDC Prep course – Day 1

Posted By Dave on August 3rd, 2006

Well, I have officially finished the first day of being a PADI Instructor Development Course candidate. Have to say it’s been pretty good too. I woke this morning feeling really nervous about things and what was to come. It wasn’t helped by an introduction to the course, stating what you need to pass and what should happen if you fail certain parts of the course. Am in no mood to be having retakes of tests, and will do everything to assure that I won’t be doing them.

Today is not actually the IDC proper, but a 2-day pre-IDC preparation course. It’s designed to get you ready for the IDC so you can get straight into things when the start (on Saturday). The morning was spent doing paperwork, introductions and then the physics exam. There are 7 people doing the IDC and everyone has a very different background, from professional videographers to a candidate pretty much straight out of uni, doing this before starting grad school. We all gave our personal introductions and then had an introduction to the PADI system and the IDC and IE. Our IDC will take place over 10 days (with a rest day in the middle of the course), and then if we are successful we’ll move to Koh Tao for 3 days, where we’ll do out Instructor Examination. With a lot of work, and a bit of luck, I should be a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor on August 17th. And then I start the speciality courses and the EFR instructor course.

The physics test went impressively well, and I got 95% in that one. Shame it wasn’t assessed, but it’s nice to start off like that. If I get the same score in all my other tests I’ll be over the moon. But this IDC-prep course is the place to make the silly mistakes. The IDC and IE are not places where I should be making silly mistakes. We were also told today what presentations we will have to make during the IDC. I left the paper at the classroom today, but will report back tomorrow and let you know what they all are.

This afternoon we did a full skill circuit, doing all 20 confined water skills. They went pretty well, except for a couple. I messed up on the weightbelt removal and replacement at the surface (one of the easier skills) but getting my gauge caught under the belt. Should have just run my hand around the belt after fastening it again and I wouldn’t have failed that skill. And I made a couple of mistakes on the simulated rescue. But we’ll be doing that every day, and every day I WILL get better and I’ll practise all night if needs be to get as good as I need to pass.

There’s not too much else to report for now, so I’ll go. It will be a relatively relaxing evening, with only a little study tonight I think. I’ll report back very soon though with another update on my progress. Dive safely, and take care.

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