The sun rises on a small outcrop of rock in the pacific ocean. The sea is calm, but a steady roll of small waves slide up to the coast and then peter out on a seemingly invisible reef. The sun is warm but muted at this hour, a fishing boat motors slowly out of the tiny harbour and heads for the horizon. I look out over the balcony and see a cow chewing on grass in the garden. It is January and at 7:45 in the morning, the sun has just risen on Yonaguni Jima- Japan’s forgotten Isle.
Yonaguni rises up out of the ocean floor. This is no coral atoll, it is a solid rock. One small town, two very small towns and two sheltered harbours make up the human addition to the island. It is cold, 16 ‘c and a gentle wind blows at all times over the rocks. The atmosphere is quite bucolic but we are here to seach for the giant hammerheads.
“This is Hammer Way” explains Doug as we strap on our tanks on. “We’ll just cruise around in the currents and see if we can find some hammerheads. We may not- so get ready for 40 minutes of blue.’’
We giant stride off the back and descend immediately into the East China Sea. Takashi has an enormous red fishing buoy, the kind you attach to a heavy net, which he drags behind him on a reel of thick rope. I look everywhere and can see nothing but blue. In order to avoid becoming disorientated, I alternate between looking at Takashi the vet, Doug, Cisca and the surface. We swim, lazily, in a box-like search. It really is blue.
Twenty minutes later- I glance at my dive watch and gauges for the umpteenth time. The minute hand is going around inexorably against the bezel, and my air is moving in the opposite direction, and with equal strength. In addition to this, all I have seen is loads of blue. Just then, we see a shape, a shadow- it is the bottom. We have dropped to 60ft and at 160 feet sand and rock seem to combine. At last now I have something to look at. We follow the rocks and continue our now linear search. One of the rocks moves. “Hang on”, I utter into my regulator “rocks do not move”. I peer down again, release the smallest amount of air from my BCD and look again. The rock is a very slow moving and rather giant, 18ft hammerhead. I fum le with my camera, and swim a bit deeper. I check my air and see that I have enough, and drop again. The clip on the OMD finally comes undone and I fire- snap snap snap- the camera shutter fires repeatedly as three no- now four enormous hammerheads swirl below us. One of them turns up towards me and gently swims upwards.
Separated from the animal by my camera I feel no worry- until I look over the top of the camera and see it in its full girth. Now I feel extremely worried, I am 90ft down. But he turns and wanders off. I need to make sure I maintain my depth and inflate my BCD. Doug is down with me, Cisca is even further below me but we keep shooting. And then, after multiple circles and passes and as quietly as they arrived, the hammerheads are gone. Thankfully their departure coincides with the needle on my pressure gauge getting to the red line. I send up my surface marker buoy and climb slowly back up the line to the surface and my safety stop.